'Shang-Chi' Can Use This Comics Arc to Explain New Version of the Mandarin

'Shang-Chi' seems like it will have an 'Iron Man 3' villain — here's why it won't.

How is it that the Mandarin — a character with the same name as a minor Iron Man 3 villain — will appear as the bad guy in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? There’s one specific story arc in Marvel Comics that helps to make sense of it all.

During Marvel Studios’ San Diego Comic-Con presentation and panel Saturday night, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed that Simu Liu would play the titular hero Shang-Chi, Awkafina would play an undisclosed role, and Tony Leung would play the Mandarin. But it won’t be the same Mandarin played by Sir Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3, who was an actor posing as a terrorist leader.

For fans of the comics, the real Mandarin’s involvement in Shang-Chi is confusing because in his comics origins, he’s not typically a villain to martial arts masters like Shang-Chi. However, there is one moment from Marvel Comics that could be used to put Mandarin and Shang-Chi in direct conflict, and it might even serve as the basis for the film’s story.

The fake Mandarin as he appears in 'Iron Man 3'.

Marvel Studios

In Iron Man 3, a fake Mandarin was introduced and played by out-of-work actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) who was used as part of a similarly fake Ten Rings organization (the real Mandarin runs the actual Ten Rings) dreamt up by fellow Iron Man 3 baddie Aldrich Killian as a boogeyman to distract Tony Stark. The real Mandarin comes on the scene in the Marvel short film “All Hail the King,” which sees a Ten Rings assassin (Scoot McNairy) break Trevor out of Seagate Prison (where he was incarcerated following charges from his Iron Man 3 activity) to introduce him to the actual Mandarin.

All caught up? With Trevor as the fake Mandarin out of the way, it’s now time for the actual Mandarin, played by Leung, to arrive on the scene. Since Shang-Chi will be the first MCU film to feature an all-Asian cast, including the Mandarin as the villain feels like a deliberate choice. But Mandarin usually appears as an enemy to Iron Man — not Shang-Chi. How might he fit into the overall plot of Shang-Chi?

Mandarin and Shang-Chi do cross paths in the comics, and their encounter during the House of M could indicate that something similar might happen in the upcoming movie.

The House of M story takes place in an alternate universe, so familiar Marvel heroes and villains are drastically different than the main universe counterparts fans were used to reading about. In this arc, Shang-Chi and his crew encounter the Mandarin’s mummified body. Of particular note: the 10 rings of power, from which the Ten Rings organization gets their name, are still on the Mandarin’s hand. Shang-Chi might try to claim these rings, learn about the legend, and accidentally cause the Mandarin’s resurrection — but that’s pure speculation.

The Mandarin wearing the 10 rings of power.

Marvel Comics

Shang-Chi’s movie title includes “Legend of the Ten Rings,” so it doesn’t feel too off base to wonder if this House of M encounter will serve as the starting point for the movie.

Considering that the Mandarin is alive in 2013 when “All Hail the King” takes place, he’s probably not a mummified corpse. If the House of M encounter is referenced in some way, the mummy will probably be someone else entirely. Maybe Shang-Chi and the Mandarin are allies or rivals, and discovering the rings puts them into conflict with one another? We also have to remember the Ten Rings organization will likely factor into Shang-Chi, even if the title more directly references ten cylinders of advanced alien technology that gave their wearer superpowers.

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning the very real possibility Shang-Chi will retcon part of Shang-Chi’s backstory in order to include the Mandarin in a different way.

In the comics, Shang-Chi’s father is the powerful Fu Manchu — a character who has yet to be acknowledged in the MCU. Shang-Chi was trained by his father and was a loyal servant of his until he discovered his father’s evil intentions. Shang-Chi could tinker with its hero’s backstory to turn the Mandarin into Shang-Chi’s father instead, thereby offering a smooth introduction for the Mandarin that helps build out Shang-Chi’s origin story at the same time.

However Shang-Chi incorporates the Mandarin into the mix remains to be seen, but we’ll know more in time.

Shang-Chi will be released in theaters February 12, 2021.