Martial Artists in Comics

Over the month of September we’ve been exploring the legacy of the world’s most recognized Kung Fu Master; Bruce Lee. This is not to say he is the greatest, though many would happily consider that the case. I’ve been more focused on this legacy as an icon for martial arts in general and kung fu in particular. The Kung Fu Fever of the 70’s has given way to what seems like a more sustainable adoration for Kung Fu. Much has been written about how this is most evident through its rise in interest and ongoing popularity within the Hip Hop communities. It’s my belief that this interest is paralleled in comics as well; and not just because of The Green Hornet & Kato.

Master of Kung Fu December 1973

In the years since, comics’ growth in popularity and profitability has limited the opportunities for such blatant homages. In its place came offical appearance of famous martial artists within comics. Beginning in 1978 with the tabloid sized 72-page comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Which finds the titular heores teaming up to defeat an alien invasion of Earth, after being forced to compete in a boxing match.

Bruce Lee would appear in a number of comics as well. Beginning unofficially in 1983 with the release of a single issue comic Bruce Lee: The Elusive Dragon from English comics publisher Warrior Publications. He would return just over a decade later in the six issue comics series simply titled BRUCE LEE published by Malibu Comics. Eventually Shannon Lee, daughter to Bruce and executor of his estate would take tighter control of her father’s depiction in the medium and work with Magnetic press / Darby Pop Productions to publish Bruce Lee: The Dragon Risees in 2016, co-written by Jeff Klein and herself.

This is a trend that continues to this very day. Long times fans of Tigers Tale will remember that actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China, Disney’s Mulan) made a brief appearance in the series – not quite the same category but worth an honorable mention. More readily known for martial themed movies than the practice he’s reputedly maintained since staring in The Matrix, Keanu Reeves made news in 2021 when he lent his likeness to the comic BRZRKR. The first issue of the 12-issue series raised more than $1.4 million dollars from its Kickstarter campaign.

Just last week another comic was launched which features as its main character a martial artist of more recent renown; Daniel Wu. Fresh off the heels of playing the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, in Disney+’s American Born Chinese series based on the eponymous graphic novel, Daniel Wu (WestWorld, Warcraft, Into the Badlands) and comic creator Sean Chen’s EVERMIND. Both of them, I’ve seen places on the cover of Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine and celebrate their arrival to comics.

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