Monday, December 3, 2012

Shooting Up The Daughters Of The Dragon

Today's entry might just be a little too graphic for readers who are used to Chris Claremont's writing being reigned in by the edicts of the Comics Code Authority.

Cleverly capitalizing on the martial arts craze of the 1970s, Marvel launched Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu, a black and white magazine that didn't adhere to the Comics Code, which meant creators were free to indulge themselves. Show some nudity? Go ahead. Have your characters curse? Be my guest. Overt substance abuse? Don't let me keep you.

When Chris Claremont was asked to write a story, he crafted a tale featuring martial artist Colleen Wing and her partner Misty Knight, the tough New York cop with a bionic arm. Together, they'd been making waves in the Claremont penned Iron Fist as the Daughters of the Dragon.  However, while this tale does have some ties to then current Marvel chronology, all bets were off.

After the traumatic experiences she suffered in Iron Fist # 5, Colleen Wing returned to Japan in order to find herself, with some help from her grandfather Kenji Ozawa. Unfortunately, agents of Hong Kong crimelord Emil Vachon killed him, which prompted Colleen and Misty to seek revenge... to the death.

Arriving in Hong Kong, they quickly got involved in page after page of senseless but entertaining fighting as they sought out Vachon. Over the course of their many confrontations, their clothes slowly got ripped to tatters which gave their their ample tatas plenty of opportunity to show. In an interview, Marshall Rogers defended this artistic choice rather effectively.

"Chris's plot called for Colleen and Misty to move from point 'A' to point 'B', fighting a shitload of bad guys along the way. My thought was, 'When a male protagonist was in that situation, nine times out of ten, he would end up with the shirt ripped off his back. It would be very sexist of me to assume that a woman wouldn't fight as hard or be in a less precarious situation so...' the shirts were ripped off their backs."

After a few more hijincks, Colleen and Misty finally caught the attention of Vachon after they managed to blow up quite a few of his ships that were docked in the Hong Kong harbour. However, the explosion knocked both of them out and they were pulled out of the drink by Vachon's henchmen who, in issue # 33, brought them over to the crimelord's lair inside a hollowed out volcano...

By 1976, Vachon was already enjoying anti-gravity in his 'eagle's nest'. In retrospect, that makes this scene with the avant guard mutant inventor Forge in his Aerie from 1984's Uncanny X-men # 186 seem rather dated.

Either way, Vachon had a far more sinister plan in mind for his unwilling prisoners. He wanted to make them pay for destroying his fleet of smuggling vessels. How? Well, by making them drug addicted sex slaves, of course!

"The days blur, one into the next, time losing all meaning as it focuses down to the eternity between the fixes. They fight at first, their minds denying the drug, their bodies hungry for it... but by the second day its all over. By the third, they're shooting the smack themselves."

The lack of a professional bad guy in a flashy outfit using mental or otherwise supernatural powers to bend Colleen and Misty to his will, is reason enough for some to claim these chilling scenes aren't evidence of 'proper mind control'. But consider this: the simple act of forcibly drugging Colleen and Misty with heroin until they are so addicted they actively crave it is indeed an act of forceful control and might even be considered a form of rape. Speaking of rape... 

Just read the dialogue for yourselves... without the Comics Code Authority in place, Claremont and Rogers were free to combine kids' friendly issues like forced drug addiction and rape. The first three panels contain so much distasteful imagery and dialogue, one wonders what anyone was thinking. 

Thankfully, Misty Knight comes to the rescue, snapping Hartmann's neck and revealing she wasn't affected by the forced heroin bender because she'd been injecting the drug into her bionic arm. However, Colleen was still struggling with the severe withdrawal symptoms...

In a powerful scene, Colleen enters a deep state of meditation to combat her addiction head on. Marshall Rogers' art impressively captures the deep anxiety and pain she has to face in order to overcome her plight. The artwork and text keep the outcome of this struggle in doubt, as Colleen is seen lurching butt naked towards the loaded syringe. But, spoiler alert, check this next page...

In retrospect, its amazing to see what gifted artists like Claremont and Rogers could come up with if their creativity wasn't severly curtailed by the edicts of the Comics Code Authority. Both Colleen Wing and Misty Knight felt like real people who were able to show genuine emotions. Marvel wouldn't drop the Comics Code until 2001, which saw the launch of the supposedly 'edgy' MAX-imprint. 

