Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lost In Licensing 2: A Groovy Guest Post by Barry Pearl

Lost and Found…in Licensing: The Adventure Continues:

In 1895 H.G. Wells wrote “The Time Machine” and 55 years later it is the subject of a Classic Illustrated comic. That could never happen again. Once there was a 35 year limit for how long a book could retain its exclusive copyright then. Now, called the “Mickey Mouse Law” so Mickey could not become public domain, it has been extended for over 100 years.

So 70 years after Conan was introduced, he is still not out of copyright. Marvel could not just have waited and republished him. I have learned, from my friend Markus Mueller (of the Unofficial Marvel Handbook of Marvel Creator’s Website) that there was an Essential Conan the Barbarian, published in 2000. I have also learned that we probably will not see Rom, Spaceknight and the Micronauts again. But let us first see something that we can see, but could have lost:

1970’s Science Fiction in Comics: Going, Going, Gone
June 1938: Jor-El puts his son in a rocket and aims it towards Earth. He gets here with no GPS, no food, no water or diaper changes, but every since then, science fiction, or science fantasy, have been part of comic books. Before Superman, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon filled the Sunday color sections with their exploits in space.

Comics were the stepchild of the pulp business. The same printers owned the presses. They used the same type of materials: glossy covers and newsprint insides. They also had writers and artists. Many comic book publishers, including Martin Goodman, started out publishing pulps and continued into comics. Whatever genre was popular in the pulps, crime, mysteries, westerns sci fi, and adventure stories were brought to the comics. Marvel Science Stories (later re-named Marvel Tales) was Goodman’s first major publication; the pulp would give the company its eventual name. It was a pulp that featured adventure and science fiction stories published around 1940.

Starting in 1950, DC published Strange Adventures; (244 issues from 1950 through 1973) which was joined a year later with Mystery in Space (1951 to 1966). The DC line was always a bit tame compared to EC. Although it was aimed at a younger market, it often included such top artists as Frank Frazetta and Joe Kubert. Science fiction stories also made their way into the adventure comics edited by Jack Schiff, including HOUSE of Mystery; My Greatest Adventure and Tales of the Unexpected. Schiff was not nearly as respected as Schwartz. Martin Goodman could always spot a trend and introduced Journey into Unknown Worlds (1951-1957); Space Squadron; (1951-52) and other comics like Mystic, which used “science fiction” themes. The memorable sci-fi era was developing across town.

William Gaines at EC produced the most famous crime, science fiction and, of course, horror comics that were dominating the industry at the time. Gaines said that DC, Marvel and many other comic book companies were not offering true Science Fiction stories. They were, in his words, presenting “cowboys and Indians” in space. He was right. Using the background of sci-fi, Marvel, then known as Atlas, had adventures strips in outer space, underground and in different dimensions. It was most often good guys versus bad guys. In EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy there was very little of that. They even adapted from Ray Bradbury. The art at EC was by Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, and Graham Ingles who became leaders in their field. However, it was Horror Comics that were taking over and slowly. At both Marvel and EC, horror was infiltrating their science fiction stories.

DC converted Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures to super-hero/outer space adventure titles, featuring such characters as Adam Strange and Hawkman. It was at this time, with Julius Schwartz as editor at DC, that many of his characters all began to have a science fiction background.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970’s, pure science fiction faded away in both the comics and in the pulps. So popular a decade or two earlier, the pulps had begun to disappear totally. DC did not completely abandon the science fiction genre, producing “Strange Sports Stories” (Brave and the Bold #45-49, 1962-3). I personally asked Carmine Infantino why these stories faded away so quickly and he said, “Didn’t Sell.” Two words that summed up sci-fi in the 1970s.

As EC had done, Marvel presented stories by established Sci Fi writers, and published a few of my favorite comics ever. Unfortunately, we may never see any of these again because of licensing and copyright.

