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And when a few old dogs of the war comics genre – namely editor Murray Boltinoff, writer Robert Kanigher and artist E. This was the same year DC rebooted Western-era scarface Jonah Hex as a 21st century intergalactic ray-gun-slinger, so why not a time-tripping ninja?
Traditionally-geared shinobi flung out of WWII into the post-apocalyptic future where he fights biker gangs? Kana may have been a new ninja character for the very new 80s, but it was written by men in their late 60s, so the work had that voice from another era. The Kana stories never relinquished their authentic military tone for the simpler 2-dimensional crutches of red ninja, gadget weapons and manga-derived superhero action of their peers, but that same poise and mature perspective probably didn’t resonate strongly with young readers. Maybe what Kana needed was a change in creative team and a mutation to something between Dr.
Welcome to VINTAGE NINJA -- dedicated to old ninja movies from Japan's 60's boom to the 80s American exploitation craze and beyond, with a ton of vintage toys, comics, and sharp pointy stuff thrown in for good measure.
After a long process too tortuous to go into here, which included two high-profile directors and three screenwriters, the project was shelved when a new head of production was hired at 20th [Century Fox] and put into turnaround [trans.
If The Ninja was published in 1980, it needed at least a year of work behind-the-scenes at the publisher to get there, and let’s speculate the manuscript was started maybe at least a half-year before that.
The protagonist of The Ninja and its sequels is an effective literary archetype — the outsider of two different cultures caught in their inevitable intersection. The final showdown between Linnear and Saigo happens in that oh-so-80s of locations – the under-construction luxury skyscraper.
Copious sex, cultural stereotypes used for flavor, red-light seedy locals interspersed with glass and chrome digs of the rich (and you can just see the Nagel prints on the walls), violence in lurid detail and eventually explosions abound, along with plenty of set-up for sequels.
With time and perspective (and some nostalgia), I actually enjoy The Ninja now more than I did back in the day.
Decades later, knowing what the black-hooded idiom devolved into, I appreciate the novel’s almost non-genre-ness immensely. Search around the web, from the author’s own site to various film databases, and a murky picture of what was going on with the film development emerges. When Dick and David fired Kirshner and hired John Carpenter, everything was reset to zero from that moment on. Another interesting question is what the overall look and general feel of the movie have been. As craze-crazed dweebs, we used to speculate the casting of a movie adaptation of The Ninja back in the day, but we weren’t the only ones!
Damn, I love love love the idea of Richard Gere, circa 1981-ish, playing Linnear, and according to the author he was the closest to getting the gig.
Jan-Michael Vincent around that same time period comes to mind, between action films like Defiance and Hooper but pre-Air Wolf. Where you DO get a meaty role for an Asian actor is in alternate-reality dream casting of Saigo! Sonny Chiba was a name in the States from the Streetfighter films, came with his own stunt team, and also provided the opportunity for Japanese box office for an international co-production.
Man, what a blast that gig would have been, too — weapons and techniques most of the audience would never have seen on screen before, and getting to create that gear from scratch years before mail order made it all so homogenous.
Last year, copies started showing up for sale of a script draft for The Ninja dated January 24, 1983. If… IF… this 1983 script had passed muster and Carpenter’s version of The Ninja had gone into production right away, a movie still wouldn’t have hit screens until early 1985 at best. John Carpenter’s The Ninja (he always billed his name before his titles) would have been weighed down by the baggage of already established public perceptions of the genre (news stories about kids hurting themselves with mail order weapons were all the rage on TV, too) and it would have had to overcome all kinds of cheap exploitation tropes to stand above the ranks.
In hindsight, Revenge might have been solely greenlit and rushed into production based on the Lustbader book being in development across town. You know those movies that carry a book’s title, but have little else to do with the source? Well, if John Carpenter’s The Ninja had hit screens in 1985 or so, man oh man would you have HATED IT! Justine is there, although not his daughter, but instead is an executive of Tomkins’ ruthless industrial board, and shares his bed in their spare time.
Carpenter’s Saigo is a legit monster, and in the context of horror movies, would have been a unique menace worthy of bearing the film’s name. Thing of it is, when you genre-bend like this, trying to pick up devotees of each genre, you often isolate both groups instead, and neither buy tickets. When the 1983 script came to light, and thus the fact that development continued into the mid-80s, it was a shocker, but the fact that this leg of the development didn’t produce a film is not. We’ll repeat our recommendation to re-read The Ninja, which is now available in eBook form. Despite the film going nowhere, it’s surprising The Ninja was never adapted to any other medium. Growing up in the pre-home video era often meant the only way to relive your favorite movie or TV property was the now extinct book-n-record. I find the real charm of these sets to be the original artwork, produced by the licensor, sometimes with great skill in replicating the look of a famous artist, but just as often displaying some totally off-model mutations. This set, from 1964-5, is a rather faithful adaptation of Shirato Sanpei and Hayao Miyazaki‘s collaboration Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru (aka Samurai Kid).
