The Sons of the Tiger series in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu languished in obscurity for the first 18 issues. Bill Mantlo and George Perez brought new energy into the story when they explored the cosmic power behind the Tiger amulets that gave them their special kung-fu power, but it never really took off.
In DHKF 19, after a terrific fight between lead characters Lin Sun and Bob Diamond, the Sons of the Tiger disband. They throw away their mystical Tiger amulets…in a New York City alleyway! Kind of dumb, isn’t it? Would Doctor Strange just throw away the Eye of Agomotto in the garbage? The Sons loss was Hector Ayala’s gain when he stumbled across the amulets, put them around his neck, and transformed into the White Tiger.
The White Tiger went into action in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #20. Suddenly the series was super-charged and the story was more exciting than it had been during the past two years. Hector was the first Puerto Rican superhero ever created, and George Perez was obviously proud of bringing him to life. Hector was introduced with a girlfriend and a family that lived in the South Bronx, drawn from Perez’s own experience living in the city.
The White Tiger was a mysterious character. He appeared to have a personality completely distinct from Hector in the first few stories. As time went on, they would become more integrated.
The Tiger was an instant hit with the DHKF readership. He appeared on two covers of the magazine. Bill Mantlo made a decision to integrate the Tiger with the Marvel Universe by having him fight the Prowler and Mantlo’s own creation, the Jack of Hearts.
The Tiger’s serialized story climaxed in DHKF #31, featuring the biggest Marvel Kung Fu team-up in history: the Tiger, Shang-Chi, and Iron Fist, with Jack of Hearts riding shotgun.
DHKF #32 featured the White Tiger’s last appearance before the magazine was cancelled. He met the original Sons of the Tiger, who remained a sub-plot throughout the past 10 issues. I had waited to see what would happen when the Sons discovered that Hector possessed the Tiger amulets—would they want them back? Would Hector have to fight to keep them? Perhaps arrange some kind of Tiger amulet timesharing deal? Fortunately, Mantlo never had to answer the question…that was the end of the White Tiger’s solo stories.
But it wasn’t the end of the White Tiger in the Marvel universe. Bill Mantlo brought Hector Ayala into Marvel’s color comics in Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man #9, circa 1977. The story involved Empire State University cancelling night school, and a storm of protesters who work during the day! The White Tiger springs into action against corrupt ESU officials, and in one of those usual comedy of errors, winds up fighting Spidey.
George Perez penciled the covers on this two issue story, and I have always admired the cover to Peter Parker #10. Everything about this composition seems near-perfect: the White Tiger kicking Spider-Man off the ledge, the New York City skyline, the sunset, and the feeling of vertigo as they appear to be fighting far above the street.
The White Tiger would continue making sporadic appearances in the Marvel universe, most oddly in the Human Fly #8-9 in 1978.
If you can’t tell by now, I always liked the White Tiger. When Marvel started publishing mini-series in the 1980s, I hoped that Mantlo and Perez would produce a White Tiger mini. Even if that was desirable, it would have been impossible to schedule, with Perez busy drawing Teen Titans for DC Comics. In many interviews with George Perez, he’s repeatedly stated his fondness for Hector Ayala. Nuff said.