Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Demon Is Born!

Ever since I've read about how Jack "King" Kirby was inspired by a story in Hal Foster's Prince Valiant to create the The Demon, I've wanted to read that tale. Well I finally got the chance a few weeks ago when I was reading the first volume of the first Fantagraphics Prince Valiant reprint volume. Essentially the story finds Val in a castle needing to defeat the more powerful enemy with guile rather than brawn. So he makes a disguise and gaslights dozens of Vikings into thinking they have a haunting on their hands. It's pretty fantastic stuff and pretty exciting to read. I can now understand why Kirby was so impressed. The "Demon" created by Foster is a face you won't soon forget. And thanks to Jack Kirby it wasn't.

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Prince Valiant - The Movie!

Believe it or not, I've never ever seen the 50's Prince Valiant movie. For whatever reason it's never ever played TV around me, and the few times I remember seeing the VHS I never popped for it.

But reading the original Hal Foster strips recently got me in the mood and I ordered up a copy of the DVD from Amazon. I got around to viewing it several days ago. Now I watch movies on a smallish TV, and that clearly wasn't what this Cinemascope flick was meant to be seen on. In a wondeful letterbox, this looks fantastic. It's a wonderfully rich visual movie and coming fresh off the Foster originals, it's easy to see that they reallly worked to keep the look and feel of the comic strip intact on the movie.

Robert Wagner is Valiant and he looks the part well enough. Hayden Sterling is Gawain and Janet Leigh is Aleta. The acting by this trio is pretty okay most of the time, but Wagner is uneven, while Sterling is really broad. Liegh is beautiful as is Debra Paget as Ilene her sister, and they both do adequate jobs. James Mason as Brack is clearly though the best actor in this thing and he dominates the screen everytime he shows up. The only actor on par with him is Victor McLaglen as Boltar who has few scenes, but choice ones.

Aside from the indifferent acting, though the setting is magnificent and the epic scale of the storytelling really works most of the time. The sprawling battle in the Viking castle with Sligon is outrageous and captures the feel of the comic strip perfectly, with Valiant bouncing around with is creative battle techniques.

This ain't a great movie, but it's a really lavish and crisp adaptation of the comic. I'd have to say it's one of the best and most accurated adaptations of a comic I've ever seen and I've seen nearly all of them.

Highly recommended.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Laying Down The L.A.W. !

I very much remember anticipating this "return" of the Action-Heroes under the hand of Dick Giordano and Bob Layton. This project apparently was stalled a few times before it finally came out from DC at the very beginning of the current century. Like most of the product of that time, it was hooked into the JLA, a major seller for DC and the source of countless spin-offs and one-shots. L.A.W. was seen by many as just one more of those.

But for Charlton fans it was special. It featured the return of the "original" Action-Heroes. Sarge Steel, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, The Question, Nightshade and a new Peacemaker all play roles in the story, but the story itself was sculpted around the return of Rip Jagger, The Judomaster. This is a Judomaster story, though I will confess that focus does get muddled a bit as the story unfolds.

A powerful enemy named The Avatar (take that James Cameron) unleashes demons on the Earth and locks up the JLA in a dimensional trap. He seems unstoppable, but then Sarge Steel is put in charge of a group of heroes including Blue Beetle and the Question to battle the threat. He finds himself working out of a sprawling new project which gives birth to a new Peacemaker, a doctor. This force seeks out the Avatar's threat despite the lurking of traitors inside the project. Meanwhile Captain Atom has become a power source for the Avatar and will remain like that through much of story being reborn in a new costume before it's all over. Blue Beetle reveals a hidden guilt and the Question must come to terms with his lack of power in this battle against great evil. Nightshade is the most changed and seems literally to be battling for her very soul in the story. Sarge Steel is seduced and given the chance to be made whole again, but must stand strong. All the heroes seem to have an internal struggle alongside the external threat.

That threat is posed by Avatar who it is revealed relatively early is actually Tiger, formerly the partner of Judomaster who in a fit of teenage pique rejects the tutelage of his master and begins his fall into villainy. Judomaster meanwhile has obtained nirvana in Nanda Parabat but must give that up to rejoin the world and confront his corrupted partner. His struggle is the heart of the story.

This is a very uneven story though I'll have to confess despite my affection for it. It seems it was done in at least two stages looking at the artwork. The story itself is an a bit of a mishmash, offering many interesting angles and solving most of them, but not always convincingly.

I want to adore the L.A.W., but alas I only like it. I do recommend that you seek it out if you can find it. It's never been collected alas. It should be, everything else is available for heaven's sakes.

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The Charge Of The Light Brigade!

This is a movie I picked on a whim with a bunch of other Errol Flynn adventure flicks. I'd never seen it before viewing it a few days ago, but I was much impressed. It's not as rock solid a movie as Captain Blood nor even Sea Hawk but it is rousing, especially the climax which I found quite exciting.

The movie tells the tale of a pair of brothers (Flynn and Patrick Knowles) in love with the same woman (Olivia DeHaviland) and how they comport themselves with dignity and bravery on the rugged landscape of the Khyber Pass and the valleys of the Crimean War. There's a ruler of the mythical land of Suristan who has been cut off financially by the British and seeks an alignment with the Russians, but who bears a grudge and leads his forces to commit an atrocity at a British fort. The climatic battle at Balaclava, the infamous charge, is in this version an attempt by the British forces to get even for this heinous crime.

Errol Flynn does a bang up job as does David Niven, who plays his sidekick. Niven is stalwart, but human too in this tale of bravery and nobility. Olivia DeHaviland has little to do frankly in this tale of manly men, but she's certainly pretty enough. Nigel Bruce (of Sherlock Holmes fame) is in this one and plays a wonderfully dotty commander who nonetheless turns out to be a man of skill and dignity.

And that's what this rousing tale seems to be most about. It's the dignity of man which is at stake, whether it is how a brother will deal with a cuckolding by his brother or answer the massacre of a bloodthirsty enemy, it's not what he does so much but how he'll face up to the inevitable.

Pretty good movie. Recommended.

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The Charge Of The Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Steve Ditko's Strange Suspense!

Wow! I read about this online but dismissed it since I have many of the stories in B&W from Greg Theakston's various efforts. But one glimpse of the actual book showed me I wanted this despite its nigh forty dollar price tag.

Well a few days ago I emptied my change can which yielded plenty of loose jack to bring this baby home. I collect change for just this sort of mad money experience. And so (with my beloved wife's permission) I went and gathered this gem up.

This is pretty much a pure Charlton reprint collection, though there are a few stories from other publishers. Since Charlton won't drag the fanboys in but Ditko will, I understand the packaging, but still and all it's interesting that this might just be the biggest Charlton reprint volume in my collection. The only others close would be the DC Archives with Ditko's Blue Beetle, Question and Captain Atom work.

The volume is pretty neatly done, with a beautiful cover and dandy binding. There are lots of covers and even a few stories not of the horror persuasion. I've read the non-Charlton stuff at this point and there's a romance and a western. The rest of the issue seems to be pure pre-Code horror with a humor piece at the end. Great great cover images. Some of the covers he did for The Thing are very disturbing and stick in the mind.

