Friday, July 20, 2018

Dojo Classics - Yang #11

Yang Volume 4, Number 11 is dated January, 1976 and was published by Charlton Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The action-filled cover is painted by Warren Sattler, and Sattler also did the artwork on the inside of the comic. Joe Gill wrote the script.

"The Killer King" begins in San Francisco where Yang the Avenger is being pursued by many killers. He slips into the bay and is rescued by a cabin boy aboard a ship which turns out to be headed to Alaska. Yang is kidnapped and dumped into the hold along with a crowd of men eager to get to Alaska and find their fortunes. Captain Mehn, the skipper of the ship puts Yang to work, but plans to kill him when Yang overhears the Captain's plans to shake down his passengers. Yang is tied and thrown overboard into the cold Bering Sea around the Aleutian Islands. Yang gets free and swims to a volcanic island filled with seals. He realize he must be in the Pribilof Islands when a boat appears with Russians who have come to club the seals to death for their fur. They are led by a Cossack named Colonel Igor Yugarov who wants kill Yang but Yang is knocked out instead by a Mongol named Woni. Yang is then taken to the leader named Prince Nimoff, and Nimoff's daugher Princess Karen pleads for Yang's life. Yang is put behind bars where he informs Karen of Yugarov's seal hunting.

"One Last Victim" begins as Yuarov overhears Yang tell Princess Karen of his activities and he plans to release Yang and kill Karen and tell Nimoff that Yang killed her. But Yang attacks Yugarov and the pair get to Nimoff first informing him of Yugarov's treachery. Nimoff, Karen and Yang escape and contact Woni before Yugarov can implement his plan to blow up Nimoff and his daughter. They escape to the sea in a boat and are pursued by Yugarov and his men. Yang slips into the cold sea and tips over the pursuing boat, then he attacks Yugarov and throws him into the sea where he is attacked and killed by a ferocious Leopard Seal. As the story ends, Yang plans to find his way to Nome, Alaska.

"Yin-Yang Mail" offers up two letters. One is from an academic who adds more detail to the Yin-Yang myth which informs the series and the other is from a fan who suggests a super-foe for Yang simply named "Yin". The editors tell the latter that Yin Li already fills that role.

This issue was reprinted in 1977 under the Modern Comics label.

Yet another solid issue, filled with action and a very wide-ranging setting this time. In the space of a single issue we travel from the bays of San Francisco to the the wilds of the Aleutians. Yang's personality seems fully developed at this point and Gill and Sattler seem completely comfortable with the characters and the setting. The stories are vivid, and they offer up a broad spectrum of characters.

The world of Yang (called "the Avenger" over and over again in this issue) is one filled with random and often cruel violence. It makes Yang's own character very important. While it's a bit thin to imagine the slaughter of seals having much impact in the rugged world of the 19th Century, it does contrast neatly with the more placid aspects of Yang's outlook on life.

There is more to come.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dojo Classics - House Of Yang #3

House of Yang Volume 1, Number 3 is dated December, 1975 and was published by Charlton Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The beautiful cover was painted by Sanho Kim who is also the artist on the interior pages as well. The script was supplied by Joe Gill.

"Hunters of the Sun" begins with the arrival of former Japanese military man Colonel Yagatsu and his two female Ninzas on the Nipponese freighter of pirate queen Eva Ku. They plot together to kill Sun Yang, enemy of both. Sun Yang meanwhile is training at the House of Yang, refining his martial arts skills. He learns of Yagatsu's return as a civilian spy and heads to see him because of his cruel plan to corner the rice markets of China, bringing out suffering and hunger. He infiltrates Eva Ku's compound and sneaks into a meeting between her and Yagatsu by pretending to deliver rice and confronts the pair. Yagatsu has his Ninzas attack Suy Yang and he fends them off, but his lack of desire to kill his enemy causes him to become their prisoner. As they try to kill Sun Yang, Eva Ku has a change of heart and turns on her new allies, saving Sun.

"House of Yang" is a two-page letters page section with spot illustrations from previous issues. It offers up two letters of comment, both very complimentary to the new comic and both offering high praise for Sanho Kim's distinctive take on the setting and characters. His aborted project "Wrong Country" is mentioned by the editors.

"The Plunderer" begins as Sun Yang is being tortured by the two Ninzas with braided, barbed whips, but Sun is able to twist and get free. His hand bound he battles against to the twin Ninzas and Colonel Yagatsu, knocking them all out. He then yells to the many desperate men in the sampans around the freighter that the rice there and in the warehouses is free to any who got to get it. This causes a sufficient distraction that Sun is able to escape the freighter and seek help. Meanwhile Eva Ku is finding herself under attack from her Japanese allies, but she is saved when Sun Yang returns and sends both Ninzas and Yagatsu unceremoniously into the bay. Eva Ku turns on Sun Yang though and he flips her into the bay too. She vows revenge, but he seems unconcerned for the moment. Later at the House of Yang he indicates he can deal with Eva Ku in the future.

