Monday, June 28, 2021


As presented in MARVEL TEAM-UP nos. 39 & 40 and DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU no. 18.

Writer: Bill Mantlo | Artists: Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito
Letterer: Karen Mantlo | Colorists: Don Warfield (issue 39) & Janice Cohen (issue 40)
Editor: Marv Wolfman

The Plot: (MTU #39) On a New York City rooftop, Spider-Man evades an assassination attempt, while elsewhere in Manhattan, the Human Torch is captured by the Enforcers and their leader, the Big Man. That night, Spidey runs across the villains attempting to auction off the Torch at an abandoned warehouse, and intervenes to free him. The Torch and the Web-Slinger defeat the bad guys, but are surprised when Sandman and the Crime Master enter the fray.

(MTU #40) The villains decide to team up and capture the Human Torch, forcing Spider-Man to surrender. But next door to the warehouse, the Sons of the Tiger are practicing in their dojo. They leave to investigate the sounds of battle from the warehouse, and free Spider-Man and the Torch. The villains escape, and the Torch departs for a date, leaving Spider-Man to search for the bad guys -- and he finds them, but only after they've captured the Sons of the Tiger. Spidey breaks in to save his new friends, and Crime Master shoots the Big Man during a scuffle. Eventually the heroes win the day and Spidey unmasks both crime lords, revealing Crime Master to be the son of the original, deceased Crime Master, and the now-dead Big "Man" to be the daugther of the original, deceased Big Man.

Story: Bill Mantlo | Art: Pat Broderick & Terry Austin

The Plot: At a subway station, the Sons of the Tiger and Blackbyrd team up with Danny "Iron Fist" Rand to save a woman's life and stop a hitman from escaping New York. The group goes to a bar afterward, where Blackbyrd follows a hunch and is attacked by a gangster named Snake Eyes and his men, the Black Hand, in an alleyway outside. The Sons and Iron Fist come to Blackbyrd's rescue, and during the fight, Snake Eyes reveals he is a cyborg. Iron Fist kills him in battle, and the group heads back into the bar.

Continuity Notes: The Iron Fist team-up is illustrated by Pat Broderick, who had been intended to become the character's regular penciler a few months earlier, and had drawn a couple issues of the series -- but the story goes that Broderick couldn't handle the monthly deadline and had to give up the assignment. (I believe John Byrne has joked, tongue-in-cheek, that he owes his career to Broderick since he was picked for the Iron Fist assigment as Broderick's replacement.)

Snake Eyes' plan is to steal an isotope from the local hospital and ransom it back to the City, which he says needs it to cure a blood disease which has swept through New York, killing people in a matter of hours. I have no idea if this is some kind of real world reference, though I feel like I would've heard of it somewhere if it was! But it's not, it feels like a really weird thing to casually mention as backstory when it, itself, is such a massive event! (Also, later Snake Eyes reveals that he had the disease as well and wanted to use the isotope on himself.)

In case you're wondering what Iron Fist was up to in terms of solo adventures at this time, well -- following a headlining role in eleven issues of MARVEL PREMIERE over the course of a year-and-a-half, the first issue of his very own self-titled series hit stands the same month as his team-up with the Tiger Sons! Also, this issue's final page states that the next issue will see the start of a DHoKF serial starring Iron Fist, written by his usual scripter, Chris Claremont, and drawn by Rudy Nebres. Someday, I want to look at those stories here to go with the classic Iron Fist reviews I posted years ago.

(More years ago than I thought, in fact. 2015? Are you kidding me?!)

The MARVEL TEAM-UP issues feature a few footnotes, informing readers that the Enforcers were beaten by Spider-Man and the Human Torch once before, in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #19, and that the Big Man, Daily Bugle reporter Frederick Foswell, was killed in AMAZING #52. Also, on the final page of issue 39, Sandman randomly starts talking, completely out of the blue, about how he's ditched his "super-villain" costume for a return to his original clothes, because for some reason Bill Mantlo felt this was worth mentioning in the most awkward way possible.

MTU #40 depicts Lin and Lotus talking about revealing their feelings for one another to Bob at the appropriate time, with a footnote directing readers to DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #19, which we will examine next week.

