The Usual Suspects #32

Welcome back for another edition of The Usual Suspects. This week, I tackle a subject very near and dear to my heart. Ever since news broke back in December that Marvel was planning a film starring Shang Chi: The Master of Kung Fu, I have been giddy with anticipation. I wanted to cover it then, but plans and circumstances got in the way. Can’t do X-Mas and New Year’s themed articles in February. Am I right?

So here we are, as I finally take a look at some Shang Chi keys, as well as a couple other Marvel characters that could be introduced or involved in some way eventually. I want to give you fair warning now, I will undoubtedly stray far off topic on this one. I absolutely love Kung Fu movies and anything related to Martial Arts. I have since I was a boy.

I started Tae Kwan Do Moo Duk Kwan when I was six. It was right around the time Karate Kid came out. Who didn’t want to take karate after seeing Daniel Larusso wreck shop on those Cobra Kai’s?

I was thinking about this the other day, how martial arts movies really are the template for so many classic video games. Especially the Karate Kid. I mean think about how it plays out with the main character basically training and “leveling up”. Then must go through a series a mini boss fights until he reaches the final big boss.

 

And was there a better mini-boss than Dutch? I mean, I had to look up Tommy’s name above. He was just the “Get him a body bag” guy to me, I couldn’t recall his name. And don’t get me wrong, I loved William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence as the final boss battle. Zabka was THE quintessential 80’s villain. How great was he in Back to School and Just One of the Guys? That said, there was just something really cool about Dutch. Maybe it’s just the Steve McQueen in him.

But I came to love all things Martial Arts. I worked pretty hard at it and got pretty good. Now I wasn’t that great a fighter. I was just too short. And in a sport like karate, competitive fighting is mostly about reach, which I had none. That said, I was awesome at Kata or Forms. That was where I could shine at individual demonstration. I would beat grown men for a few overall Grand Championship trophies before I hung up my belt. People used to call me Ernie Reyes Jr. Probably because I was short, pretty good at karate, ½ Filipino, and we had the same haircut.

I grew up on all of these 80’s Martial Arts movies. From the crappy Gymkata’s to the Eric Roberts gem, Best of the Best. And I can’t forget one of my all-time favorite movies. A movie I saw over half a dozen times in the theater. I’m talking about the John Carpenter classic, Big Trouble in Little China. ‘Nuff said.

And let’s not forget Jean Claude Van Damme. How many classics did he pump out back then? I remember going to see Bloodsport out as almost like a field trip with a bunch of my karate school. Tournament movie, with Bolo Yeung, and Ogre? Come on. Van Damme movies were awesome, from Bloodsport to Kickboxer to Double Impact. Two van Damme’s?

I still remember the first movie I saw Jean Claude Van Damme in. It was No Retreat, No Surrender where he played the bad guy. The evil Russian, at the height of the cold war. Who made better villains in the 80’s? And I believe this began the JCVD split which became his calling card much like Arnold’s, “I’ll be back.”

Ok, I know I am pretty far afield babbling on about 80’s and into the 90’s Martial Arts flicks, but I’m getting there. One of the things I loved about No Retreat, No Surrender was the main character’s affinity for Bruce Lee. I could definitely relate. I loved Bruce Lee. Still do.

Every one of his movies is an absolute classic to me. Everyone knows, Enter the Dragon. It’s on Netflix right now, so if you haven’t seen it, then you have homework this weekend. And I remember them with the names they had back then, like Fists of Fury which is somehow also The Big Boss. That might be my favorite. But then again Return of the Dragon is also known as way of the Dragon. Regardless that is another awesome flick with Chuck Norris as the bad guy. Only in a Bruce Lee flick could Chuck be the bad guy.

But Bruce Lee was the best. Period. And he was obviously the template on which Shang Chi: The Master of Kung Fu was based. It’s not exactly subtle. He was created to take advantage of the popularity of Bruce Lee and Martial Arts in the 70’s. And he was actually Asian. Not some other characters…cough, cough.. Iron fist…cough.