This is a solid issue, as the premise which works so effectively in the Yang comic finds expression here. Eva Ku reappears inexplicably healthy with dark hair this time, and her feud with Sun Yang is lively and on display. The reappearance of Colonel Yagatsu was a surprise, especially in his civilian dress. The "Ninzas" as they are called are beautiful additions to the lore and offer up some really great baddies for Sun to battle. He's been taking on over-sized macho warriors to this point, and this pair of deadly lovelies is a nice change of pace.

This issue was reprinted in Gredown's House of Yang #1 in 1976.

Another top-notch outing for all concerned beneath one of Charlton's most elegant and beautiful comic book covers. Outstanding!

More to come.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dojo Classics - Yang #10

Yang Volume 3, Number 10 is dated November, 1975 and was published by Charlton Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The colorful nigh-expressionistic cover is painted by Warren Sattler, and Sattler also did the artwork on the inside of the comic. Joe Gill wrote the script.

After a brief summary of the life of Chung Hui, who we know better as Yang, Part One "Partners in Evil" begins with our hero trying to return to San Francisco to perhaps head back to China, where his thoughts have turned to his cousin Sun Yang. He is attacked by Apache John and his partner who wears a badge. He fends off these attacks and escapes on horseback while the man behind the attacks reveals himself as Yang's old enemy Captain Keegan. His plan is to let Yang find Yin Li and let one of them eliminate the other. Yang does find Yin Li, the daughter of the man who killed Yang's father, but not before discovering Keegan's opium shipments. He kills one of Keegan's men and then boards the Shanghai junk which holds Yin Li. They exchange words, and Yin Li threatens Yang with a gun. Meanwhile Captain Keegan and his crew board the junk, killing Yin Li's man. Their attack allows Yang to escape Yin Li's gun and he fights the new enemy.

Part Two "The Target" showcases this battle between Yang and Keegan as the corrupt Captain is kicked overboard. But Yin Li's man Han knocks Yang out and Yang is tied up and whipped by Han for Yin Li's pleasure. But in a moment of doubt she releases prisoner and Yang jumps overboard. He encounters Keegan's small boat and tips it making Keegan fall into the bay. But despite his desire to do so, he spares Keegan's life, but Yang himself is again knocked out with a belay pin by Keegan's men. Keegan thinks Yin Li will try to save Yang and hopes to kill them both when she does so. He hires a killer named Durango to do just that. Yin Li arrives to do just as Keegan predicts and he adds her to his collection of prisoners. Durango moves to fulfill his bargain, but Yang uses the unloaded gun he is provided to defeat his new enemy by crashing it against his skull. A previously arranged explosion by Yin Li's men gives the pair the chance to defeat their foe and after giving Keegan a swift kick to the face, Yang then jumps out of the window as Yin Li shoots after him. He looks back at the junk with regret as the story ends.

"Yin-Yang Mail" offers up three letters, one an erudite analysis of the Yin-Yang symbol and philosophy and the others more typical letters of general praise for the comic. One letter though does say that Yin Li is in too many issues of the comic, and it's pointed out that George Wildman, the editor thought the same thing and had the comic change up the scenario some in recent issues.

This comic was reprinted in 1977 under the Modern Comics label.

This is another solid issue of Yang, and after a few issues where Yin Li has been largely absent, seeing her again was a real treat. The conflict between her and Yang seemed to have a bit more spark this time, as both have largely given in to the inevitable nature of their love-hate relationship. Captain Keegan is a dandy villain, and good here.

The series really has found its balance now and is delivering solid entertainment. There is a small mention of the companion comic House of Yang, but there must have been some slips in editiorial as the references point to an upcoming series, not one already on the stands.

More to come.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dojo Classics - House Of Yang #2

Sanho Kim 
House of Yang Volume 1, Number 2 is dated October, 1975 and was published by Charlton Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The cover was painted by Sanho Kim who is also the artist on the interior pages as well. The script was supplied by Joe Gill. 

Part One "The Invaders" begins with Sun Yang in the North of China studying with I-Ho-Ch'uan (The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists)when the much more modern Japanese army invades. He fights against these invaders, specifically one particular Colonel whose horse he steals. Sun rides into the country to a village where the Feast of the Dragon is about to be celebrated with a parade. Sun has word of the parade leaked to the approaching Japanese army knowing they will choose that time to attack. They do, and the villagers are prepared. The Japanese counter with a gunboat coming up the river and Sun Yang commandeers a sampan loaded with gunpowder to blow up the threatening craft. But he is taken prisoner and presented to the very colonel whose horse he had stolen earlier. The Colonel has his Sumo wrestler Kajo throw Sun into a cell next to a girl named Yaku and her father.

