Bizarro Back Issues: Power Man And Iron Fist Battle The Daleks (Sort Of) (1982)
In this week's installment of the X-Men episode guide, I mentioned that there was a comic from the early '80s where Power Man and Iron Fist, Marvel's mismatched mercenary superheroes, battled against a slightly off-model version of Doctor Who's Daleks. It's one of my favorite old-school oddities, but it occurs to me that some of you might not know about this, and that is a shame. I can't imagine going through life not knowing about it. It's just not right, which is why I thought I'd step in and take everyone for a trip into the back issue bin to talk about how Luke and the Fist battled against the Dreadlox and then punched them so hard they were never seen again.
This is, and I cannot stress this enough, a thing that actually happened, and the amazing part is that it's actually even weirder than it sounds.
I think it's pretty clear by now that I love stories that get a little weird, and when it comes to the bizarre, nobody did it better than '80s Marvel. At the same time that they were doing some of the best runs in comic book history -- Claremont and Byrne on X-Men, Miller on Daredevil and my pick for the G.O.A.T., Simonson on Thor -- those classic stories were punctuated by some of the goofiest stories of all time. There's stuff in '80s Marvel that matches even the goofball heights of DC's Silver Age any day of the week. I think we all have pretty fond memories of the Phoenix Saga, for instance, but nobody really talks about that issue from around the same time where Cyclops was hanging out at a castle full of leprechauns.
Power Man and Iron Fist had more than its share of the strange and unusual, and really, that's not surprising. The entire premise of the book, two characters left over from Marvel's attempt at capitalizing on Blaxploitation cinema and kung fu movies, respectively, lumped into the same book and turned into a weird buddy cop superhero saga where they rode flying tigers to mystical lands and got hired by a pimp to fight ROM: Spaceknight because he vaporized a hooker who was actually a secret streetwalking alien sorceress? That's weird even by Marvel Comics standards.
That said, even stacked up against those, "Day of the Dredlox" is about as weird as comics get.
For starters, Mary Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammil open Power Man & Iron Fist #79 in what is quite possibly the weirdest setting they can: Backstage at a Broadway playhouse, where Marvel's own version of Chuck Norris is starring in a musical adaptation of Doctor Who onstage.
Okay, I'll admit, that's not quite what it is. The ersatz Chuck Norris in question is actually Bob Diamond, formerly of the Sons of the Tiger, another '70s kung fu character that never quite took off, and he's starring as "Professor Gamble" in Day of the Dredlox, a new show about a bunch of space robots that menace a "Victorian gentleman, scholar, eccentric and scourge of evil mechanical monsters everywhere." This, apparently, is Diamond's signature role, when he's not using his magic tiger jewelry to kick Fu Manchu or whatever.
No prizes for guessing where this is going, because it's only on the next page that the props used for the movie start to come to life and murder folks. This, as you might imagine, is a problem for the show's reputation, and since the Heroes For Hire are the ones with their names on the cover, they're the ones who are called in.
It's not the easy sell that you might think, though. Luke seems to think it's all a publicity stunt:
Now, let's be honest, folks. Luke Cage was given steel-hard skin and super strength in a diabolical experiment and fought a dude named Mace whose hand was a mace (genius). His partner is a millionaire who used to live in a magic city in the Himalayas where he learned how to do karate by bear-hugging a dragon until it died. "Some weird stuff is happening at my Broadway show" is quite literally the least improbable thing those guys have ever had to deal with.
They take the case, and no sooner have they stepped foot outside the HFH offices than they are suddenly the target of laser sniper fire.
Even in the Marvel Universe of the '80s, this was not a daily occurrence (three times a week at best, even for Spider-Man), so one has to imagine that Luke is feeling pretty silly about dismissing Bob's claims about troubles at this point.
Obviously, with someone pinning them down right outside the office, blowing up cars and blasting with high-tech weaponry, there's only one thing to do. Go on a date! And then, after that, and after a scene where you find out that Luke and Danny are dating roommates and don't have a secondary location to go to so they're not uncomfortably making out in front of each other (THIS IS AN ACTUAL PLOT POINT), they finally go check out the theater.
And that is when we are introduced to the Dredlox:
Always remember that in the battle of comic book exclamations, nobody beats Luke Cage, not even when they bring their awkward A-game.
It seems that the robots playing the part of the Dredlox are the actual Dredlox, and now they've come to life on a mission to "INCINERATE! INCINERATE!" all humans in the vicinity, starting with Luke and the Fist. Outnumbered and outgunned, our heroes decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and beat feat right out of there. The Dredlox are hot on their trails, so they decide to duck into a nearby bookshop, and that is when things get weird.
Meet Professor Gamble:
"But Chris," you may be saying to yourself, "I thought Professor Gamble was the character being played by Bob Diamond?" This is the same question that Power Man and Iron Fist themselves are asking, and it turns out that this is the real Professor Gamble, who wrote said play under a pseudonym when he was in desperate need of cash. It is, of course, based on his real-life adventures. And that bookstore? Oh, you know the drill.
So yeah, time-traveling weirdo with a time-traveling bookstore that's bigger on the inside, facing down an army of space robots demanding to INCINERATE! the human race. That's where we're at with this, and I remind you that we started with this story being about backstage troubles at a Broadway musical.
Fortunately for all concerned, Gamble has a way to halt the Dredlox and their reign of terror/mild annoyance. The only problem is that he needs to get close to them, but infiltration and destruction are just two of the many services offered by Heroes For Hire, LLC, Inc.
Power Man kicking back with a cup of tea and sending Iron Fist off to do his light work is easily top five Luke Cage moments of all time, even apart from the whole thing with the incinerating robots.
Sure enough, Iron Fist puts his ninja/kung fu/vaguely Asian martial arts training to good use and stealths past a bunch of Dredlox, sneaking into the nearby abandoned building (of course) where the Dredlox have made their headquarters. As it turns out, they're set up there because their own time machine has malfunctioned, and they need an expert on the level of Professor Gamble to fix it up so that they can get back to conquering the galaxy. Naturally, their solution was to kidnap Gamble himself, but since they're not quite clear on what Gamble looks like -- probably because he regenerates into a new body every so often, although that is just a theory -- they ended up snagging Bob Diamond, because he was billed as being Gamble for the play. Diamond, naturally, has no idea how to fix a time platform, so things are not looking good.
Basically, it's time to just karate the hell out of this entire situation.
With Iron Fist punching through a wall and Power Man busting in to rip up the floor, the Dredlox are taken by surprise and a few of them are smashed straight to robot Hell. That's just the distraction, though -- the real action comes from Professor Gamble, who uses all the chaos as a diversion to sneak in and attach his machine to the Dredlox's Von Doom platform, and they all blink out of existence, book shop and all.
And that, as they say, is that. As far as I know, Professor Gamble has never reappeared, and nor have the Dredlox, even when everyone from the Spaceknights to the Badoon were showing up to fight Annihilus a while back. But, you know, he does exist, so if Marvel ever wants to really cause a bit of, they can always drop him right onto Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and watch Tumblr explode.