DEATHWISH with throwing stars!

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Its was a dog-eared, dime-store novel world where a man was a man, a woman was a victim waiting to happen and the road to revenge was a street washed in blood. Violent and lurid men’s adventure novels go back decades, but in the 80’s, cinema actually caught up to their bloodshed, boobs and body counts, so the context was better than ever! These ‘men of action’ lines also adapted to every major martial arts trend decade by decade, so in the 80’s, yeah… NINJA PULPS!

I’m terribly limited on space (and funds) right now, but damn am I tempted to start scooping up these martial arts-themed trash novels, especially those cashing in on the ninja craze.

Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes were responsible for six chop-socky pulp novels starring Jason Striker: Master of the Martial Arts. These were in the ‘old-school vet brings back exotic skills from the war and uses them to wipe out all them hippies, punks and pinkos’ model. Two in the series were ninja-themed.

The most prolific of the ninja-sploitation novelists was ‘Wade Barker’ (Richard Meyers), who wrote 16 titles during the craze, including eight bat-shit crazy brutal tales of Brett Wallace: Ninja Master.

Curt Purcell of the damn nifty Groovy Age of Horror blog described volume #7, The Skin Swindle, as “Death Wish with throwing stars, Bernhard Goetz in a ninja suit.”

They were pure late 70’s/early 80’s action revenge formula: Orient-savvy white guy’s family slaughtered, he becomes the Western world’s only expert in some exotic death art, gets revenge, then goes from town to town fighting bikers, hillbillies, neo-nazis, para-military suvivalists, evil land barons, multi-ethnic street gangs with neon bandanas tied around their pant legs,etc. and so forth.

If I even start buying these, I’m doomed. I’ll have to sell a kidney to feed the habit, ultimately showing up on some cable ‘Hoarders: Exposed’ show looking like a demented freak.

But how do I resist a stinky old copy of Bamboo Bloodbath on eBay? HOW?!?!?!

Great excerpts from NINJA ATTACK!

If you’re like me and can’t wait for Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda‘s Ninja Attack!, there are some excepts up on the English-language Japanese e-magazine Metropolis.

Illustrations by Yutaka Kondo.

Kodansha International’s Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws is due in stores in November. NOVEMBER! Those bastards in Japan have it now…

Pre-order your own NINJA ATTACK now!

I’ll be all over this book like a bad f’n smell!

Check it out at Alt Japan.

There are WAAAAYYY too few books in English that look at the various military specialists, legendary bandits and unsung shadow-heroes that are today grouped under the moniker of ‘ninja.’ What is out there tends to be either dry and scholarly or so slanted towards a certain martial arts style (and/or business) they lack credibility.

Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws looks to present some credible history with a manga flare (illos by Ninja Scroll advisor Yutaka Kondo) that will attract a wider audience. If Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda (same authors of the excellent Yokai Attack) can get some of the Naruto set to actually learn the history behind the names they’re watching, it’ll be a truly valuable work to have out there.

BLADE art book now available

Dark Horse’s expanded English-language version of the Blade of the Immortal artbook we first reported on here is now out, and priced under $30! Here’s a few more fleeting glimpses:

These are just details of full-page, superbly repro’d art from the genius that is Hiroaki Samura. The Dark Horse release (reportedly 30 pages longer than the Japanese original) is highly recommended, so go out tomorrow (new comic day!) and support your local comic book store.

GARO exhibit in NYC!

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The highly regarded alt-manga blog Same Hat! Same Hat! has some photos up of the amazing GARO exhibition at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

I haven’t studied up much on GARO, but it seems to me (from a publisher’s perspective) that the presence of Shirato Sanpei’s “Kamui” was the financial tent pole that enabled all sorts of other experimental and daring work that was not necessarily sellable on its own. I’m planning on ordering one of the exhibition catalogs to learn more.

Previous VN posts on this period of manga brilliance here and here.

WHISPER covers

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As we saw yesterday, Marvel always seemed more interested in jobbing out hundreds of ninja to the claws of Wolverine than they were in developing a lasting ninja hero of their own. There were, however, several shinobi super heroes in the independent and smaller publisher ranks, including several female characters.

First Comics’ Whisper (created by Stephen Grant and Rich Larson) was a female agent in a rather areobic/jazz dance-styled spandex outfit the influence of which can still be seen today. The title ran 37 issues from 1983 to 1991, well past the ninja craze’s expiration date, and had some great, thoroughly 80’s, covers.

See a whole pile more of these covers here and here.

And note the similarities between Whisper and some of Marvel’s subsequent spendex kunoichi from the 90’s and even last year:

Marvel’s maligned shinobi

As its Iron Man 2 weekend, here’s a quick look at some Marvel comics takes on ninja throughout the decades.