And while those books were loaded with extreme violence and tons of shock value, they didn't reach the level of maturity and class the Daughters of the Dragons had mastered a quarter century earlier.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Beware Mind-Master's Daring Bedevilments

Man, the 1970s sure were a strange time for comics...

For instance, to fully explain the plot to 1976's Daredevil Annual # 4, it would take at least two or more additional chapters, not counting about the utter randomness required to make this cover possible.

First things first... Namor the Sub-Mariner doesn't break up any fight between Daredevil and the Black Panther. In fact, he only appears because Daredevil overreacts and believes Namor is the bad guy. 

Oh, you actually want the full story?

Well, the annual opened with Robert Trevanian Mallory, a wealthy inventor/industrialist who was pitching a business deal to the Black Panther. Mallory has designed a 'tidal power station' that taps the 'vast energies contained in the deep ocean currents'. But he needed some Wakandan vibranium to actually build the thing. Unfortunately, right in the middle of closing the deal, the phone rings. 

And here's where things got a bit wobbly. The story continues with Daredevil patrolling the city and spotting a crashed police car. As he investigates the scene, he discovers a wounded cop who rather eagerly tells him about Mallory and the apparent involvement of the Sub-Mariner. This prompts DD to search out Namor... And when he finds the prince of the realm, he manages to kill about half a dozen pages with a fight scene that leaves him injured and none the wiser.

Black Panther, however, decided to take an active part in finding Mallory's son Keith. After hours of tracking, T'Challa confronted the true culprit: small time criminal Ruffio Costa. Despite his polite demands that the child be released, Ruffio actually manages to take the Panther hostage as well... by pointing a gun at the man with jungle cat like reflexes.

Not too long afterwards, Daredevil received a call as his civilian alter ego, attorney Matt Murdock. Ruffio demanded 5 million dollars ransome money from the Avengers for the Panther's release. Changing back into his Daredevil duds, DD pays a quick visit to Murdock's law partner Foggy Nelson who happens to have that kind of money lying around.

On his way to get the money to the crook, Daredevil bumps into Namor again who is still frustrated about... well, everything... And decides to use DD as a stress relieving punching bag for a while longer, almost ruining the entire rescue plan when he tossed both Daredevil and his suitcase full of money into the water. 

Retrieving it just in time, Daredevil fights Namor some more until he finally gets billy clubbed with some common sense.

Finally listening to reason, Namor backs off... although offering his strength to help solve the case would have been far more appreciated. Not that it seemed necessary, this Ruffio character seemed little more than a small time crook and indeed, was easily defeated by both the Panther and Daredevil when he got caught in the blastwave of some exploding machinery.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. No way there could still be anything mind control related going on, right?

Wait for it, waaaaaait for it...

Ahhh, that's the ticket! Chris, you tease, 29 pages in but you finally delivered. A classic hero versus hero mind control heavy fight in the closing moments of a rather disappoint annual so far. Lets have a little taste of those sweet, sweet cliches...

"The harder I hit the Panther, the easier I make it for Mind-Master to take him over body and soul."

That's got to be one of the earliest uses of what soon would become one of his favorite chestnuts, the taking over and controlling of someone, body and soul... And heck, the Panther's already used to wearing black leather, so its a natural fit.

Meanwhile, the fight is going poorly for Daredevil whose radar sense is being disrupted by the residual energies from Mind-Master's powerblasts. That's why he doesn't 'see' this coming...


Apparently, that's the appropriate sound effect when hitting someone in the face while slinging from the ceiling. Who said comics couldn't be both fun ánd highly educational?

Panther only managed to break free because Mind-Master's concentration was broken but both heroes were still... FOOK-ed... because their best blows didn't seem to harm the bad guy. That's when Daredevil decides to do something really daring and goad the villain into pouring on the power, pushing himself to the limits... And gets killed for his efforts. All according to plan.

Right before he can kill the Panther too, Mind-Master runs out of juice and reverts back to his human form who the Panther easily knocks out spouting some lines that are just a little too precious...

... Ehm, T'Challa? Its a pretty safe bet the 'other maffia thug'  that will take Costa's place isn't a mind controlling super villain in his spare time. Also: killing's never been the Panther's way? I'm no expert on Wakandan tribal customs, but I'm guessing that chieftains who outright refuse to kill, not even to defend their people, soon find themselves out of a job. Or a people.

Anyhoo, lets wrap this headache of an annual up...