Friday, September 20, 2013

Everybody was Kung Fu Fightin'

Karen: The late 60s/early 70s gave us martial arts mania -Bruce Lee and a wave of Hong Kong films, David Carradine and the Kung Fu TV series, and of course both DC and Marvel had martial arts characters galore -Shang Chi, Iron Fist, Karate Kid, Richard Dragon, etc. In modern film and comics, it seems like everyone knows some form of martial arts. Share your thoughts on any and all aspects of the 70s craze, and how it has influenced modern media.


Doc Savage said...

Don't forget Judomaster debuted in '65, and twenty years earlier the original Black Cat was teaching judo in between comics stories.

The deluge of martial artist super heroes was pretty tiresome to me as most were not very interesting and seemed uninspired. Shang Chi was pretty decent. Glad it died down. I still don't see why Rocket Racer didn't get his own book--skateboards are cooler than martial arts, don't you know? And Hypno Hustler was another missed opportunity!

Anonymous said...

It's quiet today! Wasn't Bruce Lee supposed to star in TV's "Kung Fu" but was rejected because TV executives wanted a white actor? It's a pity there are no Marvel Essentials of Shang Chi but it's all to do with rights issues or something."Kung Fu Fighting"was a British #1 hit too, I discovered Marvel Comics a few weeks later.

William said...

Now we're talking! I just so happen to be a connoisseur of kung-fu movies (and comics somewhat). I own every decent martial arts movie ever made, including every single Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movie (as well as a lot of Jet Li) on DVD and/or BluRay. I actually prefer to watch them in their native language with subtitles, because you get the actor's true intention of what emotion they are trying to convey. I even go see them in the movie theater when they are available, such as "Rumble In The Bronx", "Twin Dragons", "Who Am I", "Supercop", "Legend of Drunken Master", "Black Mask", "Romeo Must Die", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Forbidden Kingdom", "Iron Monkey", and any others that have had theatrical releases over here.

For a very long time my favorite movie (of any kind) was "Enter The Dragon", as I considered it, at the time, to be one of the best superhero movies ever made. It had an unstoppable hero, (who's "super power" was extraordinary martial arts skill), versus an evil mastermind in the tradition of Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom, with his own island fortress no less. For anyone who's never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so, as it was the inspiration for most of the 70's kung-fu craze. Including all those great comics on the subject like Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and others. Talk about some Bronze-Age goodness.

Despite his tragic death (or maybe because of it) Bruce Lee has become one of the most influential people of the 20th Century. (At least in entertainment). To this day, you cannot pick up a martial arts magazine without seeing his picture somewhere within. Lee may not have invented the martial arts movie genre, but he certainly perfected and popularized it. Without him, I doubt people like Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Le, Donnie Yen, and others would have had the careers they did.

The influence of martial arts movies, can be seen in other movie genres as well. For example, the Matrix movies were basically kung-fu flicks with really big budgets. Even Star Wars takes much of it's inspiration from kung-fu cinema. The Jedi Knights are nothing more than Shao Lin warrior monks, with Yoda acting as a wise old martial arts teacher. Other forms of media and entertainment owe a lot to the martial arts genre as well. I mean, where would video games be without kung-fu?

I was never as into the martial arts comics as much as I am the movies (or video games). I suppose it's because a printed comic just can't capture the speed, movement, and grace that makes kung-fu so spectacular to watch. Although I really really wish Marvel was able to reprint the Shang-Chi stuff, as I missed most of it when it was originally available. I'd even buy the b&w Essential's volumes.

Mike said...

I've always been a martial arts fan (black belted some years ago ... one of my accomplishments I sometimes brag about ;) and Iron Fist has always been one of my top 5 characters of all time. Powerman/Iron Fist being one of my fav titles, and I loved all the ninja stuff Miller stuck in Daredevil back in the day.

