Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey #1: Not As Good As It Should Have Been?

by Richard Bruton

Oh, this was one I was really looking forward to when it was announced a while back. After all, Hong Kong Phooey was a staple of my childhood, all crazy, silly, funny stuff. Throw in Black Lightning, Kung-Fu action, and set it all in 70s Metropolis and it’s going to be a sure-fire winner, right?  Hmmmm.

Now, maybe this would have been so much better if I hadn’t already read the brilliant Flintstones or the insane Garth Ennis adaptation of Dastardly & Muttley, but I have.

They were quite fabulous in how they dealt with the animation characters. This…not so much.

Or maybe I’m expecting a story that plays up the fun of the animation rather than trying to deliver something rather po-faced and all serious? But, then again, it’s a comic featuring Hong Kong Phooey, a martial arts fighting dog with a secret identity as Penry, who jumps in a filing cabinet to change into crime-fighting gear and always needs rescuing by his faithful cat Spot…so dammit, it should be fun, surely?

Nope, not this version of Hong Kong Phooey…

But no, what you get in this one-off special is a super serious tale of Black Lightning teaming up with Penry, now a martial arts master (guess he must have really aced that martial arts correspondence course he took, eh?). The pair are on the trail of three DC villainous sorts; Bronze Tiger, Cheshire, and Professor Presto, who’ve got their hands on the fabled Secret Art of the God Fist.

Heck, they even go serious with the Phooey-mobile!

And it’s just played way, way, way too straight. Not just that, it’s a throwaway sort of story as well, something that just goes from A to B to C in the simplest, most perfunctory fashion. Could have been, should have been so much more fun.

What you do get though, is artwork by the great Denys Cowan, inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. And it’s just lovely to look at.

The action sequences are the absolute standout bits of the story, with both gents going all out with the martial arts action. And hey, a good kick in the crown jewels is always worth a giggle…

So, the main strip was a real letdown, sadly, saved somewhat by seeing some fabulous artwork from Cowan and Sienkiewicz.

The back-up strip, however, was way, way better. It did just what I was hoping we’d get with Hong Kong Phooey, keeping the laughs but doing something clever with the transfer into the DC Universe.

The back-up features Jason Blood teaming up with The Funky Phantom, a long-lost Hanna-Barbera cartoon I’d never even heard of.

Jason Blood’s here to raise the spirit of the war hero, with those who got him involved wanting The Funky Phantom to have his say on the right to bear arms.

But, they don’t exactly get what they were after when the Funky Phantom takes a look at the Constitution and gives them his take on it. In just a few pages it’s full of good laughs from the reactions to the Phantom, and still manages to make a fine point about the framing of the Constitution and just how it’s possibly not the most sensible thing in the world to doggedly apply a framework for government written over 200 years ago to the world today.

The Funky Phantom might be a back-up, but it does a damn sight more in the few pages than was accomplished in the main strip. We get a few laughs, and a dash of social commentary thrown in for good measure. Now, if only the main strip, the reason I picked the comic up, after all, could have raised its game as well.

Black Lightning & Hong Kong Phooey is published by DC Comics, written by Bryan Hill, with art by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, colors by Jeremy Cox, letters by Janice Chiang. Variant cover (below) by Chris Cross and Gabe Eltaeb.

The back-up strip, The Funky Phantom is written by Jeff Parker, with art by Scott Kolins, colors by Tony Avina, letters by Janice Chiang.