Highly recommended, so check out those change bowls right away.

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The Prisoner Of Zenda!

I spent a lovely afternoon last weekend enjoying two classic flicks, both using pretty much the very same script.

The first was the classic The Prisoner of Zenda from 1937 starring Ronald Coleman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. If ever a movie were perfectly cast this is the one. Ronald Coleman absolutely owns the screen as Rudloph Rassendyll the man called upon to pretend to be the kidnapped King and save the nation from ruin. The only time that isn't the case is when Fairbanks is on screen as Duke Hentzau a dastardly villain of epic dimension. This is the most magnetic I've ever seen Fairbanks, as he crafts a classic screen badguy. Others in the cast include Raymond Massey as Michael the grim brother of the King, and C.Aubrey Smith (who many decades before played Rassendyll for goodness sakes) as the King's right-hand man Zapt, that chiseled face an absolute wonder for the screen. The faces in this movie are sterling examples of classic cinema. The action sequences are bristling and exciting.

Less impressive is the 1952 remake with Stewart Granger as Rassendyl, with Deborah Kerr as the love interest. Granger has always struck me as a bit of an oaf in his movies, a good-looking lunk. That's about what's going on here as this movie only adds color to a virtual scene-by-scene remake of the original. No one in the remake is as good as anyone in the original with the possible exception of Kerr who emotes a tiny bit more than Madeleine Carrol as the Princess Flavia. Even James Mason, a great actor falls short of the heights Fairbanks brought to the Hentzau role. The action is a bit broader, but not as exciting.

Get those movies. I heartily recommend the Coleman version, a classic of adventure and romance!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #11

Judomaster #98 is dated December 1967. The single credit is the name "McLaughlin" hidden along a rockface on the splash page which features Judomaster holding a flying reptile at bay with a spear while Suzi turns in fear. It's another angle on the cover image by Frank McLaughlin who did this and all the Judomaster covers as far as I can tell.

"The Isle of Dragons" begins with Rip Jagger being called into the office of General Hawkins where he learns that the Japanese are using some remote and possibly uncharted islands as potential bases. On one island named Tabuki which the natives call "The Isle of Dragons". An airplane photo shows a skeptical Rip that indeed there do seem to be giant reptiles on the island. Judomaster, Tiger, Bushiri, Suzikawa, and other warriors go by submarine to the island and attempt to get on land. They are almost immediately waylaid by natives who tell that the Japanese are indeed contstructing a base and they are making use of the ancient dragons too. The natives guide the group to an ancient city and then leave. Judomaster's team is then assaulted by a giant flying reptile and all seek shelter in a cave when a second dinosaur resembling a Tyrannosaurus Rex appears. But it turns out that in the mad dash for safety that Tiger and Suzi are missing. Judomaster goes out to find them. He goes to the city and finds a costumed figure calling himself the "Japanese Sandman" who tells one of his comrades about using his powers to put creatures to sleep to capture both Suzi and Tiger. About that time a giant lizard appears and Sandman uses his hypnotic power along with tranquiler bullets the Japanese troops fire to subdue and develop a control of the beast. He then makes ready to ready to make Suzi and Tiger the creatures next meal when it awakes. Having seen enough Judomaster attacks, frees his associates and taking guns they head back to the cave. But the encounter the Tyrannosaur again but use their rifles to put it down. Then they gather Bushiri's men and the whole group attack the Japanese troops in the city. Judomaster tracks down the Sandman and avoiding his hypnotic powers eventually defeats the villain. When the Sandman is put out of the way, the monsters which have been in his thrall are released and they demolish the city and the Japanese troops are stunned that their tranquilizers no longer are effective. Using dynamite they brought Judomaster and Tiger blow up the whole shebang and escape. The last scene shows them rafting to the submarine and Tiger reveals that he had substituted regular ammunition for the special tranquilizers the Japanese used thus making the monsters uncontrollable. That scamp.

Sarge Steel turns up one more time in a story with no credits but clearly drawn by Dick Giordano and scripitng attributed at GCD to Steve Skeates. The tale titled "Key West Caper" is File 115. It begins with Sarge coming out of the ocean in full scuba gear onto a deserted beach at night. He thinks back to finding his office ransacked and a note saying that Bessie his secretary had been kidnapped and taken to a location off the Florida Keys. He then gets transportation and gets to the Keys as quickly as he can and arrived at that spot. He is attacked by a guard but subdues him and then recognizes the machine gun the thug used. There is another shot and Sarge kills the sniper but others get the drop on him and take him to a house where Bessie is unconscious on a table. The villains turn out to be Eric Rinn and Roja a man and woman team of baddies who had battled Sarge a few times in his own book and had run an operation named POW. They gloat that they at last have Sarge in this power when Bessie awakes and a fight breaks out. Rinn tries to shoot Sarge who shoots him first making his shot go astray and kill Roja. Bessie grabs up a machine gun and after quick tutelage from Sarge levels the other thugs. Sarge then cradles the overwrought woman in his arms as the story closes.

"The Power of the Bow" is the text piece in this issue and talks about the impact of the bow and arrow as a weapon in Europe, China and the Americas.

This is the last issue in the Charlton Judomaster run.

But in Captain Atom #89 dated December 1967, Tiger shows up in the Nightshade back-up feature by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo and in this story set in the modern day he is grown up and had trained Eve Eden the Nightshade some years before when she was a girl of fourteen.

This issue of Judomater was reprinted in the late 70's under the Modern imprint.

The Judomaster series showed a remarkable amount of skill and talent on the part of Frank McLaughlin who went on to become one of the great inkers at both Marvel and DC. Dick Giordano who headed up the Sarge Steel back-up feature of course went over to DC and became a major player in comics for many decades to come. Judomaster disappeared.

Even when DC picked up the Charlton Action-Heroes including Judomaster he was barely used. Captain Atom and Blue Beetle got ongoing series as well as stints in the Justice League. The Question had an ongoing of his own for many years. The Peacemaker got a limited series. Even Thunderbolt had a run, though his rights have reverted to the Morisi estate today. Though DC mucked with the heroes they at least used them. That is all of them save Judomaster. He did make cameos here and there and other Judomasters have shown up over the decades, including one who is in the JSA today. Rip Jagger and Tiger were the core of the L.A.W. (Living Assault Weapons)limited series by Bob Layton and Dick Giordano along with other Charlton heroes. But likely because of his WWII setting Judomaster never got the push the others did. It's too bad. Rip Jagger is a dandy character.

Judomaster battled against the Japanese but alongside other Asians so that the racism that clouded many WWII efforts was undermined. He wore the colors of the Japanese for goshsakes, an image that has always been a bit confusing. But in the end Rip Jagger, the Judomaster was truly an action-hero, a man fighting in what we naively dub the last "good war".

No more to come. It's been a blast doing this detailed read for one of my all-time favorite series. I'll have to do another one soon.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #10

Judomaster #97 is dated October 1967. Story and art are credited to Frank McLaughlin.

