Saturday, November 16, 2019

Shaolin, Kung Fu, and Samurai

The Beast Warriors of Shaolin #3 (Pied Piper, September 1987, $1.95)
"Come Lady Death" Scripter/Creator: Peter Quinones, Penciller/Creator: Glen Johnson, Inker: Marty Lasick, Letterer: JoAnn Nielsen, Editor-in-Chief: Roger McKenzie.

Published by Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Pied Piper Comics, this title joined other comics such as Ex-Mutants, Power Factor, and The New Breed. With occasionally manga-inspired artwork, the comic focuses on martial arts Beast Warriors named Phan-Ku, or Dragon; as well as Tiger, Snake, Crane, Bear, and Mongoose.

The issue opens with Dragon engulfed in flame. Crane rescues him. To the south, Bear and Mongoose stop at an inn to quench their thirsts. There, Mongoose is drugged and Bear must face Dim-Mak, "iron palm master of the delayed death touch" alone. He succumbs in combat but regains consciousness with Mongoose.

A dragon comes to Phan-Ku, and Mongoose falls into the clutches of Na-Ling, advisor to Princess Kuan-Yin and employer of Dim-Mak, assigning him to procure the Beast Warriors's bones, which are said to contain magic and be quite valuable.

I was initially confused reading this issue because Princess Kuan-Yin looks a lot like Snake, and it seemed that the friends and enemies in the title are awfully closely aligned already. Regardless, I'm sure the previous issues set up this edition well and that things were much more clear for longer-term readers.

This issue also includes an eight-page preview of the then-forthcoming first issue of The New Breed, the "world's greatest mutant mag." Written by Publisher Mark L. Hamlin and Editor-in-Chief Roger McKenzie, and drawn by Jeremie Johnson, the preview takes place in the year 2990 and establishes the threat of the ratbeasts, which are attacking a wooden fort that protects the holy seed. The New Breed is introduced as characters in five profile pages draw by Johnson and Scott Rosema.

Other than its Midwestern origin and relationship to Ex-Mutants, there's not a lot to keep this reader, with either the Beast Warriors or the New Breed. A fourth issue was never printed, so perhaps The New Breed never hit the stands, either. A one-page directory of authorized direct distributors lists 16 distributors, including Capital City, Heroes' World, Friendly Frank's, and Styx.

Availability: This title has not been collected.

Master of Kung Fu #122 (Marvel, March 1983, 60 cents)
"The Madhouse Effect" Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: William Johnson, Inker: Ernie Chan, Letterer: Janice Chang, Colorist: Christie Scheele, Editor: Ralph Macchio, and Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter.

Clive Reston is a former British spy. He is taken to Curtis Langley, who hires him to return Carrington Scullers to the private sanitarium from which he escaped. Scullers is also a former MI-6 agent, and he had tried to kill Reston's former lover and fellow spy Leiko Wu.

Reston takes the job, is knocked out at the Seahawk pub, and comes to outside of Stormhaven Castle, which has been taken over by a madhouse of "gibbering, howling inmates" overseen by Scyllers. Reston fights a group of people dressed as Native Americans, as well as a group of psychotic harlequins, both monitored by Scullers, before Leiko and Shang-Chi arrive to help overcome the inmates and overseer Scullers.

In the end, the reader learns that Reston didn't regain consciousness outside Stormhaven, but a facade-fronted asylum run by a man working with the Soviets to develop a hallucinogenic weapon; as well as that Langley was really Scullers in disguise. What a wide-ranging tale of espionage and duplicity! But who are the Nightside Pigeons? The coin-tossing tough in the bowler intrigues me.

This issue also includes ads for Bubble Yum, Grit, and Dungeons & Dragons, a half-page Bullpen Bulletins, and a letter column, "Missives to the Master," composed of six letters of comment.

Availability: This issue was collected in Master of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 4.

Samurai Vol. 2 #1 (Aircel, August 1988, $1.95)
Writing and art: Barry Blair, Letters: Mike Charbonneau.

This black-and-white comic joined Canadian publisher Aircel's other titles such as Elflord, Dragonforce, and Warlocks. Each section of this story -- "Hardcorps," "Wild Boys," "Allegro," "Headbangers," and "Road Warrior" -- focuses on a different group of characters. The story seems to be this: Professor Stringfellow assesses the recovery of Commander Black and the company Splinter. Homer Bentley takes offense associating with his former opponent Doctor Arkoff, who is collaborating with Stringfellow on a cloning device.

Meanwhile, on Monkey Island, Archie Bodonie and Quan knock out two young natives hoping they'll lead them to Dafeng. John Biggs and Father Tucker -- perhaps the most interesting characters so far -- are detained briefly before they are rescued by Hotachi, who was thought to be dead. He is not dead, and he leads a few more soldiers on a merry chase.

Apparently, there was another black-and-white series and a color miniseries predating this series, so it's not so much that this first issue has a lot of disconnected threads, but that there's a lot of back story preceding this. At least 23-plus issues worth of story. There's an undercurrent of sexuality to the book: the cheesecake of Commander Black and the homoerotic portrayal of the native boys on Monkey Island, as well as the male ballet class in "Allegro" ("She likes girls," and "Simon likes boys.". The combination of photorealistic and perhaps photocopied backgrounds and layered comic are in "Headbangers" and "Road Warrior" is innovative and quite impressive.

A one-page "Who's Who in Samurai" helps readers get the cast of characters straight, and there are four pages of letters -- a dozen letters! -- commenting on the original series and miniseries. In fact, the letters of comment do more to expand on the back story than the comic itself and "Who's Who" combined. The various series had a relatively passionate readership with strong opinions and story ideas. Three of the letters were contributed by Chicagoan William Sriffitl.

Availability: This issue has not been collected, but the earlier series was reprinted. Samurai: Compilation Book One and Samurai: Compilation Book Two are available. One vendor even sells them together.

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