Comics : Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #21
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Filling Gaps
This review was first published on: 2008.
It's the seventies. Platform shoes, flared trousers, whole houses decorated in brown, yellow, orange and lime green. And, oh yeah, everybody is Kung Fu fighting. In fact, it was a little bit frightening.
There was fear and loathing in the streets, and many a kid figured that learning to turn their hands into deadly weapons was a wise investment. Home-learning courses and magazines like this one pulled as much cash out of that sentiment as they possibly could. The cover of this issue features two white men (one with a beard) battling against a Tibetan skyline. Yeah, it's an Oriental art, but the target market is suburban white kids with big dreams and too much pocket money.
Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #21
Feb 1976 : SM Cameo
Summary: Spider-Man Flashback Cameo in White Tiger story
This is a true "magazine", featuring a collection of articles. It opens with an editorial introduction by Archie Goodwin, discussing the recent popularity of martial arts weapons - nunchaku, swords, shuriken, and more.
Archie Goodwin? He's a regular every-day Marvel editor? Since when did he become a martial artist. I guess maybe editing is editing, you don't really need to be an expert in the subject matter. Or maybe he's a fifteenth dan black belt and he'll kick my ass from here to Taipai for doubting him. There's a couple of pages of letters, then we get into the first story, featuring Danny Rand, Iron Fist. Danny's another white guy martial arts expert. In fact, there's nary an Asian hero in sight in this entire magazine.
The Iron Fist tale is a convoluted episode featuring a girl named Jade, a Professor Wing, a demon Soul-Slayer, a guy named Bowman who shoots arrows, and lots of martial arts fighting... all talking place in Hell. The script is rather self-conscious, there's lots of "Heart of the Dragon!" epithets, and quite a few references to the names for martial arts moves.
Of course, to round things out there's flashbacks to Danny's training days under an inscrutable oriental master. Add some more demons, a Lord Tuan of the Dragon Kings, and the result is twenty pages of bulk-standard mystic/magic/martial arts mumbo-jumbo, all told in loving black and white shaded high-quality art work which dispenses with panel borders and fills the page with an organic overload of illustration. If you like that kind of thing, you'll probably find it's the kind of thing you'd like.
Then we're back into non-fiction, with a five page feature article on "martial arts weapons", featuring a fair few black and white photographs. There's a full page ad for "Universal Bodybuilding System". "Instantly your muscles will begin to grow!"
Then there's another six page article on martial arts weapons, including a section on "folk weaponry". How to arm yourself in a modern world, by carrying keys, knives, hammers, knitting needles, bottles. How to rig your hat with nuts and bolts to turn it into a weapon. Lethal hats! Yay! The article goes on to examine the roots of many oriental martial arts weapons, and how they grew out of everyday tools. There's more practical advice, for example - stick push pins into the heel of your platform sole shoes, for convenient weapons. Push-pinned to death? Ouch!
But finally we get to the real reason for our review. The White Tiger story, boldly entitled "To Claw the Eyes of Night!"
Hector Aloya, aka "The White Tiger" is back home after a night of subconsciously-driven rampaging. The police have turned up at his mother's apartment after finding Hector's prints on a blood-stained transistor radio at the scene of a multiple assault at a train yard. This is all pretty early on in Hector's career. I think he picked up the amulets which give him his power in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #19. He doesn't really yet understand what they do, and he's not conscious of being the White Tiger.
Hector's sister Awilda is upset - their brother Fillipo is a junkie, and now Hector seems to be a killer. But before Hector can explain, the amulets fill him with power. Against his will he shoves off the police, and leaps through a window. He transforms into the White Tiger in the alleyway.
The police follow him to the street (I guess they take the stairs). He attacks one of the cops, but then by force of will he overcomes the amulet's feral instincts and runs, instead of "standing as an example of violence". Seems like Hector wants to be one of the good guys. But a shadowy figure observing the scene is not convinced. He will stop The White Tiger. But to whom can those steel-clawed hands belong? What brave man thinks he can defeat Hector?