Just recently I bought all but 4 issues of the MoKF series to read -- I'm about half-way through reading the series and I can say it is easily the best series of comics I have ever read. Really cool stuff!...especially the issues with Gulancy art. Shang-Chi is basically Bruce Lee's character from Enter the Dragon.

If you like Martial Arts stuff at all, I highly recommend MoKF. They haven't reprinted any of it yet apparently because of licensing issues, but you can typically find reading copies of the comics for fairly cheap at the shops.

david_b said...

I remember the time well.., never got into the Arts much, but 'course loved Bruce in the Hornet series.

Well, what LITTLE I ever saw of it.., being able to ever catch an episode of either Batman OR Green Hornet was always a rarity in syndication. I had a few 12" GI Joes and loved 'em, but had switched to Megos by the time the 'grippers' had come out. Even as a kid I saw it as a shameless gimmick to capitalize on the current trends (like Bulletman or Mike Powers..). Nice idea, but in all my vintage Joe collecting, I've stayed away from any figures with those cheap hands.

Not really a ninja fan, I'll have to check out the MoKF comics at some point.

Anonymous said...

I had a buddy turn me on to Shang Chi right at the start and I collected all through the Gulacy years. I don't think Mike was "reaching' (there's that word again) when he said it was the best series of comics he ever read.

I also was into the Kung Fu TV series and recently bought all 3 seasons on DVD. I need to watch some more of those episodes.

And William, great assessment of the influences. I hadn't thought of half of your comments but couldn't agree more.

Such an education at this place.


Edo Bosnar said...

First, I have to say I still like that song.
I loved the martial arts stuff as a preteen and then teenager, in popular culture at least (I never actually learned any of it), but grew a bit weary of it later. Currently I still like to watch a good martial arts flick occasionally, esp. the old Bruce Lee movies. William, you're definitely right about Enter the Dragon as a superhero flick.

As for the comics, I agree about Shang Chi - I started reading it regularly when Zeck was the regular artist (often with the late, great Gene Day inking) and just loved it. I later got a hold of handful of the earlier Gulacy-drawn issues and thought they were the epitome of cool. I really would like to read that entire series from start to finish, but it doesn't look like the issues over rights will be settled any time soon.
Iron Fist was pretty cool, too, but DC's forays into the martial art characters were not that good: I had the entire runs of both Richard Dragon and Karate Kid, and although the former series had a few good stories, it was mostly forgettable.

William said...

Wow, I almost forgot to mention the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Quite possibly the most successful martial arts related property of all time. And soon to be the subject a major motion picture by Michael (Transformers) Bay.

Anonymous said...

I loved Shang Chi and Iron Fist...Gulacy's art was great, and Moench's writing was different from everything else at the time.

I was born in 1972, so Bruce Lee died when I was only a year old, but he was still big in the late 70s; everybody thought he was the epitome of cool, even years after his death.

Mike W.

david_b said...

Doug, on a horrible and regrettable sidenote, you don't live around the 1800 block of West 51st Street..?

Terrible, terrible tragedy. My prayers are with the injured.

Doug said...

David -

Thanks for your concern, and sooner or later the violence in Chicago has to stop! I was with several Chicago Public Schools teachers in August, and what they and their students have to go through is unimaginable for most of us. I count my blessings at the same time saying a prayer for those who live among the violent.

I live 50 miles south of the center of the city, far removed geographically from those events.


Rip Jagger said...

The great Judomaster has already been mentioned. The Scarlet Smasher is the leader of the martial arts pack for sure.

Iron Fist was a great blend of Kung-Fu and superheroics, perhaps the best blend of that kind.

Ironically I've got a deal to trade off my Iron Fists tomorrow. It's okay though since I have the stories in a easy-to-read Essentials.

Rip Off

Karen said...

I really wish I had read Master of Kung Fu when it came out. I got into Iron Fist and had most of that title, but for some reason never got into Shang Chi. I've been buying back issues of MOKF here and there but not really reading them -I'm waiting til I have a nice set built up so I can really enjoy them.