In 1973, Marvel began publishing Worlds Unknown, a purely sci fi book. It contained adaptations of great pieces of science fiction and kept them great. One of my favorites was the first issue containing a great story with a social message, “The Day after the Martians Landed” and a beautiful heart tugging story, “He Who Hath Wings.” Authors included Frederick Pohl and L. Sprague DeCamp. As with so many ideas then, Marvel did not stay with it long. Eventually the comic simply adapted stories from the then-popular Sinbad movies. It lasted eight issues. A similar approach was tried, a short time later, in a black and white magazine called Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. It didn’t last long either. Marvel would return to the Sci-fi genre, but mostly with movie adaptations such as Planet of the Apes, 2001 and Logan’s Run. All had limited runs. War of the Worlds (out of copyright) adapted from the book was converted into an adventure series featuring Killraven and lasted 21 issues (AMAZING ADVENTURES #18-39).

Genres do mix. In the 1950’s, with horror doing so well, EC mixed Sci Fi with horror and even crime. In the 1970’s, with Conan doing so well, Marvel decided to mix it’s licensed and unlicensed super-heroes with the Sword and Sorcery genre. We have also “lost” Thongor, (Creatures on the Loose: #22-29) and Gullivar Jones (Creatures on the Loose: #16-21, Monsters Unleashed #4 and 8) took up swords on other planets. Even the Man-Wolf, a Marvel product, took up a sword (Creatures on the Loose: #30-37, Marvel Premiere #45-46).

Sadly, other items seemed lost and not just due to licensing. Let me just add that Marvel had the Watcher (In Tales of Suspense) and the Wasp (Tales to Astonish) tell some great stories in the early 1960s. During the Groovy Age the Watcher was brought back, in Silver Surfer comics, to retell some of those stories. However, these stories are mostly lost also. When Marvel Reprints the Masterworks and Omnibuses (Omnibi?) they do not include these wonderful tales. Gene Colan’s work on the Watcher stories was just beautiful.

Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe were teamed to create a super-hero, Captain Britain, to be published in England, in hopes of duplicating the success Marvel was having in the colonies. The hero was to be bundled with reprints of the Fantastic Four, Captain America and several others. To my knowledge, those stories are not exclusively owned by Marvel, but licensed to the Panini Publishing company of Great Britain. While the character has been seen here, the original stories have not.

Marvel also did work for other companies. When Ideal was creating EvEl Knievel toys, they hired Marvel to create a comic book making him a hero. The Art was Mike Sekowsky, most famous in that era for the JLA. Herb Trimpe did a Big Little Book that featured the Fantastic Four.

I thought the Hostess ads were great and very much fun. Since they are a licensed property we may not see them again. Markus informs me that a villain from these stories has been integrated into the Marvel Universe.

Who can forget the Spidey Super Stories done for the Children’s Television Workshop, creators of Sesame Street and the Electric Company?

James Bond was also presented in DC’s Showcase comics, something that has never been reprinted.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Plus One Day to the King!

Yesterday would have been Jack Kirby's 91st birthday. There's nothing I can say about the man and his magnificent body of work that others haven't already said, and said better. Instead, I thought I'd share a few mind-blowing memories of Jack's work from the Groovy Age. Now dem's comics!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If You Blinked You Missed...Thrilling Adventure Stories

Thrilling Adventure Stories was quite possibly the best black and white comic mag ever published. Published in 1975 by Atlas/Seaboard, the mag was probably created as a Savage Tales knockoff, but it turned out to be something original. Rather than ripping off Conan (as they did with Iron Jaw in the color comics), they ripped off Ka-Zar with Kromag the Killer (a caveman strip drawn by Jack Sparling); in the second issue they had a straight-out sword and sorcery strip by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, but of course those talented titans can't rip things off, so their s&s strip starred a samurai. That's as close as any real similarities to Savage Tales got.

Rather than a rip-off, editor Jeff Rovin actually created a comicbook version of Argosy! We got science fiction/crime ("A Job Well Done"), war ("Lawrence of Arabia", "Escape from Nine by One", and "Town Tamer", crime ("Tough Cop"), and straight-out adventure ("The Sting of Death"). The only strip that seemed to be out of place was the super-hero strip, "Tiger-Man and the Flesh Peddlers", but a super-hero taking down a fat-cat pimp fit into Thrilling Adventure Stories much more snugly than it would have in a color comic, if you catch my drift.

