Monday, June 21, 2021


As presented in DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU Nos. 16 & 17.

Story: Bill Mantlo | Art: George Pérez & Stan Gan

Story: Bill Mantlo | Art: George Pérez & Jack Abel

The Plot: (DEADLY HANDS #16) Blackbyrd recruits the Sons of the Tiger to assist a prisoners' rights watchdog group in investigating an upstate prison rife with corruption. The Sons go to the jail under cover of performing a martial arts exhibition for the inmates, with Blackbyrd as their "manager". It quickly becomes apparent that the entire prison staff is corrupt, and a fight breaks out between the Sons, Blackbyrd, and the prisoners on one side and the guards on the other -- resulting in the warden calling in the National Guard.

(DEADLY HANDS #17) The National Guard fires tear gas into the prison, leading the Sons to separate, taking prisoners to the infirmary for treatment while also going after the guards. When an elderly inmate is killed saving Lin Sun's life, Lotus kills his murderer with a machine gun. Abe tries to call the governor, while the National Guard enters the prison and meets up with the guards' leader, Ryder. Ryder leads the soldiers into battle, resulting in a bloodbath that kills several inmates and some of his own men. When Ryder snaps and kills the soldiers' colonel for ordering a ceasefire, Blackbyrd kills Ryder. The governor calls off the National Guard, and everyone leaves the prison.

Continuity Notes: Lotus is now an official "Son" of the Tiger, dressing in a uniform similar to those worn by Abe, Bob, and Lin, and wearing a tiger amulet around her neck -- though unlike the mystical tiger head and two paws worn by Lin and by Abe and Bob respectively, Lotus wears a full set of head and two paws which have no magical powers. Henceforth, whenever I mention the "Sons of the Tiger" or the "Sons" in these reviews, assume Lotus is included.

Issue 16 begins with the Sons checking out a condemned martial arts studio Bob has found, which he wants to renovate to provide free martial arts lessons to disadvantaged kids.

Also in issue 16, after the prison guards' corruption is exposed, an enraged Lin Sun tells one of the guards that "I have never tried to kill a man, Ryder! I believed all life is sacred--even that of a slug like you!" Which is in direct cotnractiction to the earliest Sons of the Tiger stories written by Gerry Conway, where Lin was quite explicitly shown to kill several henchmen during the Sons' crusade to avenge Master Kee's death.

Lin suddenly seems to have a romantic interest in Lotus in these issues, which appears to be reciprocated on her part, therefore setting up a triangle with Bob in future installments.

My Thoughts: Ahh, social relevance. I railed against it around here in the past with great hyperbole, when I looked at the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW stories some years back. Here's my thing: I have no problem with social issues popping up in comics books. Of course it's going to happen. It happens everywhere, in all forms of fiction. I don't understand the weirdos, who have come out of the woodwork in recent years, complaining that comics should be completely devoid of political and social commentary. They never were!

I, personally, just don't like when entire comic book stories are built around a social issue. Have Spider-Man comment on the city's homeless problem while he's out chasing the Scorpion, fine. Have some bigots throw rocks at the X-Men while they're fighting the Blob, great. (I mean, it's unequivocally not great, but you know what I'm saying.) But have Spidey or the X-Men confront homelessness head-on as the plot of an entire issue, and I just lose interest. And again, that's me, personally. I skipped "very special episodes" of sitcoms as a kid, too. I just want to read comic books with lots of action, adventure, and soap opera, nothing more.

Which brings us to the two-parter covered here, about a prison where guards murder prisoners with impunity, and where the evil warden is somehow able to concoct a reason for the National Guard to attack everyone in the jail at his word alone (when the Feds are already aware that the prison is possibly corrupt)! The story is obviously inspired by the Attica prison riot of 1971 (which is even referenced twice in dialogue), but Mantlo's version is so over-the-top that it's hard to take seriously as a critique on that real-life event. Every prisoner here is true-hearted and noble (if occasionally bloodthirsty), and every member of the prison bureaucracy is vile and hateful. Saturday morning cartoons have more nuance than this.

The entire affair is grim and joyless, and makes a reader (or at least this reader) uncomfortable -- which, I suppose, is the real point I was trying to make above. I don't want to feel uncomfortable as I confront the horrors of the real world through thin allegories when I read a comic book or watch a TV show or movie. I get enough of that when I check out the news. I actually want the opposte -- I like to feel exceedingly comfortable when I take in my entertainment!

I'll put it this way. I'm not a fan of writers putting their protagonists (and therefore their readers) through a gritty, hellish story that mirrors a real-life tragedy far too closely to feel like fiction. I much prefer a story about Spider-Man or Daredevil getting locked up for some contrived reason and having to fight their way past some jerky guards who can act as four-color stand-ins for the sorts of reprehensible officers who worked at places like Attica. In the former, prison corrupction is presented realistically as the main thrust of the story. In the latter, it's presented as a side-note in a story that probably otherwise has nothing to do with the subject. That's how I prefer social relevance in my comics!

