Welcome to the ‘optikon’s first anniversary! Today’s post focuses on the Marvel Special Collector’s Edition Treasury Savage Fists of Kung Fu. Yet again, this was a recent ebay purchase, largely down to the front and back cover illos by Gil Kane.
I had read most of the contents before in early-70s editions of the weekly Marvel UK Avengers comic. This was at the height of the comic’s popularity -when even Golden Wonder or Smith’s had got into the Kung Fu act with tangy corn snacks. Speaking of the Avengers, Marvel’s first oriental martial artist was actually Mantis. I have always been fascinated by the character and would like to reiterate that I would be eager to see Joss Whedon’s sequel if it were titled Avengers: Celestial.
This treasury leads with The Master Plan of Fu Manchu; a three-part story in which all the protagonists are involved in the machinations of Fu Manchu but never meet. The first chapter, by Moench and Frank McLaughlin pits Iron Fist against a Sumo wrestler and is written in the dense, second-person style of early IF stories.
The second chapter, starring the Sons of the Tiger, is by Herb Trimpe and Chris Claremont, Captain Britain’s creators. I wonder if Claremont had a bad experience flying? This story, like so many of his in this period, begins with chaos at an airport. The climax is an assassination attempt at the United Nations launched by flying Lascars! This segment is my favourite because of its bizarre Man from UNCLE meets Enter the Dragon vibe. It’s quintessential Seventies Marvel.
The third chapter features Shang-Chi, confronting his father’s schemes on a submerged submarine. With a helicopter, bombs and hooded acolytes, it’s the most Bond-ian section of the story. The twist that Fu Manchu has participated in each chapter masquerading as a blind beggar, however, only reminds me of some of the Master’s silly impostures in Doctor Who.
Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu: I think this tale, with its unappealing art by Alan Weiss, is a reprint from the b/w Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine. In it, Shang Chi encounters a group of outcasts led by the flamboyant gay caricature Mr. Man. This assembly are all former victims of the Devil Doctor who are subsequently killed in an explosion of his devising. It’s an unrewarding read.
The Sons of the Tiger: this was the only material I hadn’t seen before- the origin story of the Tiger Sons. The pencils by Dick Giordano are very appealing: a cross between Kane and Neal Adams. The multi-racial martial artists uncover the conspiracy of the Silent Ones behind drug pushers in a clichéd but efficient story by Gerry Conway.
Shang-Chi–Master of Kung Fu: the second solo outing in this collection is by the original MOKF creative team of Englehart, Starlin and Milgrom. It’s another re-coloured reprint and revolves around the adolescent Shang Chi undergoing a martial arts test against a cadre of masked mercenaries. It’s basically one long fight sequence in a temple but the beatific monk- instructor is rather sinister.
As the son of a super-villain- well, a pulp criminal mastermind, Shang-Chi anticipates the story of Luke Skywalker by around four years. My own preference was always for Kung fu Billionaire Iron Fist in part for his harrowing origin and its contrast with the Shangri-La imagery. Unlike their Ultimate iterations, Marvel’s premier martial artists were from two very different traditions and didn’t mesh well, as the 1976 MOKF Annual only goes to show.
I’m afraid I wasn’t greatly entertained by this Treasury. Both solo stars would go on to better things eventually: Iron Fist as a funky sci-fi/super-hero strip (with a soupçon of eastern mysticism) under Byrne and Claremont; and Shang-Chi as a glossy, photo-realistic spy romp by Moench and Gulacy. Ironically, the most entertaining sections of the comic star the Tiger Sons- who would be retired by the late 70s and replaced with the first of a number of Hispanic heroes called White Tiger.
It seems unlikely that any of Shang-Chi’s 70s adventures will be reprinted since Marvel no longer has the licence for Fu Manchu, a relic of the racist scaremongering of another era. However, given the role of the Mandarin in the next Iron Man movie, perhaps that ring-wielding villain could replace the Devil Doctor as the fiendish father in the Marvel mythos? He’s even more of a stereotype Yellow Peril/Red Menace but at least Marvel owns this one.
Coming soon: more Secret Origins of Super-Villains; Superman vs. Spider-Man and the Holiday Grab-Bags!
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