And the talent assembled in these two mags! I already mentioned Jack Sparling, Archie Goodwin, and Walt Simonson (still hot from their Manhunter strip in Detective Comics), but lemme lay a few more on ya: Ernie Colon, John Albano, Leo Summers, Gabe Levy, Frank Thorne, Russ Heath, Neal Adams, John Severin, and Alex Toth! Can you dig it! That's like a "who's who" of pure grooviness, baby!

It's a shame that Thrilling Adventure Stories only lasted two issues (thanks to the short life of publisher Atlas/Seaboard--oh, yeah, Ol' Groove and friends will be fillin' ya in on that outfit, never fear!). Too bad Marvel or Warren didn't rip it off , 'cause if there was ever something worth ripping off, Thrilling Adventure Stories was it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Grooviest Covers of All Time #4

What can I say? Jim Steranko. Nick Fury. S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, I'll say a little more. Steranko was part of the revolution that helped create the Groovy Age. His art was like a rocket's blast. It caught everyone's attention, stimulated our imaginations, then disappeared all too quickly from view. When Steranko returned to Marvel (around 1972) he created a ton of wonderful covers and helped Stan Lee develop F.O.O.M. (For more on F.O.O.M., click here.)

Most folks remember Steranko's use of pop-art in his covers; those were truly awesome, and you'll be seeing some here, never fear! However, it's his iconic patriotic covers always slay Ol' Groove. This is one of his best!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 6

Okay, dudes and dudettes, let's light the candles and partayyyyyyy! It's time to take one last look at Teen Groove's comicbook birthday picks!

1978: Yeah, Teen Groove was a member of the KISS Army, so there was no way he was gonna pass up Marvel Super Special #5 featuring Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace at their wackiest. While not as over-the-top trippy as the first printed-in-KISS-blood issue (Marvel Super Special #1, written by Steve Gerber), this mag was tons o'fun in its own right. Written by Ralph Maccio (the Marvel Comics writer/editor, not the Karate Kid, y'spaz) with art by a young John Romita, Jr., our favorite kabuki make-up wearing rockers actually entered the Land of Khyscz (from which they received their powers) and fought wizards and all kinds of fantasy-style characters. The coolest thing was that Macchio picked up a long dangling plot thread (from Steve Gerber's Defenders run) about a homicidal elf with a gun and put that twisted little guy right into the thick of the story. Ah, the days when Marvel actually knew how to use continuity for fun!

Okay, now for the biggie. The one you've been waiting for...1979! Teen Groove turned 16, disco seemed to dominate everything (even TV shows added a disco-beat to their themes!), and I must'a got a pocket fulla money that year, 'cause let me tell ya, I flat-out splurged! Check it out:

I was still true blue to standard color comics, but man was I ever diggin' those oversized comic mags! At the time, I actually thought they were the wave of the future, that most comics would evolve into a similar format. Too bad they didn't. But hey, can't end on a downer note when you've got gems by Doug Moench, John Buscema, Peter Ledger, Roy Thomas, Tony DeZuniga, Sal Buscema, Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Bill Mantlo, now can we? Heck no! This might've been the last birthday of the Groovy Age, but man, did it ever go out with a BANG!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 5

Hey-ho, daddy-o! Welcome back down Memory Lane. Since I took yesterday off, today's a two-fer! Can you dig it?

Let's enter a time-warp for a minute and check out the 2001: A Space Odyssey Treasury Special I got for my birthday in 1976. A 1976 comicbook adaptation of a movie released in 1968 based on a short story written in 1948 but not published until 1951 about the year 2001...being blogged about in 2008. If a giant black hunk'a space rock shows up in my living room, I won't be surprised if my thirteen year old self jumps out of it! Whoa, wotta trip!

