Wednesday, September 05, 2012

NBIM, Day 5: The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (1974)

Yes, Stan Lee Presents The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 IS as groovy as it looks!
Today's National Back Issue Month selection is a most unusual "comic book", a point which is evident just from the size of it. A "Special Album Edition" is much more than just a regular ol' comic. The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Issue #1 is a collection of both adventure stories featuring Marvel Comics martial arts characters Iron Fist and Shang Chi, and also essays and photographs. Melding several popular media of the mid-1970s, the magazine sized black-and-white rotates comic book action with Martial Arts celebrity photography and film analysis, with a hint of Eastern spirituality mixed in.

From "Chapter 2: Sons of the Tiger!" Story by Chris Claremont (Uncanny X-Men)
and art by Herb Trimpe (Incredible Hulk).
The comic book portions are serviceably produced by some "before they were famous" creators such as Herb Trimpe, Doug Moench, and Chris Claremont. The stories follow similar themes as the Kung Fu movies they seek to mirror, and the black, white and grey artwork evokes an additional level of nostalgia. The only shortcoming is one based on my own personal bias about comic books featuring Martial Arts practitioners: no matter how dynamic the artwork, the static nature of the paper always seems to result in something missing from the action. The type of rabid action in those types of films feels flat when presented in the 2D, still, comic book format.

The photographs reflect the influence of the eras television (Kung Fu starring Keith Carradine) and film (Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon) on the development of the comic book characters who were clearly modeled on the actors. Ironically, this comic is an excellent example of an exploitation product cashing in on what was itself exploitative. That of course does not assure that it is entertaining, and Deadly Hands is nothing if not engaging: you are not very likely to see the deification of stereotypical performances by Caucasian men as Asians (Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu?) in a modern issue of People magazine anytime soon.

Even with a 1974 cover price of $1, Deadly Hands can still be purchased for $4 online. While Special Edition Albums were all the rage back in the 1970s, they are much less common now, and as a result, may be priced slightly higher at speciality shops.

When is the last time your comic book had a Martial Arts tournament recap (with photos)?

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