 

See I told you I would get there eventually. I’m still working on my Master of Kung Fu run, but you can find the dollar boxes littered with issues. Typically issues 90-120 are super plentiful in the bins. But there are some keys that have taken off with the announcement of Marvel planning to do a flick based on him.

Will this be a pop culture touchstone for the Asian community as Black Panther has been? Maybe, but that’s a pretty tall order. Just give us a good movie with interesting characters and some inspired choreographed fights and I for one will be happy. Maybe it will trigger a Martial arts Renaissance. Maybe one that will bring back my favorite cartoon, Hong Kong Phooey.

Remember back when every actor suddenly became an action star Martial Artist too. I’m looking at you Patrick, and you Wesley. All of a sudden you’re no longer Dirty Dancing at a 50’s summer resort or being his brother’s keeper as Nino Brown.

But I digress. Marvel could’ve done a lot worse emulating their Martial Arts hero after Bruce Lee. They weren’t the only ones to do it after all. I mean, look at all the video game fighter characters that are obvious knock offs like Fei Long in Street Fighter, or Lui Kang from Mortal Kombat, or Marshall Law in Tekken.

Still even after all of those, the best Bruce Lee homage/admirer would have to be Bruce Leroy. Without a doubt, Leroy Green would be right there with Shang Chi as my favorite characters paying homage to the Dragon.

And with that, let’s get into the comics. Again sorry for the ginormous tangent, but it’s a topic I could spend 10,000 words on easy.  I mean I didn’t even get to any Drunken Master, Sonny Chiba Street Fighter, or Fist of Legend, or any of the Wu Tang inspirations like 5 Fingers of Death and that other Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movie fare. But let’s finally get on track and look at Shang Chi and maybe a couple other Usual Suspects that may find their way into a new corner of the MCU that starts with The Master of Kung Fu.

So with that said…let’s get into it.

Marvel Special Edition #15

 (Dec 1973)

1st appearance of Shang-Chi

Image result for special marvel edition #15 

What better place to start than the 1st appearance of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu? So apparently the story is that Marvel tried to get the rights to publish comics based on the TV show Kung Fu but were denied since the show was owned by Warner Brothers. Since WB owns DC, it shouldn’t be a big surprise they told Marvel to gets to steppin’.

So Marvel bought the rights to Fu Manchu instead, and made up Shang Chi and started their own thing. What I find particularly interesting was that the concept of the TV show Kung Fu was supposedly created by Bruce Lee as a starring vehicle for himself to move onto from Kato. Then the WB apparently took his idea and cast David Carradine. No this isn’t how Iron Fist was created. But don’t worry, Marvel will take that idea of a white Kung Fu Master and use it a few months later when they do give us Danny Rand.

But anyway, I learned most of this back story stuff from watching Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story starring Jason Lee (no relation).

Related image

Yeah, I am referencing a Hollywood biography movie. I know how ridiculous that sounds. But that’s why I used words like “supposedly” and “apparently”.

Irregardless, Marvel created Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu and now we may have a movie on the way. And yes, I intentionally used another made up word like supposably. Take that grammar Nazi’s. Anyway, it’s not just Shang Chi as a character that has me excited over this possibility. We may get to see a whole new corner of the Marvel Universe, like we got with Wakanda.

New characters, new and exciting locales outside of NYC, and maybe delving a bit deeper in to the mystical realms of the Marvel Universe. That’s right, give me the weird stuff. I want to be sitting around at work contemplating how a character like razor Fist goes to the bathroom. Can’t do that until the MCU brings him mainstream.

We can only hope whomever they select as the Big Bad for a Master of Kung Fu movie can match up with someone as epic as the Shogun of Harlem.

Active Listings:  Plenty of copies available on this book. Depending on condition and whether you want graded or raw you can still find some deals despite the recent surge in prices.

Top listing is a CGC 9.8 up for $3,999. That is a big number and double the sales prices of recent months. But supply and demand my friends. That’s the only show in town if you want a 9.8 so if you want a ticket, it’s gonna cost you.

Too rich for your tastes then perhaps a CGC 9.4 Blue Label for $799 is more your speed. You just missed out on a 9.4 whose auction ends as I write this that was only $625. But CGC’s seem to generally command about $50 a point, so 8.0-9.0’s are in the $400-$450 range.

