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 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 8:04 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (MoKF) was a 1974-1983 Marvel Comics title with a spy element at its core. It also had a spiritual and philosophical aspect that made for some truly inspiring stories. As good as MoKF was, it can't be said that it's a "feel good" book. There's a lot of intensity and dark feeling there. Quite rare for the time period.

Shang-Chi is an ex-MI-6 agent who now works for Sir Denis Nayland Smith (whom I could imagine being played by Laurence Naismith) and his independent agency, Freelance Restorations.

Freelance Restorations operates out of the UK, with their base being Nayland Smith's castle in Scotland and interacting often with MI-6 in London, where Shang's sinister sister, Fah Lo Suee, is a high-ranking official. Shang's father is the legendary Chinese crime lord, Fu Manchu, whom Sir Denis has been battling since the 1920s. The rest of the group includes Leiko Wu, Shang's love interest and a deadly warrior in her own right; Clive Reston, the son of a famous spy (James Bond?) who's struggling to emerge from his father's shadow; and Black Jack Tarr, Smith's aging but most loyal lieutenant. Later on we get the KGB defector, Dark Angel.

The book was fortunate to have writer Doug Moench (best known for his run on Batman) and artists of an extraordinarily high caliber: Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck, and the late Gene Day were three of the great talents whose images supported Moench's often spiritual, Zen-like dialogue.

This spy element is what makes Master of Kung Fu such a good book. The tales aren't cut-and-dried and there's a quiet intensity throughout all the stories. There are Cold War intrigues galore, with many stand-out stories. My favorite is the two-parter in issues #108-109, where the crew must stop a KGB mole as well as an imposter in the crew's midst. There's also a great fight in a cemetary with Shang Chi pitted against Zaran, the Weapons Master.

What began as a Bruce Lee/Kung-Fu ripoff quickly transformed into a special series of stories that transcended the time and place in which it was created. It was almost entirely separate from the Marvel Universe of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men. It resided in its own world of international intrigue and dirty double dealings rather than being about saving Earth from the latest alien threat.

It's unlikely that MoKF will ever be reprinted in trade paperbacks due to trademark use of Fu Manchu so the only place to get the books would be at the back issue bin of your local comic store.






 
 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 9:00 AM   
 By:   MikeJ   (Member)

This is still one of the best singular runs by a comic book writer. Doug Moench wrote most of this series, as mentioned, and one of the strengths of the book was its mix of spirituality with the action. If you stuck with this book, you really got to know Shang and his friends and care for them. The book probably could have kept going for a few more years if Jim Shooter hadn't f*cked it up.

There was some subpar artwork on a few fill-in issues but Paul Gulacy's artwork is electrifying and you can see him getting better from one issue to the next. And then later, when Mike Zeck and Gene Day are doing the artwork, every issue is a joy to behold.

There was a long stretch where nobody used the Shang Chi character in Marvel Comics but that ended a few years back and he is still being used today, although usually as a supporting character.

 
 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 9:44 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

This is still one of the best singular runs by a comic book writer. Doug Moench wrote most of this series, as mentioned, and one of the strengths of the book was its mix of spirituality with the action. If you stuck with this book, you really got to know Shang and his friends and care for them. The book probably could have kept going for a few more years if Jim Shooter hadn't f*cked it up.

There was some subpar artwork on a few fill-in issues but Paul Gulacy's artwork is electrifying and you can see him getting better from one issue to the next. And then later, when Mike Zeck and Gene Day are doing the artwork, every issue is a joy to behold.


Well said. There's an intimacy with these characters, especially in the scenes between missions or those rare, restful pauses in Nayland-Smith's Scotland castle.

I know that the Gulacy art gets the lion's share of the attention in MoKF retrospectives, but for me, it's the Gene Day-as-penciller run (#102-120) when this book works its magic. No one could render backgrounds like Gene Day. Is it an odd compliment to say that he drew statues better than almost anyone else?

Day and Moench create a gothic, rain-drenched, and wonderfully dreary atmosphere that fits this book so well. Gene Day artwork coupled with Doug Moench's inner-looking Shang-Chi dialogue is just beautiful. Add Cold War intrigue, and we get one helluva read.

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 10:08 AM   
 By:   MikeP   (Member)

This is still one of the best singular runs by a comic book writer. Doug Moench wrote most of this series, as mentioned, and one of the strengths of the book was its mix of spirituality with the action. If you stuck with this book, you really got to know Shang and his friends and care for them. The book probably could have kept going for a few more years if Jim Shooter hadn't f*cked it up.

There was some subpar artwork on a few fill-in issues but Paul Gulacy's artwork is electrifying and you can see him getting better from one issue to the next. And then later, when Mike Zeck and Gene Day are doing the artwork, every issue is a joy to behold.