If I remember correctly, Marvel timed the release of this Jack Kirby masterpiece to coincide with the network television debut of Stanley Kubrick's classic on NBC, but I can't remember if the stunt worked. Seems to me that the comic adaptation came out a few weeks sooner than the movie. Anyone out there know for sure?

Personally, I'm one of those Philistines who don't "get" Kubrick, so I liked the comic better than the movie. Besides, you can read a comic at your own pace, zipping through dull parts and slowly savoring the cool stuff (and with Kirby on the art, you know there was some mind-boggling full and double page spreads in those 80 pulse-pounding pages). With a movie, you're bound by the director's pacing. Plus, the comic had no ads (unlike the televised movie).

I went for quality over quantity in 1977 for my 14th birthday, and got one of my all-time favorite comics, DC Super-Stars # 17. I've mentioned this comic in passing before, and I'll probably mention it again (and again!). Not only does DCSS #17 have the classic origin/debut of Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Bob Layton's Huntress (daughter of the Batman and Catwoman of Earth-2, no less!), but Denny O'Neil and Mike Grell re-told the origin of Green Arrow and Jack C. Harris, Juan Ortiz, and Bob Smith added a new twist to the origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 52 pages of some of DC's greatest heroes, brimming over with top-notch writing and art, wrapped up under a stunning cover. Y'gotta admit, Teen Groove had great taste!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 4

1975! Groove turned 12, and was more wise in the ways of birthday comics than ever! There was no way I was gonna pass up Marvel Treasury Edition #7! Not only did it feature my absolute favorites, the Mighty Avengers, not only was it 100 ad-free pages, not only did it have awesome cardstock covers (by Jack "King" Kirby, no less!), but it featured some of the absolute best Avengers stories ever by the Avengers team supreme, Roy Thomas and John Buscema!

The whole she-bang started off with a reprint of the Black Panther's first foray into the Avengers, from issue #52, "Death Calls for the Arch Heroes!" This story also featured the debut of the Grim Reaper, who would later become a major Avengers foe, especially during the Steve Englehart era of the series.

Next came perhaps the ultimate Avengers story, "Behold...the Vision!" The greatest Avenger of the Groovy Age's debut story from Avengers #57. You young whippersnappers don't have a clue as to how great the Vision was if you've never read this classic!

Another classic shocker "...Til Death Do Us Part!", from Avengers #60, featured the wedding of the Wasp and Yellowjacket. Of course that story also revealed that Yellowjacket was really Hank Pym, who was also Goliath, who was also Giant Man, who was also Ant wonder the poor guy was always so uptight! This story was cool, also, because of all the guest-stars. Everyone from the FF and Spidey to the X-Men and Dr. Strange showed up for at least a panel.

It would've been cool to have gotten a reprint of Avengers #59, which featured Yellowjacket's debut, but then we wouldn't have gotten a to see "Come On In...the Revolution's Fine!" from Avengers #83. This story was an absolute hoot, being set in Rutland, Vermont's famous Halloween Parade and featuring folks dressed up like comicbook characters from not only Marvel but DC and most everyone else. Marvel's grooviest super-chicks (Black Widow, Medusa, Scarlet Witch, and the Wasp, natch) talked into creating a group called the Lady Liberators by Valkyrie (in her debut story) battling the Avengers plus a group of super-baddies that included Klaw, the Radioactive Man, Whirlwind, and the Melter. Of course, the Enchantress was behind it all, and the good guys won, but the battle of the sexes rages on!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 3

Ah, another day, another Groovy birthday memory! In 1974, fifty cents no longer got you an ad-free 100 page comic, but it did get you a very cool 68 page comic (with ads)! For my 11th birthday, Lil Groove snatched Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3 off the old spinner rack at the amazing Mack's Supermarket.

