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Dr. Fu Manchu is a fictional character first featured in a series of novels by English author Sax Rohmer during the first half of the 20th century. The character was also featured extensively in cinema, television, radio, comic strips and comic books for over 90 years, and has become an archetype of the evil criminal genius while inspiring the Fu Manchu moustache.
A master criminal, Fu Manchu's murderous plots are marked by the extensive use of arcane methods; he disdains guns or explosives, preferring dacoits, Thuggee, and members of other secret societies as his agents armed with knives, or using "pythons and hamadryads... fungi and my tiny allies, the bacilli... my black spiders" and other peculiar animals or natural chemical weapons.
According to Cay Van Ash (a friend and biographer of Sax Rohmer, who wrote his own authorized pastiches Ten Years Beyond Baker Street and The Fires of Fu Manchu) "Fu Manchu" was a title of honor, which meant "the Warlike Manchu." It was thought that the character had been a member of the Imperial family who backed the losing side in the Boxer Rebellion. In the earliest books, Fu Manchu is an assassin sent on missions by the Si-Fan, but he quickly rises to become head of that dreaded secret society. At first, the Si-Fan's goal is to throw the Europeans out of Asia; later, the group attempts to intervene more generally in world politics, while funding itself by more ordinary crime. Dr. Fu Manchu has extended his already considerable lifespan by use of the elixir vitae, a formula he spent decades trying to perfect. When China is conquered by the Communists, Fu Manchu fights to restore the China of old.
It has been argued that Fu Manchu was based on or influenced by Dr. Yen How, the oriental villain in M. P. Shiel's novels, and Li Shoon from H. Irving Hancock's stories.
Fu Manchu made his first comic book appearance in Detective Comics # 17, and continued, as one feature among many in the anthology series, until #28. These were reprints of the earlier Leo O'Mealia strips. Original Fu stories in comics had to wait for Avon's one-shot The Mask of Dr. Fu Manchu in 1951. A similar British one-shot The Island of Fu Manchu was published in 1956.
In the 1970s, Fu Manchu appeared as the father of the character Shang-Chi in the series Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. However Marvel Comics lost the rights to the character in the 1980s, so in later appearances, Fu Manchu is never named, only referred to as Shang-Chi's 'father,' and never shown out of shadow. In a recent Black Panther storyline, he is referred to as "Mr. Han", apparently a play on the name of the main villain in Enter the Dragon.
Fu Manchu appeared as a villain in the first volume of Alan Moore's comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but was referred to only as "the Doctor" or "the Devil Doctor" as the character is not in the public domain in Europe.
Fu Manchu and his daughter are the inspiration for the character Hark and his daughter Anna Hark in the comic book series Planetary as well as Ming the Merciless and Princess Aura in Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon series. Fu Manchu was also the inspiration for Ra's al Ghul in Batman and The Mandarin and the Yellow Claw in his own four issue Atlas (Marvel) Comics series as well as Marvel Comics' Nick Fury and Iron Man series.