Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32
Larger than life and in living black & white, this issue brings us a Daughters of the Dragon story, with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing hunting a drug dealer through the grim alleys of Hong Kong. It’s languid and wordy in vintage Chris Claremont style, with art from a wet-behind-the-ears Marshall Rogers, when his design skills were still out in front of his drawing ability. There’s plenty of punching and kicking, and some shout-outs to contemporary Iron Fist continuity. It rumbles along like a 70s martial arts movie, and its hard not to hear the wah-wah guitars and güiros as you read.
The tale has a forced bit of cheesecake, as Collen and Misty’s outfits disintegrate while they run a gauntlet of kung fu thugs. I expect this was an attempt to sex things up for a non-code black & white book, but it didn’t age well, and I’d pay a dollar to learn if it originated with Claremont, Rogers, or Marvel editorial. The tale concludes with our ladies knocked out and fished from the ocean, doubtless with some terrible doom in the offing. Maybe we’ll find out next issue. The only black and white I was reading in 1977 was Savage Sword of Conan so I can’t even rely on memory for how this ultimately comes out.
- Script: Chris Claremont
- Art: Marshall Rogers
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What if everything you knew was wrong? What if one day, you woke up to a nightmare, and knew with a sickening certainty that it was your life that had been the dream?
Welcome to Super-Blog Team-Up, where a coterie of comic book bloggers all tackle a similar topic on the same day. This time, we’re looking at alternate realities, and for my subject I’ve chosen the “Days of Future Past” story from Uncanny X-Men #141-142.
Aside from 1961’s “Flash Of Two Worlds,” which established the DC multiverse, it is hard to think of a more famous alternate reality comic story than Days of Future Past, which changed the way we look at comics, and the reverberations of which are still being felt today, most recently in the 2014 blockbuster installment of Fox’s X-Men movie franchise.
But forget 2014. Let’s go back to the future of 1981, before Diamond Previews or movie trailers or spoilers on the internet might ruin the surprise of what the then far-future world of 2013 held in store for Marvel’s most popular super-team. So celebrated is this story — so often referenced, reprinted, reinterpreted, and imitated — that it is nearly impossible to understand the impact that this cold open had on comics readers who had plucked X-Men #141 off the spinner rack at 7-11.
What. The. Hell?
Fans following the series might rightly have feared that they’d missed an issue, but scurrying back to re-read #140 would offer no comfort — the last page of that particular story showed the Blob breaking out of jail, with little indication of an impending dystopian future nightmare, aside from a title slug confirming that, yes, the next issue of X-Men was this very “Days of Future Past.”
It was the boldest surprise yet from a comic that changed the industry with some of the boldest stories of the 1970s.
Returning from the limbo of being a reprint book with 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1, the X-Men took the comics world by storm. Guided by writer Chris Claremont, and illustrated by Dave Cockrum, the X-Men were a breath of fresh mutant air in the Marvel Universe, honoring the history of what was at the time a relatively obscure, tertiary comics property, while at the same time mapping out a vigorous new mutant universe, full of monsters, aliens, conspiracies, and political intrigue.
When John Byrne joined the book in issue #108 — in the midst of a superhero space opera that saw the X-Men wrestling with the fate of reality itself — the series kicked into hyperdrive. Though they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, Claremont and Byrne became the Lennon and McCartney of their era, sparking a spectacular creative outburst that brought us the X-Men versus Alpha Flight and the Hellfire Club, some great Magneto stories, an adventure in the Savage Land, and the Death of Jean Grey.
But most memorable of all would be the storyline where everybody dies!
Claremont and Byrne began their tale in medias res, disorienting their audience with an unexplained time-jump, and gleefully staying several steps ahead of us as they shattered the foundations of Marvel’s carefully-cultivated continuity. Colossus and Kitty Pryde were married? Wolverine was a wanted criminal? Cyclops, Nightcrawler, the Fantastic Four, and more were dead? This was a Marvel world turned upside-down, never moreso than with the masterful reveal that the ragtag band of rebels resisting the rule of the mutant-hunting Sentinels were lead by the X-Men’s arch-enemy, Magneto!
Re-reading this story after so many years, there are several things that leap to mind.
Most notably, this was a simple story … or at least as simple as a time-hopping, alternate timeline, end-of-the-world story can be! The premise was established with a few deft strokes: in a grim future ruled by homicidal robots, the world’s last superheroes travel into the past (and our present) to prevent their world from coming to be. You’d expect a lot of narrative and world-building, but pretty much the entire second part of the tale was conventional fisticuffs between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who were bent on carrying out an assassination that would ultimately lead to an apocalypse. That’s a lot of heavy lifting to do in just an issue or two, and if it all happened a bit fast, requiring some info-dump dialogue …
… and if recapping the premise required still a bit more expository musing on behalf of Professor Xavier …
… well, those things weren’t too far afield from Chris Claremont’s usual approach, which heeded the directive of Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, who required that every script take into consideration that it might be the very first comic someone might read.