This was some dynomite comic, lemme tell ya! It was the days of the Reed/Sue split, so Medusa (of the Inhumans) was a member of the team, the Human Torch was wearing his red and gold costume, and Rick Buckler was doing a very slick Jack Kirby imitation (helped immeasurably by Joe Sinnott's impeccable inks). Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman wrote this story about aliens disguised as the actual Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse out to make life rough on our fab foursome. I loved this sprawling 30 page mini-epic that sent the FF all over the world facing down each Horseman: War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death!

The back-up was a gasser, too, reprinting the FF's first run-in with the Hate Monger (from FF #21). Lee and Kirby were top of the heap, and this story was a zinger! We even got to see Nick Fury in his first post WWII appearance (sans his famous eye-patch, though...).

Before I go, I haveta tell you about Mack's. Now this was before anyone ever dreamed of opening a comics shop in Ol' Groove's neck of the woods, but with Mack's you didn't need one! Mack's was a supermarket, but as soon as you walked in the store and turned to the left, they had a huge (I'm talking big ol' honkin' huge!) magazine section. Two twelve foot long, five foot high magazine shelves, three spinner racks with every comic imaginable, plus two spinner racks for paperback books. Needless to say, I had no idea what I'd be eating week in or week out, 'cause I spent the whole shopping trip in that little piece of heaven!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 2

And the birthday hits just keep on comin'! This time, let's travel back to 1973, when Lil Groove was turning ten and knew how to handle getting comics for his birthday--find the biggest, most expensive one ya can, baby! This time, it was DC 100 Page Super-Spectacular #22 featuring the Flash, and it was a gasser!

Back then, the only way to get to read classic blasts from the past was with reprint comics, but there were tons of them back then (book reprints were scarce, usually paperbacks, and anything like the Essentials, DC Showcase, Archives, Masterworks, etc. that we have today hadn't been dreamed up yet). The best reprint mag going was DC's 100 Page Super Spectaculars (we called 'em Super-Specs). 100 pages (counting covers) of ad-free comics for fifty cents. Editor E. Nelson Bridwell was great at picking the best of the best from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, so every Super-Spec was a real treat.

Little did I know that this particular gem would mark a turning point. It was the last of ad-free issue, as well as the last to actually go under the Super Spec title; each succeeding 100 pager would be an extra-sized issue of an existing title, like Detective Comics, Justice League of America, Superman, etc. (If you're interested in more info on the Super Specs, visit Brian G. Philbin's awesome 100 Page Super-Spectacular Site!)

This issue had some really cool stuff in it. Besides such John Broome/Carmine Infantino goodness as the Flash teaming up with the Elongated Man to battle Captain Cold (from Flash #134) and "Secret of the Three Super-Weapons" (from Flash #135) in which Kid Flash got his unique gold/red costume, we got a sweet Elongated Man solo tale by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson (from Detective Comics #359) and a Golden Age Johnny Quick with amazing Mort Meskin art (from Adventure Comics #129). the biggest thrill of the issue, though, was the Golden Age Flash reprint by Gardner Fox and E.E. Hibbard (from All-Flash #13) "Campaign Against the Flash" in which the Flash mixed it up with a baddie called the Djinn and a mystery man called (how's this for originality) Muscle Man! What was so cool was that it was a full-length Golden Age gasser (40 pages!) featuring the Flash's goofy side-kicks, Winky, Blinky, and Noddy (the DC Comics equivalent of the Three Stooges). The whole mag was tons-o-fun and a true birthday treat!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Groovy Agent's Birthday Comics, Part 1

Ol' Groove's hitting the big four-five on the 26th, so I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and check out the comics Lil Groove got for various birthdays back during the Groovy Age. Yeah, I made sure I got at least one for each birthday beginning with...

1972: Amazing Adventures #15, featuring the Beast! Ah, Steve Englehart and Tom Sutton's Beast series! What a cool series that was. Believe it or not, Young Grasshopper, there was a time when the X-Men weren't the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. Heck, they weren't really all that important or popular. In fact, their comic was strictly reprints! There were enough vocal fans (as well as professional fans), though, to keep the X-Men from saying "goodnight" to John Boy, and this series, running in Amazing Adventures issues 11-17, was one way of keeping the Merry Mutants alive and kicking.

