Monday, January 25, 2010

Tales From the Vault: MASTER OF KUNG-FU #16

Hey, kids, welcome back to another edition of Tales Form the Vault, where we dig into our vast treasure trove of comics and read a random issue. This week's offering is none other than Special Marvel Edition #16, which features The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. What's not mentioned in this extended title is that the rest of Shang-Chi is also present for the story, so don't worry, this isn't a Che Guevara incident.

But enough dilly dally. Let's get right to the comic!

Details: This issue is dated February of 1974 and has Steve Englehart as writer and lists Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom as artist and co-artist. Wow, Milgrom was messing up comics as far back as 1973? There's also a little credit box saying "Featuring characters created by Sax Rohmer". This is, of course, Fu Manchu, whose trademark mustache I recently attempted to wear with mixed success. A little wiki tells me that Marvel apparently had bought the rights to Fu Manchu for comic purposes, but lost those rights in the 80's, and thus Shang-Chi's father is only shown in shadows from that point and never referred to by name. Huh. I wonder why they bought the rights in the first place?

By the way, the story boasts the terrifically goofy title "Midnight Brings Dark Death!" Of course it does. Plus, the cover blurb describes Midnight as a "Man-Menace." WTF guys, are you even trying?

Synopsis: The issue starts with Shang-Chi standing in Central Park, where he's decided to pitch camp after fleeing from his father in #15. Some New York tough guys decide to kick his butt just because, and instead he wastes them. He apparently has hyper-developed senses, because in one caption it says "The bald one's sweat odor suddenly increases sharply". Real time sweat detection. Hmm. As far as super powers go, that's about the worst I've ever heard of.

A group of bystanders is watching, and when Shang-Chi finishes beating the two dudes, the people watching all decide to also attack him for no apparent reason. See, this is why Ed Koch put together that "I Love NY" ad campaign. Shang-Chi again beats them all down. Then, suddenly, Midnight appears, gives a very brief speech, and vanishes.

This apparently happens as a means to segue into a Midnight origin story, and here's what we learn: in 1973, Starlin couldn't draw children very well. Midnight was just such a badly drawn boy after his parents were killed and his face was maimed in an attack on one of Fu Manchu's villages. Fu (not to be confused with Shaq Fu) took him in so that he could nurse his hate and become a killing weapon, and that's where he met Shang-Chi and they became friends. Is it just me, or does that happen an awful lot? Now I know where I've seen Midnight before: he's Snake Eyes.

Anyway. Now, in the present, Midnight has been sent to kill Shang-Chi because Shang-Chi has left Fu's service, which Fu chalks up to the influence of Shang's "American mother". Midnight doesn't want to kill Shang-Chi, but he is loyal, so agrees to.

Shang-Chi doesn't know any of this just yet, because he's too busy being caught in the middle of culture shock. This involves a belligerent cop who mistakes Shang-Chi for a prank playing hippie, and somehow this requires the cop to pull his gun. This part feels just a weeeee bit contrived, I have to say. In fact, every New Yorker in the issue so far has been a complete tool who has way overreacted and attacked Shang-Chi for no reason other than he's from out of town. In other words, just like actual New Yorkers. Ba-da-bing! Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Just then! Midnight heaves a scroll at Shang-Chi, who clocks the cop and reads it. It's a challenge. The two decide to meet up and start a fight to the death, and seriously, Midnight is pretty cool looking. Sure enough, they fight for a couple pages and start to argue about philosophy when suddenly the cops show up again, saying that "we're not as inept as you think!" Which is an easy thing to say but seems very, very difficult for them to actually prove.

Seems Shang-Chi is wanted for murder from issue #15 and him decking that cop kind of gave away his position. Of course, both Shang-Chi and Midnight immediately vanish even though the cop is looking right at them, with a spotlight on them and a gun drawn, so there goes that whole "we're not inept" argument. During this section the cop refers to midnight as "Boston Blackie" I'm not familiar with this reference, but another quick check of wiki informs me that he was a detective in some books in the teens and twenties and some films in the 40's. Huh. Still in the realm of popular culture in the 70's? I smells me some Roy Thomas.

Anyhow, Midnight and Shang-Chi meet up again and continue their fight and Midnight is pretty much taking it to him hard core. Shang-Chi then realizes that he has been dogging it because he doesn't want to kill his friend, but he further realizes it is inevitable, so he just up and chucks Midnight off a crane. Midnight falls and his cape gets caught on the crane's hook and his neck breaks. Hmm. Seems like there was a lot of that going around in Marvel at that time.


Extras: Interesting that they pretty much introduce an arch-enemy for Shang-Chi in this issue, give him an awesome name and costume and compelling back story and then kill him off int he same issue. I'm not sure if that's a terrible idea or a bit of genius. Considering the creative team, I'm leaning towards the former.

And from Bullpen Bulletins we can see that this issue came out at the same time as one of the issues I've already reviewed on here, Power Man #17, so the rest of the Bulletins is the same as that one, i.e. they introduce the Marvel Value Stamp and all of collectordom goes into a silent frothing rage. Yo, someone out there owes me an un-wrecked copy of Incredible Hulk #181. Seriously. Special Marvel Edition #16 and Power Man #17 also both came out the same month as the slightly better known Amazing Spider-man #129. One out of three ain't bad.

My Grades: Midnight gets an A+. The story itself gets a B+, only taking a hit because of the cartoonishly violent actions of all New Yorkers. I know they're trying to play up the cultural differences, but really. Final verdict: somewhat special, but not special enough to warrant the word "Special" in the title of the series. This is more like a Regular Marvel Edition.

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