It’s frankly not a bad way to write comics, and if it is a little on-the-nose, this style also has the virtue of brevity. Days of Future Past was a two-issue story, folks! The Bronze Age had some real advantages, I tell you! Were Marvel to tell this tale today, it would be a twelve-issue maxi-series embedded in a sprawling, endless, line-wide crossover event.
But that particular dark future had not yet come to be in 1981 (and pardon me for a moment while I consider my own Days of Future Past, where Longbox Graveyard travels back to 1984 to head off Secret Wars and Crisis On Infinite Earths, before they can unleash an endless series of cumbersome editorial events and reboots on comics fans forevermore). It was a dark future indeed, playing for higher stakes than the usual Marvel monthly — they weren’t kidding when they said that everybody dies …
Now, sure, these deaths “didn’t count” … we knew they’d be overturned, somehow. And our heroes do ultimately triumph, averting the end of the world (the implications of which were dispatched with the speed that characterized the rest of this story) …
… but the fact is, those deaths really did occur. Our heroes died, in the future — just because that future was erased didn’t make the deaths less wrenching. Because no one really stays dead in comics, the most we can ask of a comic-book death is that it be respectful and emotionally-centered, and Claremont and Byrne give us that in spades, with off-panel deaths that feel more impactful because we are mostly left to imagine how they happened. Chris Claremont was a master of comic book characterization, and watching him kill off such vividly-rendered personalities hit to the gut.
There’s plenty more to unpack here, too, like the pervasive presence of the Fantastic Four (which may have reflected John Byrne’s preoccupation — his celebrated writer/artist run on Fantastic Four was in the offing), and the brief hero turn by Magneto, telegraphing an era-to-come in X-Men where villains weren’t villains so much as fallen heroes.
Forty years later, this tale is still worth reading, both for its own sake and because it marked the end of an era. The time was fast approaching when you couldn’t tell who was on the X-Men without a scorecard …
(And here is that scorecard!)
I certainly never cared for X-Men quite so much after the Claremont & Byrne team called it quits, which would happen just two issues later, so I missed much of what came after. Ultimately I think I prefer looking forward to my own future of days past — say the 70s and 80s — where the X-Men all lived in one series, and Claremont and Byrne made everything old seem new again!
And on that alternate-timeline note, let me remind you that the Super-Blog Team-Up crew is today looking at alternate timelines and pocket universes from all around the comic book multiverse. Check ’em out, and tell them Longbox Graveyard sent you!
- Amazing Spider-Talk/Chasing Amazing/Superior Spider-Talk: Spider-Man Reign FOR and AGAINST!
- Between The Pages: A Tale Of Two Cities On The Edge Of Forever
- Bronze Age Babies: Things Are A Little Different Around Here …
- Firestorm Fan: Firestorm in Countdown Arena
- Flodo’s Page: The Ballad of Two Green Lanterns
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong
- The Legion of Super-Bloggers: Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes
- The Marvel Super Heroes Podcast: Epic Comics’ Doctor Zero
- Mystery Vlog: Marvel & DC’s Secret Crossover — Avengers #85–86
- Superhero Satellite: Marvel Comics’ Star Comics Line
- The Idol-Head of Diabolu: Martian Manhunter Multiversity
- Ultraverse Network: Black September
- The Unspoken Decade: 5 Batmen, 1 Superman — ZERO HOUR AND Robocop vs. Terminator
NEXT WEEK: #142 Kamandi!
Welcome to the Dollar Box, where I look at classic comics with an original cover price of a dollar or less!
This month, my subject is the historic first teaming of the classic comics team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Tom Orzechowski.
Am I writing about Uncanny X-Men? Or maybe an issue of Iron Fist?
The very first time this team worked together on the same book was … Star-Lord?
Published in 1977 in the pages of Marvel Preview #11, Marvel’s black-and-white anthology magazine, “Windhoelme” was the second outing for Star-Lord, a science fiction adventure character who debuted in issue #4 of that same mag. The original Star-Lord, by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, was an ill-tempered, borderline-psychopath who stole his superpowers as part of his quest to avenge his mother’s death at the hands of space aliens.
This Star-Lord … was something different.
