Showing posts with label partners. Show all posts
Showing posts with label partners. Show all posts

06 October 2019

Those Crazy Crime Fighting Defiant Ones
part 2: Comics Team-Ups of Yore


Gary Phillips


— Velma

Those Crazy Crime Fighting Defiant Ones
Comics Team-Ups of Yore, part 2

by Gary Phillips

Captain America and Falcon 138
Now we come to the first such interracial costumed do-gooder team-up in mainstream comics. Marvel, earlier in the ’70s, gave us Captain America and The Falcon on the masthead. For somewhere in the midst of these two battling the likes of the Secret Empire and the Madbomb, they knew how to take it to the streets.

Take for instance in 1971 Cap & Falcon #138, “It Happens in Harlem” written by Stan “The Man” Lee and illo’ed by John Romita. The two, with an assist from Spider-Man, take out the local jive turkey mobster Stone Face and his crew.

In issue 143, “Power to the People,” again drawn by Romita but written by Gary Friedrich, a masked firebrand has arrived on the scene and is getting the brothers and sisters riled up. In chapter two in the book, “Burn, Whitey, Burn,” the Falcon in his civilian identity of social worker Sam Wilson has to prevent a riot. Sam is outnumbered and only the intervention of militant Leila Taylor of the People’s Militia saves him from a ass whuppin’.

Captain America and Falcon 143
Mind you, she called him an Uncle Tom and a male chauvinist when she first met him. Anyway, before the cops and the community really go at it, Cap and Falc unmask the hatemonger who turns out to be the biggest nazi of them all, Cap’s long-time nemesis, the Red Skull out to cause a race war and political destabilization. Once the Skull is taken care of, Leila and Sam share a kiss.

The following issue is quite the trip. Remember in our last episode Leila and Sam kiss in his office? When that happened peeping in on them from a nearby handy rooftop was Cap. One of his thought balloons read: “Sam – with the militant girl! I can see this is no time to try and square things with him!”

We’ll get back to that. This outing starts with the tale “Hydra Over All” by Romita and Friedrich, and has Cap working with Colonel Nick Fury, head of the spy organization SHIELD and… wait for it, the Femme Force, a special attack squad led by Agent Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend and the grand-niece of Cap’s WWII-era old lady, Peggy Carter. It gets weirder. The good guys mop up the Hydra goons with ease. It turns out the attack is being televised live to the White House, viewed by President Nixon, Vice President Agnew and what seems to be the Chiefs of Staff. Turns out this whole deal was an elaborately staged demonstration. The Hydra hoods are LMDs, Life Model Decoys, and Fury wanted to show the effectiveness of his projects.

As Fury says to the prez, “… do we or don’t we get the bread…?”

Captain America dreams of Falcon
The other story in the book is “The Falcon Fights Alone!” written by Friedrich and illo’ed by Gray Morrow. This starts with Cap in his Steve Rogers identity having a dream in bed about Sam and Leila and him in his Cap outfit standing between some angry brothers and a white cop. In his sleep he’s mumbling, “I see them! He’s with her again!”

Oh jealousy, thy name is… anywho, on the following page we again see Cap peeping in on Sam and Leila only this time he’s talking to himself and his dialogue starts with, “If he’s that close to her… then he couldn’t be with me!” After Leila splits, Cap and Sam have a showdown which leads to:

“But I’m gonna change all of that!” Sam said. “I’m gonna be proud, baby… proud to be black… and proud to be me! And it’s all gonna start right now! Then, “… the Falcon Fights alone!

To underscore his point, Sam steps back into his office from the restroom where he’d been changing into his costume. Only it’s not his original green and orange get-up, but some new threads that are red and white. The two may be going their separate ways, temporarily as it worked out, but still buddies as they slap five just before a cat busted in to tell the Falcon two pushers have his friend tied up in an abandoned tenement.

The Falcon and Redwing
The Falcon leaps out the window, a handy rope nearby to swing on – as this is before he got his mechanical wings. His sidekick falcon Redwing, who he has a telepathic link with as well as other birds, flies with him. He effortlessly shoulders in a door and deals with the two pushers, who happen to be white though this is Harlem. And even though people don’t recognize him in his new costume, they embrace him for his bravery and making an effort to clean up the neighborhood. As he’s hoisted on the shoulders of well-wishers, Steve wakes up.

“Maybe I’m only dreaming, but I know it all really happened.”

2008 saw the publication of 76, a retro comic book miniseries set in that year and ably taking up the Wu Tangness of it all. It was planned as an 8-part effort with two separate stories playing out each issue, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles B. Clay Moore and Ed Tadem, writer and artist respectively, gave us kung fu street fighters Jackie Karma and Marcus King, looking into who was backing the dangerous Gil Gunn and his super-heroin on the East Coast. As things developed, swordswoman Holly Gold, PI Samantha Jones and the Soul Brigade all lent a hand.

