Yellow Claw #1
Issue(s): Yellow Claw #1
This is the first story from the first of a four issue series called the Yellow Claw. The series is interesting for several reasons. For one thing, the titular character is the villain. The hero is Jimmy Woo, an FBI agent. The Yellow Claw, Jimmy Woo, the Yellow Claw's niece Suwan, and, to a much lesser degree, an ex-Nazi named Fritz Voltzmann, will all become important characters in the larger Marvel universe. The Yellow Claw will be a villain to many Marvel heroes. Jimmy Woo will become a SHIELD agent. And the Agents of Atlas series will renew the characters' relevance in the 2000s.
The series is also interesting for its socio-political implications. The Yellow Claw is a Chinese villain, a literal representation of the "yellow peril" and also a direct knock-off of Fu Manchu (Marvel will end up with several such characters, including the Mandarin and Fu Manchu himself). But the character also gets blended in with 1950s era fears about Communism. Despite the stereotyped oriental mysticism of the character, he's initially brought into play by the Communist Chinese, who have "overrun" China and are planning their invasion of Formosa (Taiwan).
Afraid of a direct conflict with the US, they decide to seek out a mystic known as the Yellow Claw. They seek him out, and are met by the Yellow Claw's grand-niece, Suwan.
She leads them to a building where they meet the Claw himself.
He agrees to help the Communists, and demonstrates that his powers are real by using mind control on a loyal soldier, forcing him to attack his superior.
He also shows them a crystal ball that shows him a future where the world is united under one rule. The Communists assume that means under the rule of International Communism, but after they leave, the Claw reveals that he intends to take over the world himself.
Suwan proves to not be aligned with his scheme, but she is a victim of his mind control.
The Yellow Claw leaves China and takes up residence in San Francisco. There, he recruits the aid of an ex-Nazi named Fritz Voltzmann, who is really an ex-Nazi named Karl von Horstbaden, who was commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Meanwhile, a young FBI agent named Jimmy Woo is assigned to deal with the Claw.
There's a fair amount of complexity here. For one thing, the fact that the Yellow Claw has his own motivations and is not just an evil Communist (although he's definitely evil) elevates this a bit above other Cold War era propaganda stories. The fact that the hero of the series, Jimmy Woo, is also Asian (presumably Chinese, but it's not said here) somewhat mitigates the awful racial stereotypes. What's also interesting is that beginning with the second story in this first issue (which i'm not covering because i don't own a physical copy), Jimmy is no longer colored the same inhuman yellow as the other Chinese characters. I suppose it's arguable that even this is racist, in that the "good" Asian(-American) is treated like a human but the others are not. But in a more obvious way Jimmy's inclusion counteracts the anti-Chinese propaganda that would otherwise be the clear message of this story, and it gives us a non-white hero at a time when that was very rare (and, for my Marvel books at least, unique at the time).
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Agents of Atlas TPB
I met Stan at a comic store ages ago, and had him sign and autograph a number of books, notably ASM #252. At the time, I was sure that he was in on all of the intricacies of the business at the time, not knowing he left that to the new crew.
Stan knew his business while he was working those books to the printer; this is proof of that.
Posted by: VtCG | May 24, 2016 7:40 PM
This is some nice artwork by Joe Maneely. He was a very talented artist, and it's a tragedy that he died so young. Many fans have often wondered if he had lived longer just what sort of role he could have played in the creation of the Marvel superhero universe in the 1960s.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 24, 2016 8:25 PM
I think Stan has said something along the lines of Maneely was the single greatest artist he ever worked with.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 24, 2016 8:38 PM
Also, fnord, sources I'm finding give Al Feldstein as the writer/co-creator of the Claw.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 24, 2016 9:35 PM
Poor kid just thought he could get home OK without his glasses; he'd treated a pair of laid-off artists (John Severin for one) to a few drinks, and tried heading home on the commuter cars in the wee Sunday hours of a June morning.
Posted by: Cecil | May 24, 2016 11:01 PM
There's statements by Stan Lee that indicated Maneely's death might well have changed history. Imagine the Fantastic Four by Lee and Maneely. Imagine Maneely's work getting better like Kirby's did. So much potential lost.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | May 24, 2016 11:19 PM
I never heard of him but he certainly outshines Kirby. Impeccable storytelling.
Posted by: PeterA | May 25, 2016 1:31 AM
There's a definite decline in storytelling quality from the first issue of this series to the ones Jack Kirby wrote & drew. I sure wouldn't say Yellow Claw #1 surpasses the heights Kirby would later reach, though.
Posted by: Mortificator | May 25, 2016 2:18 AM
@Thanos6, i've added a note at the top about the credits. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 25, 2016 7:37 AM
@PeterA, here's a link to some scans of the absolutely amazing work Joe Maneely's did in comic books before his tragic death in 1958...
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 25, 2016 1:31 PM
I think Lee also said at one point [possibly in the Tom Spurgeon-Jordan Raphael biography?] that if Maneely had lived, the two of them might have left Marvel altogether and tried something else. Very nice art.
And Al Feldstein? I had no idea he'd ever written anything for Marvel. I guess this was from the brief period where EC had closed down but before Harvey Kurtzman left MAD.
