Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey Special #1 Review

Written by: Bryan Hill and Jeff Parker
Art by: Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Scott Kolins
Colors by: Jeromy Cox and Tony Avina
Letters by: Janice Chiang
Cover Price: $4.99
Release Date: May 30, 2018

Voiced by jazzman and prolific voice actor Scatman Crothers (he voiced The Transformers' Jazz and the cartoon Harlem Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon among many others), Hong Kong Phooey was one of my all-time favorite Hanna-Barbera characters as a kid. (Right up there, in fact, with Scooby Doo and Captain Caveman.) There was a glorious blend of patently stupid authority, hapless heroism and sly fourth-wall-breaking humour in just the title sequence alone and, although I preferred my superheroes to be just a bit more serious when I was growing up (Bat-Mite? What the hell was that all about?), Hong Kong Phooey had a charm that was utterly irresistible. So, when the latest round of H-B titles was announced and the feeding frenzy that regularly accompanies such news broke out at Weird Science Towers, I had no hesitation in diving in for this title – particularly on finding out that Bryan (The Wild Storm: Michael Cray and soon to be Detective Comics) Hill was on writing chores and that Black Lightning would be pairing up with our mystery martial artist. How does it all pan out? Let's have a look…

One of the first decisions a writer of a 'crossover' like this has to make is how to explain the two characters meeting. Bryan Hill circumvents this by simply having Black Lightning and Hong Kong Phooey already knowing each other at the start of the issue. Having just tussled with an unholy triumvirate of Cheshire, Bronze Tiger and Professor Presto (the last being a villain from the original Hong Kong Phooey series back in the 70s), an afro-sporting Black Lightning goes to visit Hong Kong Phooey, who handily informs him that the three villains are after the 'god fist', an ultimate wushu technique that is so dangerous – and corrupting – that its original discoverer wrote it down and then split it up into three separate scrolls to stop its power being used by just anyone.  With his actions at the start of the issue, Presto has acquired the second of the three scrolls and now just needs the final one which had been given to HKP for safekeeping. (And he, of course, has given it to a shopkeeper called Tsung.) Cue a lot of portentous talking and waiting for the bad guy to show up who duly does just that.

What follows is, I suppose, a fairly standard if diverting plot. Cheshire and Bronze Tiger have captured Rosemary (remember her?) and use her as leverage to trade for the final scroll. After he handily reveals that his master had memorised the entirety of the scroll and made him do the same, Hong Kong Phooey has a final showdown with Presto, while Black Lightning and Rosemary combine to defeat Cheshire and Bronze Tiger.

Presto meets his demise in suitably dramatic fashion and our heroes walk somewhat painfully off into the sunset. As stories go it is neither terrible nor especially ground-breaking. What makes it enjoyable is Hill's dialogue which is drily humorous most of the time and communicates the friendship between the two title characters really well. Cowan and Sienkiewicz's artwork will not be to everyone's taste, but it's dynamic and conveys the action pretty effectively.

My gripes about the issue are, I suppose, fairly minor, but, as with most little things that disappoint you, also fairly irritating. If you're going to team up Hong Kong Phooey and Black Lightning, you should probably, the title duo's jive-talking notwithstanding, make more of the 70s setting and, particularly, the elements of Hong Kong Phooey that made the show so appealing in the first place. While it's nice to see Rosemary as a kick-ass kung fu warrior girl, there's no Spot the cat, no clueless Sergeant Ross and no mystery about Hong Kong Phooey's secret identity either. In fact, he's just a kung fu master who happens to be both a dog and called Penry. While Hill's story hangs together well enough, and a grizzled, determined and self-sacrificial Hong Kong Phooey is fairly interesting, it's difficult to shake off the feeling that there's a missed opportunity here.

And speaking of missed opportunities, Jeff Parker and Scott Kolins' Funky Phantom back-up is a clever and occasionally witty anti-2nd Amendment story whose moments of charm are offset by the creators' determination to present pro-gun supporters as stupid idiots incapable of thinking through the implications of their positions. (To be fair, some pro-gun supporters do a pretty good job of that themselves...) Do we need a minor Hanna-Barbera character being co-opted to hammer home a partisan political position on one of the most divisive issues in American politics at the moment? Your mileage may vary on that one, but I'm suggesting probably not. A shame, because Parker's a damned good writer (I recommend checking out his Space Ghost stuff in FutureQuest Presents, for a start). That said, the back-up's short, the art is pleasant enough and the Jason Blood cameo was a nice touch.

Bits and Pieces:

As enjoyable as the main story was, its ignoring of a number of elements from the Hong Kong Phooey series and its resolute focus on a mystic martial arts plot that is a little well-worn mean that I can't give it an especially high score. Throw in some energetic, but somewhat unappealing art and a back-up story that is mostly a set-up to score cheap political points and you've got an issue that is enjoyable enough, but is never going to set the world on fire.


1 comment:

  1. Great Review! It's a damn shame that I'll probably take a pass on this one now, and it was really the only one of these I was interested in. As a child of the 70's, as soon as it was announced, I got a big grin and hear that awesome theme song in my head, "HONG KONG PHOOEY. . .DUHDUHDUHDUHDUHDUH-Duh-Duh-DUN!"