This was the news last night from the Diamond Retailer Summit via Heidi MacDonald, EIC of Comics Beat:
— Heidi MacDonald (@Comixace) September 24, 2015
This is a series you’ve probably never heard of, yet it’s both historically significant and solidly entrenched in the top 10 most-wished-for Omnibus editions from Marvel’s online collector community.
What’s the story behind the excitement and why does this seemingly obscure series merit four massive volumes? To figure out the answer, we need to travel back in time over 40 years to 1974.
Similar to Marvel 70s horror titles Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night that emerged in 1972, Master of Kung Fu both featured a major non-Marvel character and was built to serve a public craze.
In this case, the craze was the titular Kung Fu. It was blowing up in the summer of 1973 thanks to a culmination of factors including the television show Kung Fu, a number of successful movies imported from China’s booming cinema, and one man: Bruce Lee. To read more background, I suggest starting with a marvelous pair of blog posts from “A Shroud of Thoughts” – parts 1 and 2.
Marvel wanted to license the popular Kung Fu to take advantage of the nationwide interest in martial arts (which also yielded Iron Fist), but they failed to obtain the rights. Instead, they turned to another pre-existing mythology: the story behind villain Fu Manchu, a fictional criminal mastermind who coined the mustache of the same name. He was created by author Sax Rohmer in 1912 in a serialized novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Fu Manchu was popular enough to merit an initial trilogy of serialized books in the 1910s and even more starting in the 1930s, plus a number of film adaptions ranging from 1929 to 1980. The character can be a controversial one – even in the 1930s he was seen as a racist caricature representing the “Yellow Peril” of an East-Asian threat to the wider, whiter world.