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Friday October 12, 2012 8:13 pm

Master Of Kung-Fu #120




Posted by Tom Mason Categories: Reviews, Marvel Comics

Master Of Kung Fu 120Doug Moench did not create Shang-Chi (Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin did), but when he took over the book, he ran with it, creating an epic 100-issue run on Marvel Comics' Master Of Kung-Fu that remains, I think, unsurpassed in its 1970s-1980s greatness.

Shang-Chi is the son of the legendary villain Fu Manchu. And the cast of characters that Moench added to the book include elderly Fu Manchu-hunter Sir Denis Nayland Smith and his muscle, Black Jack Tarr, Clive Reston (who is alleged to be the son of James Bond and a nephew of Sherlock Holmes), Leiko Wu, and a pair of recurring characters based on Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields.

Issue #120, January 1983, “Dweller By The Dark Stream,” is a stand-alone story, not part of some giant conspiracy-laden arc. All of the series’ regular cast is tied up with the exception of Shang-Chi. His planned meditation is interrupted by Rufus Carter, a former CIA agent (and former kickboxing champ) who some call “the ebony Bond.” Carter’s a one-eyed freelance private eye who persuades Shang-Chi to be his back-up man on his first case.

The gig is pure Scooby-Doo - some unscrupulous treasure seekers and trying to force an old Scottish Laird off his family land so they can hunt for the legendary lost gold that’s buried there. Carter and Shang-Chi don’t really solve a mystery so much as verify some paperwork and then make sure to insert themselves between the violent treasure-hunters and crazy old Jock McBridie.

The appropriate ass-kicking is delivered and the gold remains in the right hands. Oh, spoiler alert.

But it’s very well-written and Moench brings a ghostly allure to the proceedings, creates a suitably nutty old Scotsman in the bagpipe-playing McBridie, and pulls a nice twist at the end. If you’ve never read Master Of Kung Fu, this is probably not the issue to start with, but it’s all good.

Gene Day’s art is really nice. Previously the inker, he took over the pencilling of the book at issue #100, while continuing to ink. Some of his layouts are pure Steranko via Paul Gulacy and it’s all crazy sweet. Even a talky 11-panel page is interesting to look at. He varies the angles with shots you don’t see in comics today, and fills up the backgrounds using nifty medium shots for the characters.
Unfortunately, it all took its toll. This was to be Day’s last issue - he died of a heart attack after turning it in. Moench would leave at issue #122 and the book would be cancelled at #125.

Master Of Kung-Fu is a signature work for Moench. He took a character on the fringes of the Marvel Universe that was originally designed for a martial arts exploitation book, and tossed it upside-down by adding James Bondian-spy elements, building out a father-son rivalry and creating a rich cast of characters equally as interesting as the star of the book.

If Marvel can ever reprint the series, you would do well to grab it!

For more on Master of Kung-Fu, my pal Paul O’Connor at Longbox Graveyard took a look at a three-issue arc in the series.

The Essential Master of Kung Fu Tumblr is also, dare I say it, essential reading.

[Artwork: Master Of Kung-Fu #120]

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