Hank McCoy, charter member of the original X-Men, graduated from Xavier's Academy and went to work for the Brand Corporation (Marvel's major evil corporation of the 70s). McCoy's pet project was to create a potion that would rid mutants of their super-powers (shades of X3!), and naturally, when he had a breakthrough, he had to try it out on himself. And, since Marvel felt he needed some jazzing up to make him a solo-star, the potion mutated Mrs. McCoy's baby boy even further than his big hands and feet; Hank found himself covered with fur, sporting fangs, and hunched over like a...well...Beast!

The series was far-out and fun, with Englehart seeming to have free reign to play with, not only the X-Men cast, but other gone-but-not-forgotten Marvel characters like girl/humor comic star Patsy Walker and her boyfriend (now husband) Buzz Baxter, both of whom were quite prominent in this particular issue as Patsy had figured out that Hank and the Beast were one and the same person. (Up until that time, Hank disguised himself with a rubber mask and gloves, leading to some funny moments showing how lame the disguise he had concocted truly was). The biggest event of the issue (besides the introduction of the Griffin, who should have been a primo villain but never seemed to be taken seriously. Maybe because his alter ego was named after country music star, Johnny Horton, everyone thought he was a turkey) was the Beast's previously gray fur turning blue due to continuing mutation. Man, when a Marvel scientist blows it, he really blows it!

The series only lasted three more issues (the third being a reprint of his origin from the old X-Men comic), but as soon as Englehart got the chance, he worked the Beast into the Avengers line-up (issue #137) where Hank took on a more flippant, jokester attitude (rather than the big-word spouting nerd of the X-Men days). The Beast proved extremely popular in the Avengers, holding membership there until the end of the Groovy Age. I guess ol' Hank was just meant to be a team player.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lost In Licensing: A Groovy Guest Post by Barry Pearl

Note from Ol' Groove: Yet another groovy innovation! Let's have a big "what's happening!" for FFF Barry Pearl, author of The Essential Marvel Age of Comics Reference 1961-77. I met Barry via the Oldschool Marvel Fans Yahoo! Group, where we sort of just hit it off and instantly connected in that truly cosmic and far-out way true blue comics fans do! Barry is a great guy, and extremely well versed in comics lore (duh! he wrote a book on it!), so it was only natural that I offer Barry the chance to rap here on the ol' Diversions blog. Barry, being the kind of guy who loves to share his love of comics, graciously accepted my offer, and SHAZAM! The first (and definitely not last) Groovy Guest Post! Okay, enough yappin' from yours truly! Take it away, Barry!


The Groovy Agent, as usual, brought up quite a few interesting points in his blog about stories that cannot be reprinted. I would like to add a few points to them and show a few examples. As MarvelConan the Barbarian, by Robert E. Howard. grew, it began to license famous, literary characters, starting with Soon Red Sonja and Kull were added. Some of their best comics of the time were licensed or familiar characters. (Dracula and Frankenstein were now fair use.) The reprint market has grown to be a huge part of their business. Trade Paperbacks, Masterworks and even just plan comic book reprints make a lot of money. Sadly, as licensing lapses, so does Marvel’s rights to reprint those stories. Master of Kung Fu, which featured Fu Manchu, is one of those victims. New Marvel readers may never get the opportunity to read these wonderful stories. While other publishers have picked up the rights to reprint Conan, a few Conan stories that featured Marvel characters may never be reprinted again. That includes What If #13, #43, #29 which featured the Watcher and Thor. There was a trial run on Conan in Chamber of Darkness #4, using a character with a similar name. I wonder if that can be reprinted anywhere. So part of the Marvel Age may be lost.

There was also Thongor, Planet of the Apes, John Carter, Warrior of Mars, Doc Savage, Gullivar Jones, Logan’s Run and several movies and science fiction stories that were adapted in comics such as World’s Unknown.

Machine Man was a character created by Jack Kirby that made his first appearance in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The character is still used, but there are no references to 2001. There may be no reprinting of it either.