Part Two "To Die with Dignity..." begins with Sun Yang being pitted against the giant Sumo Kajo. The two wrestle until the Colonel gives Kajo a sword but honor demands that Sun Yang receive one too. The two opponents battle furiously until Sun is able to defeat Kajo with a kick and a savage punch to the face. The Colonel then threatens them all with a pistol but Yaku blinds him and Sun knocks it out of his hand, throwing the Colonel into Kojo. Taking the sword Sun Yang, Yaku and her father escape the compound, but not before taking advantage of some conveniently placed gunpowder to blow up a significant portion of the facility. Yaku expresses love for Sun Yang, but he leaves with her father remarking that he belongs to all of China.

"House of Yang" offers up two letters on the debut issue, both complimentary and both surprised at the fresh setting of China as opposed to the American West. Both express interest in Eva Ku, and anticipate seeing her again despite her apparent demise in the debut. The editors suggest her survival might well be in the cards.

This issue was reprinted in 1978 under the Modern Comics logo and in 1976 by Australian publisher Gredown.

This issue features one of my favorite Charlton covers. Sanho Kim's portrait of Sun Yang with the threatening Japanese soldiers behind him is striking, and the restrained color palette reinforces the subtle impact.

This is a solid issue with great action, all wonderfully choreographed by Sanho Kim. The plot moves briskly and the action is all out. The characterization is subtle and in service to the plot at all times. If any criticism can lodged at this outstanding comic, it's that Yaku might need another scene to develop her personality. There is a hint that she might return in the letters pages, but none in the story itself.

We return to the adventures of Yang himself next time. More to come.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Dojo Classics - Yang #9

Warren Sattler
Yang Volume 3, Number 9 is dated September, 1975 and was published by Charlton Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman. The cover is painted by Warren Sattler, and Sattler also did the artwork on the inside of the comic. Joe Gill wrote the script.

"Brides for Sale" begins with Yang helping a young blonde woman who is being attacked by Commanches. He fends off the attackers, takes a horse and the two of them ride back to her camp, despite her protests to the contrary. The men of the camp shoot back at the Commanches, saving Yang and the woman, but quickly Yang and the woman are punished for bringing the danger back to camp. Brother James, a seemingly religious leader has them whipped and forces Yang to become a servant in the camp.

Yang quickly learns the women are being held against their will, having been tricked into coming West to find husbands and success they are beaten and live in fear. He uses the chances he has to train the women in Kung Fu, and they prove to be quick learners. Eventually they reach the town of Gutter Gulch where Brother James hopes to sell the women to the many unscrupulous men who live there.

Knowing their time is almost up, the women disguise themselves as "The Masked Furies" to begin Part II. They attack the men and take shelter in an old mine. Yang though goes to learn what's happening and gets captured. The woman he saved to begin with named Trudi Weiser goes into town as a decoy and succeeds along with the other Furies in freeing Yang. A battle ensues and the corrupt men of the town are defeated and Brother James last trick, a gun in his Bible proves ineffective. Yang leaves the women in charge of their fates and along with the good folks of Gutter Gulch, hopefully they will build good lives. Yang walks into the sunset.

"Yin-Yang Mail" lives up to its name for the first time. It features two letters, one to the editors by a young man which has mostly praise for the comic and another addressed to Yin Li from a young woman who wonders why Yin is so often found in the role of the baddie in the stories and hopes she will mend her ways.

This is a solid, exceedingly well-paced issue. The religious fanatic Brother James is a despicable type and revealed to be a hypocrite. The women this time are all good and Yang helps them, a big change for the series where women are often untrustworthy. The one fault in the story is the speed with which the Furies learn Kung Fu, but that's unavoidable. It often seems in these types of stories that years of training can be transferred in a few days, and that's ludicrous. But this isn't the only time that flaw as been seen in a story, comic book or otherwise.

The team of Gill and Sattler continue to impress. This issue of Yang makes mention of Sun Yang and hints that Yang will head back East to find him. The new series House of Yang is given a plug.

More on that "new" spin-off next time.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Fury Of Iron Fist!