Even raws right now are quite pricey now that eyes are on this title. A VF copy you might’ve been lucky to get $50 for back around Thanksgiving is now a $200+ book. Low grade buy it now books are usually more my speed as they fit easier in my price target. Cheapest buy it now raw is $40 and it’s pretty rough. The cover looks more crinkled than the paper bag from Bender’s locker.

Market Analysis:  So if you can’t tell from the chart below, Prices are up. Across the board, prices are reaching new heights. All grades both slabbed and raw. A CGC 9.8 hit $3,300 before that last $2,500 sale. And look again, all grades are moving at a pretty decent clip and prices are on the rise. Could be a case of long term market correction mixed with movie spec.

Master of Kung Fu #17

 (Apr 1974)

1st issue, Story & numbering continued, from Special Marvel Edition #16

 

In practical terms this is the 3rd issue of Shang Chi as the title changed here from Special Marvel edition to The Hands of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. So I forgot to mention that Shang Chi was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Yeah Cosmic Marvel Jim Starlin also gave us our Master of Kung Fu as well. This issue, though Shang Chi’s 1st carrying the title, was Jim Starlin’s last interiors. Granted he’d come back for issue 24 and did some Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, but those all had other artists contributing too.

I’m also unsure why they didn’t let Starlin do the cover of this book. I’m sorry Ernie Chan but this one leaves a lot to be desired. Is Shang Chi trying to high-five Black Jack at the same time he is attacking him? It just doesn’t do it for me.

Apart from being the first issue in his solo series, there isn’t really much special about this book truth be told. It isn’t quite ASM #1 compared to AF15. But I felt it was important to highlight how he basically took over this title after a couple of issues and rode that wave of Martial Arts popularity all the way to issue 125. That’s no easy feat, even for a title back then to last that long.

It’s also worth noting that not everyone is super psyched a movie is on the way. It seems there are some who have issues with the character of Fu Manchu. Can’t say I blame them. The history of the character is spotty to say the least. Maybe Marvel even moves away that part of Shang Chi’s history and give him another father that isn’t Fu Manchu. Or they lean into it. Hopefully, they don’t lean too hard though. We don’t need a Mickey Rooney situation.

Editor’s Note: I had put in a gif of Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but it just didn’t feel right. You know what I’m talking about. If not just look it up.

Active Listings:  Another easy book to find due to those high print runs of the Bronze Age, and this one is relatively affordable. I mean you can score a decent FN/FN+ copy for $9 plus shipping. Higher Grade raw might run you over $30.

Top listing is a CGC 9.6 up for $240. Now, while the copies may be plentiful, high grade always commands a bit of a premium. Especially a book like this as most copies were not handled with care over the years. Shang Chi books were typically not collected with reverence as some other titles.

That said, if you just want a cheap reader copy you can grab a GD/VG copy for $6 and be done with it. For whatever reason, a book like this, I kind of want worn in. It adds character. I don’t need 9.8 candidates for my entire PC. It would be nice sure. But collecting with that level of expectation only leads to disappointment in my experience. Some books need that history of being held and enjoyed. At least that’s my two-cents on the subject.

Market Analysis:  Sales are up in higher grades. Lower grades prices are really fluid. Looks like anything 9.2 and under is really just $50 or less. CGC 9.8’s are typically between $250 and $300. Raws are really cheap. Sales are all over the place. Not much insight needed as affordable copies are there to be had with a low buy in. If you want it it’s yours.

Marvel Premiere #15

 (May 1974)

Origin and 1st appearance of Iron Fist

This may be a tricky one to include given his recent underwhelming appearance on Netflix, but Iron Fist would just be too perfect a character to leave out of this new portion of the MCU. I mean, who would be a better to add to the mystic nature of Kung Fu? With Danny Rand, you would get to show off K'un Lun and some cool imagery with his glowing fists. Yeah I said fists because he should be able to light up both of those suckers.

