If there's one thing the 1970s loved the most, it was disco music. Well, disco music and Star Wars. Well, disco music, Star Wars, and variety TV specials starring Rip Taylor. Well, okay, disco music, Star Wars, variety TV specials starring Rip Taylor, and Kung Fu. Yes, Kung Fu, the amazing Oriental fistic wizardry that, using only its bare hands and feet, was able to produce some of the worst movies ever. I think that's a Dave Barry joke. I'm sorry. Anyway, America went crazy for Kung Fu, thanks to the screen presence of Bruce Lee, who sadly dropped dead right as the martial arts craze he inspired peaked, leaving the martial arts in the hands of Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Chen, Dragon Lee, Bronson Lee, Bruce Chiang, and the comic book industry, which immediately began churning out Kung Fu comics of varying degrees of authenticity ranging from "nope" to "are you kidding?" Hey, it was the 1970s, NOTHING was authentic.
I mean, just look at this comic. Two guys in wet suits are hurling knives at Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, and not only is Shang-Chi able to bat the knife out of the air and back at one of his antagonists, but this action, which normally takes place in a split second, is somehow extended in time so that both divers can comment on action that has been taken and/or react to action that is about to happen. Try saying "No! He's deflected it - right back at me!!" as a knife is whizzing in the air towards you sometime. Can't do it, can you? Hello? Oh sorry, you've got a knife in your chest.
One thing 70s comics got right was including a short text piece at the beginning of each comic book explaining to new readers exactly who Shang-Chi was and why he was a Master Of Kung Fu and generally what his whole deal was. Remember, every comic is somebody's first comic! That's a lesson today's comic book field has ignored, with resultant falling sales and dwindling readership. Don't say we didn't warn you, comic books!
Another thing 70s comics got right was racial stereotypes. If you're going to have a comic book starring what was fast becoming a tired orientialist cliche - the Kung Fu fighter - why not go all the way and combine your 1970s Asian stereotype with an already existing 1910s Asian stereotype? Yes, that evil Yellow Peril super-villain himself, Dr. Fu Manchu, is back to embarrass us all once again with his nefarious schemes and his eponymous moustache. But enough talk, let's get to some sizzling blazing Kung Fu action!
One problem with your martial arts characters is that they tend to be the strong, silent types, and well, 'silence' and '1970s comics' just don't match, because god forbid you aren't cramming dialogue, captions, or editor's notes into every corner of every panel. So what we're going to get here is a consistent internal monologue from the very brain of Shang-Chi, who never thinks about traffic or hot dogs or that jerk that cut him off in traffic yesterday - it's all "for I am the son of Fu Manchu" and "I have left death behind me."
And as Shang-Chi wanders barefoot into downtown Miami, his angry, clenched-teeth memories helpfully remind the reader of what transpired last issue.
Angry gangster said to himself, "hey, maybe if I hire shirtless sword man to kill Shang-Chi I'll get in good with Fu Manchu and then Fu Manchu would give me some money and then me and my girlfriend could spend the money on fun stuff." That was his plan. Now, I'm not a gambling-boat gangster, but generally I don't go around hiring people to kill other people on the assumption that a third party would give me some money for brokering the deal. In fact, I like to have something in writing and a deposit before I get into the whole middleman-to-hired-killing thing. But I'm not a gambling-boat gangster, what do I know?
There we have it, gambling-boat gangster thugs versus Kung Fu master. I think Jackie Chan made at least six films with this plot. Meanwhile in Miami, what amazing discoveries is Shang-Chi making?
He's intrigued by Marine Land. "How can a place be both land... and sea?" Don't quite get what the writer is going for here. He's a Kung Fu master, not a frozen caveman or a space alien. Even 1970s China had aquariums and zoos, guys.
You're not certain this place should exist? Neither are we, pal. In fact public opinion about animal-exploitation theme parks is at an all-time low. You know what ELSE the public isn't crazy about these days? Two-dimensional Asian stereotypes.
Look at that, a rare moment of harmony between nature's creatures. Surely this quiet communion won't be interrupted by a shocking act of violence, no sir, not here in this Kung Fu comic, no way.
Aw man, that guy shot Flipper. This is why we tell you to stay away from the Kung Fu masters, kids, they're magnets for trouble!
And now the dolphin is no longer happy. You know who else wasn't happy? The artist, who read the script and realized he was going to have to somehow depict an unhappy dolphin. "They're not paying me enough for this," he said as he went to the library to dig through their back issues of National Geographic.
