Kung Fu turned out to be a surprise hit in America during 1972, starting with a television movie early in the year, and being commissioned as a series for that autumn. It took a year for both to cross the Atlantic, with it finding as much popularity in the UK. The movie tells of Kwai Chang Caine, orphan of a Chinese mother and American father, living in China in the 1870s, who is accepted into the Shaolin temple to become a student. Played as a boy by Radames Pera, and as a young man by Keith Carradine, Caine wins the affections and respects of his blind Master Po, earning the nickname 'Grasshopper'. As a man, Caine - now played by series star David Carradine - masters the disciplines of 'Kung Fu' and leaves the temple, to meet with Po in a fateful pilgrimage where the master is killed by the Emperor's nephew. In uncharacteristic revenge, Caine kills the nephew, becoming a wanted man and fleeing to America, where both the Chinese Legation and American mercenaries pursue him. Remembered primarily for the merciless spoofs that impression shows like 'Who Do You Do?' served up (including the last On The Buses strip in 'Look-In' itself), Kung Fu was actually a remarkably innovative show for its time, with Caine's flashbacks to his temple lessons being of particular note. It also bucked the hero trend, especially for its Old West setting, of having its main character peaceful and unarmed. From the second episode 'Dark Angel', Caine learned he had a half-brother called Danny, from his father's first marriage, serving as a dramatic thrust for the series and the 'Look-In' strip. The stories stay pretty faithful to the format, but in the transition from screen to page, Caine becomes of necessity a more dramatic protagonist than the Buddhist traveller Caradine portrays.
The popularity of the Kung Fu series gave a new direction to 'Look-In', with the first original tie-in strip for the title based on an American production. Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea had run in the title during 1971 but these were abridged and serialised reprints of two of the American Gold Key comics. 1974 was definitely the year of 'Kung Fu', with issue 19 of 'Look-In' offering a free gift dragon medallion, and issue 25 highlighting the late Bruce Lee (initially considered for the part of Caine), star of 'Enter The Dragon', causing something of a stir as the film was X-rated in the UK. Drawing the strip was Martin Asbury, who had joined 'Look-In' the previous year for one of the Follyfoot strips. Like John M. Burns, Asbury was a 'refugee' from 'TV Action' comic which had folded in 1973, where he had drawn 'Cannon', based on the US detective series starring William Conrad. And like Burns, Asbury had a bold, loose style which added considerable dynamism to the Kung Fu fight scenes, but he also used abstract techniques to add flair to the flashback sequences the series was notable for. If Asbury was a disciple of style, then Mike Noble was the grand master of picture strips. Replacing Asbury for one story in early 1975, Noble turned out what was to be his last full colour strip for 'Look-In', and fans of his precise work were not to be disappointed, in a tale that spans from China to the old West with deceptive grace. The series came to an end with Caine finding Danny in the third season finale, which aired in March 1975, so it was inevitable the rights for a strip would be no longer available soon after. But by now another American sensation had already begun airing in the UK, and one which also used slow motion to great effect. It would replace 'Kung Fu' in 'Look-In' from June, inheriting the same team of writer Angus P. Allan and artist Martin Asbury, becoming possibly the most successful and well-remembered US tie-in the title ever had: The Six Million Dollar Man.
(Article by Shaqui Le Vesconte)