I dunno about the furry one-sy he wears, but how cool was the era when kids with swords were role models!
Fujimaru’s mystical gimmick was the control of wind, and whipping up a tornado of leaves was a common escape. Most of the sets I’ve seen adopt the common Japanese publishing practice of running several more interior pages in 2-color process to save printing costs.
Fujimaru’s girly pal Midori gets caught up in the inevitable hunt for the hot-potato secret scroll, aided by a somewhat Deputy Dawg-esque cast of animal sidekicks. OK, that animal on the far left, the one with the same haircut as my mailman… what exactly is that? Fujimaru’s whirlwind could turn Japusai’s fire right back on him in spectacular fashion! Yugoslavia at that time had a huge (considering the size of the country) comics production. We hope to hear more from our new pal from the former Yugoslavia, where ninja fandom endures.
Plenty of historically credible espionage techniques on display in this series, right alongside silly stuff like giant piloted kites. For me, that mixture of fact and fantasy is one of the ninja idiom’s biggest appeals.
Here, the savvy spy uses a marionette doppelganger, while getting a little grabby with a defeated female bodyguard. Things could get wacky once in a while, too, with an occasional mutant supervillain or (in this case above) a GIANT Komodo dragon thrown into the mix.
Zanpei Kumotori wasn’t exactly revolutionary or even a genre milestone, but it had a lot of that Golgo tone and swagger (you can just hear the jazz and funk soundtrack that a film adaptation would have had while flipping the pages), with enough meat-and-potatoes ninja action to be a hit for years.
There were a couple of sellers on eBay last month that had ninja-themed comics from what was formerly Yugoslavia. This, however, is at least a partial reprint of Marvel’s DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU magazine #23 from 1974, cover feature being THE KILLER ELITE, with a painting better than any action seen in that insulting abortion of a film.
The covers are a real mixed bag, some cribbing art from movie posters, others looking like paintings from video game packaging or Ninja magazine. A Russian seller had this tangental gem for sale, a Cyrillic ninjutsu manual with a bootleg Sho Kosugi cover and interior art that looks lifted from a variety of sources — martial arts magazines from the states, gaming manuals, mail order catalogs, etc. Kamen Rider and Cybog 009 creator Shotaro Ishinomori‘s manga slightly preceded the Toei TV show, although what would have had more production lead time, a TV series or a manga publication? I had always figured it was a matte painting, the old-time film precursor to computer generated effects where an actual artist painted an actual picture to be superimposed in the background of a scene. I slowed the car and looked up through the window, craning my neck until I could finally see the upward end to this mighty wall of rock.


Lauterbrunnan Valley is located a half-hour drive or train trip from Interlaken, which itself is roughly two hours away from both Geneva and Zurich. And although my bride of three years was accompanying me, this particular adventure was of a rather different sort.
Pilgrimages can be rife with difficulty, though, and for someone with a fear of heights, the idea of traversing that sheer wall of rock by cable car was not exactly appealing. The next stop in the cable car journey is Birg, which is really just a small restaurant, large patio and popular disembark point for skiers placed atop a small, rocky peak. That’s all well and good, but there’s still another cable and more than 1,000 feet to traverse. The air is clean and crisp, but not frigid, a testament to the unseasonably warm March temperatures. Actually, a pair of nearly life-sized cut-outs of James Bond have been placed on the walkway with information about the movie, but as it is one-time Bond George Lazenby, folks aren’t as enthralled to take a picture as they’d be if it was Sean Connery or Roger Moore.
The “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” museum managed to teach even an expert like me a thing or two, while the rotating restaurant served decent food at prices that weren’t as expensive as we expected (though still expensive since it is in Switzerland).
Dan Mueller works as a parks manager and event coordinator at the Gardens at SIUE (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville). Not only did Kana not have a future (or a FAR-future) but G.I Combat itself was cancelled in 1987. Why is such a gem of the early ninja craze a mere footnote rather than a fan favorite that by now should be on it’s third or fourth reboot? It was easily the biggest mass media property of the 1980s ninja boom, yet somehow never saw adaptation outside of print. And we’ll hear from the author himself on what could have been via a Vintage Ninja exclusive interview. To that end, I was directed to the Ronin Gallery in NYC, which has the largest selection of prints in the Western world.
