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Judomaster 1

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Officially, the comic I'm reviewing this time is SPECIAL WAR SERIES- JUDOMASTER, Vol. 4, No. 4; Nov. 1965; Charlton Comics; Pat Masulli credited as Executive Editor (I think Dick Giordano got his editorial position just about the time this issue came out). And the *next* issue of JUDOMASTER would be Vol. 6 #89, May-June '66, taking over the numbering of GUNMASTER, a defunct western. But this was to all intents and purposes JUDOMASTER #1, except in the arcane world of Charlton numbering.

I promised I'd reveal which Charlton "action-hero" title Dick Giordano said was the best seller. JUDOMASTER is it. He didn't say so in a JM lettercol, but in that of CAPTAIN ATOM # 88. In response to a fan who was running through his opinions of the Charlton titles and expressed disdain for Judomaster as "second-rate," Giordano replied, "Judomaster is currently our best-selling action hero. It may not appeal to the fans (who are relatively few in number) but it seems to appeal to the other readers."

But that was a while later.... here we have the first issue, with its cover blurb, "America's newest and greatest action-hero! Follow two-fisted JUDOMASTER... in this, his ORIGIN ISSUE! ACTION from cover to cover! Holder of judo's highest honor..THE COVETED BLACK BELT!" The main cover depiction of JM shows him standing and tying the "coveted black belt", but other vignettes show him smacking a stone wall, throwing a uniformed soldier, giving another soldier an American-style punch to the jaw, and crouching ready for action.

The cover and interior artist-- and creator of Judomaster-- was Frank McLaughlin, a Charlton regular who also happened to be a judo enthusiast. He had produced how-to-do-judo filler features for other Charlton titles, and Charlton decided to let him build a feature around his interest, making them a pioneer in the field of martial-arts comics. Scripter of this origin issue was prolific Charlton mainstay Joe Gill, but McLaughlin would handle the scripts himself on later issues. "Let's go back to where our story begins..." the opening caption invites, "The time, June 1943; the place, a small island in the South Pacific where a handful of G.I.'s are trying to hang on against a horde of Japanese led by Major Yoku!" Sgt. Rip Jagger and his squad are on the perimeter when they see an unidentified figure moving in the darkness. Jagger orders the squad to hold their fire, but one of the men shoots (in a panel that looks like it's swiped from a Joe Kubert Sgt. Rock story). Jagger decides to go to the aid of the wounded man, even though it may be an enemy ("He's wounded...sounds awfully young...calling for help! Cover me, Al...and don't get an itchy trigger finger again!") But on the way to pick up the casualty, Jagger is cornered by a Japanse patrol, and it looks like the end until the enemy soldiers are attacked by "unarmed, weirdly dressed natives [who] moved like ghosts...silent shadows who struck hard using odd wooden sticks! And the American G.I. couldn't believe his eyes as the Nips armed with the most modern weapons went down screaming helplessly!" But as Rip watches in amazement, one of the natives attacks him as well, and after a quick scuffle he is knocked unconscious.

Awakening in the cave headquarters of the native island guerrillas, Jagger is told his questions will be answered by their leader; "Show respect and address him as 'Sensei' or I will teach you manners!" But when Rip meets the Sensei he gets a welcome; "Let him come forward, Bushuri, for he is of brave heart and noble bearing! I must reward him for his rescue of Suzikawa, my beloved granddaughter!" Yes, the wounded "man" Rip tried to aid was not a Japanese soldier, but a female guerrilla. "Your enemies are my strength is yours!" But the Sensei also had bad news for Jagger; the rest of his force has fallen to the Japanese. "You are the last remaining American on this island!" Meanwhile, Major Yoku, the Japanese commander, threatens and punishes the island natives for aiding the guerrillas. But they remain defiant, sending their young men to the Sensei's cave to receive martial arts training. Rip Jagger joins the new class of students and hears the Sensei explain the history of judo, how jiujitsu originated in Japan in the 16th century and the related sport of judo was developed by Jigoro Kano. "Judo was brought to our island by a disciple of Kano and we have developed it here to greater heights than it reached even in Japan! If one of you becomes a Shodan or a Judoka of the first Dan... you wear the coveted Black Belt and you are the superior of any fighter in the world!" But Rip isn't altogether impressed; "Bushuri's good...but judo'll never take the place of a submachine gun!"

