Monday, June 16, 2014

Watch out, it´s Master of Kung Fu Monday !

Yes, I also was expecting something else but thanks to the excellent posts from DIVERSIONS OF THE GROOVY KIND ( right here on the blog roll ) about Mike Zeck´s brilliant splash pages for MASTER OF KUNG FU I decided to wax nostalgic about one of my favorite bronze age series.

And it´s a wonder that this is even on my list of best series because I don´t have that many issues of the book and there are no reprints.

There should be ESSENTIALS, trades and hardcovers available of it but if Marvel isn´t interested to get back for the rights to ROM, SPACEKNIGHT to make the fans happy you can bet that Disney is twice as unwilling to shell out any dough for the use of Fu Manchu. So the only option left to us comic fans is to find some issues in dollar bins ( or for a heftier price ) at conventions. Thankfully Erlangen is starting on Thursday ( Huzzah ! ) and while I´m not that optimistic to find some issues - so far this series has been very elusive on german comic conventions - I just might get lucky. And if I can´t find some copies there it´s as good as impossible anyway.


Now it´s been so long since I bought my issues that I´m not entirely sure which really was my first issue and where I saw Shang Chi first. What I DO know is that the first original american issue of THE DEADLY HANDS OF SHANG CHI, MASTER OF KUNG FU I got my hands on was number 116.

And I didn´t get it from my uncle who was a G.I. or a special comic book store, much rather I bought it at a newsstand in Ludwigsburg where I always went for issues of U - COMIX, JOHN SINCLAIR and DIE SPINNE.

For me it was like a miracle because I had no idea how the magazine distribution system worked. It probably had to do with some company taking over the reins from the previous one but all I knew was that from one day to the next there were issues of new exciting comic book series appearing. Up until that day the best you could hope for was the newest issue of your regular series and suddenly there were issues of IRON MAN, DC COMICS PRESENTS, AMAZING SPIDER - MAN or BATMAN popping up.

Mind you, they were just scattered issues and not with any regularity but suddenly the journey to the newsstand at the familiar bus station became an adventure and you never knew what treasures you may find each day.

Back to issue 116, this was towards the end of the book ( the last issue was 125 ) but I´m pretty sure I already knew of Shang Chi so this was not my introduction to the character. The issue was drawn by Gene Day - who had taken art over with issue 100 - and I remember it had a Frankenstein like vibe which appealed very much to me at that time because I was totally immersed in horror in any facets be it comics, movies or pulps.

In the series Fu Manchu had an elixir that granted him immortality but because he had gotten an immunity to it he needed to add blood to the mix. And so he went to one of his favorite sources, his son Shang Chi.

That was mostly what Fu Manchu needed him for : either as a mindless pawn, an organ donor for spare parts or as his own private blood bank. Yes, back in those days comics were already dealing with the problems of cloning and organ donors. Another reason to drain the blood from his son was that he always was a disobedient brat, a constant disappointment.

Mike Zeck is one of my favorite artists and while he didn´t do this issue I wasn´t complaining because I was grateful for any issue I could get. And the art by Gene Day was on the same level. The storytelling was easy to follow even though Gene put much work into it with intricate drawings at the borders and splash pages that really brought out the WOW factor.

( You need to open the picture in a new window to fully appreciate it. )

I found the splash on the always dependable SuperMegaMonkey´s MARVEL CHRONOLOGY website which has an entry on issues 116 - 118 with more of Gene Day´s breathtaking illustrations. It is a trilogy and the titles are Blood of his Blood, Devil Deeds Done in Darkness ( my favorite alliteration ) and Flesh of my Flesh. They just don´t make titles like that anymore.

So was this really the first time I read MASTER OF KUNG FU ?


Most definitely, because the other comics with Shang Chi I read about that time were issues of EDICION DEDICADO A LOS ARTES MARCIALES JUDO KARATE KUNG FU, the spanish version published by LINEA SURCO.

Like many european publishers they didn´t use the original covers ( as you can see in my post about french comics I did last month ) which didn´t make it easy to pinpoint to which particular issues they belong.

On the other hand it benefits the post that the covers are different. Now SURCO or LINEA 83 only covers a short period in the history of spanish comics - the year 1983 to be exact - because it was the old company EDICIONES VERTICE with a new name. Like Marvel does every year nowadays they restarted their old collections with a new number 1 but picked up where they left of. Or - like in the case of KUNG FU - they started new series which didn´t continue once they went out of business.

So while they didn´t publish many issues of the series they - or another company that bought their leftover unsold issues - managed to do a few compilation editions. Basically they were just 5 issues glued together under a cardboard cover and while that was done really cheaply the ones I have still hold up. The only one that was ever made of KUNG FU is one of my prized possessions, not only because it features the Mike Zeck and Gene Day art combo at the top of their game but also because it contains the final 5 issues of the 8 parter GUERREROS DEL AMANECER DORADO.

Since I really didn´t read the book long enough to speak with any authority here I can´t say if this was the best multi part story of it.

What I do know about it is that I really enjoyed it. It was the return of Shang Chi´s biggest adversary, the deadly Fu Manchu ( apparently he had disappeared or was presumed dead ) who hatched another plot to take over the world by substituting world leaders by clones - I think - under his control. It was full of action and the big showdown was on a flying saucer.

