Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.
My pal Brian Foss suggested that I spotlight the unusual way that Marvel has handled Fu Manchu in the years since they lost the rights to the character.
In case you're unfamiliar with the character (outside of the distinctive facial hairstyle that the film version of the character inspired), Fu Manchu is an Asian villain who appeared as the villain in a series of adventure novels by British novelist Sax Rohmer that began in 1913. Fu Manchu was the epitome of the idea of "Yellow Peril," which is when writers turn Asian villains into some sort of exotic boogey man. Here is how Rohmer described Fu Manchu in one of the books, "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man." Fu Manchu is essentially one of the world's earliest supervillains.
For whatever reason, Marvel was given the opportunity to license the character in the mid-1970s. Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin were given the assignment of trying to come up with a way to adapt the character and their solution was to come up with a new character to tie in with the martial arts craze that was spreading through popular culture at the time. The hero of the book would be Shang-Chi, the SON of Fu Manchu who is trained as the world's greatest assassin by his father, but then splits from his father to become a hero instead...
The book was a hit and soon the series was re-named Master of Kung Fu and kept on starring Shang-Chi.
Shang-Chi continued to fight the good fight against his father's evil empire, while also fighting other bad guys, of course.
But his father always remained as a recurring villain (even as Doug Moench and Paul Galacy took over the series and made it their own - Mike Zeck and Gene Day later replaced Gulacy)....
The book had a very respectable run, lasting until basically after Moench left the series (and Marvel period) in the early 1980s. The final issue was #125 in 1983...
Moench left the book with #122 while Day tragically passed away after issue #120. The Fu Manchu plot was basically resolved in #118, so the book sort of petered out after that (especially with Moench on the way out).
Once the book was over, though, the licensing agreement expired soon enough and so Marvel could no longer use Fu Manchu in their comics, while Marvel retained the rights to Shang-Chi. So how do you tell Shang-Chi stories without mentioning that his dad is Fu Manchu?
You'll find out how!