Friday, May 22, 2009

Enter the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu

When characters like Spider-Man, Conan, X-Men, Punisher, and Wolverine become popular, what's the next step for Mighty Marvel to take?

DHKF promo 

Spin them off into a number of books to maximize their profit!  Soon after Shang-Chi appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15, Bullpen Bulletins announced the launch of a brand new black and white magazine...The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu!

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 1 cover by Neal Adams

The cover to issue #1 featured a dynamic cover by Neal Adams, which depicted a Kung Fu character kicking the shit out of a much larger opponent.  The character looked like Bruce Lee and the scene looked like it was ripped from his most famous movie, Enter the Dragon.  This cover was so popular that Marvel sold it as a poster.

Neal Adams covers really helped sell DHKF magazine.  He executed a series of them inspired by TV/Movies, including David Carradine's Kung Fu series, Roger Moore as James Bond (from a scene in The Man With the Golden Gun), and the Trial of Billy Jack. 

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu actually had the least story content of any Marvel magazine.  Kung Fu was a new genre and there were no reprints Marvel could use.  Their writers and artists were straining just to fill Master of Kung Fu and Iron Fist with new stories in the color comics.  Each issue of Deadly Hands would feature a lead Shang-Chi story and a back-end story with the Sons of the Tiger.  In-between these stories would be a number of articles on Kung Fu inspired TV shows and movies, articles on actors like Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, or articles about the practice of martial arts.  The articles are quite good, especially if you are fan of 70s Kung Fu movies, as they interviewed many actors who starred in them.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 10 cover with Iron Fist

Iron Fist smashed his way into Deadly Hands in issue #10, in a story originally meant for his own black and white magazine.  Iron Fist was always drawn by Rudy Nebres when he appeared in DHKF.  He displaced Shang-Chi as the lead character for six issues (19-24).

Sons of the Tiger in DHKF 18, Pat Broderick and Terry Austin

The Sons of the Tiger backup strip was clearly inspired by the three lead characters in Enter the Dragon.  Take three Kung Fu guys--an Asian dude who looks like Bruce Lee, a butt kicking Black dude, and a white guy who is also a movie actor--give them mystical Tiger amulets that triples their power when joined together--and you've got a Kung Fu super-team.  This series floundered for a while, but when Bill Mantlo and George Perez took it over, it started to be more interesting.  Perez was early in his career and just starting to develop his skills.  Mantlo and Perez introduced the White Tiger in Deadly Hands #20, a Puerto Rican guy who got a hold of all three tiger amulets after the Sons disbanded.

The funny thing about Deadly Hands is that I remember only a handful of stories.  The first two Shang-Chi stories clearly stand out, as they were written by Steve Englehart.  The only Iron Fist story that stands out was in DHKF #18, by Mantlo with Pat Broderick, and Terry Austin, who did a terrific job on the art.  Iron Fist teams up with the Sons of the Tiger and stops a subway train from running over Abe using his glowing hand.  Chris Claremont and Marshall Rogers' Daughters of the Dragon story in DHKF #32-33, that took Iron Fist supporting characters Colleen Wing and Misty Knight to lead roles as butt kicking heroines, was another standout.

White Tiger splash by George Perez in DHKF 21

The supreme Deadly Hands moment occurred in issue #21, when I saw this terrific splash page by George Perez featuring the White Tiger.  I couldn't--and still cannot--get over the the painstaking detail of the buildings in the cityscape and the clever use of the White Tiger logo on the buildings.  From this moment on, I knew Perez was an artist with enormous potential, and followed him to any comic that he drew.  I also admired the design of the White Tiger's costume.  He was a mysterious character. 

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu special album edition

DHKF even had its own version of a King-Sized Annual, a Special Album Edition in 1974.  It really cost a heckuva lot more.  Whereas the regular mag cost 75 cents, the Album was a quarter extra!  It was mostly reprint material from previous issues.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu lasted only 33 issues and less than 3 years, but it clearly made on impact on fans who later become professional writers.  I couldn't have been more surprised when Hector Ayala, the White Tiger, appeared in Brian Bendis' Daredevil as a defendant represented by Matt Murdock.  (Of course, I was disappointed when Bendis killed him off!)  Jason Aaron brought the Sons of the Tiger back in the Wolverine Manifest Destiny series.  Nuff said.

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