When the Torch ditches Spider-Man and the Sons for his date, a footnote says readers will see it in FANTASTIC FOUR #164. (And in a little example perfectly encapsulating some of the editorial issues at 1970s, pre-Jim Shooter Marvel, the words "Fantastic Four" are never once mentioned in the issue, while the footnote merely says to "see FF #164", which would be of absolutely zero help to a brand-new reader who might like to follow the Torch into his next appearance. There are other little things like that throughout these two issues, with Mantlo clearly writing to an audience who already knows these characters without bothering to better explain things to newcomers, but that's the most egregious in my mind.)

My Thoughts: Though none of them knows it yet, the Sons of the Tiger and Iron Fist share a backstory of sorts. Iron Fist was raised in far off K'un L'un, where he became a master of the martials arts, while the Sons' mystical amulets will eventually (years later, I believe, in the pages of POWER MAN AND IRON FIST) be revealed to have come from K'un L'un as well. So it's fitting that they all cross paths fairly early in their careers. But, aside from the Sons and Iron Fist learning each other's secret identities, there's really not much to say about this story. It's fine, but it feels utterly inconsequential to either side. Pat Broderick's pencils look really nice inked by Terry Austin here, though -- much better than Broderick's two issues' work on the actual IRON FIST comics!

Moving along to MARVEL TEAM-UP -- obviously the Sons of the Tiger aren't in issue 39, but I included a summary above since it's part one of a two-part tale. Unfortunately, the Sons are entirely superfluous to their appearance here. Yeah, they free Spider-Man and the Torch from the bad guys, but the two were only captured in the first place because Mantlo needed them in some sort of peril to facilitate the Sons' appearance. And you may glean from the summary above that these two issues feature a lot of scenes where the good guys are captured and then freed nearly immediately afterward.

In part, I suspect this is simply due to MARVEL TEAM-UP being what it is -- the "third wheel" Spider-Man title, existing only to showcase the Web-Slinger teaming up with other Marvel characters every month, and therefore leading to some really lackluster issues whose only concern are telling wall-to-wall action stories. And when that's the case, some wheel-spinning is bound to take place. But I have read some very good MTU stories -- mostly from Chris Claremont, whose entire run (i.e., not just the stuff he did with John Byrne) I read around a decade ago -- so I know it's possible to make this series more than its mission statement seems to allow. Mantlo just wasn't feeling up to the challenge for this particular story, I guess.

That said, I do like the "Romeo and Juliet"-esque conclusion, where we learn that Crime Master Jr. and Big Man Jr. bonded over both their dads being killed due to involvement with Spider-Man, and eventually fell in love -- and then, totally independently of each other, hatched plots to take revenge on Spidey which culminated in their becoming unwitting rivals and eventually getting one of them killed. This almost makes up for the fact that, as the story nears its end, Spider-Man identifies Sandman as one of the toughest enemies he's ever faced, and then assists the Sons of the Tiger in defeating the villain by somehow punching him unconscious -- which I've never seen happen to Sandman before.

Next Week, it's back to DEADLY HANDS, full time for the final (?!) Sons of the Tiger story, and the debut of the White Tiger!


  1. Time for me to wax nostalgic over Marvel Team Up (and the Thing starring version, Marvel Two In One.) You can't be shocked at this.

    Both books operated at their best when they weren't one in done stories starring odd guest stars, but when they told ongoing stories that would bring in and out new characters in team ups while working through a multi-issue arc. Three of my favorite arcs as a kid, in fact, came from those books: Marvel Team Up's arc involving a villain called the Wraith, an arc in Marvel Two in One that started with the Thing teaming up with Nick Fury and ended with Deathlok attempting to seemingly assassinate Jimmy Carter, and Two in One's Project Pegasus arc. That was those books at their best.

    Those books at their worst? Obviously repurposed fill in issues...and things like this story, where the team up barely even exists and makes you wonder why they even bothered to make the issue exist. There's actually decent potential in taking Spidey to the street level area the Sons occupy, but this story didn't even bother. Which makes it hilarious that this was my first experience with the Sons, which made me fall back in the 80s when comics stores became more popular and find their earlier appearances.

    Go figure.

    1. Admittedly, I haven't read large swaths of MTU or MTIO, but I've read various random issues of both here and there, as well as a couple story arcs on each, and I totally agree.

