I’m doing Movember once again, and this year I decided to send little watercolour moustache portraits to my donors as a thank you.
Last night, unprompted, J. recited the entirety of The Rabbit of Seville. From memory.
I didn’t think it was possible to love you any more than I already do, sweets. Happy anniversary!
That’s more like it. Last issue’s vendetta continues, with plenty of room to breathe. At turns heart wrenching and terrifying, the best moment in an issue full of them is the appearance of shadowy figures slowly crawling out of the ocean as Shang Chi is tortured by his enemies. This issue takes the rebound from the last and dunks it.
The cover is a bit of a mystery. Shang Chi’s frogmen foes appeared in the previous issue, which makes me wonder if that issue’s sudden change of scripters included a replacement cover as well.
I do not like
This issue is split evenly between Gerry Conway and Doug Moench, and it shows. The series is at its best when the previous stories weigh down on the current installment. Here a batch of nondescript characters and outlandish plot devices are introduced and tossed away in less time than it takes to mention, with Shang Chi exiting the scene unfazed and unchanged.
The artwork by Paul Gulacy, particularly the two panels shown above, remind me of someone else, possibly an artist from the Underground. I’m leaning toward Spain, though it may be one of the Canadian comix artists Gary is into. Either way, that’s one cracked out samurai.
Meant for you
Only a matter of time
So far as I can tell, this issue is one of only a handful that place Master of Kung Fu within the Marvel Universe. It’s already astounding enough that a comic book devoted to the Kung Fu craze lasted years past its peak, but to do so without continual support from the more popular kids from the Marvel universe is quite the accomplishment.
Hunted through the everglades by two assassins and riding high on Fu Manchu’s narcotics, Shang Chi runs into both Man-Thing and David Carradine. The series begins to soften its tone, revealing that the former assassin is now hesitant to take the life of even the most heinous of henchmen. Englehart tempers this disappointment by comparing Shang Chi’s own willingness to serve Fu Manchu with those of his enemies, blurring the line between the various pawns in this game.
“The Dragon Lady is everything a mortal could ask for.” – Orson Welles
I stopped by the Dragon Lady Comics today to pay my respects. It wasn’t my regular, and it was too far away from most of my other stops for me to visit every time I visited Toronto. But once in awhile I would make the effort and hike it from the bus station out to Little Italy, saving the money I could spend on transit to use on classic comic strip reprints instead. Odds are good that I would have delved into the old masters of the adventure strip eventually, but I wouldn’t have done so as early and with as much vigour as I did upon discovering the work of Roy Crane, Milt Caniff, Noel Sickles and Frank Robbins while rummaging through the bins at Dragon Lady Comics. I left the store with their last two Johnny Hazard books and dust all over my fingertips.
You will never understand
How the reptile mind
Shang Chi seems to have entered the scene fully formed. It’s as if the shock of discovering that his father is one of history’s greatest villains has inured Shang Chi to further surprises, giving him a confidence beyond Marvel’s penchant for neurotic characters. Most telling is Shang Chi’s plan of attack, choosing to chip away at Fu Manchu’s empire instead of launching a frontal assault. It’s rare to see such a calculated, proactive approach in a serial comic, like if Batman were to concentrate exclusively on dismantling Ra’s al Ghul’s criminal empire over a ten year period.
The fight scenes had me double checking the Comic Code Authority at the time of publication. Shang Chi squares off against an Indian dacoit in two absolutely brutal clashes that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s comics. I have to admit, my dislike of Paul Gulacy’s artwork was the one thing holding me back from taking on this project, but I can think of few artists as capable of drawing a man setting himself on fire and jumping through a plate glass window.
Buddah be praised
There are so many ways that a martial arts comic can develop. The transition to regular series brings with it the introduction of supporting cast member Black Jack Tarr, whose presence solidifies the title’s path into the espionage genre.
Strange that the company we keep has such a large impact on our own lives, but it rarely affects fictional characters in quite the same way. Imagine if the first people Shang Chi met in the Western world were astronauts or motocross drivers. What a wonderful comic that would be.
Your concrete paths
And overflowing gutters
Are not welcome
It’s obvious that the team behind this issue were uncertain whether it would last one issue or one hundred. The villain is a former friend of Shang Chi’s named Midnight, and is presented as being Shang Chi’s equal in Kung Fu, but he’s introduced and dismissed so quickly that it doesn’t really mean a thing. Worst of all is Midnight’s outfit, with a clumsy fedora and cloak marking him as a fourth-rate Shadow knock-off instead of a martial artist.
Shang Chi’s distance is interesting. He shows a detachment to the alien streets of New York City, puzzled only momentarily by a squalor he’s unaccustomed to before banishing it from his mind. Unlike so many other heroes, he’s less interested in saving a world he neither understands or cares for then he is destroying an evil he is already familiar with and leaving us to wallow in our own filth.
With slashing bodies
And neglected evils
Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom delineate the action with stiff poses caked in meaty feathering that gives off the kind of creeping panic one would feel upon waking up alone in a theatre on the Deuce. If powerful drawings are out of the question, pages that reek of stale bong water and black light posters aren’t a bad substitute.
In its way, Fu Manchu’s mastery over outdated methods of domination is brilliant in that this modern world seems to have forgotten how to cope with his archaic villainy. Master of Kung Fu is not only the tale of a boy and his estranged father, but a story about how tradition can be as dangerous as innovation.