Friday, September 16, 2005

Everybody was kung fu fighting

This week, Comic Art Friday honors the memory of the late, great Bruce Lee, the star of one of my Top Ten favorite films of all time, Enter the Dragon. The quotes sprinkled liberally throughout this post are taken from the script of that landmark motion picture, the seminal translation of the martial arts to the silver screen.
"It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger...or you will miss all that heavenly glory."
Mr. Lee (Bruce Lee), describing his intuitive approach to kung fu to a young acolyte
Ah yes, the martial arts craze of the early 1970s. I remember it well. In the words of the abysmal, yet unexplicably catchy, Number One hit by Carl Douglas, everybody (including yours truly) was kung fu fighting.

Audiences packed theaters to watch the incredible Bruce Lee administer his signature, self-styled brand of martial art — jeet kune do, "the way of the intercepting fist" — in such films as Fists of Fury, The Chinese Connection, and his masterwork, Enter the Dragon. When Lee died suddenly (and, in the minds of many, mysteriously) of cerebral edema just a month before Enter the Dragon's U.S. premiere, the world mourned.
"Never take your eyes off your opponent. Even when you bow."
Mr. Lee, offering invaluable advice
At that same time, millions were crowding before their television sets every week to catch David Carradine as the soft-spoken, quick-kicking wanderer of the West name Kwai Chang Caine in the ABC series Kung Fu.

Ironically, the role of Caine was conceived with Lee in mind. Skittish network executives, however, were convinced that the American public wouldn't tune in to a show with an Asian star — not even the San Francisco-born Lee, already familiar to TV audiences from his co-starring roles on The Green Hornet and Longstreet — so the Caucasian Carradine was tapped. Kung Fu ran for three seasons on ABC and a lifetime in syndicated reruns; Lee had been dead for two years when the show left the air.
"Man, you come right out of a comic book."
Mr. Williams (Jim Kelly), addressing the sinister Han (Kien Shih)
Of course, the major comics publishers rushed to cash in on the chop-socky craze. Marvel unleashed Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu on the world in the fall of 1973. Shang-Chi, presented by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin as the noble son of Sax Rohmer's pulp villain Fu Manchu, was an instant hit. DC countered with Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter in early '75.

It's worth noting that both of the Big Two publishers had been beaten to the punch (no pun intended) by Charlton Comics' Judomaster — a hero who debuted years ahead of the fad in 1966, and was already long forgotten by the time martial arts caught fire in the States.
"You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin Temple."
Mr. Lee's last words to Han before the climactic showdown in Han's hall of mirrors
Here, rendered by the incomparable Ernie Chan, Shang-Chi matches his flying fists and feet of fury against the Bronze Tiger, Richard Dragon's longtime comrade-in-arms, and later a key character in DC's cult hit series, Suicide Squad.

"A woman like that could teach you a lot about yourself."
Mr. Roper (John Saxon), observing the seductive Tania (Ahna Capri)
Interestingly, before the kung fu boom of the '70s, some of comics' premier martial artists were, in fact, women. Back in comics' Golden Age, the Black Cat — the first costumed heroine to headline her own comic book — and the Black Canary — DC Comics' thinly disguised Black Cat imitator — were both masters (mistresses?) of hand-to-hand fighting techniques, including karate and judo.

Both the Cat and the Canary were drawn during the late 1940s by a legendary talent named Lee Elias. Former Legion of Super-Heroes penciler Jeffrey Moy unites these two dynamic damsels for us in the power-packed pinup below.

"Why doesn't somebody pull a .45 and — bang! — settle it?"
Mr. Lee, proposing a simple yet elegant solution to the sticky problem of international crime
Comic book heroes being what they are, some who have perfected their unarmed fighting skills still like to take a weapon in hand every now and then, just for variety. Witness these two warrior women, Silver Sable and the Black Widow, for example.

Both Silver and Natasha are superlative hand-to-hand combatants, as befits former spies and mercenaries. Yet, as beautifully delineated above by up-and-coming superstar Ty Romsa, these lethal ladies also know how to handle themselves with choice selections from the armory. It's always good to have a Plan B.
"Boards don't hit back."
Mr. Lee, explaining the difference between kung fu for show and kung fu for dough
Comic Art Friday, on the other hand, will hit back in seven days. Be here, true believer!

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

I think the most popular martial artist in comicdom for a while was/is (since she's alive, again) the X-men Psylocke:


3:38 PM  
Anonymous blackops offered these pearls of wisdom...

I was looking for a wav that I wanted to insert on my blog and found yours. Nice post about Bruce Lee and the whole 70's craze, Bruce is one of my heros as well.

7:08 AM  

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