Out west, in “Cool” writer Seth Peck and artist Tigh Walker told the adventure of Vietnam vet pals Pete Walker and Leon Campbell. In an interview with Peck posted on Comic Book Resources he noted, “[this] is the story of two bounty hunters, a stripper, a suitcase full of money, a sadistic midget, a porn star hit man, crooked cops, geriatric mobsters and L.A. lowlifes spending 48 hours trying to kill each other.”

Sadly, the groove thing that was 76 only saw five issues produced. As the real time seventies closed out, Don McGregor and the aforementioned Marshall Rogers produced Detectives, Inc.: A Remembrance of Threatening Green published in 1980 featuring Bob Rainer and Ted Denning. No kung fu’ing chumps through windows but both men carried a lot of emotional baggage we learn in the course of their case. The PI duo had an interesting genesis as the white McGregor (a writer on Black Panther and editor at Marvel in his career) related creating the pair for him and black artist-writer Alex Simmons (Blackjack) to play in Super 8 movies McGregor was making. Check out the trailer here.

Detectives Inc. series covers

To borrow from the 1975 Isley Brothers’ song, these defiant ones sure knew how to fight the power.
Redwing (falcon)



Gary Phillips has a retro pulp novel coming out from Polis, Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem. He is story editor on Snowfall, a show on FX about crack and the CIA set in 1980s South Central.

05 October 2019

Those Crazy Crime Fighting Defiant Ones
part 1: Comics Team-Ups of Yore


Gary Phillips


Graphics novel author, expert, and historian Gary Phillips brings us the first double-fisted episode about crime-fighting duos. Gather ’round as Gary paints the colors in black and white comic strips.
— Velma

Those Crazy Crime Fighting Defiant Ones
Comics Team-Ups of Yore, part 1

by Gary Phillips

“Listen for the thunder, Troy! A bolt of lightning just struck my thinking machine!!”
So says Danny Raven to his partner Theodore “Troy” Young as the two scope out a bad guy in a Rolls. These two swingin’ dudes were globetrotting secret agents whose cover were being reporters – playing off of it seems the real life cases of overseas reporters who provided intel to the CIA. Raven was black and Young white in a daily black and white and Sunday color comic strip called Dateline: Danger! Introduced in November 1968, it was written and co-created by John Saunders and drawn by co-creator Alden “Al” McWilliams and ran for the Publishers-Hall Syndicate until 1974.

Dateline Danger!
Comics historian Maurice Horn noted in 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, “One of the most noteworthy entries in the crowded field [of comic strips] was Dateline: Danger! a strip based on the popular I Spy program starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. There was much banter and wisecracking going between the partners as they raced cars, engaged in fisticuffs, and dodged bullets in the course of their everyday activities.”

Saunders was the son of comic strip writer Allen Saunders, who wrote among other features the Steve Roper and Mike Nomad adventure strip as well as stalwart Mary Worth. Coming full circle, McWilliams also drew issues of the Gold Key I Spy comic book as well as the Star Trek and Buck Rogers comic strips after Dateline folded.

Dateline Danger!
This interracial set-up was a bigger deal than one might think looking back on that time from here. A couple of years before the strip’s debut, there was the November 1966 Ebony magazine article, “What’s Not so Funny about the Funnies” by Ponchitta Pierce. The effervescent Ronettes girl singing group on the cover, Alfred Andriola, the artist of the Kerry Drake strip which the senior Saunders wrote, lays it bare in her piece.

“Comic characters are a white man’s land,” he said. “Let’s face it. You can’t deal with race or color in comics. A colored maid or porter brings a flood of letters. And if we show the Negro as a hero we get angry letters from the South.” He quickly adds that negative reactions are not limited to any area of the country. “All people who are anti-Negro do not live just in the South.”

Predating Raven and Young by decades in terms of and salt and pepper crime fighting pairings in the comic strips was Mandrake the Magician and Lothar. Created and originally drawn by Lee Falk at the height of the Great Depression in 1934, the strip starred the top hat and cape wearing master illusionist Mandrake and his then racially stereotypical African manservant, Lothar. This was not unusual for the time period of the ’30s and ’40s to have an exaggeratedly drawn minstrel-like black comic relief sidekick. Witness Ebony and the Spirit, Smokey and Joe Palooka and Mushmouth in Moon Mullins. Asians too got clowned like Connie in the Terry and Pirates strip and Chop-Chop in the Blackhawk comics.