The lead story is titled "This One's For Pop!" and begins with Rip Jagger and Tiger heading back to the U.S. and Rip returning to his college alma mater an ivy league school named Bridgeport. Rip takes Tiger into the gym area where he meets up with his old boxing coach Pop McKeon. Soon after a former classmate and now professional boxer Rocky Vars shows up. Rip notices that Pop seems agitated at Rocky's arrival as he and Tiger leave. They later attend a series of matches between Bridgeport and New Haven and it comes down to the final bout featuring Pop's new star Johnny. But after doing very well in the match, Johnny takes a dive to lose the match. Rip goes to see Pop about it but he denies it, and so does Johnny when Rip confronts him. Rip sends Tiger to follow Pop then heads to Pop's home where he meets Joanne McKeon, Pop's daughter who has grown up since Rip left. She leaves to go on a date with Rocky Vars. Then Tiger shows up and reports what he has seen following Pop, specifically a meeting with a shadowed figure which confirms that something illicit is going on. Pop shows up at his house and Rip confronts him again and he finally admits that Rocky Vars has been behind the scheme and has threatened Joanne's life. Rip then becomes Judomaster and confronts Rocky and the two put on gloves and have a boxing bout, which goes well enough for Judomaster until Rocky kicks him then Judomater beings to use his other skills and finally knocks out Rocky. Then one of Rocky's henchmen pulls a gun, but Tiger and Johnny appear and soon enough the gang is subdued. Johnny then admits he loves Joanne and the story ends with the lovers kissing and Judomaster and Tiger slipping away out the door.

Sarge Steel returns in a story written by Steve Skeates, drawn by Dick Giordano and again with A.Machine on letters. The story is title "Case of the Widow's Revenge" and it is File 114. The story begins with a car trying to run down Sarge at a local newsstand but missing and demolishing the newsstand killing the proprietor a blind man we only see in profile named Old Charlie. Sarge then runs down an alley when he hears footsteps and is soon shot at, but he returns fire and kills his attacker. Returning to his car he finds a beautiful woman wrapped in a fur stole waiting for him. She claims to be the niece of Donald Reynolds a man Sarge sent to prison and who died there. His wife is the one behind the attempts on Sarge's life along with his old partner a man named Ralph Gonner. Sarge then goes to Gonner's house and confronts him becomes convinced he's not involved. Returning home he finds a figure in the dark waiting for him, but quickly turning on the lights blinds the person and after a quick exchange of gunfire he finds the girl who turns to be the daughter of Reynolds and not his niece and she is the one behind the plot. She dies in Sarge's arms and he reminds us all what a rotten world it is.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" offers up four letters. There is some discussion of Charlton's cover design specifically the image of Judomater breaking a board which has been an emblem since early in the series. Giordano say he's phasing that out with the next issue. Also of some question are the Japanese characters which are part of the decoration on the top banner of the comic alongside Judomaster's head. Giordano says he's been told by McLaughlin they have something to do with Judo, but he's not sure what exactly. Giordano also speaks to a the question of credits and says flat out that Frank McLaughlin has "written and drawn every issue of JM to date". This seems consistent save for the debut which lists Joe Gill as the scripter. Doubtless McLaughlin plotted that issue also.

This is a neat little issue. The story gets Judomaster stateside again and if the series had continued, I'm curious how much of his past life we would've eventually have seen. There is the neat notion here that his training as a boxer helped him master his judo skills more quickly perhaps. Because he is the scripter of the debut Joe Gill is almost always mentioned as the co-creator of Judomaster. But it seems pretty obvious that Frank McLaughlin is the guy behind the character through and through. Gill as great as he was, seems to get a bit of glory he doesn't quite deserved in this instance.

Below are some original art images from this story. These are the last five pages of the tale.

One more to come.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #9

Judomaster #96 is dated August 1967. This issue again bears only the single credit for Frank McLaughlin so I assume he's the one doing the scripting, art, and lettering as in previous issues.

The story titled "The Final Phase of the Plot to Destroy Judomaster" picks up right where the previous issue left off with The Acrobat getting away in a Japanese submarine while Judomaster and the Acrobat exchange threats. Bushiri and Judomaster talk and they agree that the Acrobat got access to the island too easily and that there must be a spy among them. Bushiri mentions a new man to the island, a fisherman who washed up on the beach some weeks before. They've been keeping an eye on him, but he might be the spy. Judomaster then follows this new man and quickly finds him using a hidden radio to call his Japanese masters. But the spy reveals that his information is from Suzikawa, Rip Jagger's love, which drives Judomaster into a rage and he proceeds to beat up the spy. Then after a thorough drubbing the spy repeats his claim that Suzi is the spy. Judomaster confronts Suzi and she confirms that she is the traitor bit claims she had no choice but assist. The scene shifts to the sub where the Acrobat gets his orders to return to the beach and continue his battle with Judomaster. Suzi tells Judomaster that the Japanese have her brother captive and that the information she's been giving them is useless. Judomaster realizes that what they want is him, so he heads off to face the Acrobat and engages the raft before it lands on the beach, using a specific karate blow to sink the raft. Then Judomaster and the Acrobat continue their battle in the ocean each trying to gain the upper hand. Meanwhile the others who came across with the Acrobat are met by Bushiri and his men and soundly defeated. Then Judomaster and the Acrobat come onto the beach where the Acrobat attempts to use his wire-gun again, but prepared for the weapon Judomaster drags the Acrobat to him and knocks him down for the count. Tearing off his mask Judomaster discovers that the Acrobat is in fact Suzikawa's brother and that his kidnapping was a ruse. He declares his loyalty to Japan and is hauled away while Judomaster takes Suzi in his arms to comfort her.

Sarge Steel returns in Part II of File 112 "Case of the Village Moneyman" written by Steve Skeates, drawn by Dick Giordano with lettering by A.Machine. The installment begins with Sarge dodging a gunshot from the window of Bebe Summin's apartment and returning fire killing the gunman. Steel finds a typed note from Bebe asking him to meet her at the Cafe Long Spoon. Sarge playing a hunch goes to the newspaper morgue and does some research before meeting Bebe at the cafe. He finds her and a brief conversation in which she tries to get him to stop looking for her dad he says he won't give up the search prompting an attack which he fends off but then guns convince Sarge to follow the men to a a printshop where the mastermind of the operation is waiting. The villain is a guy named Jackson who Steel is familiar with and Sarge reveals that Bebe's dad is in fact already dead, which Jackson confirms. Bebe runs from the building in tears while Sarge beats down the thugs with his steel hand. Apparently making Bebe think her dad was alive was an attempt to create confusion among the federal authorities while the counterfeiting was underway. Sarge comforts Bebe as the story closes.

"Flips and Coutners with Judomaster" is a two-page offering with a eight letters. This is a lively feature this time. Much is made comparing Charlton's heroes to Marvel's heroes. Judomaster's top-knot comes in for criticism again as does Tiger. Sarge Steel's back-up is criticized but Giordano responds that 2nd-class mail regulations require a back-up feature in the book. The Smiling Skull is compared to The Red Skull, but Giordan indicates that when the Smiling Skull was created in Sarge Steel #3 that he didn't know anything about the Red Skull. And finally there is the announcement of the arrival of "The Big Red C", Charlton's own distinctive corner design which graces this very issue.

