Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Four

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

61Wi5uAwkoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3 continues the run of excellent issues from writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy. While the early cycle of stories suffer from an over-reliance on Fu Manchu as the villain (to levels that rival Baron Mordo in the early Lee-Diko Dr. Strange stories), there was a method to their madness. The blowback from Sax Rohmer fans (which started in the pages of The Rohmer Review fanzine) was followed by the author’s widow filing a complaint with The Society of Authors over Marvel’s mismanagement of her husband’s property.

Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin had no way of knowing that killing off an old character in Shang-Chi’s debut would constitute not keeping to the tone and content of the originals. They were a writer and artist assigned to a property and were more interested in creating a Marvel variation on the successful Kung Fu television series than they were in reviving Fu Manchu. Moench and Gulacy were determined to avoid further legal hassles by showing something approaching fidelity to Rohmer while carefully positioning the storyline to more closely model Ian Fleming and Len Deighton spy thrillers than Rohmer.

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The Money Where the Mouth Is – Derek Writes an Ongoing Webcomic

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


In my four or five years blogging for Black Gate, readers have probably become used to me interviewing comic creators and editors, reviewing new comic books and webcomics, small press and large, as well as revisiting classic comic runs and discovering new podcasts that dig into how the sausage is made.

It was becoming increasingly obvious to me that it was time for me to ante up and join the game rather than sitting on the sidelines. And it is a lot different than writing short stories and novels! But, in the last year, I had two 16-page comic book stories published by Markosia Press in the UK.

Gorillas in the Ring (with artist Wendy Muldon and letterer Ian Sharman) appeared in the anthology FLIP (Dec 2018), and Frankenpuppy (with artist Trevor Markwart) will appear in the anthology FLIP 2 (Jan 2020), although our story is being released digitally as a stand-alone preview to the anthology and is at Comixology now for $1.99.

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Pervert and Unnatural: Two Books from Image Comics Exploring Sex

Saturday, July 27th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

the-pervert-ogn-small Pervert 2-small

** Explicit Sexual Language and Stuff (Obviously!) If you’d prefer something less sexual, check out my interview with Plaid Klaus of Image Comics’ Void Trip right here **

I often dive into the first issues and first trades at Image to taste test new series, new voices, new art styles, new genres. I also find it interesting to look at pairs of series as foils to one another.

It isn’t that one series is created in response to another, or that they’re even in the same genre, although often the are; it’s sometimes cool to read across themes.

Recently, I read The Pervert and Unnatural from Image. I was intrigued by what the series were saying about sex and sexuality, not only individually, but when taken as a pair of works.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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Dr. Strange, Part III: The Middle Bronze Age

Saturday, July 13th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Frank-brunner-doctor-strange 1-small

After having reread Marvel’s The Defenders from issue #1 to about issue #125, my interest started to flag. The glory of The Defenders was in the rearview mirror and it didn’t feel like the weird series I’d fallen in love with before and was reintroduced to by Brian Keene and Christopher Golden’s podcast Defenders Dialog (blogged about here).

I’m enjoying the Waid and Saiz 2018 run (Doctor Strange in Space), I liked the movie (The Doctor is In), obviously loved the Ditko-Lee run (Dr. Strange Part I) and the Marvel Presents series (Dr. Strange Part II), but I was hankering to continue my progress back through the Bronze Age. Other than the first five issues of Doctor Strange, which I have as a collected edition, I hadn’t read my old Doctor Strange series in probably 20 years. It was time to go back

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New Treasures: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Friday, July 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

On a Sunbeam-small On a Sunbeam-back-small

I buy a lot of books. But there are so many I’m interested in — so many New Treasures, so many recommendations, so many carefully curated wish lists — that I actually keep a pretty tight budget, and most purchases are weighed and carefully planned. Sometimes I miss visits to the bookstore filled with nothing but impulse buys, and the delightful discoveries that come with unplanned readings.

On my last weekend trip to Barnes & Noble, I indulged myself with precisely one impulse buy: Tillie Walden’s massive science fiction romance On a Sunbeam, a 533-page graphic novel. It’s based on a 20-chapter web comic, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2018, one of The Washington Post‘s 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2018, an LA Times Festival of Books 2018 Book Prize Winner, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2018 — and a 2019 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Graphic Story. It caught my eye on a tabletop display, and after flipping through it for 60 seconds, I fell right into it.

I’ve already forgotten about the other books I brought home that day. But On a Sunbeam is at the top of my to-be-read pile for this weekend (on top of about 20 other recent comics — so it could be a great weekend. Let’s hope for rain so I get stuck indoors.) Here’s the publisher’s description, and a few samples interior pages.

