Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Devil Doctor Daddy!

Master of Kung Fu is one of those great comic series that came out of nowhere. Suddenly it was upon us, born out of the pop culture obsession with matters Oriental generally and martial arts specifically. The idea to adapt television's Kung Fu was the spur, but that niche to no small degree had been unofficially filled by Charlton's Yang as I point out here. Shang-Chi was clearly in the tradition of the laconic but lethal fighters played by Bruce Lee with such aplomb. But the genius of Master of Kung Fu was taking that premise of an estranged son fighting against the mysterious forces of his own father and placing that struggle in the licensed universe Sax Rohmer's utterly fantastic "Yellow Perilous" mastermind, the Devil Doctor himself Fu-Manchu.

This decision added immediate depth and scope to the story. The rich tapestry of past stories woven by Rohmer were suddenly in play. I'd never personally read those stories, so this was my first exposure to Fu-Manchu, but it was clear from the natures of Sir Nayland Smith and Dr.Petrie that there was much history concerning the Asian menace.

Sadly this licensed backdrop is the same thing which precludes these stories being reprinted. It's amazing that Marvel with the huge resources of the "House of Mouse" behind it cannot put together a deal which would make this happen, but there it is.

Here's the amazing piece of artwork which served as cover to Shang-Chi's debut. This work by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom, the "Gemini" team is a stunner and even more so in this raw form.

Here is the artwork transformed into a house ad for the series. I love the "subtle" way they try to get you to take notice of this small series begun so humbly.

The Fu-Manchu novels are currently being reprinted in the chronological order of their publication by Titan Books. I've savored all four volumes so far, the latest Daughter of Fu-Manchu the first of the post-WWI stories was really gripping. I'm eager for the next installment The Mask of Fu-Manchu due out this spring.

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  1. I loved Boris Karloff's portrayal of Fu Manchu - great stuff. As I've said before in various places, all Marvel has to do is re-name Fu as the Yellow Claw (and also re-name some supporting characters) and they could reprint the series free from copyright issues.

    1. That would be a neat fix. Obviously someone has done some calculations which suggest the cost of getting that done is not supported by the sales they'd get. I have to think they've taken it that far at least given how they've tried to reboot Shang Chi a few times. There's some awfully good Gulacy artwork in particular that needs to see some better printing.

      I've seen this kind of revision done at AC Comics, taking characters they no longer have the rights to, but artwork they own and making all new heroes out of them. At Marvel the Ghost Rider to Night Rider fix comes to mind, but that was all in house.

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    2. The Western "Ghost Rider" to "Night Rider" to "Phantom Rider" re-naming at Marvel was done to avoid confusion with the motorcycle-riding character, not due to licensing or trademark restrictions.

      I'm not sure AC actually licences any of the Golden Age characters they reprint or do new stories about.
      The material they've reprinted is, in fact, PD.
      I believe the only reason they don't use the "true" names for Golden Age characters like Phantom Lady, Ghost Rider, or Daredevil is that the trademarks are currently being used (for new characters or revised versions of the Golden Age characters) by bigger companies.
      AC calls characters with no current counterparts at DC, Marvel, etc, like Purple Claw or Yankee Girl by their real names.

    3. I wasn't clear on the Ghost Rider stuff. I know they were only trying to distinguish their characters, but it force them to go back and alter the reprints in terms of names and such. That's what I was alluding to.

      I don't think AC does license anything. Bill Blacks simply works off a huge stash of material he got from the guy who owned the old M.E. brand, plus other public domain stuff. He did have to alter Phantom Lady's name for sure, and Ghost Rider became Haunted Horseman I think to keep both DC and Marvel from attacking his tiny enterprise.

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