All in all a very solid issue of entertainment. The character development reaches a high with the revelation that Suzi's brother is now set up as Judomaster's arch-enemy. It's certainly something that would come into play later if the series had run longer. Tiger has very little to do in these issues and it's evident that he's being put on a back burner a bit, perhaps in response to letters, but more likely simply a lack of space and lots of characters to use. The appearance of the Big Red C along with the banner at the top of the cover with Judomaster's head and symbol really gives this comic a distinctive look that will really pop on a spinner rack.

This issue was reprinted in the late 70's under the Modern imprint.

More to come.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #8

Judomaster #95 is dated June 1967. The credits list Frank McLaughlin as the scripter, artist, and letterer.

This story almost seems to have two titles. Above a splash-page image of Judomaster being ensnared by The Acrobat is "Judomaster Meets The Acrobat" and below the image "The Plot to Destroy Judomaster". Both titles work well. The action begins in Japan where in a tournament among Japan's mightiest warriors is underway under the eyes of the Japanese leadership. Among the many warriors are Mountain Storm and The Cat. But despite The Commander's suggestion that Mountain Storm is the mightiest, his Excellency does not agree. Then suddenly Nazi troops appear and The Smiling Skull enters the fray. So all of Judomaster's past enemies vie for the chance to attack him again. Then at the last moment another contestant appears, a small man who says he is a circus performer. He is permitted to join the fight which has been reduced to the three previously named and he defeats them all with superior acrobatic skills. Then he demonstrates a wire-gun that attaches to distant surfaces and gives him a line which he is quite able to walk across and more. Cut to the island where Judomaster and Tiger and Bushiri's warriors are headquartered. A Japanese sub appears and a dark figure disembarks and heads into the jungle. The figure invades the group including Judomater, Tiger, Bushiri, and Suzi and offers up a challenge. He now wears a distinctive yellow costume and mask. Judomaster charges off to answer the challenge and a lengthy battle between the two begins. After many moves and counter moves Judomaster begins to gain a small advantage, but the Acrobat then uses his wire-gun to entangle Judomaster and defeats him. Then he heads out to sea and the submarine and escapes. Aboard the sub the Captain remarks that Judomaster will be most surprised to learn that Suzi, his love is in fact a spy for the Japanese. The stage is set for a rematch with The Acrobat.

"The Art of Stealth (Ninjutsu)" is a two-page feature by McLaughlin detailing the myth and facts fo the Ninja and identifying some of their tools.

Sarge Steel returns for Part I of File 112 "Case of the Village Moneyman". The script is by Steve Skeates, the art by Dick Giordano, and the lettering is by A. Machine. The story begins with Sarge on the ground having been attacked by a couple of thugs, but then he gets up and uses his steel fist to repel his attackers. The thugs did drop a name though, "Eric Summins" a name of a counterfeiter that Steel is familiar with. When he gets to his "pad" Sarge finds a beautiful young girl inside who turns out to be the Bebe Summins the daughter of the aforementioned criminal. Her dad has disappeared and she is being followed. Sarge becomes aware that someone else is in his apartment then a man attacks from the bedroom. Sarge defeats him and then drops Bebe off at the apartment of his secretary Bessie. He then begins the search for Summins checking out leads and various bars and dives. The next day he arrives in the office and Bessie is there saying Bebe slept in. Two CIA men show up and we learn that Sarge no longer works for the Agency full time. They tell him about new counterfeit bills that are surfacing and all agree that it is the work of Summins. When Sarge returns to his apartment he finds a note from Bebe saying "bugged out" and she will meet him at the Silver Spoon in the Village that evening. But Sarge finds evidence of a struggle and suspects foul play. What he doesn't seem to realize is that someone is pointing a gun at him through the window as the story comes to a close.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" offers up two letters this time, but lengthy ones. Tiger is seen as something of a problem by both writers and one brings up something Giordano has said in previous letter columns about not needing sidekicks. The sidekick dilemma is then discussed a bit and having someone for Judomaster to talk to solved several dramatic problems for the writers. Also there is an indication that the short martial arts pieces by McLaughlin will be phased out to make for longer stories.

And that wraps another issue of Judomaster. One really gets the sense of a rogues gallery in this issue with all of The Crimson Crusher's enemies on hand. I assume The Acrobat is set up to be Judomaster's opposite number, a common enough idea in these superhero tales. There does seem to be a larger scheme in play though, as the Acrobat's trip to the island didn't mean much save to antagonize Judomaster. I did like that the Japanese are concerned with the public relations problems the defeats by Judomaster have caused. As a practical matter a single man is of little consequence in a war of this scale, but a colorful hero succeeding against such great odds does make the whole appear feckless and weak. Nice touch on McLaughlin's part to add this element front and center.

More to come.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #7

Judomaster #94 is dated April 1967. The only credit is "McLaughlin" so I assume that Frank McLaughlin is again responsible for both story and artwork.

The story titled "Tiger Hunt" begins with a symbolic splash page featuring mirror panels one showing a real tiger closing in on a tethered deer while hunters wait in ambush and the other shows Judomaster tied to a post while his young partner Tiger comes to his aid and Japanese soldiers wait in ambush. The story begins where it ended with Tiger being picked up out of the ocean by Japanese troops led by Mountain Storm a massive Sumo wrestler who once before battled Judomaster. He is taken back to shore, meanwhile Judomaster leaves Bushiri and his men to swim back to look for Tiger. Tiger is tied to a tree, but using a Ninja trick he slips his bonds and escapes into the jungle much to Mountain Storm's chagrin. Tiger looks for a cache of equipment he and Judomaster has hidden on the beach previously and finds a camouflaged poncho and some other Ninjutsu tricks of the trade. He throws powder into the face of a soldier and escapes again into the jungle. The Japanese led by Mountain Storm and Commander Suzi look for Tiger but are unsuccessful and begin to imagine him to be almost magical. Judomaster meanwhile searches for his lost partner and falls into a pit trap set for Tiger. Judomaster is tied to a post by the Commander and set up as bait. Tiger shows up to help but gets himself snared in a rope and ends up dangling from a tree. The two are thrown into a pit and a real tiger is brought out and released from its cage into the pit but Judomaster using techniques of Karate striking demonstrated in a later text piece in this very issue knocks out the big cat. He and Tiger then use their nimbleness to escape the pit and knock the Mountain Storm and the Japanese soldiers into it. The reunited team then find a raft and paddle away from the dangerous island.

"Karate Man vs. The Bulls!" is a two-page piece by McLaughlin with Dick Giordano inks which talks about the power of the Karate hand strike and how endurance training in harsh weather. A particular master of Karate Mas Oyama is shown hewing off the horn of a bull which is charging at him.