The Bronze Age of Comics produced a cavalcade of heroes and heroines. Alas many of them did not catch fire, or only is a relatively small way compared to the powerhouses created by Marvel in the decade before. A few have found some measure of success -- Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel (as Captain Marvel), and She-Hulk come to mind. But others like Skull the Slayer, IT! The Living Colossus, Killraven, and others not so much. But among the successes is most certainly Iron Fist. Created during the wave of Kung Fu madness which swept popular culture in the early 70's thanks to the amazing Bruce Lee, Iron Fist successfully bonded the Kung Fu craze with proper superhero dynamics. While other Kung Fu artists like Shang Chi and Richard Dragon were true to the tropes of the form, they were not immediately recognizable as superheroes (which they were really). Iron Fist was from the get-go, a legit part of the larger Marvel Universe.

Iron Fist is one of the best designs of any hero created in the decade. I'd say his uniform and general look is perfect from the beginning and requires no tweaking, though I see they have done so in modern days -- a mistake. Gil Kane gave us the awesome Green Lantern and Atom designs at DC and he does great work again with Iron Fist. (Or was the design by Romita?) The story of Danny Rand is also pitch perfect, borrowing the story of Bill Everett's Amazing Man (as Pete Morisi's Thunderbolt had done almost a decade before) the story is rich enough for growth yet has the focus necessary to immediately pitch the character --a young boy sees his parents killed and is raised in a hidden land by martial arts masters before he returns to the world for vengeance.

The success of Iron Fist is also due to the talent which graced the book from its earliest days. Roy Thomas and the late great Gil Kane do the origin story and its a masterpiece. Larry Hama steps in for several issues thereafter with scripts by Len Wein and Doug Moench. Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones give the book a respite before the lasting team of Chris Claremont and a youngster named John Byrne take the wheel (where have I heard of those two before). This is the first Claremont and Byrne work, before they went on to refine an exceedingly uncanny book.

The series is also notable in the creation of Nightwing Restorations, the team of  samurai Colleen Wing and bionic Misty Knight. Wing had been a part of the story from nearly the beginning, an element of Iron Fist's origin story, but Knight was the creation of Isabella but who was put to fantastic use by Claremont, using the duo to add some of the exploitation flare which was the source of the series to begin with. The romance that blossoms between Misty and Danny is one of the most natural in all of comics, and what I like most about the romance is that race is not even brought up. Kickass dames were right there in the early 70's along with Kung Fu and bonding the two was genius. (Later of course Iron Fist would partner with the best of the blaxploitation heroes Luke Cage to create one of the strongest series of the later Bronze Age.)

Here are the covers from the run, the issues included in the Epic collection (and the Essentials volume before that.)

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Some Very Amazing Men!

When Bill Everett co-created Amazing Man for Centaur Comics in the early days of comics history in 1939, he fashioned a hero who captured the imagination in a way which has never let go in some respects. While Everett is properly mostly remembered as the creator of Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, his Amazing Man has lasted too, in some surprising ways.

Amazing Man Comics #1 presents us with John Aman, a man raised in a distant mountain refuge by monks after the deaths of his parents. He is gifted with mysterious powers which he uses to protect mankind from threats of all kinds, including enemies from his own past such as The Great Question. He is a man trained to utmost extent and sent out into the broader world offer hope to a globe seeking hope. He is a hero.

Some decades later in 1966, after the demise of Centaur Comics, the Derby publisher Charlton Comics offered up Thunderbolt. Peter Cannon, created by Pete Morisi is a youth who is orphaned and who is raised in the confines of a mountain retreat by monks and has developed his human potential to its utmost. With his partner Tabu, Peter Cannon went out into the larger world to protect it from a wide range of threats, some presented by another from the his world named The Hooded One. After a short tenure at Charlton, T-Bolt ended up at DC along with other "Action Heroes", even getting his own title again for a year or so. Now though his rights have redounded to the estate of Pete Morisi and he was last seen at Dynamite Comics.

And in 1974 came Iron Fist, yet another variation on the Amazing Man template. I'll have much more to say on Iron Fist tomorrow, but in Danny Rand we have yet another young man who grew up in a monastery and gained incredible skills which he then took into the broader world, ultimately to the benefit of the world. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane were both great fans of Bill Everett and the great artist was given due credit in the debut issue. And apparently the "original" John Aman has joined the cast of Iron Fist in more recent years.

Roy Thomas creates an all-new Amazing Man when he was populating his cadre of World War II heroes in All-Star Squadron. The book was in desperate need of a hero of color and Will Everett (there's that name again) was just the thing. This time Amazing Man was not from a monastery and had wildly different powers but the name was enough to make him a part of the tradition.

The original Amazing Man got a nod in the early 90's when the public domain Centaur Comics heroes were revived by Malibu Comics under the Protectors banner.

And the hero is currently on view in various venues, some exceedingly independent. Amazing Man has been part of comics since almost the very beginning and he continues to be a part in many different fascinating ways.

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