Meanwhile we cut to a sub-plot on a plane. Some Afro-American guy is on a plane, he's a bit unwell, and spent half the flight in the toilet. He missed the in-flight movie. There's several other guys (presumably bad guys) named Table-Top, The Brow, and The Mole, Wrinkles and Scratch. They pass signals around, and make their move... they kill quietly kill a few of the air crew, then machine-gun the pilots. Umm... won't that break the windows and cause explosive decompression? I thought this was supposed to be a realistic magazine, at least in terms of the fight scenes.
Well, no matter. The bad guys are after a briefcase belonging to our unwell Afro-American protagonist. They shoot the insurance salesman that sits next to the black guy, and attempt to garrote the black guy himself, but he reaches back and ear-slams his assailant. Where did he get the briefcase? It came from some chick Brillalae, at the airport. Look, I'm totally lost at this point. I really think I needed to see this story from the beginning.
Another two pages of fight scene ensure. We find out that the black guy is named Abe Brown. He's one of the "Sons of The Tiger". He beats up the rest of the assailants, then learns that the briefcase contains a super-hero mask. One that he doesn't recognize. Somebody's been set up. Even worse, without a pilot, the plane is going down!
Back to the South Bronx. The Tiger knows he's blameless. The boy that died was killed by the night watchmen that the Tiger saved from the boy's companions. But the police are hunting The White Tiger anyhow, and they take a shot at him. And they're not the only ones on his trail. The Prowler is on the rooftop too. The Prowler attacks, though the Tiger protests innocence. The Prowler is uncertain now, but it's too late, combat is the only option.
The Prowler flashes back to his origin. Deciding to become a super-villain, until Spider-Man set him straight (a one panel cameo in the flashback). Then co-incidence strikes. The bad kid who was killed by the night watchman was Manuel Lopez, a troubled teen who Hobie Brown (The Prowler) had taken under his wing. The White Tiger was suspected by the police, and you know how suspicion is good enough to justify murder. The two super-heroes fight for another two pages.
Meanwhile, a senior detective has turned up on the battle scene. The night watchman has come out of his coma and confess to killing the kid, Manuel. The police approach the dueling super-types, and announce the news that the Tiger is no longer a suspect. The Prowler and the Tiger both quit the scene abruptly, by jumping off the rooftop. The Tiger vanishes, replaced by Hector Aloya, sweating, feverish, and barely remembering the recent events.
Next month, Jack of Hearts.
The black and white art is a bit of an adjustment for all of these magazine stories. I know there's a good reason for it. The magazine format was far less restricted in terms of content, and could have more violence and realism outside the constraints of the Comics Code Authority. To compensate for the lack of color, the magazine artwork was generally of a more "finished" quality than the comics.
These stories are definitely serials. Both the Iron Fist and the White Tiger stories were tough to get up to speed with, since I hadn't read the previous episodes. These tales are far from self-contained, so expect to pick up the whole series if you want to read them and enjoy them.
I actually studied martial arts for a few years as a kid, but I've never really been into the whole "scene". I enjoyed the exercise and the discipline, but certainly never romanticized the martial arts in the way that the target audience of these magazines probably did. These demons and super-powered martial arts bear no relation to the everyday grind down at a real-life dojo.
The non-fiction segments are interesting in parts, where they relate purely to facts and to history. At other times, they're rather over-the-top, and certainly take themselves far too seriously. Push pins in the platform soles? Sewing steel bolts into your hat?
As for the stories? Well, they're competently plotted, written and drawn. The Iron Fist tale is your standard unbelievable melodramatic demon-related story, and the White Tiger is a pretty standard comic book story, admittedly with a little more of a gritty edge than the comics of the time.
If this is your scene, you'll find it perfectly passable. I'm going to pretend that I'd read the previous couple of issues, and hence understood more of what was going on. In that case, I think I'd offer a slightly over-par three and a half webs.