      Coincidentally, I have read the Wraith storyline and the Project Pegasus storyline, and I liked both quite a bit. There was also a Serpent Crown story in MTIO that I enjoyed, and the Claremont run on MTU I mentioned above had a long-running thread about the mysterious Cavourite Crystal, which factored into Spidey's team ups with Black Widow, Nick Fury, Ms. Marvel, Shang-Chi, and possibly a few others -- and featured Viper and Silver Samurai as recurring villains in some of those stories. It wasn't a multi-part arc, but more like a recurring plot that would pop every few issues.

      (And Claremont eventually resolved that storyline in early issues of NEW MUTANTS, of all places, where the crystal factored into the resurrection of Amahl Farouk!)

      But yes, I absolutely agree: when the creators were really putting some effort into it, the team-up books could be great. But all too often, they felt "phoned in".

  2. Johnny’s date is Frankie Raye in her debut.

    1. Thanks, Angmc! I don't think I realized Frankie had been around for so long before John Byrne turned her into Nova. Sounds like about five or six years!


  3. The pathos of the next-generation Crime-Master and Big Man being star-crossed lovers in a kind of “Gift of the Magi” situation fueled by revenge and ending in homicide really hit me as a kid. A fair number of superhero yarns were emotionally gutting, in fact.

    I’m pretty sure this issue was chronologically my own first exposure to the Enforcers, but while it’s memorable for the above plot twist and the Sons of the Tiger being a curiosity otherwise unknown to me I have a stronger recollection of Fancy Dan, Ox, and Montana from their earliest appearances via the Pocket Books Amazing Spider-Man reprints a couple of years later. God bless Marvel for those and the Fireside anthologies, since their newsstand comics reprints (Marvel Tales, Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Triple Action…) were all doing mid-to-late ’60s material. Not that I didn’t want to read that stuff too.

    Agreed on Sandman’s costume exposition. Plus, his suddenly forgetting that he can dissolve or turn extremely dense aside, that panel of Spidey, Lin, Abe, Bob, and Lotus all simultaneously punching Sandman, fists side-by-side, is patently ridiculous unless taken as (visual) poetic license.

    // Someday, I want to look at those stories here to go with the classic Iron Fist reviews I posted years ago. //

    You really should. The art is incredible, there’s material pertinent to reading of Claremont’s powerful females (Phoenix in particular), and the whole thing is an interesting parallel to the color series.

    1. I think my first exposure to the Enforcers was one of their very first appearances, in an issue of MARVEL TALES in the 80s. In fact, I think it may have been their debut issue, which I see was reprinted in the January 1983 issue of TALES.

      Reading MARVEL TALES was such an interesting experience as a kid. I'm not sure I was fully reading it, as I would have only been four years old when that issue hit the stands, but I remember owning random issues of the series that I did eventually read a few years later. And I'm not sure I figured out for some time that it was a reprint series! As far as I was concerned, those stories were just as new and current as anything in AMAZING.


    2. I remember when Marvel Tales reset to reprinting the earliest Spider-Man stories and it kinda hurt my brain. No skin off my back; I’m happy for the kids seeing that stuff for the first time. Just did not compute, though.

    3. During my childhood, MARVEL TALES jumped from the 1960s Lee/Ditko stuff to the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz AMAZING stories from the mid-80s. (Which had just been published "first-run" only a few years before they reprinted them!)

      Oh, and somewhere in there, around the time Peter's parents returned in AMAZING, the series dedicated two issues to reprinting the ASM ANNUAL where Peter fought the (fake) Red Skull and learned about them.

      There was also a 2-issue reprint of the MARVEL TALES ANNUAL where Spidey met the All-New, All-Different X-Men (which had to have been published during Todd McFarlane's run, as he provided covers for those issues).

      I didn't read TALES all the way through my childhood, but I definitely picked up issues here and there if they looked interesting, and especially when they tied in with then-current stories.


    4. Marvel Tales in my 1975-1976 Golden Age was running five or six years behind Amazing Spider-Man but I recall that it seemed more contemporary than the Avengers reprints in Marvel Triple Action did to new Avengers — which, looking it up, actually tracks since they were about ten years behind.

      I also recall — and this tracks as well — reading Giant-Size Spider-Man #6, co-starring the Human Torch and reprinted from ASM Annual #4, at the same time in the same place as MTU #40; wonder if that was intentional scheduling on Marvel’s part given Johnny’s appearance in #39-40. There was also a memorable double-page spread of Peter’s whole classic supporting cast at the Coffee Bean.