Sunday, 27 November 2016

Your favourite comic book martial artist.

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu
As you may know, I'm something of a master of the martial arts, able to snap street lamps in half with a single kick of the foot.

"But how did you, a humble blogger, acquire this awesome ability?" I hear you ask.

It's simple. It's because I paid very close attention to Dr Who whenever Jon Pertwee demonstrated his remarkable expertise at the little-known skill of Venusian Aikido. How I gasped as Sea Devils, Ogrons, Daleks and assorted other monsters fell before his fists of death.

Granted, when you've seen a man of advancing years cheerily beat up a horde of Sea Devils, it does tend to undermine their aura of menace but such is the fate of the Sea Devil.

Still, there were other martial artists in my childhood.

And those martial artists filled the pages of my favourite comics.

Cashing-in on the early 1970s' Kung Fu craze, Marvel Comics gave us the likes of Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and the Sons of the Tiger.

But they had more martial artists than even that. They also had Mantis and Karnak. Captain America was always going on about his Judo skills. Even the distinctly non-physical Dr Strange was a martial artist, although the only times I can remember him using such skills was in one particular fight with Dormammu, and in his first meeting with Mantis. I can't help feeling that being flung around by a string of Judo throws is an indignity that no artist or writer should ever inflict upon Dormammu but, upon the receiving end of them, he nonetheless was.

Mantis vs the Avengers
Not to be left out of this high-kicking action, DC had Karate Kid, while Batman was supposed to be supreme in every fighting skill going - though I refuse to believe you can properly practise such things while wearing a cape. If I remember rightly, the revived Manhunter was a master of Ninjutsu, while I seem to recall that, during her de-powered era, Wonder Woman suddenly gained a mistressy of such skills.

Meanwhile, Charlton Comics had Yang who bore no resemblance at all to TV's Kwai Chang Caine. It was, no doubt, pure coincidence that he was a Chinese Kung-Fu expert who lived in the Wild West and kept fighting cowboys.

Dr Strange Judo throws Dormammu
All of this raises the question that's obvious to anyone who's desperately trying to find something to write about on his blog on a Sunday evening - and that's who, of this power-punching pantheon, was my favourite?

Well, Yang was indeed too similar to Kwai Chang Caine for comfort. He also liked fighting far too much. We all know that a true martial artist only fights when he has to, whereas Yang clearly couldn't wait to get stuck in. Mantis was annoying. So was Moondragon. Although I read plenty of Legion of Super-Heroes tales as a youth, I can't remember Karate Kid ever actually doing anything. I refuse to believe that the likes of Batman and Dr Strange were as good at the martial arts as they claimed to be. Meanwhile, if the Sons of the Tiger were really any good at fighting, they wouldn't have had to gang up on foes in order to beat them. Therefore I have to put it down to a choice between Shang-Chi and Iron Fist.

The fact that Iron Fist never seemed to be able to beat anyone without using his Iron Fist power suggests he can't have been that good at fighting. Therefore, I have to go for Shang-Chi who never needed to resort to such cheating in order to triumph over all odds. Not only that but he did it while wearing his pyjamas and he'd always make sure to give us a good chunk of home-grown philosophy while he was doing it.

But that's just my verdict. Who was your favourite comic book martial artist of your childhood, and why?


Brendan said...

Like yourself Steve, to me it ultimately boiled down to Shang-Chi and Iron Fist.

However, despite the magnificent Bond-esque glories of Shang-Chi's Paul Gulacy era, I have to ultimately plump for Iron Fist. This is not on the much more logical grounds of his comparative martial arts savvy, but on the second-person narration which accompanied the strip and which, to me as a kid, seemed a marvelous and unheard of thing.

I also remember the thrilling Shang-Chi yarn "Death is a Ninja" from the pages of The Avengers. This seems to have lingered in the mind much longer than expected. So perhaps that black-clad spook should be on the list too.

dangermash said...

Shang Chi and Iron Fist (you'll not be surprised to find out) fall into the category of hipster strips for me. They belong with SHIELD, Caprtain Britain and that damn duck.

Me, I'm looking at the 1960s and the best martial artist I can see is Steve Ditko drawing The Enfocers in ASM #10, #14, #19. Big Al Sjordsma over at will be so proud of me for flying the flag for three if the greatest ever ASM comics.

And, talking of Ditko, didn't Doctor Strange beat Dormammu in a hand to hand fight through martial arts at the end of that huge 12+ month long multiparter back in his early days?

Aggy said...

No love for Judo Master. That's OK DC have no love for him either.

Don't underestimate Karate Kid. Held is own against Superboy. Fought Batman to a standstill until outside interference help Batman win. Single handed beat the Fatal 5. Survived the awful 70s outfit...

TC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TC said...

My vote goes to Judo Master, if only for originality. The later (1970's) characters (Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Yang, and DC's Richard Dragon) all seemed like obvious attempts to exploit the mid-1970's martial arts movie boom.

Charlton also published Hong Kong Phooey in the 1970's. It was a "funny animal" comic, and a tie-in with a TV cartoon series. Which, of course, was a spoof of the kung fu fad.

In the 1980's, there were the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and the Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos. Obvious parodies of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Which, in turn, began as a parody of Frank Miller's run on Daredevil. Which introduced another martial arts heroine/villainess, Elektra.

Do Honey West and Emma Peel count? In the sixties, Gold key published comics based on those TV shows.

Anonymous said...

No love for Sonny Sumo either, it seems. The most incredible man on Earth according to Jack Kirby, so clearly he must have been.

I'd go for the Daughters of the Dragon as my faves - even if they were largely limited to guest appearances - but if dangermash can look to the 60s, don't see why I can't go forward a decade and rave about Elektra. Particularly as seen in the Miller/Sienkiewicz series.


Anonymous said...

PS Wasn't that damn duck Howard Master of Quack Fu?


Joe S. Walker said...

"Not only that but he did it while wearing his pyjamas and he'd always make sure to give us a good chunk of home-grown philosophy while he was doing it."

"I pleaded for mercy as I writhed on the ground,
He kicked me in the balls and said something profound." - John Cooper Clarke.

Steve W. said...

If only they'd remake the old Kung Fu TV show with John Cooper Clarke as Kwai Chang Caine.

Brendan said...

To my eternal shame, I have located images from "Death is a ninja" only to discover that it wasn't a Shang-Chi story at all as I suggested above. It was in the pages of Marvel Premiere - Iron Fist.

Dagnabbit. All those teenage martial arts attempts have clearly scrambled the memory circuits.

Steve W. said...

Oooh yes. I remember that one. I wonder if that story was the one that first introduced me to the word, "Ninja?"

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