One last thing to comment on, which I've actually wanted to mention for a couple weeks now -- as we saw not long ago, the Sons moved out of their New York City hotel and into a brownstone. This week we find them looking to open a business in the Big Apple. Recall that when the series started, they all lived in San Francisco (though presumably Bob commuted to Hollywood to star in his big budget blockbusters). They went to New York to compete in a martial arts tournament in one of their earliest stories, and from then on, they've remained. They just sort of decided to stick around, with no real comment on the subject (aside from one very brief moment a few issues back where Abe wondered when they were going to go home). It's weird. Typically when characters relocate, some lip service is paid to the whys and wherefores of it. But Mantlo just randomly has the Sons move to New York as easily as if they were changing houses in the same neighborhood.

I can't imagine Gerry Conway had planned on this when he started the serial. I imagine he had intended San Francisco to be the Sons' main setting. As a lifelong native of the S.F. Bay Area, I'm a little miffed that Mantlo changed that, especially since he did so for no real reason. The N.Y. setting does give the Sons more opportunities to team up with other Marvel characters (as we'll see next week), but that's about it. They really should've stayed here on the West Coast!

Next time, the it's Sons of the Tiger Team-Up Week as we watch our heroes in action alongisde Iron Fist, Spider-Man, and the Human Torch!


  1. While this is a very special story for Sons of the Tiger, it's also Mantlo doing 1970s movies. There were loads of movies about corrupt wardens doing awful things to the prisoners-hell, it even came up in ostensible comedies like The Longest Yard. Bringing up Attica makes sense because the Marvel Universe has always been based around New York, but Mantlo's attempts to be earnest and topical is just as much him doing 1970s movies as anything else.

    Marvel has really had a thing through the decades with basing people in San Francisco-hell, even VENOM was based there for a while-probably because the city has a reputation of being counter cultural, so to me it's really odd that they never sent the Sons back. Maybe San Francisco was still mad Daredevil insulted the Golden Gate bridge or something.

    1. Wow, I will always admit that I'm kind of thick-headed sometimes, but this is a bit much even for me. It never once occurred to me that Mantlo was doing a riff on a 70s prison movie! Maybe because I tend to avoid that particular genre, as it makes me more uncomfortable than a lot of other exploitation cinema (and like I said above, discomfort is not something I like to experience when watching TV or movies)!

      I well remember Venom's S.F. days -- at the time I was around 13 or so, and while I thought it was cool that the Bay Area was getting its own hero, I recall wondering, "Why does it have to be an anti-hero?" But yeah, from Daredevil to the Tiger-Sons to Venom to the Utopia-era X-Men, Marvel has long liked to dally with San Francisco but has never been able to commit. And I really do think it's partly because it makes team-ups a lot harder to facilitate.

    2. I admittedly have the advantage of being old enough to have lived through the era, and have a memory of those old corrupt prison movies, whereas that sort of movie faded away in the '80s by and large, and really had their last heyday in The Shawshank Redemption (which was, after all, an adaptation of a Stephen King novella written in the early 80s.) There are virtues to being old and increasingly creaky, it seems!


  2. // Mantlo's version is so over-the-top that it's hard to take seriously //

    Also my reaction.

    The Sons’ appearance on the cover of #16 surprised me in reading along for these posts since (other than skimming a handful of their DHOKF stories a few years back when reading the mag’s Iron Fist serial) I only knew them from the Marvel Team-Up story where their uniforms are the same color.

    1. No one seemed to have the Sons' outfit colors straight back then. I've always been familiar with their OHotMU profile images, where Abe, Lin (and Lotus, in modified fashion) all wear yellow tops with black pants, like Abe on this cover, while Bob wears the all-red number also seen on this cover.

      But DEADLY HANDS 6 and 16 both show Lin in this white top/black pants outfit, while issue 32 has him with the yellow top/black pants (and he's the only Son pictured on that one). Oh, and the DEADLY HANDS SPECIAL, which predates all those other covers, shows Abe (the only Son pictured) in a yellow top with red pants!

      Those are their only DHoKF cover appearances, as far as I recall. But then you have the MTU issue, where they're all wearing the yellow tops with black pants. And a few years after DEADLY HANDS ends, Bob starts showing up in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST wearing his all-red outfit, but at some point he changes to all black -- and a flashback in one of those PM&IF issues shows all the male Sons wearing entirely black outfits with yellow trim and red belts, while Lotus has her yellow top/back pants look.

      I imagine it was the OHotMU entry that finally codified their look, because on the rare occasions they've ever popped up since (and even rarer when they're in uniform), they tend to be colored as they appeared there. But for a number of years, it was anybody's guess as to their official colors!


    2. (1) I didn’t know that. Crazy. (2) I’m really glad I didn’t know that — or remember it, as I must’ve seen the OHOTMU entry back when it came out — because I would’ve been made crazy by Bob’s all-red outfit. Them all having different ones would’ve bugged me but if they were all going to be in uniform colors save one then that one should’ve been Lin since he wore the head totem. Call it OCDOTMU. 8^)

    3. I imagine Bob having a unique look was probably part of his "Hollywood" persona. He must've felt he had to stand out. But I agree; if anyone theoretically should've had a different outfit than the others, it would be Lin.

      I like OCDOTMU! That fits me to a tee.