One can only imagine the reaction a kid had to a comic book as kinetically wild and relatively exotic as "The Master of Kung Fu" in the early 1970s. It certainly had an impression on a young Quentin Tarantino, who has been quoted as saying that the title was his favorite.Valerie, I was that kid, and found myself poring over the Fight Without Pity and the Murder Agency, stunned by the choreography and violence and cinematic beauty of Shang and Shen, awed by the beauty of Leiko Wu, and overwhelmed, to this day, by what Doug and Paul were able to do in a monthly Marvel comic.
Paul forever raised the stakes on the subtlety of character interaction and he had a writer that didn't pull any punches either, giving him some real, true emotion. Do we feel the betrayal of Leiko's feelings in issue #40 when Shang innocently breaks her heart by not realizing that she is in love with him? Or is there a more fully realized death (that has stuck) than Larner's sacrifice in #49, visions of his dead wife around him?
The 12 issue run from Master of Kung Fu #38 to 50, barring #41 which is a fill-in, is a remarkable run from 1976, a literate, adult, kung fu and espionage thriller certainly better than anything the Bond franchise was putting. Doug's plotting was matched by Paul's pencils, and he gave his stories a gravitas because he could pull off the subtle character interaction that made the series. In another artist's hands (and you only have to read issue #41 to see how the series could have looked), we would have lost most if not all of what made the book unique.
Accused early on of being a Steranko clone, Paul certainly wore his influence on his sleeve, but there is nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, Jim went on to become a great designer, but Paul became the greater illustrator. In defense of this, I'll point out the two issues where Paul inked himself, Master of Kung Fu #29 and #40, and the subtlety introduced in the reflected light and shadows of #40 is a quantum leap over the earlier issue. And #29 still rocks to this day with one of the great comic fights of all time between Razorfist and Shang Chi and some deliciously deep and subtle shadows in an issue that would carry three parallel plotlines, a rather ambitious storytelling devise, in the same issue. But issue #40 is brilliant.
Paul went through any number of inkers back in those days; a scheduling issue perhaps? Something, actually, that i've never thought to ask him about. Dan Adkins, Pablo Marcos, Jack Abel, Tom Sutton and, most forgettably, Vinnie Colletta for part of issue #50, contributed to the book. For my money, Paul was best served by Adkins and Marcos. I know that Paul feels that Adkins did the best work on his pencils back then, but I really enjoyed the energy that Pablo brought with his brush work to art. Paul's work is so exacting that it has the potential to stiffen up when traced over, and so I modeled my own inking over him along the line of Marcos and Adkins.
(I finally met Pablo just a year or so ago, and was overjoyed to have the chance to tell him how much I enjoyed his work. I'm not sure that it meant as much to his as it did to me, but I pulled out a stack of Batman work over Gulacy that I had done to show him. His wife, at least, humored me and said that she saw echoes of his style in my brush work. I commissioned an expensive Living Zombie sketch that was really an excuse to give Pablo some money to thank him for his work. Of course, he kicked out an amazing Zombie sketch that I will always have.)
Paul, as you can see from the artwork scanned, has been well and interestingly served by his inkers over the years. I had the pleasure of working over Paul on a number of series, from The Grackle, Eternal Warrior and Turok/Timewalker at Acclaim to Batman: Outlaws over at DC Comics. His work on that Batman series was exceptional, as these scans from my originals show. I'll leave it to the gentle reader to decide how close to the Adkins/Marcos ideal I really hit, but I spent a hell of a lot of sleepless nights trying to get close.
I just upset that I didn't get asked to contribute to the Gulacy book that Vanguard put out. They certainly scanned in enough of my inks for the book.
Panels: Detail from Master of Kung Fu #40, inks by Gulacy; uninked pencils from The Grackle #2; Marcos inks on Master of Kung Fu #49; Yoakum inks from the final page of Batman: Outlaws #1