The old kabuki magician image of shinobi characters like Sarutobi Sasuke had no legs in the West. Nicholas Linnear is of mixed race – a white father, part of the post WWII occupation force in Japan, and a mother of deliberately mysterious pan-Asian descent. He gets tangled with a gorgeous basket case named Justine, the daughter of billionaire industrialist Raphael Tomkin — who just happens to tank a deal with a Japanese conglomerate that puts a price on his head. The more our hero heals old emotional wounds via his relationship with Justine, the more he is maneuvered into protecting his potential father-in-law. Saigo, meanwhile, devolves into an urban monster, frequenting a brothel where he victimizes young boys and sinking further into an opiate drug habit that somehow aids his almost sorcerer-like powers.
Tomkins, being the eeeeevil industrialist cliche that he is, screws over everyone to protect himself, not caring as dead employees, bodyguards, disposable police and even family members are piling up like cordwood. When I plucked my copy off the spinner rack at the local pharmacy in 1980-whatever, it was a mass market paperback already in print for years, and Shogun, The Octagon and Enter the Ninja, along with countless issues of exploitive martial arts magazines, had cemented a notion of what ninja were in my early-teen head. The book wasn’t tainted by contemporary exploitation movie posters and mail-order merchandise mania. Sure, critics will task its Western views of Eastern culture, damaged and victimized women characters, tangents to Calvell’s Shogun, etc. Carpenter, as it turned out, was also wrong for the film, and he left after a frustrating year of not being able to come up with a filmable draft.
Carpenter was coming off the heartbreak of The Thing tanking (despite its now classic status) and would have been writing his version of The Ninja between projects like Christine and Starman.
With a bigger budget, The Ninja would have been a New York City picture, carrying the Scorsese-like gravitas that city’s gritty streets effortlessly provide. What none of us knew was whether he’d be up to the physical trials the film would put him through. As for the question of physical trials, one need look no further than the superb An Officer and a Gentlemen for proof that the actor would have been up to the task. Vincent was athletic as hell, had that gunfighter squint and could sell the brooding intellectual with a skeleton-filled-closet character type.
Mike Stone would have already been formulating his own Enter the Ninja script, and was as ahead of the curve on the impending ninja boom as Lustbader was.
They raced to beat it to the screen, like Deep Impact did to Armageddon or Tombstone did to Wyatt Earp, and may have done it so well that the second bigger movie never came out as a result. Or was this hiring of the men who spawned the slasher genre-defining Halloween actually an attempt at what they saw as a course correction? Ever feel betrayed when a book adaptation’s trailer seems to have enough of the surface details to look like it remains true, but when you see the actual movie you realize that was just facade? Well, for starters there is no Nicholas Linnear, he’s now Nicholas Tomkins – son of the industrialist heel, an urban playboy and trust fund baby with the otherwise bohemian lifestyle of a classical musician and composer. Saigo’s multi-generational grudge is instead driven by the fact that as a child he witnessed one-time corrupt Occupation-era Military Police officer Rafael Tomkins execute his father after a shady business deal went south. Saigo-Meyer’s hunt still takes him through Nicholas’ friends, although the dojo killings are now Spanzo’s pals.
He’s genuinely evil, loves the chase, kills each victim in a different spectacular fashion, has both the mental and physical prowess to overcome all authorities in his way, and is possibly gifted with spiritual super powers. Nicholas Linnear, who by 1985 was now the star of the book’s hit sequel The Miko (with more on the way) just cannot be downgraded from Eastern martial master in a Western world to just another pretty boy cowering in fear and coming up with a miracle to somehow kill the monster and save the girl. With that pandora’s box open, you hire some proven talent from another genre to repurpose the work into something less canon (and less Cannon, see what I did there!), thus more compatible to a wider audience. The Ninja as slasher film disguised in black pajamas would have pissed off ninja movie hopefuls, especially with its lack of ninja-vs-ninja action. Short, simple adventures corresponded to narration and sound effects on a 45rpm flexi-disc, with a property’s signature theme song often on the b-side.
Clever use of halftone angles and dot-pitch make subtle browns and beiges out of black and orange inks.