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Who’s Afraid of The Fearsome Fang?

Friday, July 5th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Dr._Fang_Web_Cover_540x753356._SX360_QL80_TTD_The Fearsome Doctor Fang was published by TKO Studios in December 2018. The title only recently came to my attention on the recommendation of a fellow member of The Sax Rohmer Society. As soon as I saw the hero was named Nayland Kelly, I was sold.

Writing new Yellow Peril titles in the 21st Century is understandably a tricky business. James Bond is a rare pulp-influenced franchise to have escaped unscathed despite Dr. No becoming the first of the series to reach the silver screen. The relatively understated yellow-face performance from Joseph Wiseman in the 1962 Sean Connery film never offends audiences the same way Mickey Rooney’s broad Japanese caricature does in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Political correctness damns Rooney’s over-the-top and insensitive Mr. Yunioshi while ignoring Jerry Lewis or Vito Scotti doing virtually the same offensive vaudeville routines elsewhere in film and television in the same era. What triggers viewers or readers is often the perception of just how offensive a portrayal is; though some of course would prefer to banish all trace of Yellow Peril and yellowface as a matter of principle.

So I was immediately curious how TKO Studios approached The Fearsome Doctor Fang. I was surprised to see a white hero and heroine on the cover as mixing it up a bit racially seemed the easiest path to navigating through rocky waters. While waiting for the book to arrive, I read up on the publisher. TKO Studios is a relatively new comics publisher on the scene whose approach to distribution is akin to  television binge-watching. Multi-part titles are published digitally and in print in their entirety at once. Trade paperback and deluxe collected editions are also immediately available.

The co-creator of The Fearsome Doctor Fang is TKO Studios co-founder Tze Chun. A professional television writer/producer for series such as Gotham and Once Upon a Time and an award-winning independent filmmaker in his own right; it is likely that TKO Studios have an eye on developing their properties for other media.

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Doctor Strange in Space by Mark Waid and Jesús Saiz

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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In 2018, Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz launched a new Doctor Strange series at Marvel. I’ve been a fan of Strange since I started comics (issue #34 was one of the first four comics I ever read). He was my gateway to Lovecraftian cosmic horror, The Defenders and Steve Ditko.

The series premise is pretty simple. Strange, the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, starts to have difficulty with his magic. As time goes on, his ability to perceive magic vanishes. Things like the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation become common objects to him, baubles of no apparently specialness. He scours the Earth for some solution, but finds none.

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Ramblings on REH (Encore Appearance)

Monday, June 24th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Ramblings_KullAxeDue to some difficulties, I do not have a Hither Came Conan essay ready to run today. I hope to have one next week. And, work is brutal at the moment. Also, as this post goes live, I am on day three of a four-day camping trip with my son. So I did not have time for an original Conan essay — or even a new A (Black) Gat in the Hand post, either. So, from waaay back on August 10, 2015, here’s one of the very first REH-related posts I wrote here at Black Gate. I think the first was a review of Harry Turtledove’s middling Conan of Venarium.

I was an REH neophyte at the time: I’ve learned a LOT since then. I do plan on expanding on the Howard/Hammet similarity some day. I saw that from the very beginning. Since you probably missed this post the first time around, read on!

In a way, Robert E. Howard’s career is similar to that of Dashiell Hammett. Both men had huge impacts on their genres (Howard wrote many styles, but he’s best known for his sword and sorcery tales). Both were early practitioners in said genres. Both men wrote excellent stories for about a decade. And both men ended their careers on their own.

Hammett, who seemed more interested in a dissolute lifestyle than in writing, effectively walked away from his typewriter. He wrote his last novel in 1934 (The Thin Man) but produced literally nothing for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. He could have gone back to writing the hard-boiled stories that made his career, but he voluntarily ended his writing life.

In 1936, Howard’s mother was failing in a coma. He walked outside to his car, pulled out a gun and killed himself. His writing career was more effectively finished than Hammett’s would be.

Both were supremely skilled writers who chose to deprive the world of their talent and left decades of stories unwritten. But there was a key difference between the two. From the beginning, Hammett was acclaimed and recognized as the leader in his field. Though Carroll John Daly came first (barely), there is no comparison between the two in critical view.

Howard was not critically lauded. His first Conan tale, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (a rewriting of the Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!”), appeared in Weird Tales in December of 1932. The next two Conan tales were outright rejected!

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