Well said. There's an intimacy with these characters, especially in the scenes between missions or those rare, restful pauses in Nayland-Smith's Scotland castle.

I know that the Gulacy art gets the lion's share of the attention in MoKF retrospectives, but for me, it's the Gene Day-as-penciller run (#102-120) when this book works its magic. No one could render backgrounds like Gene Day. Is it an odd compliment to say that he drew statues better than almost anyone else?

Day and Moench create a gothic, rain-drenched, and wonderfully dreary atmosphere that fits this book so well. Gene Day artwork coupled with Doug Moench's inner-looking Shang-Chi dialogue is just beautiful. Add Cold War intrigue, and we get one helluva read.


Moench and Gulacy for me. I remember at the time, being taken aback by the spy/cold war type stories, there was a multi-issue mission that was more a Bond movie than a superhero comic ( although sadly, I don't have those issues anymore and can't recall which run of issues it was), but I was simply floored and it opened up new interests for me. I'd long been wanting an Essential type reprint of this stuff, sad to read it may never happen.

 
 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 10:31 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Moench and Gulacy for me. I remember at the time, being taken aback by the spy/cold war type stories, there was a multi-issue mission that was more a Bond movie than a superhero comic ( although sadly, I don't have those issues anymore and can't recall which run of issues it was), but I was simply floored and it opened up new interests for me. I'd long been wanting an Essential type reprint of this stuff, sad to read it may never happen.

That's probably because you're so much older than me! wink

I think with the Gulacy run, there was some sub-par inking, fill-ins by inferior artists, and less-than-stellar covers in between all that Gulacy Goodness. With Zeck/Day and later just Day, there was more of the good and less fill-in. Of course, to be able to choose a favorite with these three great artists is a splendid "dilemma" to be in, isn't it?

 
 Posted:   Sep 5, 2010 - 1:42 PM   
 By:   Mark R. Y.   (Member)

Nice to see this being spotlit here. MOKF has become my favorite Marvel series - I have the entire run from 1973-1983, plus the five Giant-Size & Annual books. Moench really made this his own, with rich, multilayered writing: wonderful cinematic spy adventures along with disillusion of the whole espionage racket. It became a completely different series when other writers subbed or took over.
Great artwork, as has been noted. Starlin, Gulacy's detailed photorealism (my sole complaint about Gulacy is his distracting tendancy to base some of his characters on still photos of actors), Jim Craig (whose work was unfortunately inked too harshly), Zeck's clean lines, and Day's hallucinatory layouts. What a great pity Day died so young.

 
 Posted:   Sep 6, 2010 - 1:50 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

A nice site that chronicles MoKF and its artists--lots of Gulacy's work--and storylines:

http://www.panix.com/~bala/mokf/

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 1:34 AM   
 By:   riotengine   (Member)

Shang Chi: Master Of Kung Fu was one of my very favorite comics as a kid. I still have all my Paul Gulacy issues and the Giant-size annuals.

Greg Espinoza

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 6:17 AM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)



As good as MoKF was, it can't be said that it's a "feel good" book. There's a lot of intensity
and dark feeling there. Quite rare for the time period.




Indeed, no less than In Deed. What Messrs. Moench & Gulacy



came up with was as close a dazzling definition of what constitutes truly mature (let alone adult) story-telling that not only never insulted its audience’s assumed intelligence but also constituted the final phase of creators challenging themselves by creating FOR themselves (before the thoroughly sabotaging, infinitely insulting, downright dispiriting Shooter ascent).



And Mr. Gulacy’s gorgeous artwork’s only parallel probably came late in the previous decade



via Jim Steranko (here with Adam West)



and his radically senses-stunning style



As to that, the only other title comparable to Shang-Chi was Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan’s
equally exemplary royal run on

 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 8:12 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

In reading Doug Moench's dialogue, there's no doubt whatsoever that he was a "Child of the 1960s." Not the lame-o political aspect of that decade, but the inner-searching, spiritual one. Yes, superficially it's right out of the Kung-Fu TV series, but there's so much more there.

I find that I must read any given issue two or three times in a row: the first time for the basic narrative, the second to digest the art, and the third to take in the sweep of the storyline--which was always larger than the issue at hand--and the theme of the story. There's one issue (#93, IIRC) where the opening pages are from a (fictional?) tome on Chinese philosophy or fables. I can't wait to get to that one.