Invited to spar with Bushuri, the most skilled martial artist next to the Sensei, Rip Jagger is initially overconfident; " I'm not going to pull my punches, Bushuri! You're about to get clobbered!" But after getting thrown around by Bushuri, he confesses himself "licked". "Honorable soldier-san formidable opponent...but superior knowledge of judo subdues!" Now convinced, Jagger throws himself into learning judo in earnest, and quickly passes the beginner stage. In his next bout with Bushuri, Jagger gets in a good American style punch, but still loses to Bushuri's superior skill; however, Bushuri admits to the Sensei, "He is faster with his hands than any Judoka I have ever seen! I tell you, Sensei, he is the first student of judo I have seen whom I believe can become expert enough to defeat me!" But the Sensei has a caution; "Train him carefully, Bushuri! Watch him closely...remember Shushinho is MENTAL DEVELOPMENT...just as important as the proficiency in combat!" Eventually, with Bushuri taking personal charge of his training, Jagger is judged worthy to become a first Dan and wear the black belt. But outside the cave headquarters, the conflict between the Japanese soldiers and the native guerrillas is heating up, and the Sensei urges Jagger to add his combination of military training and judo skill to the battle. Rip eagerly complies, using a judo strike to take out a Japanese machine gunner and then using his gun against his comrades. As he adds further to his exploits, Rip becomes a "symbol of freedom to these oppressed people", and the Sensei suggests adding to his symbolic value by garbing himself in a special, symbolic costume. Rip's blond hair is bound up in a topknot and he exchanges his white dojo outfit for a red and white outfit on which the traditional colors of the Japanese rising-sun flag are reversed. "Judomaster Is Born!" (But the subtlety that this made him a kind of "anti-Japan" symbol was probably lost on his fellow G.I.'s when he re-encountered them later in the series... no wonder a later plotline involved Rip Jagger being suspected as a traitor.) Major Yoku orders his troops to specially target Judomaster, but Jagger bursts into his office, throws Yoku like a sack of potatoes, and escapes dodging a hail of bullets from Yoku's soldiers. Judomaster and the guerrillas give the Japanese so much trouble that a division of Imperial Marines enroute to Saipan is diverted to protect the valuable supplies on the island. "This means thousands of you Americans will be spared1" But Rip is not satisfied; he proposes to humiliate Yoku by sending him a warning that he, Judomaster, will destroy the Japanese oil depot, naval ammunition sheds and troop barracks despite all Yoku's precautions. "The fool! I have him now!" Yoku gloats.

Judomaster disables the guards of the oil tanks and then fires a gun into them, detonating the tanks. Next, he climbs an electrically charged fence (!) and detonates the ammo dump, moving just fast enough to escape being ki lled in the huge explosion. (I think McLaughlin may be exaggerating the effects of judo "physical development *just* a bit here....) The troop barracks are too heavily guarded for even Judomaster to attack singlehandedly, but he has an ace up his sleeve...he has used a Japanese transmitter to alert the U.S. Air Force to the location of the barracks, and the airmen rain bombs on it, keeping Rip's promise to destroy the barracks. In his moment of triumph, Judomaster is confronted by Major Yoku, who shoots him with a pistol at point-blank range, but he is saved by his costume "woven of special nylon mesh...this flexible shield renders Judomaster invulnerable to bullets, insulates him against electricity, and has other qualities which will confound his enemies in the next issue of...JUDOMASTER!" (Where a ragtag band of island native guerrillas got such an exotic material to create a costume is left a mystery....)

In succeeding issues, Judomaster would battle an assortment of rival martial artists, including the Mountain Storm, a giant sumo wrestler, the Smiling Skull, a Nazi judo expert (and possible relative of the Red Skull), and the Acrobat, a young Japanese judo expert who interestingly was portrayed as a decent sort fighting Judomaster out of Japanese patriotism rather than being a sneering villain. JM also took on an opponent in an American boxing ring, battled dinosaurs on a lost island (maybe the same one where the DC "War That Time Forgot" stories took place?) and acquired a kid sidekick, Tiger, a Japanese-American boy. By modern standards, perhaps, this series could be considered racist, since it shows the blond blue-eyed American taking up a skill originated by Asians and quickly outstripping them all. But by the standards even of the '60s, I'd say McLaughlin took some care to try to depict Asians respectfully.

As an artist and writer, McLaughlin certainly wasn't a match for Charlton mainstay Steve Ditko, nor did his work have the quirky charm of Pete Morisi (PAM) on THUNDERBOLT, but it was competent and readable. In the '70s after the "action-heroes" (including JM, despite his "best-seller" status) folded, McLaughlin moved over to DC where he did mainly inking, much of it for Dick Dillin on JLA and other titles.

Also in the issue is a "Sport of Judo" featurette starring not Judomaster but private eye Sarge Steel (who would turn up as a backup feature later in JM's run) and a house ad for the rest of the "Action-Hero" line...which at that point consisted of the Fightin' Five (aka "Charlton's Blackhawks"), Son of Vulcan, Sarge Steel, and the god-awful pre-Ditko Blue Beetle, along with Captain Atom reprints.