Mandrake the Magician and Lothar
Mandrake and Lothar
Lothar too was initially drawn as a caricature but that changed somewhat a year later when Phil Davis took over the art duties. Lothar though remained big, spoke broken English and walked around in a leopard skin for God’s sake. “Not going to kiss the princess goodbye smack, smack,” goes one of his cringe-worthy lines to his boss who then orders him to pack their bags.

According to Jeff Herr in his column entitled “Racism as a Stylistic Choice and other notes” in the online Comics Journal (March 14, 2011) back on October 6, 1943 Ward Greene, an editor at King Features Syndicate sent a letter to Roy Crane who did the Buz Sawyer strip. This was prompted by Crane depicting as was his usual black buffoonish characters. It read in part, “Experience has shown us that we have to be awfully careful about any comics in which Negroes appear. The Association for the Advancement of Colored People protests every time they see anything which they consider ridicules the Negro no matter how faintly. For example, [George] Swanson did a little drawing showing a Negro baseball team breaking up to chase a chicken across the diamond. As a result, papers in cities like Pittsburgh and Chicago were threatened with a boycott by local Negro organizations. Of course, they are hypersensitive, but the sensitivity has, as you know, become more acute than ever with race troubles growing out of the war.”

Lothar would undergo changes in status over the years in the comic strip and other media from the radio to serials to a 1950s TV pilot that didn’t sell wherein he was portrayed by the often underused actor and ex-Rams running back Woody Strode (Spartacus, Black Jesus, etc.). Falk interjected that Lothar came from African royalty and had storylines over the years where Lothar reluctantly must assume the throne of the Federated Tribes. As Tim Jackson noted in his book, Pioneering Cartoonists of Color about the character, he, “… evolved from an illiterate, faithful manservant to a scholarly muscle man making an independent choice of whether to lend Mandrake a hand when his skills were needed. But for some reason, Lothar never lost his passion for wearing leopard print garments.”

Not for nothing about a year after the appearance of the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52, cover dated July 1966, how Lothar and Mandrake met was retconned. In this version Lothar turned down being a bored prince of the renamed Twelve Nations in favor of being a globetrotting adventurer who was down with the black American experience. By the start of the ‘70s he also got a love interest in the form of his distant cousin Karma.

Daughters of the Dragon
In addition to disco and CB radio, the 1970s also spawned the private eyes of Knightwing Restorations Ltd. aka Daughters of the Dragon in Marvel Comics. Back then there was a spate of black and white comics magazines reminiscent of the old pulps. But premiering in the January 1977, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32 was the pairing of black ex-cop Mercedes “Misty” Knight and the born-in-Japan of Chinese and Japanese heritage, Colleen Wing. The two-issue story was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Marshall Rogers, although they did not create the characters.

“There’s a Kung Fu assassin terrorizing the streets of China Town, and it’s up to the Daughters of the Dragon to deliver justice! Colleen Wing and Misty Knight are the dearest of friends, and the closest of allies. Will the “Daughters” be able to defend themselves, and the public, from this Kung Fu menace?”

That’s how the ad copy read. Actually the plot was about the two going to Japan for some R&R and wind up hunting down the killers of Colleen’s grandfather, ex-head of the Secret Service over there. Once the duo start looking into his death, kung fu fighting breaks out damn near around every corner.

Comics Code Authority
The Comics Code still existed then, which was an entity enacted in the ’50s to among other things make sure, “All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.” The black and white magazines were not published under the Code so in the midst of the two kicking the hell out of a bunch of ninjas, some of the ladies’ clothes got torn off.

Later, echoing the passages in Farewell, My Lovely where Raymond Chandler has Philip Marlowe shot up with dope, and riffed on in French Connection II, the women are captured by the arms dealer villain Vachon and shot up with heroin toward turning them into sex slaves. Misty though has a bionic arm courtesy of Tony “Iron Man” Stark, the real one lost in an explosion when she was a cop. She fools the hoods into sticking the needle in that arm and doesn’t get hooked. Colleen on the other hand doesn’t have an artificial arm. But she does have her girl.

As the bad intent Dr. Hartman looms over the smacked-up nude and out-of-it Colleen, Misty escapes and snaps his neck with said robot limb. Through intense meditation, Colleen overcomes her addiction and serves up just deserts to Vachon, whose not too shabby when it comes to sword work, to avenge her grandfather. Misty and Colleen would go on to regularly show up in the four color pages of the Power Man (Luke Cage) and Iron Fist comic book -- the two gents a superhero version of the salt & pepper team.

Check back tomorrow for the second episode of those Crazy Caped Crime Fighters.



Gary Phillips has a retro pulp novel coming out from Polis, Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem. He is story editor on Snowfall, a show on FX about crack and the CIA set in 1980s South Central.