Friday, April 23, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Masters of Kung Fu and C-List Baddies!

Karen: As I said in my Wonder Con report, I picked up a few Master of Kung Fu books, so let's start at the beginning, with Shang Chi's first appearance, Special Marvel Edition #15 (Dec 1973). First off, it was produced by two of my favorite comic pros, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. These two guys did so many amazing and creative books in the 70s, I really don't know how I never got in on Master of Kung Fu! The two of them wouldn't stay on the title very long however. But this first issue is pretty fun. Oh, and besides writing the thing, Englehart also colored it! But the guy did apprentice under Neal Adams before he started writing comics.

Karen: There's a long story about how Marvel had the rights to the Fu Manchu cha
racter created by Sax Rohmer, and how that concept was married to Shang Chi, but I don't want to get into it here. You can check out the letter page of this book for that. Suffice to say, Shang Chi, the living weapon, master of Kung Fu, is the son of the notorious Fu Manchu. However, Shang has no knowledge of his father's evil ways; in fact, he believes Pops is trying to help the world! So when Dad sends him off on a mission to assassinate an old foe, Shang goes unquestioningly. However, once he finds his target and discovers that he is a decrepit old man, he begins to doubt the virtue of his mission.

Karen: Regardless of these feelings, Shang actually does kill the man! This was a bit shocking. He encounters Sir Denis
Nayland Smith, a former British agent, now confined to a wheelchair due to Fu's villainy. He tells Shang the truth about his father. This info disturbs Shang, who returns to his American mother, to find out the truth. She confirms Shang's worst nightmare -that his father is a power-hungry, amoral man.


Karen: Shang Chi then makes his way through a deadly maze towards Fu. Starlin's art is just fantastic throughout the book, but the combat sequences here are outstanding. When father and son come face to face, Fu makes no apologies, merely states his goal of world domination. Shang says he is mad, and that from now on, they are enemies. He leaves, disillusioned, yet now more free than he had ever been.



Karen: This w
as an outstanding origin issue. Everything works in this story; it's a perfect combo of word and art. While wordy by today's standards, I relished it. It was like reading a novel - only with pictures. This book really demonstrates what a talented writer can do using those now-extinct comic book tools, captions and thought balloons. We get into Shang's head, but it never feels forced. I highly recommend this book!




Doug: Our fare today is my first issue of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, #7 from May-June 1977. The creators were Bob Rozakis on the words and Rich Buckler and Bob Layton on the pictures. As we begin, apparently Lex Luthor has just infiltrated a meeting of the Secret Society, and the story is entitled, "Luthor's League of Super-Villains".

When I was a waif, I didn't know anything about the problems between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, so the whole Funky Flashman bit went right by me. However, upon re-reading some of this stuff knowing all the backstory -- whoo-boy!! What a dig! Here's what's going on -- as I said, Luthor's busted in and is seeking to exert his authority on the Secret Society. He's just broken Copperhead out of jail, and has come to the "Secret Citadel" to get help in his never-ending war on Superman. The Wizard had been proclaimed leader of the sinister cartel by Flashman; ol' Funk doesn't make much of a move, however, to assist Wiz when Luthor kicks his butt. I was never a reader of Silver or Bronze Age Superman books (followed Superboy in the Legion, though), but loved Luthor's outfit here. Not the battlesuit from Super Powers fame, but the more utility-equipped outfit. I also don't recall Luthor being as physical as he is here.

Luthor requests Flashman to find Felix Faust and the Matter Master, two other magicians. Combined with the Wizard, it's Luthor's intent that these three bozos, er, purveyors of mystical energy, will finally defeat the Man of Steel. So Luthor orders Flashman to get his new assistants over to Japan, where the Superman movie is being filmed. They arrive, but like the dopes they are, attack the guy doing the main acting; seems the real Superman was only going to do the stunts. The scene cuts to the JLA satellite, where Batman arrives to relieve Hawkman of monitor duty. The Hawks and our star, Captain Comet, head to the Hawks' orbiting rocket to enjoy a little Thanagarian ghoulash. But, while Comet and Hawkgirl watch the news on a very ordinary looking telly, they notice the Wizard making havoc at the Superman set. As Comet has it on for the Wizard, he leaps up; Hawkgirl says she'll join him, as Katar is doing the cooking this day.

Cut back to Japan... what a bunch of morons. The three mystics create landslides and other trouble, but the "Superman" in front of them does nothing to stop it. Matter Master cooks up a two-headed dragon, and it's at that point that Comet and Hawkgirl arrive. They quickly deduce that the Wizard isn't the only enemy; meanwhile Lex, watching on a monitor (much slicker than the Hawks' tech -- Flashman must be lightyears ahead of Thanagar!). The dragons are defeated and Hawkgirl rescues "Superman" from a tiny volcano the Wizard created. Assuming Superman to be powerless, the three magicians attempt to rally. They don't anticipate that the actor in the suit will fight back, yet he does -- and quite successfully. I thought a funny line in this sequence was Hawkgirl telling Felix Faust to "stuff it"!

Everything ends well. Back at the Secret Citadel, Luthor and Flashman part ways with each intending to call the cops on the other. Funny thing is, Flashman turns the trick on Luthor first, who is arrested as soon as he sets foot outside the HQ. Meanwhile, on the Thanagarian rocket, Captain Comet and Hawkgirl arrive back just in time for Katar's ghoulash.

This was a fun story, not diminished over time as some stories can be (see our recent reviews of Marvel Team-Up). The lens of the adult reader is different than that of the pre-adolescent and some of these stories don't hold up. While this was in no way great literature, it was a fun story with a decent beginning, middle, and end -- a done-in-one as was typical of DC's in the Bronze Age. Rich Buckler's pencils were aided by Layton's inks and the overall art was pretty good -- one quibble I'd have is a litte inconsistency in faces from page to page. The panel lay-outs evoked Adams or Colan, but weren't distracting -- in fact, it probably enhanced the art. But overall, and I don't know anything about Buckler using panel swipes at DC, this was a good-looking book! Rozakis' script was good, too, and I've not always been able to say that about his work. If ever a guy epitomized the contrast between Marvel and DC, it would be "The Answer Man". This is a series I hope to revisit in future Two-In-Ones.

4 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen: loved what few Shang Chi issues I had, including that issue of What If? Too bad copyright issues are keeping it from being reprinted.
Doug: I didn't know anything about the animosity between Lee & Kirby at the time either, but I do remember wondering why that Flashman fellow looked so much like Stan...
By the way, if memory serves - and I'm in no way proud of the fact that I remember something like this - the signature phrase on Happy Days was "Sit on it!"

Doug said...

Arrghh!

Edo, duly noted. I don't know what I was thinking, and a correction to the post has been made.

Nice to know we're being read that closely. Thanks very much for the correction!

Doug

Doug said...

RE: the poll to the left of this post.

I remarked to Karen offline that the kung fu-er I probably had the most regard for in the Bronze Age was Karate Kid, of Legion of Super-Heroes fame. Another one would have been Karnak of the Inhumans.

But, as both of those fellows appeared in the Silver Age first, I was left to vote for Mantis. Although I didn't always like her, I find that the era of the Avengers in which she appeared is among my favorite runs of all time.

Karen said...

Edo - I concur with you regarding the lack of reprints of Shang Chi. I plan to buy more back issues, but it's too expensive for me to get a bunch at a time. It would be great to have some trades with these stories.

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