Remember hired killers, if you're hired to shoot the Kung Fu master, you best not miss and kill his new dolphin buddy instead, because that will just fill him with rage and turn him into an unstoppable martial arts whirlwind whose body is itself a weapon of mass destruction erupting into a cataclysm of fury! Because that would be bad.
Kung Fu masters train for years to be able to improv these meandering, judgmental rants on the sickening ways of hired professional killers and the corrupting influence of money and hands grasping hands feeling the poison of hate. He should really write this down.
But even a Kung Fu master must judiciously withdraw in the face of superior numbers, so Shang-Chi dives into the nearest handy Marineland tank, which is home to... well, it's the 1970s. What giant aquatic animal was popular in the 1970s? Was it a squid? A clam? The mighty but tiny pistol shrimp?
And with this sequence of Kung Fu Master battling Killer Shark, we have achieved peak 1970s. The only way this could get more 70s is if Evel Knievel was jumping over the tank while listening to Kiss sing about waiting in a gas line with Former President Nixon.
Shark-Punching Fist is a very complex martial art that requires years of training to master. Also it requires a lot of sharks and a lot of students, because we tend to burn through both of those pretty fast. This is why we ask for our fees up front here at Shark-Punching Fist Martial Arts Academy.
Another lesson you'll be taught is that as a Shark-Punching Fist master, you will need to breathe air.
Whoops, he defeated the shark but was punched in the head by Vinny "The Shark" Sklud, who, by a strange coincidence, studied at the Shark-Punchers-Head-Punching Martial Arts school.
Just want to point out that if you aren't getting enough Evil Oriential Mastermind out of this comic book, the little text at the bottom of the page reminds us to be sure and check out Iron Man next month, which stars the Yellow Claw, another evil Oriental mastermind grasping for world domination using every mysterious Oriential stratagem his wily Oriential mind can devise.
And now all our characters are together, and gambling boat gangster and Shang-Chi are face to face, and Shang-Chi's internal monologue is bleeding over into the gangster's spoken dialogue and now we're all just confused.
No, we can't beat him to death in Marineland, we gotta drag him out to some island in the middle of nowhere and tie him to a tree and beat him to death HERE. I swear sometimes these gambling-boat gangsters really have overly complex ideas about their gangsterism, what with hiring shirtless sword dudes to kill some guy nobody knows for the possibility of a reward from some OTHER guy he doesn't know. Did that work out for you, gambling-boat gangster? It didn't, did it? And now you compound your needlessly complex actions with yet more needlessly complex actions. Sometimes I wonder if these gambling-boat gangsters aren't a little mentally unstable sometimes.
And hey if you were worried that we were going to get through this entire Oriental stereotype comic book without once seeing a conical Asian hat, well, worry no more, because here it is in all its conical Asian glory, letting even the dimmest reader know that some rice somewhere is about to get the hell farmed out of it.
Oh man, it's Fu Manchu himself! Come to deliver some contemptuous Asian mastermind shade to gambling-boat gangster man! I wonder who's playing Fu Manchu here. Is it Boris Karloff? Christopher Lee? Warner Oland? Buddy Hackett? Mickey Rooney? It's Peter Sellers, isn't it?
True to his Fu Manchu heritage, the evil Oriental murders not with a gun or a knife, but with a deadly racism. I mean snake. Snake!
Remember this, Shang-Chi - only Fu Manchu knows the moment of your death! And it will happen when the amusement potential is at its peak! Granted, we're here in a comic book where you just beat up a shark, now closing with 'end' written in that great Chinese Restaurant font so beloved by non-Asians everywhere, I don't know if we're going to get any more amusing, but Fu Manchu can bide his time!
And that's it for the Master of Kung Fu. Now, I hear you out there hollering that this whole comic is nothing more than fake Orientalist yellowface cultural appropriation, but there are lots of authentic elements to this story! For one thing, China is an actual place that exists, and kung fu is a thing people actually do! And Fu Manchu is a real (fictional) character who has been criticized by actual real Asians for more than seventy actual years!
Thankfully, the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s allowed actual Asian films starring actual Asians to make their way into the Western world, and today our global popular culture marketplace gives us a slightly more balanced look at other cultures and their various methods of kicking and punching. So remember your stance, keep your eyes on your opponent, and when fighting sharks, don't forget to breathe.
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