- Hardcover: 1152 pages
- Publisher: MARVEL - US; GRAPH edition (15 Nov. 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1302901338
- ISBN-13: 978-1302901332
- Product Dimensions: 19 x 5.1 x 28.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 229,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 Hardcover – 15 Nov 2016
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And therefore, ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (hereafter DHOKF), another instalment in Marvel's substantial attempt to corner the (hem-hem) "mature reader" market for oversized black and white comics mags with contents stronger than the Code-approved colour titles. I'm assuming the trend they're chasing is obvious.
Marvel jumped on the kung fu bandwagon in 1973 with the (colour) title "Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu", but for trend-hoppers they did remarkably well out of martial arts. MOKF, an immediate and substantial hit, was probably (and surprisingly) their most consistently high quality title of the 1970s, and it lasted - quite staggeringly for a cash-in on the Bruce Lee fad of 1973 - till 1982 - that's 1982, folks. Their second martial arts character, Iron Fist, followed shortly after, and while he wasn't such a hit, he had a respectable run through till 1978 and has now managed to land his own TV series, over 40 years after he first appeared. The colour comic hits led to the fast-tracking of the black & white DHOKF, which first appeared in early 1974 and featured Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, the Sons of the Tiger and (later) the White Tiger. DHOKF was also surprisingly successful, lasting 33 issues (and two "specials") before taking its final bow in 1977, some time after the kung fu tide had ebbed away. That made it the biggest hit of all of Marvel's black and white mags, with the sole exception of the indestructible Savage Sword of Conan, which lasted for about 5000 years.
This book - possibly the least expected of Marvel's big, hardback "Omnibus" series - compiles the first 18 issues of DHOKF, and relevant bits of the two specials, pretty much in their entirety, plus some introductory material by key players in the original series (writer/editors Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway and Doug Moench), with some archival material to pad things out. As Isabella points out, the original series was unique among Marvel's black and white mags because the rush to hit the stands quickly meant they didn't have the time and resource to produce enough new comics material to fill the pages, nor did they have a back catalogue of martial arts comics to draw from. Consequently, an unusually large proportion of the mag was devoted to newly-written text pieces covering various aspects of the martial arts. All these text pieces are reproduced here.
Which makes for a weird mix and a and weirdly interesting book. The comics material, featuring Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and the Sons of the Tiger, is patchy at best. The long list of creators is quite respectable, though the bulk of the writing is by Doug Moench and Bill Mantlo, and the majority of the art by George Perez, Mike Vosburg and Rudy Nebres. Quite frankly, no-one is going to claim this as their finest hour, and while there's nothing terrible here, there's nothing that really rises above the average level of Bronze Age Marvel (which, come to think of it, is actually reasonably decent). Moench's Shang-Chi never reaches the heights of his work on the monthly colour mag (probably because of his absurd workload at the time). Mantlo was never a particularly interesting writer, but his best work was on the fringes of the mainstream Marvel Universe, including his Sons of the Tiger stories here, though the series is mainly of interest because you can see some of George Perez's earliest work and watch him maturing from a very raw newcomer to a talent verging on the superstar he became. You can almost see him improving on a page-by-page basis. There are also some superb covers by Neal Adams (and some less superb covers by other artists). By the way, in case you're wondering about the "mature" content of these comics, it's basically Naughty Ladies and Violence, though all very tame by contemporary standards.
The weird interest comes from the text pieces, which cover reviews of martial arts films (and the "Kung Fu" TV series), pieces about kung fu styles and weapons, interviews with dojos, do-it-yourself training pieces by Frank McLaughlin (that rare combination of black belt and accomplished comics artist), and other flapdoodle. It would be hard to claim the subject matter is of much interest these days, though occasionally it reaches a kind of brilliant insanity, as in Don McGregor's "review" of Enter The Dragon. McGregor was a notoriously verbose comics writer, but this is nuts even by his own standards. The review, which lasts for almost 30 pages and had to be spread across three issues of the magazine, is less a review than a frame-by-frame account. It reads like your trip to the cinema finds you sat next to an erudite nutter who insists on telling you exactly what you're seeing in a continuous real-time commentary for the full 90 minutes.
The other pieces aren't as crazy, and the topics aren't of particular pertinence 40+ years on, but therein lies the charm. They're reproduced exactly as they appeared in the 1970s, scanned from the original magazines with authentic '70s fonts, graphic design and photo illustrations. In that alone they are potent evocations of their era. Dig a little deeper, and they become interesting not for what they're discussing but how they do it. The cultural issues of the day are discussed, not least the racial sensitivities raised by the kung fu boom (especially the casting of David Carradine as a Chinese monk in the TV series). The writers (the kind of cussed Marvel staffers who felt comics could and should aim for more than just entertainment, of the type despised and purged by Jim Shooter) are highly opinionated, and often take issue with either their subject material or each other. The overall tone is a perfect snapshot of how fringe popular culture was discussed in the 1970s, before the PR machines took everything down to the lowest common denominator and the fringe merged with the mainstream. It's cranky, funny, volatile and curiously utopian.
So while the comics here are patchy and the subject material for the text pieces is of very specialist interest, reading the book as a whole gives you a real feel for (or a reminder of) what it was like to BE a serious Marvel comics reader in the mid-1970s, when that involved a level of engagement with the wider culture that had largely vanished from fandom by the end of the decade (though traces could still be seen, not least in the letters page of MOKF). This obviously won't float the boat for a lot of potential readers, but it's a hugely effective time machine for the remainder. Overall, then, the book's pretty much a special-interest purchase, and most casual readers without a particular interest in Bronze Age Marvel can safely give it a wide berth, but for those to whom it does appeal, it's going to be REALLY interesting.
PS Overall star rating, to allow for the fact this isn't really an item with mass appeal, is only three, but I've given it four to help boost the overall Amazon rating, in response to the very silly one-star review elsewhere.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I will freely admit that I did not read any of the non-comic strip content. It consists of reviews of martial arts movies, tv shows, and books, some interviews, some martial arts instructions, and general articles on the martial arts scene of the 1970s. There are also the correspondence pages, tables of content, and house ads. I don't have any of the originals to compare but it seems that all editorial content was included. It all seems to be reproduced well enough; it probably looks as good as it ever did. The material seems hopelessly dated and of academic interest only but if you're interested in this stuff you'll be delighted. There's a lot of it.
The comic strips are all black and white but despite that look good and the lack of color only occasionally confuses. There were a lot of inkers working on this book and some of them employed very fine lines but nothing egregious. There were two major features running through the book. The first, Shang-Chi, is similar to the earliest Shang-Chi stories in the regular color comic book. Shang-Chi works alone with little supporting cast (Denis Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr appear, but aren't all that important to the plots). He opposes his father both in flashback and in the present in many of the stories. These stories are for the most part very entertaining except for the 6 part story arc toward the end which was confusing and didn't come to much of a conclusion. The second feature, the Sons of the Tiger, is an interesting concept where three people from widely varying backgrounds have to come to grips with a supernatural threat initially but there are more down to earth plots later. Not the most original concept but I thought it was executed with some skill. Beyond these two features Iron Fist appears once in a standalone feature and guest stars a few times in others. He would take over the book in the issues following the ones collected here. There are also two standalone oriental stories set in the distant past.
Extrras include some house ads in the color comics line and in other black and white Marvel magazines, some original art and three introductions by Tony Isabella, Gerry Conway, and Doug Moench.
I can only recommend the book if the text features interest you or you just have to have the comic strip material and price is no object. It's a collection that must have caused Marvel a few sleepless nights deciding which way to go.