Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bronze Tiger Postcard by Sal Velluto

Benjamin Turner trained for years to become one of the greatest living martial artists. The League of Assassins wanted his skills, so they brainwashed him into becoming the Bronze Tiger. Ben fought to regain control, and now uses his expert fighting abilities only for good.

I've enjoyed the little walks down memory lane I've taken while discussing George Pérez's 1984 DC Comics postcards, and have decided to continue without the benefit of actual postcards. I'll just make up my own and ramble on. This time, the art comes from Justice League Task Force #6, extracting an extended panel/partial splash by Sal Velluto and Jeff Albrecht, coupled with doctored clip art and a logo.

By the mid-80s, I’d near given up on DC entirely. The line was too conservative and kiddie for my taste, and outside of a handful of titles, newsstand distribution in Houston was rather poor. I could pick up any New Universe title I chose off the 7-11 racks, and even esoteric stuff like Strikeforce: Morituri or some of the Epic line, but forget about much DC beyond Tales of the Teen Titans. I still managed a view through house ads, so I may have been exposed to Bronze Tiger’s wanted poster in the initial Suicide Squad promotion, but my first recollection is toward the end of the title’s first year. A second half page ad could be found featuring Bronze Tiger and Vixen, both dressed somewhat like the popular Wolverine, along with a bunch of geeks like Punch and Jewelee. Growing up in a slum transitioning into a barrio, I was well versed in Marvel’s black characters. The only colored folk I knew at DC were Black Lightning, Tyroc and Cyborg, with only the latter from actual exposure to stories. I don’t believe this unfamiliar Squad couple was named, but they looked interesting, so I made a mental note to check into them.

I found my first real neighborhood comic shop in 1987, but moved to another state not long after. I was lucky enough to buy a bunch of fairly recent, slightly scuffed DC titles on the cheap from them on my way out, so Suicide Squad came along for my ride. Once in Las Vegas, I found much broader distribution of DC titles, and followed the book into the Millennium crossover, which proved a great jumping off point. I was still too young to appreciate the politics and moral ambiguity of Suicide Squad. While I liked the stories well enough, I was cool on the characters. The book seemed to me about an impressively hard core fat lady, her uptight soldier boy subordinate, and a bunch of villainous dorks like the Penguin and Slipknot who kept disobeying orders and getting body parts blown off. Bronze Tiger was some kind of handler for the idiot/self-destructive super-crooks, but I didn’t get much of a personality off him. The title was preoccupied with Deadshot, Privateer, Karen Grace, Duchess, and seemingly anyone but the black couple that first caught my attention, though this "Wall" chick was seriously boss.

My interest in Bronze Tiger was reignited a few years later by a back issue of Detective Comics I picked up in Denver where he beat up on Batman twice and helped kill the Silver Age Batwoman. That put the Tiger right on my radar, but I couldn’t find much else about the guy to impress. I think in the dozen years since that high water mark, he might have fought a past freshness Kobra, but his standing otherwise seemed a fluke. Regardless, I still thought the guy had potential, and his too brief appearances in Justice League Task Force bore that out. I came to like Ben Turner, and tried to keep up with him, but he kept leading me down dead ends like the two Richard Dragon series. Now there was a guy I had no use for, so seeing that Dick position Bronze Tiger in the sidekick role was infuriating.

A few years back, Bronze Tiger was at the forefront of a Suicide Squad revival, and has worked well in that capacity. Ben Turner has some pretty well documented mental disorders due to the brainwashing that first turned him into the League of Assassins’ Bronze Tiger, but his ties to major DC martial artists like Lady Shiva and Cassandra Cain have helped maintain his respectability, if not his profile. I think Bronze Tiger is bad ass, with lots of juicy back story to be exploited. Maybe next time DC tries to make its line more ethnically diverse, instead of shoving a minority into the role of a legacy b/c-lister, they’ll remember the original Bronze Tiger has been waiting thirty-five years for his turn in the limelight.

No comments: