CHICAGO Wu-Tang Clan members RZA and Method Man flew in to the Windy City for a comic-book convention Sunday to sign autographs and talk about their new comic book, which depicts the popular urban rap collective as muscle-bound superheroes a la Superman and the Hulk.
Having already established themselves as kings of hip-hop culture in the music and fashion arenas, the Wu-Tang Clan have now moved into the world of comics. "The Nine Rings of the Wu-Tang," due in November, envisions the band as Moorish martial-arts warriors in the ancient Spanish region of Andalusia.
RZA (born Robert Diggs) and Method Man (born Clifford Smith) were scheduled to sign autographs at the annual Wizard World comic-book convention Saturday. But they missed their plane from New York, according to an event staffer, and they appeared instead Sunday, the final day of the three-day confab.
"Method Man said he grew up with comics, and the Wu-Tang members created their individual characters from comics and old kung-fu movies," said attendee Steven Taylor, a 19-year-old Wu fan from Detroit who writes and illustrates the comic book "Silent Night."
The Wu-Tang Clan comic book is the first in a planned line of items from Gibraltar Entertainment, a company co-owned by "Nine Rings" writer Aaron Bullock, rapper/producer RZA and "Nine Rings" artist Brian Haberlin. In the next two years, they intend to issue an animated film, a coffee-table book, action figures and Halloween masks, Haberlin said.
"No group on the planet, other than the Beatles, embodies a culture more than the Wu-Tang," Bullock said.
Hailing from Staten Island, N.Y., the nine-member outfit first took hip-hop by storm in 1993 and has issued two albums and numerous solo releases that mix aggressive vocals with atmospheric sampling. The group has created a mystique based partially on the Shaolin monks of martial-arts lore.
Songs such as "Da Mystery of Chessboxin' " from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) and "Hellz Wind Staff" (RealAudio excerpt) from Wu-Tang Forever (1997) are steeped in martial-arts imagery.
For "Nine Rings of the Wu-Tang," Bullock imagined a story about a modern archaeologist who, while excavating a Moorish site, happens upon a broadsword with nine rings on it, along with a series of scrolls. Upon the researcher's return to the United States, an old monk tells him to open the hilt of the sword.
"There was another roll of scrolls inside it, and these were the early tales of the nine rings of the Wu-Tang," the 30-year-old Bullock explained. "The comics are basically different tales from those scrolls. The film will be 'Story One,' which is how they come together and why."
In the comic a preview edition of which was released at Wizard World each rapper in the group has been rendered in superhero-style bulging biceps, and each is equipped with special powers for adventures with wizards, dragons and witches. Wu-Tang member U-God (born Lamont Hawkins) has been christened Golden Arms, and he boasts limbs of gold.
The mischievous Ol' Dirty Bastard's (born Russell T. Jones) character goes by the rapper's spiritual name, Osirus, and fights using the "drunken monkey" martial-arts style, Bullock said. Method Man, meanwhile, has been dubbed MZA, "the baddest martial artist on the planet." Ghostface Killah gets his name sliced to just Ghostface, and he also gains the ability to disappear.
Each of the members had some say in his character, Haberlin said.
Masta Killa (born Elgin Turner), whose character uses an African martial art based on animal forms, asked for a change from the original wild drawing presented to him. "With the new design, he's kind of beefier, kind of nastier," Haberlin, 35, said.
The comic likely will bring new listeners to the Wu-Tang Clan from the world of comic-book fandom, Taylor predicted. He said the series will highlight hip-hop's creative side for a broader culture that often sees it as a music consumed by violence.
"This is not just a hip-hop act," Haberlin said. "They're into [things that are] bigger than life."