It was characteristic that Star-Lord’s second outing was a “reboot” — additional reboots would follow, seemingly every-other issue in the character’s brief career, culminating in a near-total rewrite that saw Star-Lord enter the Marvel Universe in the pages of Thanos #8-12 — and now, as the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord is fast-tracked for pop culture stardom in next month’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
the Star Lord you probably know
I like the new Star Lord, but he really has little to do with this Star-Lord, who headlined this little jewel of a science fiction adventure in Marvel Preview #11. What with all the space empires, swashbuckling sword-fights, and humanoid aliens running around this story, you could be forgiven for thinking Star-Lord was a fast-follower of Star Wars … but Marvel Preview #11 was conceived and created months before Star Wars hit the theaters. The similarity is down to common origins, with the Robert A. Heinlein “juveniles” that Claremont cited as his inspiration providing a rich portion of the pulp science fiction tradition that Lucas drew upon for Star Wars.
It’s also kismet, of the negative sort, in that Star-Lord was just … that … much ahead of its time. If release of this issue had been able to take better advantage of Star Wars mania, maybe Star-Lord would have gone on to become a superstar comic book character. As it was, Star-Lord came and went, and while the character would have additional outings under various creative teams prior to fading into obscurity for a decade or two, he would never be better than in this rollicking, two-fisted space opera.
Displaying the fast-paced, catch-you-up-while-we’re-on-the-run storytelling that would characterize his X-Men work, Claremont drops us in the deep end of his story, with a peaceful planet conquered by slavers, and a pair of young adventurers eager to fight back. Kip and Sandy are fairly stock supporting characters, but they’re not without spirit, and Sandy is sort of hot, in that square-jawed, big-eyed John Byrne kind of way …
With the population of a planet hanging in the balance, we’re introduced to Star-Lord, who makes a confident and understated entrance (despite the characteristic internal self-doubt Claremont’s script would display later in the issue). It’s never really made clear who our hero is, or where he came from, but that’s actually a strength of this story. It’s more entertaining to try to piece together the details of our hero’s powers and origin as we go along (and besides, it was all on display in the character’s inaugural appearance in Marvel Preview #4 for those who simply had to know).
In the pages that follow, we learn that Star-Lord can breathe in outer space, that he can handle himself in a fight, and that he takes a dim view of slavers. But freeing Kip, Sarah, and everyone else on the slave ship is just the start of our adventure.
In short order we are winging across the galaxy with our little crew, exactly in the fast-paced manner that we’d learn to love when Han Solo settled behind the controls of his Millennium Falcon.
Star-Lord’s spaceship isn’t quite so cool as Han’s legendary ride, but “Ship” has secrets of her own. For one thing, she can change shape. For another, she’s sentient … and she may also be in love with our hero. Certainly Star-Lord and “Ship” have a long and unexplained history between them — just another of a score of intriguing story hooks Claremont drops into this story.
So far we’ve checked off most of the compulsory boxes for a good space opera. A virtuous hero, young people in distress, spaceships and starfaring adventure, enigmas and mysteries at every turn.
But there are also hissable bad guys, who torment our innocent supporting characters …
… cruel lizardmen who get exactly what they deserve …
… and in the finest sword-and-planet tradition, our hero locks steel with a corrupt galactic nobleman to determine the fate of a stellar empire. Looking back on this sequence from a post-Star Wars perspective, it’s impossible not to hear lightsabers humming and crackling.
“Windhoelme” is a brilliant bit of comic book space pulp, fast-paced, imaginative, heartfelt, and fun. It (re)introduces a great science fiction hero in Star-Lord and follows him on an arc that sees him liberate the throne of a far-flung star empire, and then toss it all aside for a life of adventure roaming the stars …
Original copies of Marvel Preview #11 aren’t all that easy to find, but if you want to read this superior comic story, here’s a Dollar Box pro tip. If you’ll allow me to exceed my brief by recommending a book with an original cover price of more than a dollar (gasp!), then I’ve got just the thing for you …
Star-Lord The Special Edition #1 (the one and only issue in the line) reprinted Marvel Preview #11 in 1982. This is a standard-sized comic book, and the tale is slightly altered here (with a new introduction and a postscript by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden), but the meat of the tale is as Claremont, Byrne, and Austin created it in 1977 … with the added bonus of color! Purists will want the original tale, but I’ve grown fond of the colorized version as well, and it also has the advantage of being readily and cheaply available on the back-issue market.
Star-Lord in color!
But whether you experience this tale in color or glorious black & white, “Windhoelme” from Marvel Preview #11 is well worth tracking down. It is a relentlessly entertaining space opera comic that is presently lost to the mists of time, but may shortly loom large in our pop culture, pending Star-Lord’s big screen debut in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I strongly suggest you score your copy of this best of the early Star-Lord adventures before the Imperial scum start jacking up the prices on eBay!
This article was originally published at Stash My Comics.
NEXT MONTH: #135 All This And World War Too!