In classic pulp hero tradition, most of The Rook’s enemies don’t make return appearances. But The Warlike Manchu is the exception to the rule — in fact, he appeared in each of The Rook’s first five volumes! Obviously inspired by Sax Rohmer’s classic Fu Manchu, The Warlike Manchu does not consider himself a villain at all. He’s out to rule the world with an iron hand because that’s how humanity needs to be governed, lest our baser natures get the best of us. The Warlike Manchu was one of Max Davies’ tutors during his time preparing for his role as The Rook but when he learned of the Manchu’s connections to organized crime, Max refused the offer to rule at the Manchu’s side.
Aided by a group of assassins dubbed The Ten Fingers, The Warlike Manchu controls every manner of vice in Asia and eyes expanding his empire to the West. Though Chinese by birth, my take on The Warlike Manchu incorporates elements of various Asian mythologies to play up The Warlike Manchu as the ultimate “yellow menace” from the old pulps. He hates the Japanese but is willing to use their trappings and folklore to his own advantage, for instance.
The Rook and The Warlike Manchu have become the most bitter of enemies, clashing again and again. The highlights of their feud include:
“The Abomination” – The Rook Volume One. In this story set in 1939, The Warlike Manchu re-enters The Rook’s life for the first time since they parted ways in 1922. Allied with an Egyptian necromancer named Ibis, The Manchu revives an ancient entity of pure destruction known as The Abomination. The Rook foils their plans for world domination but The Manchu escapes.
“Blitzkrieg” – The Rook Volume Two. Set in 1940, The Warlike Manchu returns with a new pupil, a German named Hans Merkel, who has adopted the guise of the Japanese god of death, Shinigami. Merkel is The Rook’s true opposite number — like Max, he is haunted by the spirit of his dead father but in Merkel’s case, he slew his own father and enslaved his spirit. In this story, The Warlike Manchu kidnaps Max’s son, forcing The Rook to unite with the Manchu’s daughter in an attempt to stop the madman. Shinigami is killed and The Manchu’s immortality formula fails, reducing him to dust.
Death lasts only about two years, however, as The Warlike Manchu is revived in 1942’s “The Resurrection Gambit” from Volume Three. In this story, The Manchu embarks on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, a search that leads both he and The Rook on a global chase. In the end, The Manchu escapes once more, swearing revenge on his most hated of enemies.
In 1943, The Warlike Manchu and The Rook are forced into an uneasy alliance, as both men seek to foil the plans of the Nazi vampire Baron Randolph Gustav. It’s clear that The Manchu respects Max greatly and would still seek an alliance between the two — but he also has come to believe that The Rook’s opposition to his plans has renewed the spark of life in his wretched heart. This is chronicled in Volume Four’s “Dead of Night.”
1944 finds The Warlike Manchu teaming with Doctor Satan and Moriarty in “A Plague of Wicked Men,” one of the first adventures of The Claws of the Rook. The Manchu is apparently killed when the island he’s on sinks beneath the waves. This story is depicted in Volume Five.
Once again, death seemed incapable of stopping The Warlike Manchu. At some point, he returned to bedevil Max Davies and his family — but his final defeat seems to have stuck. In 1967, William Davies (Max’s son) battled and defeated The Warlike Manchu, killing him while battling for possession of a magical Mayan tablet (“The Four Rooks, The Rook Volume Four).
No details about The Manchu’s activities between 1944 and 1967 are known — and given how many times he cheated death before, it’s conceivable that he has at least one more resurrection in store, even post ’67.
In addition to The Warlike Manchu’s appearances in The Rook’s series, The Ten Fingers have been name-dropped in both Gravedigger and Lazarus Gray, as The Manchu’s forces have infiltrated Sovereign City in the Thirties. The Warlike Manchu himself has yet to clash with either of those heroes in any published adventures, though you never know what the future may hold.