One irony: Deathlok was originally based on “Cyborg,” the novel th
at the Six Million Dollar Man based on. When Marvel did not get the comic book rights (after it was sold to TV) they altered the story to make it their own. So they got the keep the character, instead of losing somewhere in the infinite corridors of licensing.

Master of Kung Fu may not be seen again because it featured Fu Manchu, one of the few characters Marvel used that had appeared in other comics. MOKF becomes one of the best written and drawn series of the later Marvel Age. Paul Gulacy and Jim Starlin and captured and kept the wonderful, distinctive mood and atmosphere.. Here, there is something new and different in the world of comics. On TV “Kung Fu” was a popular show. Just like the “Man from UNCLE” had its roots in the James Bond movies, “Kung Fu” was inspired by the popular Bruce Lee and his films such as “Enter the Dragon.”

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu” a story of an evil genius, was published in 1913 and its main character would have a long run in pulps, movies, comics and magazines… “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Collier’s Magazine, in 1932, published a 12 part story, “The Mask of Fu Manchu.” Wladyslaw Theodor Benda drew the cover.

Fu Manchu’s comic history would begin in daily strips from 1930-1932. These stories were reprinted in Detective Comics starting with issue #17. Previously, Fu Manchu was copied in Detective Comics #1, in the Slam Bradley story by Superman’s creators, Siegel and Shuster. Wally Wood, in 1950 would also draw “The Mask of Fu Manchu” for Avon Comics.

You cannot underestimate Fu Manchu’s influence on popular fiction at the time. He was copied every here. The Yellow Claw, Atlas's (Marvel’s name then) copy, appeared in his own comic, drawn with the incredible talents of Jack Kirby and Joe Maneely, from 1956-1957. In 1967, Jim Steranko brought him back, well sort of, for the Nick Fury in Strange Tales #160-167. Some of Marvel’s artists and writers began emulating Jim Steranko’s artwork, pacing and story lines and it was evident in these stories. The Manderin was the most modern copy of Fu. He first appeared in Tales of Suspense in the Iron Man stories, and has since become a fixture in the Iron Man cartoons and is hinted at in the movie.

In 1973, Marvel licensed the character of Fu Manchu for the Rohmer estate and featured him as Shang-Chi’s father. This Fu Manchu and Steranko’s Yellow Claw seemed, in appearance and in their actions, to be twins separated at birth. This meant removing any trace of communist leanings from Fu Manchu. The reprints of the Yellow Claw that appeared, mostly, in Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu featured “doctored” artwork and text to conform to Steranko’s plot lines. This took out the FBI and the communists and replaced them with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Hydra. Marvel wanted to connect the characters, making them almost seem related. Certainly their look was similar. There was more innovation and adult themes here than in other current series of the time. When the license ended on Fu Manchu he disappeared from the comic, about issue #151.

“On Yellow Claw, when you describe him as the prototype of Fu Manchu, that’s true if you mean Marvel’s Fu Manchu, but Marvel took Fu from Sax Rohmer, who was the prototype for Yellow Claw in the first place, so in that sense the original Fu was the prototype for Yellow Claw, as well as Mandarin.”

Steve Englehart: “I had a few friends up to my place in Connecticut for a weekend, and we were about to go out and get some dinner when Steve Harper, the artist, said he’d stick around to watch the second episode of a TV show he liked called Kung Fu. We were dubious but he put off dinner for an hour, and I totally fell in love with that show—as did Jim Starlin, who was also there. When the third episode came around, Jim and I were down in New York, and I guess Jim didn’t have a TV, so we asked Roy Thomas if we could watch it at his house. Roy was dubious, and remained so, but we remained enthralled, so without my pretense whatsoever, Jim and I created our own version of what we liked. (Then Roy, who loved old pulp [as did I], had us add Fu Manchu to the mix.)”

Next time, I will get more involved with the science fiction stories, Evil Knievel and maybe a few Hostess cupcakes.


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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!