Sarge Steel is back in Part II of File 111 "Case of the Devil's Wife" by the team of Joe Gill on scripit, Bill Montes on pencils and Dick Giordano on inks. Sarge and the kidnapped ambassador find themselves on an island prisoners of Satana the Devils Bride. She unleashes her hounds to attack Sarge but he throws the dog into the shark-infested waters. The Ambassador awakes and decrys the cruelty of the act and Sarge uses his gun to save the dog which comes out of the water shaken. Then Satana rides up on horseback with a lance and begins to chase the pair along with her men and more dogs. Sarge uses his jacket to confuse the horse long to escape momentarily. The Ambassadore indicates his attache has a bomb inside as they run from the henchmen. They head inside the house on the island where Sarge is at last able to call for assistance and gain the upper hand by dropping a rope over Satana. Holding her captive the pair shoot thier way out of the house as a helicopter comes to rescue them and carry them to safety along with the captured Satana.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" is back to one page this issue offering up three letters. There is some debate about the continued use of cliffhanger endings, some liking them some not. Also Judomaster's "top-knot" as Giordano prefers to call it is again criticized. The Peacemaker's name is mentioned with a plug given to the Pat Boyette series. There is a small boxed blurb at the bottom of the page announcing that fans should watch for the "All-new Adventures of Blue Beetle". The house ad does not yet show him, but only the other four Action-Heroes.

This is another really good issue. Tiger gets the bulk of the attention, though it is Judomaster who saves the day in the end. Tiger really comes across as very capable and confident even cocky in this story. He and Judomaster are a team of course similar to Captain America and Bucky in many respects. I have little doubt that the Timely team inspired the Charlton pairing. There is small evidence in this issue that Tiger is seen as a little boy anymore by Judomaster. This issue and the previous one were my first two Judomaster issues, and among the very first Charlton books I ever read. They then have a special place in my memory, but I'm happy to see that it's not only my nostalgia for these that make me remember them so fondly. These are really good comic book stories.

This issue was reprinted in the late 70's under the Modern imprint.

More to come.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #6

Judomaster #93 is dated February 1967. The story and art are credited to Frank McLaughlin and Dick Giordano is credited as the editor.

The story "Meet The Tiger" picks right up where the last issue ended. Judomaster and the young Japanese-American boy Rip Jagger has dubbed "Tiger" are on in the middle of a bombing raid scheduled by the Allies six hours after Judomaster entered the lair of The Smiling Skull, a Nazi spymaster. During a hand-to-hand battle with the Skull, Judomaster has been blinded by intense light. The scene shifts to a military hospital where Rip Jagger is in bed with his eyes bandaged. Around him stand Bushiri his trainer, Suzi his beloved, General Hawkings his commander, and the boy "Tiger". Rip is understandably depressed by his apparent blindness and requests solitude. Everyone leaves save the boy who overhears his hero bemoan his fate and confess he is of no use in the war effort anymore. The boy is heartbroken and confronts Rip calling him a coward then running away. He then goes to General Hawkins and volunteers to take Judomaster's place despite his age. Hawkins at first rejects him, but then thinks that making Rip think that Tiger is in fact going to replace him might snap Judomaster out of his depression. So Hawkins arranges with Bushiri for Tiger to go the island and begin training. Rip awaits the day the bandages come off and he is informed of Tiger's new role. The scene shifts to Tiger's training which lasts many weeks. Suddenly Judomaster appears and announces that he is back, his eyes have healed and he has a mission to take out an enemy gun site. Tiger having finished his training is given a costume similar to Judomaster's by the Sensei and the team of Judomaster and Tiger is born. They head to the island where the enemy gun is located accompanied by Bushiri and his marauders. They stealthily prowl the enemy lines, climb a great cliff and while Bushiri's men provide a distraction they attack the giant gun with Judomaster fighting the troops and Tiger placing the explosives. The gun explodes and both Judomaster and Tiger dive from the high cliff into the sea. Judomaster is picked by Bushiri but Tiger is picked up by a different boat, one containing Judomaster's old enemy The Mountain Storm. At this point the story ends.

Another feature is "The Kiai Shout" a two-page piece by McLauglin detailing the value of the shout during combat not only in judo but other forms such as fencing.

The Sarge Steel story by Joe Gill and artists Bill Montes and Dick Giordano in this issue is File 111 "Case of the Devil's Wife". Sarge Steel is driving through town and comes under gunfire by a pursuing car. He shoots back with special explosive ammunition and disables the enemy's car. He heads to the airport to meet Ambassador Bruyden but is met by a beautiful redhead who gives him a kiss which paralyzes Sarge. Meanwhile the woman and her accomplice take the ambassador away in a wheelchair. When Sarge recovers he and another agent Lowell Cade check into the woman and Sarge learns she is called "The Devil's Bride" and that she is an accomplished international blackmailer. Sarge threatens some other enemy agents with rough treatment if they do not give him the Devil's Bride's location but when he returns to his own apartment she is waiting. They struggle but her perfume paralyzes him again and he is taken by helicopter to an island estate where he finds Ambassador Bruyden who is carrying an explosive attache case. Sarge takes the Bride hostage but the guards prepare to release guard dogs on him as the story abruptly ends.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" features two pages and five lengthy letters. There is another by famous fan Bill Schelly and several that applaud the development of Judomaster and the addition of a letters page to the Charlton comics. And the idea of "Action-Heroes" is specifically referenced by Giordano as he talks about how Charlton wants heroes without powers (save for Captain Atom who has at this time been de-powered quite a bit) with an emphasis on training and equipment. This according to Giordano gives the line a great logic across the board, and a great realism. Giordano also talks about the advantage an artist has when he also writes a comic such as McLaughlin or Pete Morisi (PAM) and how much of Marvel's success was due to Jack Kirby.

This is a really outstanding issue of Judomaster. After several issues of preparation Tiger is at least unleashed on the reader and the series finally arrives at its mature state. McLaughlin's artwork is in top form at this point and Giordano's work on Sarge Steel is excellent. The sense of Judomaster being part of a larger Charlton Universe is enhanced by a wonderful house ad featuring the "Action Heroes". This is certainly one of Charlton's peak periods.

This comic was reprinted under the Modern imprint in the 1970's.

More to come.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #5

Judomaster #92 is dated December 1966. Frank McLaughlin's name is the sole name listed and I assume he again is responsible for both story and art.

"Judomaster meets The Smiling Skull" begins right where the last issue ended with the plane carrying Rip Jagger landing in Europe so that he can combat the spy ring he began investigating in the previous issue. Also still aboard that plane is the young Japanese-American boy who learned that Rip Jagger was Judomaster and who helped him in his battle with The Cat. Rip leaves the nameless boy with the MPs at the airbase but he slips away. Rip and his European contact follow a known spy but they are spotted and the spy runs away before being intercepted by the young boy who has followed Rip yet again. The spy captures the kid and uses him to escape. Intelligence reports allow Rip to discover the likely location of the spy ring as well as its leader a man named Rudolf Wolk, more infamously known as "The Smiling Skull". (Note: This villain first appeared in Sarge Steel #3 some years before.) Rip dons his Judomaster gear and is air dropped into the base where he is immediately intercepted by The Smiling Skull and his men. The Skull has heard of Judomaster's skills and wants a hand-to-hand duel with him promising him the safety of the boy and himself if Judomater prevails, but with the edge that bright searchlights will be used to diminish Judomaster's eyesight. The two struggle in the glare of bright searhlights, which continue to burn and in fact increase in number and intensity throughout the fight. Ultimately Judomaster knocks out The Skull, but he himself collapses in exhaustion. He is about to be shot by the Skull's men regardless of their bargain when bombs begin to explode around them all. He finds the young boy who he now calls "Tiger" but before they can leave Judomaster reveals that he has gone blind. With this revelation, the story ends.

