Superhero team-up stories have rules. Every notable group of costumed crime fighters has a carefully maintained hierarchy and system of chemistry. The Justice League has Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as its constant trio of headliners. The Avengers’ roster has been more messy, but Iron Man and Captain America have always led the pack. With Tony and Steve stepping away, fresh blood must take on new responsibilities. Shang Chi might be an unexpected new leader.

For good or ill, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was the main character of the MCU’s Infinity Saga. Captain America is the only close competitor, but Iron Man started and ended this phase of the franchise. He shaped its narrative and tone. He appeared in The Incredible Hulk to boldly establish the MCU’s long-term strategy. He’s gone now, but the MCU doesn’t need a brilliant inventor anymore. It needs a relatable center.

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The Ten Rings and Kang

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings doesn’t explore the origin of the Ten Rings. It opens with the story of Shang Chi’s father, Wenwu, who found the mystical weapon and used it to attain great power. Shang Chi acquires the Rings from Wenwu near the end of the film, and they become his new primary tool. Wong, Carol Danvers, and Bruce Banner explain that they don’t know where the Rings originated. Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme, Danvers has vast knowledge of the universe, and Banner might be Earth’s finest scientist. If there’s a gap in their combined knowledge, fans can infer that the information must be beyond their reality. They express concern that the Rings are acting as a beacon for something. The mysterious details have led fans to speculate, and most eyes have locked on Kang.

Kang the Conquerer is set to be the overarching villain of the upcoming phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, he has no specific connection to Shang Chi. The comics offer a very mystical backstory for the Ten Rings. They were created by the god Nezha to defeat an eldritch horror called the Wyrm of Desolation. Nezha trapped the beast in a pocket dimension within his magical ring. Nezha knew that the Wyrm could escape, so he split it into 12 pieces and scattered them across alternate realities. Ten returned and became one of Ta Lo’s Five Sets of Heavenly Weapons. The MCU likes to tie its heroes to its villains with new strings. They may change the weapon’s backstory.

Despite his impressive record and immense capabilities, Kang doesn’t have powers. His strength and skills come from advanced scientific innovations. Kang developed countless devices that enabled him to take over multiple universes. There’s a possibility that Kang created the Ten Rings. Similar theories have surrounded Kamala Khan’s bangle. The bangle was found at a Ten Rings temple, tying the two together. Magic and science are more carefully divided in the comics. It’s entirely possible that Kang’s inventions could be interpreted as magic. This theoretical connection could keep Shang Chi near the center of the MCU for the following few phases.

Shang-Chi can play an important part

Shang Chi has never been a leader of the Avengers. He’s joined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes a few times but usually as a bit player in their adventures. Tony Stark builds him technologically enhanced weapons that allow him to fight bigger foes. He’s helped the heroes de-escalate situations with meditation. He’s fought alongside Wolverine, Black Widow, and Captain America. There’s a lot more room for him in the MCU Avengers. He can step into one of several voids on the team.

Shang Chi is more powerful in the MCU than he has been in the comics. Wenwu may have only used the Ten Rings for their combat potential and their longevity, but they offer other gifts. Shang Chi is functionally immortal. In the comics, the Rings can create portals to other realities. They can automatically attack unworthy wielders and protect their rightful owner from harm. Later comics imagined the Rings having a dark influence on any mortal that would use them. Shang Chi gives into their grim guidance, gaining power in exchange for terrible cruelty. He eventually gets over it, keeping the boost while retaining his honor. He’s got a lot of history to play with and his unique set of weapons and skills could put him in the top tier of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Avengers have historically been led by Captain America and Iron Man. The MCU has handed down the shield to Sam Wilson, and Peter Parker has been framed as Tony’s prot?g?. The new Cap could take charge, but Spider-Man is not much of a leader. Either way, Shang Chi would be an excellent new direction for the franchise and the team. He’s an option no one would expect, but a few clever creative choices could make the master martial artist a great main character.

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