I was a big fan of Bruce Lee as a kid, as I've mentioned on the blog before. He still exudes coolness. I'd rather watch him and his non-CGI enhanced action than most of the stuff you see today. I think it's interesting how integrated martial arts have become in modern film. As William pointed out, The Matrix and its sequels were essentially sci fi/kung fu films. Star Wars is derivative of many genres, including kung fu films and Japanese samurai movies. At some point, in both comics and film, Batman became a master martial artist. It seems as though almost all the street-level super-heroes have some sort of martial arts skill now. It's almost refreshing to see someone who doesn't have any training but is just a slugger. I would have preferred Wolverine as a berserker myself than a ninja warrior.

Fred W. Hill said...

My brother Terry, 10 months younger than me, got into martial arts in a big way -- watching lots of kung fu movies, taking karate lessons, etc., but I could take it or leave it. The family watched Kung Fu on tv together, and I watched many of the Hong Kong kung fu flicks with Terry, and thought some were pretty cool, but I wasn't as much into it. I did start collecting Master of Kung Fu, but only got into it a few issues after Paul Gulacy left -- once I realized what I'd missed, I managed to get pretty much all the back issues, and I still think MOKF was one of the best comics of the Bronze Age -- certainly in the top 10 in my estimation. Mainly due to Doug Moench's writing, along with usually great art by Gulacy, as well as Zeck & Day, although Englehart & Starlin provided a decent start as well. I also got into Claremont & Byrne's run on Iron Fist -- didn't last long, but still pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes it seems every one was kung fu fightin' in the 70s. William, you're right - the late Bruce Lee really took the kung fu flick to a whole other level. The debut of Enter the Dragon just a few days after his death only added to his mystique. Bruce's legend just grew even bigger after he died, not unlike Steve McQueen and Marilyn Monroe, two other stars who died young. All three are pop culture icons now. Karen, you've got good taste - Bruce was (and still is) a hero of mine too; here was a guy who had to combat racism, ignorance and numerous obstacles in order to succeed; I was only 3 when he died, but seeing his movies was almost a religious experience(as I'm sure it is for many millions of other people up to this day). It was great to see someone who looked like me (I'm Chinese too) have the type of impact he had on movies and martial arts.

I remember that all the cinemas (we didn't have multiplexes back then) in Trinidad had kung fu movies playing every week back in the 70s. I also have a good number of Shang Chi comics which my brother collected at the time and some Iron Fist ones too. The Immortal Iron Fist series of a few years back was excellent because it captured the vibe of that era.

The 70s were a good decade for kung fu and the martial arts in general; the proliferation of movies (good,bad and indifferent) served to introduce martial arts to the public. The popularity of the modern MMA scene can be traced right back to this decade as well.

- Mike 'is wolfing down a whole bowl of noodles a martial arts skill?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Graham said...

I loved MOKF when I discovered it. It was perfect for me because I was into the martial arts craze and I had seen a couple of the old Fu Manchu movies, so I was hooked when I found my first copy. I also dug Iron Fist and the Sons of the Tiger, too. I got that giant B&W Deadly Hands of Kung Fu that featured all three and read it into pieces.

With Shang Chi, I loved the Moench/Gulacy period, then later came back for Moench/Zeck/Day and was crushed when Gene Day passed away.

I also hung in pretty good with Iron Fist and really enjoyed the teaming with Power Man. I always thought that series was very underrated.

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike, if scarfing down bowls of noodles were a martial arts skill, I'd be a zen master...

david_b said...

Another though, whether you loved or hated this genre, is it just me or is it extremely difficult to get that amazing Carl Douglas song out of my head..?

david_b said...

Forgot to mention this on the 20th, but we TOTALLY forgot.. yes, the formidable Master of Dim Mak, Count Dante:

How could we even BEGIN to discuss Martial Arts without mentioning this interesting character..??

Ah, those memorable comic ads.

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