 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 12:20 PM   
 By:   jackfu   (Member)

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I seem to recall this began as a bonus insert in a martial arts mag (Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, Fighting Stars), is this correct?
I recall in the premier (I think) Shang Chi learns the truth about his father Fu Manchu (who bore a strong resemblance to the Christopher Lee/Hammer film version), and confronts him. When Shang Chi announces his intentions, Fu Manchu replies "Oh, come." I could almost hear Mr. Lee's British accent. It seemed there was a paradigm of that image instead of an asian one. That was a turn off for me (no disrespect to Mr. Lee).
Also, I thought the techniques looked more like Karate than Chinese martial arts, another turn off for me, so I lost interest. Maybe I didn't give it a fair chance.
It does bring back great memories of the 70's and the Chop Socky craze. Good times.

 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 1:04 PM   
 By:   Mark R. Y.   (Member)

Wow - Did Gulacy model Clive Reston's looks after his own? big grin

 
 Posted:   Sep 7, 2010 - 4:19 PM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Future comics writer Kurt Busiek has several of his fan gushings published in the MoKF lettercol. I've also seen his letterhackery in late '70s issues of The Avengers (no, not those Avengers; the ones with Cap and Shellhead...).

 
 Posted:   Sep 9, 2010 - 4:16 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

An interview with everyone else's favorite Master of Kung Fu artist wink, Paul Gulacy. He dicusses MoKF halfway through the piece, done in 1999:

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/07gulacy.html

Issue #7 of the now-defunct magazine Comic Book Artist had an excellent career retrospective interview with MoKF scribe Doug (whatta) Moench. Among many other things, Moench talks about the late Gene Day, his artist on issues 102-120 of MoKF. Turns out that the two never met face to face and only communicated via phone.

 
 Posted:   Sep 10, 2010 - 3:43 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

The Blaxploitation-inspired Rufus "Super Midnight" Carter. The funny thing about him is that issue #96 (with its cool blue cover tones) is supposed to be "the dramatic debut of an exciting new martial arts super star!" when on the cover he's sprawled flat on his back, and the hype blurb is placed right above Carter's unconscious body! Rare unintentional hilarity from the wizards of Master of Kung Fu! And to add to the '70s vibe, there's Shang Chi kicking holy hell out of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-inspired character, Oryx.

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 10, 2010 - 9:32 AM   
 By:   riotengine   (Member)

An interview with everyone else's favorite Master of Kung Fu artist wink, Paul Gulacy. He dicusses MoKF halfway through the piece, done in 1999:

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/07gulacy.html

Issue #7 of the now-defunct magazine Comic Book Artist had an excellent career retrospective interview with MoKF scribe Doug (whatta) Moench. Among many other things, Moench talks about the late Gene Day, his artist on issues 102-120 of MoKF. Turns out that the two never met face to face and only communicated via phone.


Hey Jim, have you seen the Vanguard Press book, Spies, Vixens, and Masters Of Kung Ku: The Art Of Paul Gulacy? It's a great hardcover career overview of Gulacy's work.

Greg Espinoza

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 10, 2010 - 9:34 AM   
 By:   riotengine   (Member)

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I seem to recall this began as a bonus insert in a martial arts mag (Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, Fighting Stars), is this correct?

The first appearance of Master Of Kung Fu was in Marvel Special Edition #15.

Greg Espinoza

 
 Posted:   Sep 10, 2010 - 10:36 AM   
 By:   jackfu   (Member)

The first appearance of Master Of Kung Fu was in Marvel Premiere #15.

Thanks for the correction. Darned old age. I didn't remember purchasing it as a stand-alone, but must have done so. Was I correct about the context of the premier or was that a later issue that I recalled in my earlier post? Thanks!

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 10, 2010 - 12:00 PM   
 By:   riotengine   (Member)

The first appearance of Master Of Kung Fu was in Marvel Special Edition #15.

Thanks for the correction. Darned old age. I didn't remember purchasing it as a stand-alone, but must have done so. Was I correct about the context of the premier or was that a later issue that I recalled in my earlier post? Thanks!


I don't recall. I would think maybe a later issue?

Greg Espinoza

 
 Posted:   Sep 11, 2010 - 8:45 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Hey Jim, have you seen the Vanguard Press book, Spies, Vixens, and Masters Of Kung Ku: The Art Of Paul Gulacy? It's a great hardcover career overview of Gulacy's work.


I've seen it mentioned around the web and in Neo's Marvel Comics thread but haven't looked for it at my local comic store.

...And speaking of my local comic store and Paul Gulacy, yesterday I purchased most of the Gulacy run on Master of Kung Fu:

#34;38-55

Also grabbed issues #26-27; 29-31; 33; 56-58; 62-63; 65-66; 70; 73-75

I now have most of the book's run. Nabbed a copy of Back Issue magazine with a Moench and Gulacy interview, too. The Star Wars figures I sold off netted me a nice amount in trade at the store. smile

I have a lot of reading to do!

 
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