Deadly Hands of 007?
UPDATED 8/15/19: Paul Gulacy turns 66! Perfect time to re-present this piece from 2018 — from Back Issue’s outstanding “Deadly Hands” edition. Oh, and for 13 COVERS AND SPLASH PAGES by Gulacy starring Shang-Chi, click here. Far out. — Dan
My favorite comics mag – Back Issue — comes out 6/13 and this time around the theme is “Deadly Hands,” a look back at when everyone was kung fu fighting.
Dig the kickass table of contents:
That is a LOT of flying hands and feet, my friends.
Anyway, for this issue’s EXCLUSIVE excerpt, I took a dive into Steven Thompson’s outstanding, comprehensive look at Shang-Chi, Marvel’s classic martial-arts master.
The piece covers Shang-Chi’s entire publishing history but there was one passage that was of particular interest to me – because it centers on the first James Bond movie I ever saw, which of course means it remains one of my all-time favorites.
Master of Kung Fu Issue #29 (cover-dated June 1975) began a classic storyline that Thompson calls “the best James Bond Movie Never Made,” by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy.
Check it out. — Dan
By STEVEN THOMPSON
(Bruce Lee’s) Enter the Dragon had been released in the summer of 1973, but neither Doug (Moench) nor Paul (Gulacy) had seen it when they began to work together on the strip. In fact, it would later be revealed in a letters column that they had been on the strip nearly two years before either saw the picture!
The Man With the Golden Gun, starring Roger Moore as James Bond, came out at Christmas of 1974. Shang-Chi’s new direction hit the ground running just a few months later with a palpable Bond influence, not just from the new one but also from You Only Live Twice and the venerable Dr. No, all by way of Enter the Dragon, a film they hadn’t even seen!
“It was a continuation of all that fun stuff. We had the spy motif, martial arts, actors, and parody. It was a big stew of all kinds of stuff that made that book,”said Gulacy in Comic Book Artist. In a later podcast interview with Doug Bost and Adam Bernstein, he added, “Being a big Bond fan, especially with the spy motif spin on it, we were like a rocket going to the moon.”
In an interview for this article, Gulacy tells Back Issue that he was “blown away” by Enter the Dragon when he finally did see it. “I recall, as a student attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, a buzz going around about this new movie out of Hong Kong called Five Fingers of Death. I think it was the first martial-arts action import. That was pretty nuts, but it wasn’t until I saw Bruce in action that it became a game changer. I think I watched Enter the Dragon like, 30 times or more!”
“The Crystal Connection” opens with a heroic movie-poster image of Shang-Chi, signaling the cinematic turn the series is about to take. Right there on the page, we also read, preferably in a movie-trailer narrator voice, “Exploding: A blisteringly volatile new direction for Mighty Marvel’s dynamic Master of Kung Fu!”
A brief “pre-credits” scene has a particularly spry Nayland Smith, clearly working for MI-6 again, convincing Shang-Chi to help him take down a world-class heroin dealer named Carlton Velcro by taking Shang to a rehab clinic where he sees firsthand the terrible effects of the deadly drug. Tarr and Reston are along as well, with the latter soon heading off to Velcro’s island fortress in disguise. There we meet the flamboyant villain, his private army, his hungry panthers, a number of scantily clad young ladies lounging around, and Razor-Fist, a masked martial artist whose lower arms have both been replaced by deadly blades.
Reston creates a diversion and discovers the drugs they’re out to destroy whilst Chi and Tarr parachute in, but not undetected. Shang goes into action against Velcro’s trained henchmen, defeating them easily until the climactic panel where he meets Razor-Fist.
In comics parlance, the average fan could only say, “What th…?!”
It’s really hard to read this issue without thinking you’ve just read the single most exciting comic-book story of all time. Moench’s pulp sensibilities and deft dialogue combine with Gulacy’s Steranko-like cinematic flair, filtered 100% here through Paul’s natural and rapidly maturing style, to create something the average fan knew was just not the norm for Bronze Age Marvel.
The following month, “A Gulf of Lions” picked up right where we left off, with Dan Adkins joining the team and utilizing his well-known chameleon skills to become the perfect inker for Gulacy. In Comic Book Artist in 2003, Gulacy said, “Adkins was the one who really groomed me toward presenting samples and so forth to give to Marvel.”
As Shang-Chi (looking more like Bruce Lee than ever) faces off with Razor-Fist for page after page, Tarr attempts to rescue the captured Reston, Petrie lectures Smith, and eventually everyone gets together to discover that Velcro was also stockpiling nuclear weapons!
Ohmigosh! Keep going!
Issue #31 (Aug. 1975), “Snowbuster,” begins with our third movie-poster splash before we’re thrust right back into the action. As our protagonists make some heroic strides, Velcro sends his whip-wielding dominatrix girlfriend, Pavane, after them, even as a down-but-far-from-out Razor-Fist returns to the fight as well.
Helicopters, tanks, and a climactic speedboat chase that ends with Shang-Chi using a “Hail Mary” pass all lead up to the fortress, with all its nukes and drugs exploding!
Sure sounds like Bond to me!
Check out the rest of the piece – as well as all the other fine features in Back Issue #105. You can pick it up at your local comics shop or directly from publisher TwoMorrows. (Click here.)
— 13 COVERS: A PAUL GULACY Birthday Celebration. Click here.