The next feature is three pages and is titled "Judomaster's Sport of Judo". In this piece by McLaughlin Judomaster gives detailed instructions in the use of two moves, one called "Kubi-Nage" a head lock throw, and the other called "Tsurikomi-Goshi a lifting hip throw.

The back up is the second half of the Sarge Steel adventure by Joe Gill and Dick Giordano called File 110 "Case of the Double Agent". The story begins with Sarge and the spy Irena Dubaya on a military base where Dubaya is getting photos of the secure installation with a belt-buckle camera. Sarge is still pretending to be a double agent offering his services to the foreign spy ring. He tries though to turn Dubaya over to the Security chief of the base a Colonel Trask, but it turns out Trask is also a spy and having revealed his true colors Steel is forced to fight Trask saved from a bullet by his steel hand deflecting it. He knocks out Trask but Dubaya gives him a judo flip and gets him at gunpoint. Then Trask and Dubaya take Steel aboard a jet and overpower the pilots and steal it with the intent of dumping the bodies along with Steel's out the bomb doors. Steel frustrates Trask's attempts to seal him inside a bomb casing using his steel mitt and uses its single-shot .38 gun to do him in. He then uses the hands sleeping gas to overcome Dubaya and take over the plane landing it safely and handing the spies over to the authorties.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" offers up four letters, most complimentary of the comic to date, though a few are not happy with Judomaster's ponytail. There is mention made of the 25 cent comic Fantastic Giants. Of note is that one of the letters is from famous fan Bill Schelly.

And that wraps another issue of Judomaster. A few things are apparent at this point in the series. One that the stories will continue from issue to issue with a clear sense of continuity between tales. Also that the continuity will be more strongly enhanced between comic book series as the villain here The Smiling Skull is from another comic to begin with. This is clearly an attempt by Dick Giordano to build a line-up that feeds across titles and essentially develop a Charlton universe. There will be other examples of these attempts at continuity, some quite cleverly done.

More to come.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Showcasing The Nightmaster!

Somehow as a youth I came across the middle chapter of the Nightmaster saga from its tiny three-issue run in Showcase. Over the decades I've had a lingering interest in the hero, fueled by my appreciation of Berni Wrightson's artwork on that one story I read so very long ago. Also, Joe Kubert's covers for all three issues are incredibly dynamic and arguably are a good part of the reason I've lusted for these books so long. But when I went to find the back issues, I found them priced much more highly than I wanted to pay or I found them not at all. Recently I chanced across the final two issues with the Wrightson artwork for a decent price, but sadly I couldn't locate the initial installment with work by Jerry Grandenetti. 

For the record Denny O'Neil wrote all three issues. But I did find one a Mile High and it came yesterday along with some other treasures. This morning for the first time ever, I was able to read the Nightmaster saga all the way through. It held up pretty well. This is sometimes called the first Sword and Sorcery comic book. That's not true, but it does preceded the wave of S&S prompted by success of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian. With Conan, Kull, Thongor, Gullivar, Dagar, Ironjaw, Wulf, and a wave of others hitting the stands in the Bronze Age and beyond, the Nightmaster was forgotten. 

 The story is a bit more whimsical than I recollect, with a sense of irony clearly inspired by Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, who would soon enough get their own DC title. But it was neat heady blend of Tolkien and Burroughs and Leiber with a smidge of Howard tossed into the brew. Good stuff, not as full-bodied as most barbarian heroes, but neatly modern still after all these decades. I'd love to see these reprinted, but now that I have the originals at last, I don't really need that. 

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Down For The Count!

But not necessarily out yet!

My primary computational machine has come down with yet another virus. This is the third or fourth time (I forget) since I began this blog less than a year ago. It's a major pain, but until I can get something arranged things might be less active. I will not be able to keep up the Judomaster reports, but they will return when I'm back up at full speed.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #4

Judomaster #91 is dated October 1966. The story and art are by Frank McLaughlin. The issue picks up immediately after the events of the previous issue.

The Judomaster story this time is titled "Man Without A Country!" and begns with the "Crimson Crusher" (one of two nicknames used for Judomaster in the series, the other being "Scarlet Smasher") diving onto a junk in the harbor and finding it operated by beautiful woman, an agent sent to pick him up by General Hawkins following his escape from the Japanese. Her name is Sylvia Coates and she says she is the daughter of a missionary who was killed by the Japanese and so she works to thwart them. She takes Judomaster back to the island where he was trained and he is reunited with Suzi and his mentor Bushiri. They indicate they know that his role as a "traitor" is a ruse. Next we see Rip Jagger in General "Hawk" Hawkins office getting his orders for his next mission. That mission takes him to Wyoming to infiltrate a Japanese internment camp in which a security leak has been discovered to exist. Rip poses as a guard at the camp and quickly follows a young Japanese-American boy and finds "The Cat" a notorious Kendo master and a many of mystery who has his face hidden at all times. Rip discovers that secrets are being transported out of the camp by use of hollow chopsticks. The next day Rip finds The Cat all decked out in his Kendo rip, battling two opponents but using tricks to defeat them. Despite this the young boy clearly idolizes the The Cat. The Cat takes issue with Rip's criticism and strikes him and Rip challenges him to a battle that The Cat says must be to the death. The agree to meet early the next morning. Rip brushes up on his Kendo technique then puts on his Judomaster costume, all the while being watched by the young boy. He heads off to his duel with The Cat and the begin a battle that lasts through the morning. Finally the younster throws a rock that strikes Judomaster giving The Cat the advantage. The boy did it help his hero The Cat save face, but The Cat's merciless desire to kill his weakened foe makes the boy see the flaws in his hero and he helps Judomaster after Judomaster fends off The Cat's first attack. The battle continues for a few moments but The Cat falls from a cliff. His fate is somewhat unresolved, but I guess we are to assume he died. The boy admits his mistake and wants to go with Judomaster, but is denied. Later General Hawkins gives Rip Jagger new orders to break up an international spy ring and he flies off to complete his mission. But he discovers that the young boy has stowed away on the plane.

The second feature in this issue is the debut of Sarge Steel or really the continuation of that feature sliding from his own book into the back of Judomaster. There are no credits but the feature is certainly drawn by Dick Giordano and GCD says Joe Gill did the script. Titled the "Case of the Double Agent" this is File 110. It begins with Sarge Steel shooting an astronaut as he approaches his rocket. It turns out the victim was a foreign agent posing as an astronaut and he poisons himself before he can be questioned. Sarge knows that the spy was sent by Irena Dubaya, a dangerous foreign agent who just happens to have a bug on Steel and plans to take her revenge. She poses as a replacement secretary for Sarge in his Private Investigator office but he recognizes her and then decides to pretend to become a double agent offering to sell his services to the highest bidder. She eventually offers him a job as a double-spy but not before he has beat up a few of her thugs with his steel fist. She takes a photo of his first payoff and Sarge realizes he is playing a most dangerous game as the first part of the story ends.