Just to get this out of the way. I didn’t hate Iron Fist on Netflix. Granted the first season kind of dragged, but they all did. These should have been 8-10 episodes max. The stretch to 13 really made it a chore to get through. And they may have missed the mark with Finn Jones. I don’t know if it was going on with his hair, but I was waiting for him to bust out the Soul Glo all through Season One.

Image result for finn jones iron fist

Seriously though Loras Tyrell just looked uncomfortable throughout that 1st season. I read the rumors about the rush choreography and tight filming schedule, but really what was the rush? It’s a streaming service. They could’ve posted the series whenever it was done properly. And contrary to what Swayze and Snipes may try to convince you of, not anyone can become a martial artist on film. I mean, it’s one thing to be competent. But Danny Rand was supposed to be the Best. But Dae Han, he was not.

I will say though that I am about half way through season 2 of Iron Fist and he is better. The series itself is better. And 10 episodes is a much better pace. Sure it could go off the rails in the second half, but I have hope it will at least maintain its current level of quality for me. I realize season 2 has been out for months, but still, don’t spoil it for me.

But getting back to the comic, Marvel Premiere 15 has been on the steady decline of late. I can only blame the underwhelming first season. Expectations were high, prices were on the rise, then we got that middling 1st season. I just disliked so many choices in that series. Danny came off more hippie than wise eastern philosopher.

I can still see an opportunity for Marvel to completely wash their hands of Netflix and give us a true depiction of Iron Fist that isn’t just a haphazard rush job. Now you can’t bring him in right away. You need to lay the groundwork with Shang Chi first. But maybe a name drop or two of K’un Lun and then maybe an after credit teaser of the glowing fist leading to an Iron Fist appearance in the sequel.

I realize I’m getting way ahead of myself, but really after whatever marvel formula origin story they wish to tell, it’s in a sequel where you can cut loose with all the mysticism of K’un Lun, and Iron Fist. You wouldn’t need to do an origin for Danny Rand as that was already done with the Netflix show. So the basic groundwork understanding of his history is there. You can do a Cliffs Notes version the keep the story rolling.

 

Ok so Iron Fists opens up all kinds of avenues for stories in this new corner of the MCU. And it can keep growing with more Martial Arts and street level characters. Why not see daredevil or the Hand down the line? Maybe spin off Iron Fist into his own feature. Or maybe you could follow that pretty cool tournament mini boss level storyline from the most recent run from Iron Fist 1-7 that also featured Shang Chi.

At the very least maybe we can finally see that dragon fight, huh?

Active Listings:  So at a quick glance it appears the higher grade prices aren’t as depressed as I fight thought. CGC 9.8 asking prices are well above $4k and nearly at $5k. Lots of expensive high graded copies, but ultimately there are quite a few decent looking raw copies listed for under $100. Those are definitely more in my wheelhouse.

Market Analysis:  Surprisingly despite the lukewarm response to the Netflix series it appears that high grade slabs are still on the uptick. Definitely more of a gentle rise and some prices are a bit under the average for the year, but all in all it seems to be rebounding. Perhaps more folks are re-speculating on Marvel taking Iron Fist and doing something more impressive then what we received.

That said, I really did want to see more of Luke Cage and Iron Fist together than what we got. Definitely and opportunity missed.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #19

 (Dec 1975)

1st White Tiger.

I debated whether to do this issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu that features the 1st appearance of the original White Tiger or to do issue #32 that was the first appearance of the duo of Colleen Wing and Misty Knight as the Daughters of the Dragon. But ultimately I felt that was too much connectivity to the Netflix series. But much like my hopes of more Heroes For Hire with the boys, I really wanted more of these two going forward as well.

But alas it is not to be. That said, this series is magazine sized. So if you go out hunting don’t be as surprised by its size as a lot of folks were with Batman Damned. And no that is not a Batwang joke. Ok maybe it was.

Anyway, a character like White Tiger could be an interesting addition to this world I’m building in my head. Pretty cool look to a character and hector Ayala would add some more diversity to this cast of characters. Plus the all-White outfit would help ease people into the idea of an all-white costume for out eventual Moon Knight Feature. World building people. You’re welcome.