It was all part of a well-balanced mix of genuine historical weaponry and credible martial arts with superhero-like powers and outright magic. The show was adapted from a popular Sanpei manga, and animated by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki. The character was based on the pulp novels published by the same publisher — Decje Novine, Gornji Milanovac. I may be dead wrong here, perhaps these ninja pages are reprinted from some obscure 80s series from the U.S, Italy, France or maybe a 2000AD title from England I never saw. James Bond is dangling precariously off a cliff, with the lights of a village twinkling an unbelievably long way below. As I turned our rental car around yet another serpentine bend in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnan Valley, I began to realize the unimaginable and literally sheer grandeur of the Alps. This tiny town has largely been taken over by tourist-friendly endeavors, but its centuries-old hotels provide top-notch accommodation, spectacular views and a great starting-off point for Alpine adventures like sight seeing, hiking and especially skiing. For, several thousand feet above even the top of that wall of rock amidst a series of grand Alpine summits is Schilthorn Mountain and Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant, observation post and starting point for a black ski run. Back in 1969, it was villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s mountain layer in that aforementioned James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Most film sets get torn down after shooting ends – you can’t visit the Batcave or tour the Death Star – but Piz Gloria is a real place and it’s still there.
The three subsequent cable car journeys that hop-scotch various peaks and plateaus while traversing about 7,000 vertical feet made me wonder whether swimming with the sharks from “Thunderball” would’ve been a better idea.
Located about 4,000 feet above the valley floor, this charming collection of chalets in the shadow of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks is a quaint, car-free slice of Alpine paradise. It is here that I get my first glimpse of Piz Gloria, a tiny silver speck atop a snow-covered peak reflecting the bright white sun. The building consists of a circular building home to the 360-degree rotating restaurant and a viewing deck (formerly the helipad built for the movie) connected by an elbow-shaped walkway.
The assembled tourists and skiers are busy taking pictures and gazing at the awe-inspiring panoramic view of more than 200 Alpine summits and Lake Brienz in the far distance. Little do they know or care that they are standing on a Bond fan’s hallowed ground.
I couldn’t care less, and happily indulge my inner (and outer) nerd by snapping a photo with 007. You don’t need to be a James Bond fan to appreciate it, and in fact, we couldn’t help but think that Piz Gloria would make for a truly spectacular winter wedding destination.


Control” was a spy-master segment host (think Cryptkeeper with a secret filing cabinet) who recruited the warrior for his stable of outre and unlikely agents. Then he’d single handedly sink an enemy sub or take down a Zero with a blow gun, to no thanks, and stoically wait for the next shadow mission, unsung hero of the night. Much of it was lifted for low-budget movies like Revenge of the Ninja, while at the same time a host of A-list talent and Hollywood legends-in-the-making couldn’t manage to sustain its film development with a much bigger studio deal. That puts Lustbader two-to-three years ahead of The Octagon in theaters, the Shogun mini-series putting ninja on every TV in America, The Hand appearing in Marvel Comics and Stephen Hayes making the cover of Black Belt. Although mystical lore was suggested in various martial arts theses, notions of cultish assassins were out there in more abundance, and the hooded commando image had been introduced in the Bond movie. As a young man he endures a troubled upbringing in post-war Japan, where he learned deadly martial arts alongside rival cousin Saigo, to whom he loses his first love Yukio. Saigo, who has spent the interim learning the most demented aspects of ninjutsu’s mind control and black arts, answers their call, unable to pass up the opportunity for a major bounty, and a chance to settle an old score. Linnear uses him as bait, and it comes down to ninja-vs-ninja – ancient weapons used in a duel amidst modern architecture and office computers. 1973 saw them crank out snakes-sploitation shlock classic Sssssss to meager success, but then later that year produce the mega smash hit and Oscar-rich The Sting. Years later, he would end up channeling his desire to do a martial arts epic into Big Trouble in Little China. Conversely, the 1980s was a decade that very aggressively wanted an identity of its own, and actively distanced itself from music, cinematic and pop culture trends of the disco 70s. Had it been even partially co-produced or made with Japanese studio cooperation, some scenes could have been shot in Japan on the familiar Toho or Daiei jidaigeki sets, as had Shogun. Or… The Ninja could have been the film to break Mickey Rourke, before Diner and Rumble Fish, adding a more haunted if not sinister edge to Nicholas. This big budget, mainstream audience-seeking project would have hit theaters amidst Pray for Death and American Ninja, while Enter, Revenge and Ninja III: The Domination were fixtures on cable and VHS rental. All done by Lustbader in print first, but by Sam Firstenberg and Sho Kosugi on screen first. Justine’s sister Glenda (and her sexually bloated side-story) and Doc Deerforth are lost in the shuffle. Spanzo is a walking symbol of Western arrogance at first, but becomes the voice of reason who knows just enough ninja lore to realize how screwed everyone is.
At the same time, slasher freaks weren’t looking to a ninja movie for their gore-hound content, either.
