Harry Cleaver: Master of Kung Fu

August 19, 2016 at 7:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little too young to get into the kung-fu craze of the 70s. I was 9 when Enter the Dragon (1973) appeared, and although I watched a few episodes of  TV’s Kung Fu  (1972-1975), both were over my head. I did watch Hong Kong Phooey (1974) on TV, but let’s say no more. about that. I also remember Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” when it was on the charts the same year, but I’m digressing.

The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was Marvel’s cash-in attempt beginning publication in 1973 . The premise was that the titular character Shang-Chi was the son of arch-villain Fu Manchu, and who had rebelled against his evil father. Marvel, which had tried and failed to get the rights to the TV series, instead acquired the rights to characters such Fu and his arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and developed a supporting cast of allies  along with new characters “Black” Jack Tarr, and Bond-esque spy Clive Reston.

The early issues of book were standard Marvel fare, but when series creators Steve Eagleheart and Jim Starlin are replaced by Doug Moench and Paul Galacy, the book took on an almost cinematic quality – if you can find the issues where Shang-Chi battles Carlton Velcro and his assassin Razorfist, you’ll see what I mean (particularly Gulacy’s art). I didn’t see the original issues of the book, but read them as reprints. In the mid-70s Marvel sought to expand into Britain by publishing weekly black and white reprints  of their US four colour books. The Avengers weekly contained 10 pages each of the Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Master of Kung Fu. I didn’t read the Avengers regularly, but I do remember this copy had Shang-Chi battling the Man-Thing. Later on, I picked up the original issues (but by no means all of them) second-hand.

Last week, I was at my parents’ place and was going through some old boxes of comics in their basement and came across some of the old issues. Issue 18, in which Fu Manchu’s attempts to import a powerful drug into the US contains a letter by… Marxism theorist Harry Cleaver when he was a professor at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. In the letter, Cleaver warns about the pervasive racism of Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, as well as noting the social significance of the book (an Asian hero), and hoping for authenticity in the fight scenes. Small world, huh?

Cleaver’s quite right about the racism of the novels. If you’ve never read the original novels by Sax Rohmer, they are worth a look. but be warned. First published in 1912, the Fu Manchu novels are fantastic pulp fiction-like novels, yet unfortunately, they carry the mark of their times, and along with Edgar Rice Burroughs equally fantastic Tarzan, they are dripping with offensive racial and sexual stereotypes

Harry Cleaver’s Rupturing the Dialect: The Struggle Against Workwill be published next year by AK Press.


1 Comment

  1. Harry Cleaver said,

    Boy oh boy. How amusing to discover a reference in cyberspace to a letter I wrote, long ago, to a comic book! In those days I was taking a class in karate and watching the TV series Kung Fu. (David Carradine did OK, but Bruce Lee should have had the part.) That’s why I picked up The Hands of Shang-Chi, saw its potential to reach a large audience and wrote a brief letter of encouragement and of warning. I am repeatedly amazed how the most obscure things one writes can be dredged up from anywhere and reappear on the Internet.

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