That all said, if I am honest I don’t think we’d see this version of the character if they were to introduce White Tiger. I feel we would most likely get the more recent version of the character, Hector’s niece, Ava Ayala. It would just make so much more sense, plus she looks better in the suit.

Image result for white tiger marvel

Active Listings:  Not a lot of copies of this on the market. Only 11 to be exact. These old Magazines aren’t as easy to track down. Especially in high grade. People just didn’t take care of magazines like some did with Comics. That said the top listing is a CGC 7.0 for $300. A bit surprised by current prices, figured this was a $20 book. Raws are also up with copies available from $54 to $154.

Market Analysis:  Not a lot of sales to really make any real projections. I mean 17 tracked Graded sales since 2000. That’s less than 1 sale per year. Even the raws are hard to gauge. Apart from the current listings the high raw sale of $180 is at quite a premium to the $16.50 Low sale. See that low sale was more what I was expecting of this book, but what do I know?

Ok that’s it for this week. Sorry again for babbling more about nonsense this week then the actual books, but I warned you right out of the gate.

Now it’s time for Last Call.

Avengers Academy #20

1st Ava White Tiger

Like I said, if we get introduced to a White Tiger, I’m pretty sure this is the version they will debut. She’s already appeared on the Ultimate Spider-Man Animated Series. Aside from the added diversity of adding a female character to the mix, there is at least some brand recognition for kids.

There are only 5 graded copies in the census, so I’m not surprised we only have the one tracked sale below. I left out the CGC SS signed by Stan Lee because, who’s to say if it was bought for the book or the sig.

Typical Sales Data courtesy of Covrprice.com:

CGC 9.8 – $194.00 on 8/15/16

Raw – $20.75 on 1/4/19

Plenty available for sale.

No Horse$#@%, Jack.

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10 comments

  • Avatar

    I was really great at katas too. I loved to learn a new one all the time. I was the category you can see the beauty of this art in the movements and stands, punches, kicks, blocks… My teacher use to call me “The Sponge” I was sucking in all he was teaching 😀

    • Peter Renna

      Yeah I loved learning news ones. We would sometimes train with other schools and my favorite part was learning katas they did that were different from ones I knew.

  • Avatar

    Love to see Iron Fist in the mix. Too good of a character to leave out. Just re-cast and start fresh.

    • Peter Renna

      Totally agree about Iron Fist. Like I was saying in the article, I like Finn Jones better in Season 2 so far, but they def could do better. get someone with more of an aptitude for martial arts so it doesn’t looks so forced and unnatural. I want to believe this guy can take anyone down. And Marvel showed they aren’t afraid of dupe versions when they had their quicksilver. Netflix shows became so distanced from the MCU it was almost like another studio had the characters

  • Avatar

    A martial arts Movie si bad it’s good was Breathing Fire. It featured Martial Arts champion Jerry Trimble as the main villain. Bolo Yung was part of his crew.

    Jonathan Ke from temple if doom lore was one of the protagonists and Ed Neil was great!

    The acting was brutal, the storyline so cheesy, but the fight scenes were really good, especially Ed Neil’s fights! Bowling Ball whip lash attack! LOL

    It’s become a cult classic.

    I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about Pete. If not, you gotta check it out.

    Breathing Fire baby!

    • Peter Renna

      I don’t know this Breathing Fire movie, but it looks epic. I swear I don’t think I have ever seen Short Round in anything other than Temple of Doom and Goonies. Oh man, it’s included Free with Amazon Prime. I’m watching this weekend. Good looking out bud. Thanks.

  • Avatar

    Peter, I’m so glad you said “fists”, plural. Read a comic Netflix!

    • Peter Renna

      Yeah I was hoping by the end of Season 2 he would figure out how to light up the left one. I still have 5 eps left, but I doubt it will happen. I was gonna try and wrap that up this weekend but now I have Breathing Fire to watch thanks to Mahleezer. 🥋👊

  • Avatar

    This is a stellar write up. Easily one of my favorite characters.

    Shang…….Mot#erfu(k!nF@ ……..Chi……..my man.

  • Avatar

    So glad I picked up the first three issues of Kung Fu before stores noticed it was a hot property.

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