"Flips and Counters with Judomaster" closes out the issue and it offers up three letters from fans. All are flattering, some more that others, but many ask about the design of Judomaster and its obvious connection to the Japanese Empire. The editors indicate they feel enough time has passed but they were nervous about the choice. Also included on this page is a biographical sketch of Frank McLaughlin who is called the "Creator-Writer-Artist" of Judomaster. A photo of McLaughlin is also shown.

You can feel that the series is getting itself together a bit in this issue. The characterizations are strong and the action is pretty dandy. There is a great full-page splash of the fight between Judomaster and The Cat. Overall you can really tell that editor Dick Giordano is wanting to give his Action-Hero books a distinctive if somewhat Marvelesque feel in their tone.

More to come.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #3

The saga of Sgt. Rip Jagger, The Judomaster continues in issue #90 of the run. The issue is dated August 1966 and the book is issued bimonthly from Charlton. And for the record a subscription for the entire year would be 70 cents. I miss the good old days.

There are no credits for this issue, but clearly Frank McLaughlin is at the helm on art and almost certainly on the scripting as well. The first story is titled "Judomaster...Traitor!!" and begins with another symbolic splash showing Judomaster on the radio in the presence of Tokyo Rose imploring his American comrades to surrender to the Japanese. Then we are told of a Japanese missle capapble of destroying any large city in the U.S. The story begins properly in the Pacific on the island where Judomaster first got his start as Rip Jagger is walking through the jungle looking for his guerilla comrades. He's attacked but it's Bushiri, his mentor who takes him to Sensei and the waiting arms of his apparent romantic interest Suzi. Then things get down to business as Sensei informs Rip that they have developed intel that will allow him to get to the missle and destroy both it and the plans for it. Bushiri takes Judomaster and some other island guerillas to the local Japanese airstrip where they overcome the guards and Judomaster steals a Zero which he uses to strafe the enemy then fly the missle location. Meanwhile a message is sent to General Hawkins who now confirms that he's aware of Rip Jagger's dual identity as Judomaster and also of a secret scheme to get information out of Japan, but a plan he hopes not to use. Judomaster uses the Zero in a Kamikaze run to blow up the missle while he parachutes out at the last moment.

In Part II titled "Tokyo Express" Judomaster steals a motorcycle, defeating some Japanese troops to boot, then motors off to the Japanese command post which he crashes. Using speed and surprise he catapults himself from the motorbike and crashes through a window into a meeting of Japanese generals where he finds the missle plans and burns them. His escape goes rather smoothly as he exits the buiding, locates his bike and heads off. But a bullet wrecks him and he has to fight off many soldiers until he is at long last knocked out and taken to the base commander who has a particularly beefy fellow beging beating the restrained Judomaster. There is this secret plan Hawkins had alluded to earlier but to make it work Judomaster must take a pretty severe beating which he does before he at last taken to another location on the base. There he is taken into a radio room where he meets Tokyo Rose herself and he pretends to turn traitor and implore the American forces to surrender. This is it turns out a coded message to Hawkins who knows then that the missle and the plans have both been destroyed and a counter attack can commence. Judomaster then breaks free from his captors and escapes. But his message has been heard by thousands of troops and they now believe that Judomaster has become both a coward and a traitor. That plot thread is left to develop in the next issue as this story comes to an end.

There are three additional features in this issue. The first is the initial instalment of "Flips and Counters with Judomaster" the proposed letters column. In this first one there is a message from Editor Dick Giordano asking for letters to fill up the column in future issues. He also hints of exciting new features to appear in upcoming issues.

This is followed by a two-page comics feature by Pete Morisi (uncredited but certainly him) titled "The Roof of the World - Where Thunderbolt Was Born" which gives information about the Charlton hero Peter Cannon The Thunderbolt and about how he gained his powers from intense training in the Himalayas among the monks there and from intense study of the Scriptures of Lamaism. There is the suggestion that any human can achieve these abilities with work and focus.

The text feature in this issue is really strange and it's titled "Melifera Asamsonii on the Warpath" and talks about how the world by ultimately be destroyed by insects, specifically Africanized bees. The term "killer bee" is not used but this is the same species. Also there's talk of super ants and of potential use of both bees and ants as weapons in war.

You can tell that the intention with Judomaster is to develop a hero with some aspects of the Marvel magic, essentially heroes with problems. Making Judomaster appear to be a traitor would appear in this issue to be a background story that will develop over time in the series. That will remain to be seen. There was less empahasis on the pure martial arts aspect of the series this time and more just plain rollicking action.

More to come.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #2

The second issue of Judomaster is numbered #89. That's because this issue, dated May-June 1966 is a continuation of another series Gunmaster which was actually a continuation of another series Six-Gun Heroes. If it's Charlton, you can be sure it's confusing.

The lead Judomaster story is in two parts. Part I is titled "Prisoner of War". Both story and art are attributed to Frank McLaughlin. After a symbolic splash with Judomaster battling a giant sumo wrestler in a prison camp, we leap to page two and story begins with Sgt. Rip Jagger being called into the office of General Hawkins. Hawkins asks Jagger to volunteer to go behind enemy lines and inflitrate a Japanese prison camp to rescue Captain Brian Miller who has unrevealed "valuable information". Of course Jagger volunteers and soon meets up with a Ranger unit who take him nearly to his destination where he allows himself to be captured and taken across the moat into the camp. There he meets the Commander of the camp, who turns out to be a Ninjutsu. Jagger meets up with other prisoners and discovers that Miller has malaria and hasn't been able to reveal any intelligence. He begins to plan the escape after he learns about Mountain Storm. Mountain Storm is a silent giant sumo who uses the prisoners as fodder in his fights to entertain the Japanese troops. Jagger arranges the escape and plans to settle the score with Mountain Storm.

Part II is titled "The Mountain Storm" and sees the prisoners continue to plot their escape by building makeshift devices. But the Commander gets wind of the attempt and calls everyone out on the field. Some prisoners slip off to begin the escape using inflatable bladders used by ninjas to walk on water. Meanwhile Rip Jagger becomes Judomaster and confronts the Commander and the Mountain Storm. The next several pages are taken up with precise martial arts action sequences with Judomaster ultimately getting the better of the Montain Storm while the escape continues. But the Mountain Storm has one card left to play, as his name is apparently also the name of a particularly powerful judo throw, but when attempts it Judomaster is ready and swings the giant onto his knee for a painful backbreaker. Judomaster then leads the remaining prisoners in an attack on the Japanese overtaking a machine gun tower and mowing down some of the enemy. He then overtakes the Commander and defeats him. The battle over Judomaster disappears and Rip Jagger returns to lead the former prisoners to safety. General Hawkins congratulates Jagger on a job well done and mentions Judomaster's role, and it is unclear how much he knows about Jagger's dual identity. The last scene shifts abruptly to the island where Judomaster was trained and a conversaiton between Bushiri and Sensei about how sad Suzikawa (Sensei's daughter) is that Jagger is gone.

