After recently celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first album, one of the most iconic groups in hip-hop gets the biopic treatment. Of course, for a group like this a single movie just wouldn’t do them justice. Hence the premiere of the Hulu Wu-Tang series highlighting the origin stories of these musical superheroes. Wu-Tang: An American Saga debuted three episodes with seven more to arrive on the streaming giant each Wednesday. Using a similar rollout strategy as The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu hopes the legions of fans will swarm like killer bees to the site. The first episodes of the Hulu series depict the street life beginning of these unlikely artists. Still, many folks love the Wu-Tang Clan because they were hip-hop’s first geek rappers.
The Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ to Mess With (When It Comes to Comics Cred)
Image via Marvel
Before Marvel Studios owned the box offices across the globe, comic book culture stayed far from the mainstream. Yet, in the early 1990s hip-hop music became the forefront of everything edgy and cool. So, when a group of Staten Island rappers burst on the scene making references to Dr. Doom, Spider-Man, and Tony Stark, nerds’ ears across the world perked up. One look at Ghostface Killah or Method Man and they knew no one ever dared call them “nerds.” And, when it comes to comic book (specifically Marvel) culture, the Wu-Tang clan goes deep.
Wu legends Method Man and Ghostface Killah adopted Marvel-related aliases. (Johnny Blaze and Tony Stark respectively.) Method Man, despite his love for Marvel, wrote the song “The Riddler” for the Batman Forever soundtrack. Ghostface named his first album Iron Man. Their name comes from a love of old-school kung-fu movies (complete with cartoon sound effects), and they also make references to geek staples like Star Wars and Star Trek. In 1999, before the gaming revolution, they dropped a kung-fu adventure game. They also published their own comic series.
Marvel even returned the love. Ghostface filmed a scene for the first Iron Man, though it ended up cut. They also published a book of comic covers that paid tribute to album covers, and Wu-Tang features heavily. This part of their personae literally kicks off the new Hulu series.
The Hulu Wu-Tang Series Practically Opens with Comic Book Reference
Image via Marvel
The opening scene of the series sets up what seems like an irreconcilable conflict between two of The Wu-Tang Clan’s best MCs. RZA, played by Ashton Sanders, scores the scene, working out a beat in the basement of his mother’s home. We see Shameik Moore, the voice of Miles Morales but playing Raekwon here, get into a car. He and an associate drive over to a rival’s home intent on killing him. This rival is Dennis Coles played by Siddiq Saunderson. The man who will eventually become Ghostface Killah isn’t doing anything remotely “gangster.” He’s caring for his two disabled brothers, helping one turn the pages of a comic book. He goes on tell his two brothers the story of a 1989 Iron Man arc in which Tony Stark gets shot and ends up in a wheelchair, just like them.
From there, the story unfolds in a way that we’ve seen before in countless “hood movies.” The stories of the crack epidemic are, mostly, the same whether they take place in California, Baltimore, or Staten Island. Yet, these stories are (kind of) real. Although, unlike the protagonists in many other films in the genre, they aren’t buying Bentleys or gold chains. They are using this money to keep the roof over their family’s heads. All of the characters dream about doing something different, though very few feel like they will ever break free of the cycle of violence and poverty. Like most prestige series in the Streaming Wars, this is a slow burn drama not afraid to take its time. In the Hulu Wu-Tang series, we don’t see the members of the group rhyme (for real, anyway) until the end of the third episode.
How Real Is Wu-Tang: An American Saga?
Image via screengrab
In creative nonfiction, telling the truth isn’t always the same as reciting facts. The Hulu Wu-Tang series dramatizes some moments from the past without a concern for factual accuracy. Co-creator and Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA revealed this at the Television Critics Association that specific details and scenes are fictionalized. (Since this focuses on their criminal activities in the past, this makes sense.) However, the emotional truth present in the scenes remains the same.
RZA said, via USA Today:
“It’s an American story…. Everyone is trying to grow out of the mud. This show touches on things we were maybe shy to say in front of the camera…. We grew up in the ‘hood, and we kind of think every camera is a cop. But (now) as mature men we’re ready to tell our story. … It opens up more about the Wu that you can’t find in the documentary .”
Co-creator, executive producer, and Watchmen screenwriter Alex Tse addressed the accuracy of the story. “There are things in it that actually happened, there are versions of events. Spiritually, it’s very truthful and accurate.”
Is the Hulu Wu-Tang Series Worth Your Precious Streaming Minutes?
If you are a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, the Hulu series is a must-watch. If you’re not a Wu-Fanatic, the series might still be worth your time. As mentioned above, this series traverses very familiar ground, covered by films like Boyz in the Hood and Juice or series like The Wire. Yet, since American society seems hesitant to learn the lessons these stories tried to teach us, there’s room for more like them. That we know these kids caught up in street struggles go on to superstardom, it can feel a little too slow to unfold. Yet, as every comic book fan knows, the “origin story” is just as important as the big hero moments.
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Featured image via WeHeartIt
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.