The b&w magazine era for Marvel Comics (ala the Curtis imprint) was soooooooo f’n cool! Deadly Hands was part B&W comics, part kung-fu and movie magazine. Ninja showed up here half a decade before the 80’s craze, albeit in a rather Chinese look.

Marvel fired on all cylinders during the 70’s kung-fu craze, creating enduring heroes like Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, Iron Fist, White Tiger, Daughters of the Dragon, etc. However in the 80’s they failed to do the same with ninja. There was never a ninja hero the caliber of a Shang-Chi or Iron Fist, ninja were instead used as cannon fodder for heroes like Wolverine and Daredevil.

This ‘red-shirt’ model of ninja armies like The Hand being little more than disposable bodies en masse has endured to this day at Marvel.

There is a law of fight-scene physics that says the more of an enemy faced, the lesser skilled each of them becomes. A single ninja hero can wipe out an office building a mafiosos with machine guns. A hundred ninja couldn’t take out a single karate guy with nunchucks if they each had a bazooka. True in movies, true in comics. Guess Marvel needed the jobbers more than they wanted another martial arts super hero…

There are a few exceptions (Nth Man, Elektra on and off, Ronin I guess – all of whom are westerners BTW), but most of the hero ninja lie in licensed toy tie-ins like GI Joe’s Snake Eyes and support characters in Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandos – a property stronger on TV and toy shelves.

Get a glorious look at the amazing gawd-awfulness of the Chuck comics over at Mr. Kitty.

And c’mon Marvel, give us a super shinobi-hero with the same chops (ha, get it?) as a Shang-Chi or Iron Fist already!

SASUKE Book-n-Record

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This kid’s book-and-record (flexi-disc that is) Sarutobi Sasuke: Ninja Shugyou (Ninja Training?) is from 1973, and I know little more than that. The art throughout its 10 cardboard pages is no great shakes – and is actually quite stiff at times – but there is one killer ninja combat spread, and a great back cover. Are they trying to portray Raizo Ichikawa there?

Man I love this detail!

See how much fun it is to kill ninja, kids. Try this at home!

If you want to see a pile more of these painted book-and-flexi sets in all sorts of genre, visit the superb Black Sun!

Awesome resource for MA mags!

Check out this impressively thorough archive of martial arts magazine covers and topics going back 50 years:

Vintage Martial Arts Magazines

When the titles and decades are laid out like this, you can really see the trends and transitions of coverage. Ninjutsu features were a rare exotic thing in the 60’s and 70s, but man do they EXPLODE in the 80’s!

December 1966 - the first ninja cover on an American martial arts mag, heralding the feature by Andrew Adams that later morphed into the famed NINJA: THE INVISIBLE ASSASSINS book.
July 1977 - the first photo cover of a ninja on an American mag, a makeshift shinobi outfit that's pretty rough around the edges, literally. Note the shuriken, of the kung-fu variety and not the off-the-rack mail order stuff so common in the craze 80's.
11/79 - Sho kosugi's first US cover, as a Karate champion. 4/79 - OFFICIAL KARATE is ahead of the curve, as is INSIDE KUNG-FU in 4/80.
6/80 - Stephen Hayes' first cover, albeit without the celeb treatment he'd routinely get a few years later. 8/81 movie mag decries "Ninja: American's New Sinister Hero" and the movie boom is on. By 1983, "Warriors" NINJA hits the shelves, and every other major martial arts title throws black pajama'd assassins on their covers to increase sales. The craze is here.

The folks over at MA-Mags.com have done a tremendous job with this digital archive. Scans are organized by title, then by year, with some category cross-referencing (including “Ninja”). I’ve dug through there for hours, admiring old graphic design and layouts, wondering how I missed certain mags back in the day… its a real trip.

AND a lot of the pictured pulps are for sale! I’m a bit afraid of that right now, as I have tax refunds coming and am getting veeeeery tempted…

Swordgirls of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

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I’ve loved Hiroaki Samura‘s out-of-the-box manga Blade of the Immortal for it’s entire loooong run, but the latest volume (still coming out in trades from Dark Horse) starts a new storyline featuring some masked goons rather familiar to fans of vintage shinobi-cinema and tokusatsu TV…

In addition to these thoroughly disposable suppa, the new story features two young info-gathering kunoichi, and the armed-‘n-armored daughter of doomed government official. The series has been swordswoman heavy since day one, and Samura loves painting up his girls for eye-catching covers. These are my faves:

This series is all about exotic costuming, beauty in combat, and surreal weaponry. It can be challenging to read, especially some of the key action pages (depending on how good or bad the repro is from the Japanese originals), but it is definitely worth sticking with. Some of the grotesque places this book has gone in the past two years has been shocking.

Blade of the Immortal is enjoying some renewed fan interest due to the just-release anime adaptations, and an art book of the creator’s illustrations is being translated and released here in June. There’s a nice review of this must-own volume, in its original Japanese form, here.

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