The second story is titled "Self Defense" and is really a tutorial featuring Judomaster and he gives step by step instructions on breaking choke holds and doing leg sweeps and a hip toss that looks much the "Mountain Storm" move from the first story. Both story and art are again attributed to Frank McLaughlin.

The text story in this issue is titled "The Finger of Fate" and offers up specualtion about a moviemaker seeing the perfect performer in a dream and then taking steps to find that specific individual. That is compared to a Chinese Emperor from ancient times who also followed up on a dream to locate and put into place the ideal man to lead as prime minister.

This is a solid issue, giving Judomaster plenty to do and also taking a few moments in the action packed story to do a tiny bit of characterization with the potential love interest. The relationship between Hawkins and Jagger is also one that seems at this point ripe with potential. Mountain Storm will show up again in the series, and despite not having a single line of dialogue proved to be a most memorable opponent for Judomater.

More to come.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Judomaster Reports #1

I want to begin a detailed and long overdue reading of Charlton's Judomaster series. Judomaster is a character near and dear to my heart (as you can tell from my nom de electron "Rip Jagger").

Let's begin at the beginning.

There is no Judomaster #1. That would be far too simple a start for a Charlton hero. To find the debut of Judomaster you must look at a couple of books.

Charlton's Special War Series was a quarterly comic which featured sundry war stories. After three fairly typical issues the final installment, issue #4 bearing a November 1965 date is quite a bit different. On that cover is a vivid red and yellow figure and around is arrayed four images of that same figure displaying various martial arts skills. He is dubbed "America's Newest and Greatest Action-Hero!".

The story begins in Part I titled "Introducing Rip Jagger...Judomaster". The script is by the ubiquitous Joe Gill, Charlton's workhorse writer, but the artwork and concept are from the skilled hand of Frank McLaughlin. The story begins in June 1943 on a small island in the Pacific where a bunch of U.S. soldiers are fighting a "horde" of Japanese soldiers led by Major Yoku. We meet Sgt. Rip Jagger and PFC Al Cole as they stand watch. A figure appears in the night and Cole fires despite Jagger's warning. They hear sounds and Jagger goes out to check the victim and lift the body to his shoulder, but as attempts to return he comes under sniper attack by the Japanese who swarm the postion. Suddenly when all seems lost a bunch of mysterious warriors appear from the jungle with swords and dispatch the Japanese. Jagger is stunned and finds himself under attack and despite his considerable fighting ability is knocked out. He awakes in a cave among a group of fighitng men led by Bushiri who takes Jagger to his leader the Sensei an ancient master warrior. He discovers that the "body" he rescued was in fact the still-living daughter of the Sensei and he is among a group of dedicated island natives who want to drive away the Japanese. He learns his comrades from the U.S. are dead and so he throws in with the islanders. As Major Yoku continues to spread his tyranny Rip Jagger undergoes training under the guidance of Bushiri.

In Part II titled "The Dojo!" Rip Jagger continues his training and learns much about the discipline of judo including its emphasis on Renshindo (physical development), Shouibhuo (combat technique) and Shushinho (mental development). He proves a worthy and talented student, and even surprises Bushiri with his skill and speed. Eventually Jagger joins the islanders in an attack on the Japanese and is most effective, so much so that Sensei tells him that he has become a symbol for the islanders and so must wear a special costume to fully realize that role.

In Part III titled "Judomaster Is Born" Rip Jagger puts on his distinctive red and yellow costume for the first time and carrying only a bambook stick heads off into battle against Major Yoku, attacking his very headquarters. He then puts out a warning to Yoku that he will destroy three targets in succession. He attacks and destroys the Japanese oil depot, then the naval ammunition depot. During these two attacks he proves resistant to electrical shock. For the last target Judomaster has called in an American airstrike on the Japanese barracks and defies bullets to at last defeat Yoku. It seems his costume offers the skilled warrior near-superhuman protection against both bullets and electrical shock. With Yoku defeated, Judomaster stands tall waiting the next challenge.

There two other features in this comic. One is title "Sport of Judo" and is both written and drawn by Frank McLaughlin and in this three-page feature he describes judo, aikido, and karate with special emphasis on the mental requirement of all three.

The other feature is a text piece titled "Fight for Freedom" and tells the secret story of a heroic pilot named John Howard Mellon who went behind the Iron Curtain and rescued a defecting scientist.

And that is Judomaster's debut. It's a really exciting and action-filled issue. McLaughlin is a skilled martial artist himself and his moves are drawn with precision and accuracy.

Also available in November 1965 from Charlton was Sarge Steel #6. It's of note to Judomaster fans because Judomaster makes a cameo appearance (a talking head) in the back-up feature title "What Is Karate?" written and drawn by McLaughlin. It's a classic bit of cross promotion as the three-page feature offers up details about the martial art as if Judomaster were telling it to you. He only appears on the first page though there is a mention that his debut is on sale at that very moment.

More to come.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kull The King!

I've always liked Kull. Robert E. Howard's other sword and sorcery hero, the prototype to the much more financially successful Conan is at once the same and different from his more famous glowering brother-creation. He is a King, and with that comes age and maturity and a greater comfort with the supernatural than Conan ever displayed. Conan as King of Aquilonia is familiar with dark magic but it still makes him bristle, while Kull battling black magic always was opposed but never quite dismayed by it. Kull was a bit more learned perhaps than Conan, at least I always imagined it so. Kull's Atlantis was less barbaric by a small bit than Conan's Cimmeria maybe.

When Conan became something of a hit for Mighty Marvel they of course looked for more of the same. The published comics featuring Gullivar of Mars, Thongor of Lemuria, and even a few Brak the Barbarian stories. But far and away the most successful second banana to Conan was Kull who helmed his own series for several years, though it was a tough slog.

Kull debuted in Creatures on the Loose #10 in a short story adaptation featuring some luscious artwork by Berni Wrightson. Off that he got his own title with scripts by Roy Thomas and art by Ross Andru and Wally Wood. But that team didn't last as Thomas stayed a bit but the art was taken on by the brother-sister act of Marie and John Severin. Marie offered up some muscular pencils in the brawny Marvel style while John inked them in a way that evoked more classic comics like the work of Hal Foster and others. The synthesis of these two was remarkable and made for good comics. Gerry Conway took over for Roy after a short time (as he did on almost all the comics at some point) and Kull rumbled along with a hiatus here and there. The sale weren't great so a reboot was done bringing in Mike Ploog, but eventually even this lost momentum and Kull became a sidebar in the B&W line.

Dark Horse is now putting out those vintage Marvel comics and I've long wanted a good trade version of the great Serverin issues to sit alongside my Conans. And this one does that, though I have to say the artwork was not as clean as I'd have hoped. Maybe it's the original materials but the work seems a bit muddy to me compared to the other volumes Dark Horse has reproduced. The stories are still great though, and they offered up many fine moments of pleasure and dallied with the trade for a few days.

Good read, and recommended.

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