The spanish issues had 32 pages so they included 2 issues, although they most definitely were missing some pages since back then the US comics had 17 pages. And there were of course the different covers. Here is the original cover for issue 92 which has the title SHADOWS OF THE PAST

and here´s the spanish issue titled TRIUMPHS OF THE SPIRIT ( ??? ).

On the original cover Mike Zeck goes for a more subtle approach, showing Shang Chi and his love Leiko Wu in danger by some menace of which you can only see part of the shadow. It´s up to the reader´s imagination to fill out the rest. On the spanish cover the mystery is quickly spoiled as you see Shang Chi already fighting the giant ape. Now you might argue that the spanish cover is more scandalous - on the other side it´s a fact that comics with monkeys ( or apes in this case ) on the cover sell better.

Before closing the chapter on the spanish versions of KUNG FU I have to mention issue 7, VIENTO DE MEDIANOCHE which contains US issue 93.

Again, I can only make an educated guess since I have read so little of the MASTER OF KUNG FU series, but this is the best story I have read of it.

It´s one of the best " done in one " issues I read in my entire life and this comic got me more interested in mangas than any manga I read because it introduced me to the asian way of thinking and it conveys their sense of poetry so perfectly. If I haven´t said it : Doug Moench is the s - word.

Now I could go on about the other original issues I could obtain ( issues 100 and 106 ) but that would only repeat what I have already written.


Instead I want to make a quick detour to mention some of the german comics that were published during the martial arts craze and which are the reason why I wanted to call the post MASTERS OF KUNG FU MONDAY.

First of there was the KUNG FU magazine published by the Bastei Verlag.

It included some martial arts comics like the comic adaption of the Kung Fu tv series with David Carradine but also articles about various martial arts and action movie stars. It says " the high art of self defense " on the cover and is advertised as " the adventure and martial arts magazine ". It was published from 1975 to 1981 and pretty popular, reaching issue 155.

Ehapa - the company that published DC in Germany - also had a martial arts series with SUPERMAN PRÄSENTIERT DRAGON, GIGANT DES KUNG FU.

This was an annual publication that made it to 3 issues from 1976 - 1978.

And then there was DIE TÖDLICHEN HÄNDE DES KUNG FU from Williams.

These were black and white pocket books ( 196 pages for 3.80 ) that presented the original MASTER OF KUNG FU series to a german audience.

This was a bit before the time I started reading Williams Marvel but my brother found one of those at a comic convention. As it could not be otherwise for a german comic book they managed to land on the Index for Literatur Harmful to Youths with issues 5 and 6 ( in 1977 and 1978 ).


Time to wrap up things once again even though there are so many great covers left I wanted to post. Oh boy, I guess I will have to stop now and leave it for another post. But before that I want to mention two things.

One is that with all the movies Marvel ( or now Disney ) is doing I can´t believe they still haven´t done a Shang Chi movie considering the fact that this would require very little special effects. This is a no brainer.

The other thing is that if they really want to make money with trades or ESSENTIALS of this comic gem there is a way. In the comics they have already explained ( and with that I mean back paddled ) that Shang Chi´s father was not the REAL Doctor Fu Manchu but rather a chinese sorcerer who discovered the secret to immortality and used Fu Manchu as his alias. Okay, they´d have to put up a disclaimer to that effect at the first page - and change the name of any other characters invented by Sax Rohmer - but that´s still doable. They did it 3 times already for the original western Ghost Rider and there was no money involved. They´d do it if they suspected there were huge amounts of cash to be made with it.

Last but not least, the usual assortment of links on this topic : you can find more spanish comic covers on this post by me on this very blog and for those who want to know more about it there is a post on Ediciones Surco by Tebeosfera. I´m sorry, gringos, but it´s only available in spanish.

For those of you who want to get more detailed background information on Doctor Fu Manchu there´s an episode on ComicGeek Speak , episode 9 from the COMICS WITH OR WITHOUT PULP series all about him.

Also, go to Diversions of the Groovy Kind´s Mike Zeck´s splash page galleries ( part 1 / part 2 ) . You can get more Bronze Age goodness by clicking on the " Mike Zeck ", " Shang Chi " or " Master of Kung Fu " label.

So, finally a comic related post. Now that each post might be the last one before Erlangen ( Tomorrow I´ll most likely spend the whole day sleeping and watching more Doctor Who ) I hope that I can end of a high note.

One of the great aspects of MASTER OF KUNG FU for me has always been that it was kind of a James Bond movie but with someone like Bruce Lee playing the part of the super spy. They really missed out on this one.

Nevertheless I wanted to add a Bruce Lee video to the post and since I couldn´t find HOW BRUCE LEE CHANGED THE WORLD ( check it out if you haven´t seen it ) here is I AM BRUCE LEE, a 1.30 hour documentary about the guy who elevated martial arts flicks from trash to an art form. Enjoy !

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best


The Groovy Agent said...

I love inspiring other bloggers! :D Thanks for being a Groove-ophile!

SUBZERO said...

Thanks for doing these great posts !

SUBZERO said...

Oops, here I am talking about how great your posts are and then I forgot to include the links. I´m such a dork !

Also, it was pretty late when I finished this.

The Groovy Agent said...

Awesome post! Now you've inspired me--I think I'm gonna start running "Warriors of the Golden Dawn" in the near future--until someone makes me stop! :D Thanks again for this great read of a post!