Posted by: ChrisW | May 26, 2016 12:46 AM
Thanks for the link, Ben, those are great examples of his talent. He really does fit in with the quality of Ditko, Romita, Kirby, but he does better shading and motion and realism. I can only imagine the energy he could have added to the Marvel Universe. Imagine him creating the X-Men and having a long run on it... or even better, coming up with heroes we never had in this reality ☺
Posted by: PeterA | May 27, 2016 1:12 AM
Did he come any closer to superhero comics than this at any point in his career? According to Wikipedia, the only true superhero work he did at Atlas was three Sub-Mariner Comics covers during the abortive 50s revival (though the GCD says he also did some Lo-Zar, what looks like a Tarzan knockoff in Jungle Action); I don't know what he did elsewhere, but it can't have been on the scale of what Kirby had already done co-creating Captain America, which probably gave him a deep sense of the tropes of the genre that likely informed his later work. I'm sure Maneely's books would have looked gorgeous, but he wouldn't have redefined superhero art the way Kirby did. And not to dredge up the old Stan vs. Jack debates, but it's not clear anything he came up with would be as revolutionary or enduring as Marvel's output ended up being in the 60s under Kirby or even Ditko; worst case, he gets the assignment to compete with the Justice League of America, the FF ends up being an unremarkable knockoff, and Marvel goes out of business. More optimistically, he adapts what Kirby's doing to his own abilities, but even then having him around might mean Jack ends up leaving Marvel much sooner if Stan has Maneely sharing the spotlight and potentially ready to take up Jack's books.
That said, having him on the X-Men, Iron Man, or Daredevil - the books that didn't catch the world on fire right away and didn't have nearly the same quality of ideas (or in some cases, art) - could only be an improvement (judging by the fact his most celebrated creations seem to be the original Black Knight and Yellow Claw, DD might have been an especially good fit for his strengths as he was Marvel's most "adventure-y" hero outside the FF, and given that and his large quantity of war-comics work I could see him working plenty with Nick Fury in both incarnations), and if Marvel gets even one good idea better than they were already coming up with out of him, it raises the quality of the line as a whole significantly given the constraints of Marvel's Independent News deal. And if he sticks around long enough for Steranko to come along and the line to move away from its original Silver Age style once Kirby and Ditko leave and Stan lightens his control over it? That's when you might have seen some truly special work.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 27, 2016 3:17 AM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Kirby return to Marvel only after Maneely had died? Had Maneely lived, there simply wouldn't have been any work at Marvel for Kirby to pick up. Maneely's tragic death which enabled Kirby's return may have been the only way we get a recognizable Marvel Universe.
Posted by: Zeilstern | May 27, 2016 6:04 AM
I don't think there would have been a Marvel Universe if Maneely had lived. Both here and in the link Ben provided - which, granted, are primarily to covers and splash pages - there's not a great deal of action and movement, which Kirby was always known for.
We'll never know what characters Maneely might have created, but I don't see how he could have provided the equivalent to what Kirby and Ditko brought to the table with regards to characterization, pacing, plot and action. Even the notion of him working over Kirby layouts sounds like a horrible idea.
At best, he could have helped Marvel continue with the westerns, romance or other non-superhero comics. At worst, there would have been less work available for Kirby (and none for Ditko) and the books wouldn't have sold well.
Posted by: ChrisW | May 27, 2016 7:13 PM
I think you're selling Maneely short.
Regardless, it's amazing how much the pop culture of the world can be changed by misplacing one pair of glasses.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 28, 2016 7:17 PM
I've been pondering that too since we've been discussing Maneely. I don't think it's selling Maneely short to suggest that the odds are he'd never have equaled Kirby or Ditko's contributions, and his undeniable ability in other areas would have squeezed out their opportunities to shine. They'd probably have found other opportunities, but Marvel and pop culture as we know it would be inconceivably different.
Someone should do a time travel story or a What If about that. :)
Posted by: ChrisW | May 28, 2016 9:18 PM
Zeilstern, here's an interesting quote I saw on The Kirby Effect, from Michael (Doc) Vassallo, an Atlas era specialist: "Jack’s recollection of seeing Stan crying shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. When I constructed a timeline of job numbers, I was shocked to find that Joe Maneely’s last story and Jack’s first story in Strange Worlds #1 (“I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers!”) were only a few digits apart. I immediately asked Dick Ayers to check his work records on an equally close western he did and his work records corroborated that all these stories were commissioned within one or two days of Joe Maneely’s death on June 8th 1958! Immediately it made possible sense to me that if Jack had in fact arrived looking for work on the following Monday, June 10th he would have found Stan Lee in his office inconsolable, and predicting the soon demise of Goodman’s already tenuous line of 8 titles a month."
Posted by: haydn | January 30, 2017 4:28 PM
Very interesting. I would have discounted Kirby's reference to Stan crying as well, but if his return to Marvel coincided with Maneely's death, then it makes a great deal of sense.
Obviously we'll never know the truth, but I think Stan had said that if Maneely had lived, the two of the would have gone on to done something other than comic books, which Stan was already trying to get out of anyway. [There's the infamous legend that "Fantastic Four" #1 was the first time he wrote a comic book he himself would want to read, just because his wife told him to get it out of his system before quitting.] Then Joe dies and Jack is back, Stan needs a lifeline at the moment.
Kirby had seen men die and then argued the survivors back into battle because otherwise they were all dead. Stan must have seen him as a godsend at the time. And then that stuff happened later.
Posted by: ChrisW | February 1, 2017 7:38 PM
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