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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