They were writen by Derek Finegan (or, as the legend goes Brana Nikolic, Finegan being his pseudonim). The presence of such leads me to believe this stuff is reprinted from something that was originally published at a different aspect ratio than the magazine format here. As common as Euro-edition movie posters and lobby cards are (like the below), the comics are a rarer breed, but equally worthy of preserving. It was just too absurdly high and vertical; the film makers were clearly using movie magic to increase drama for 1960s audiences. For there, amidst a verdant field, pine trees and a babbling river was a collection of barns and farm houses cobbled together to form the village of Stechelberg.
For my wife, this was an opportunity to see a spectacular corner of the world, for me as a Bond fan, it was a pilgrimage.
Parents pull children along the snowy main “road” by sled, others move along by ski; one man took his St. After disembarking the cable car (with great relief) and making our way up an escalator, I stepped onto the deck. The viewing deck and walkway are just about perfect for the ceremony, while the restaurant could serve as a cocktail reception venue. Back up stories would vary from tales of ‘Nam mercs to WWII Frogmen, and, starting with issue #232 KANA: THE HUMAN KILLING MACHINE!
Trained in the traditional shadow arts, Kana turned his back on his imperialistic government and fled Japan after his parents were executed for being friendly to Westerners. Joe into a red-ninja-infused blade-fest starting in March of 84, while Marvel’s other red ninja, The Hand, were regularly battling Wolverine and Daredevil. In those days, it was housed in the Explorer’s Club mansion on the East Side of Manhattan. Politics and subterfuge lead to the deaths of his parents, a grudge gets passed to the next generation, and he flees Japan. The oft forgotten Spielberg movie Sugarland Express followed, but then in 1975 they were responsible for inventing the summer tentpole movie phenomenon with Jaws. Had the budget not been as high, Burbank backlots would have subbed for NYC, or more likely the story’s location changed to Los Angeles to accommodate local shooting. Guys like Patrick Swayze or Michael Pare would have been on the young side to carry a major feature, while a Michael Beck of The Warriors fame would have been too blonde for the role, although he’d go on to play a ninja years later in the criminally unavailable TV movie The Last Ninja.
This was the era of Joel Grey in heavy yellow-face make-up playing an ancient kung-fu master in Remo Williams while Mako and Keye Luke sat home unemployed.
And whereas Masaaki Hatsumi had been a technical consultant on the first Shinobi-no-Mono films, would a burgeoning Stephen K. None of those films did well, and with each release 20th grew more and more reluctant to go ahead with the project.
He’s also the same drug addict – which would have made for some great demented hop-head sequences under the skillful Carpenter hand.
But while JQ was about the apex of boy’s adventure cartoons in the States, Fujimaru was just one in a long line of weapons-carrying, ninja-slaying, super-powered shinobi role models for Japanese kids.
And, more importantly, on each side were sheer cliffs that filled our windows despite being several hundred yards away. Dinner could be held down in Murren, where you and your guests could stay in one of its chalet hotels. But cars have to be driven somewhere and there’s nothing he enjoys more than stories about epic cross-country road trips or unique driving adventures to far-flung locales. Rock and The Haunted Tank were created by guys who were there, or at least lived during the World Wars and Korea, and those two-fisted men’s adventure magazine sensibilities pervaded everything they did. I’m a big fan of their next flick The Island with Michael Caine, but it was a flop, but their next outing was the monster hit Cocoon. Gere had the looks to sell tickets off a movie poster alone, and had just come off a big hit with American Giggolo. Plus, Lustbader took time in the book to describe Linnear as greatly favoring his father’s side of the family, possibly thinking of film development down the road. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was about to redefine the word ‘ninja’ to a generation of kids and toy-buying parents, Godfrey Ho and ilk were on the warpath in Hong Kong making the worst (or for some, best) ninja schlock ever seen, and The Master was already facing cancellation on TV. The under-construction skyscraper infiltration is still the climactic set-piece, followed by the doppleganger dead body swerve and the limo scene — those being firmly established crutches of the horror genre anyway. Judging from who was writing into the letters columns, I’d also bet they had as many older vet readers and active military adults as they did kids, so they were definitely speaking to a long-standing audience.
20th’s head of production at the time was the great Sherry Lansing, one of the last true production execs in Hollywood. Either way, a stay in one of Murren’s chalet-style hotels would be another great honeymoon choice. I started asking questions and immediately became fascinated by these modern-day masters of chaos. The screenwriter (I don’t recall his name) had Nicholas shoot Saigo with a gun in the climactic battle.



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