Monday, March 19, 2018

Karate Kid #2

Karate Kid #2 
"The International Dooms of Major Disaster"
script by Paul Levitz and David Michelinie writing as Barry Jameson,
art by Ric Estrada, and inks by Joe Staton,
cover by Mike Grell,
cover date: May-June 1976,
review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker

Editor's Note: This is the second of three reviews of the 1970s Karate Kid series that Glenn Walker completed for the Legion of Super-Bloggers before his untimely death. Glenn was looking forward to reviewing this entire series, and had enthusiastically written up and prepped three posts before he passed away due to illness in December of last year.  
We present the review to issue #2 to you today and will present the review of #3 next month. We do this not only as a  memorial of sorts to our friend, but also because they are so well written. To not use them seems like a monumental waste. We hope you agree. ~Russell  

This issue was actually the first issue of Karate Kid that I purchased off what was then a spinner rack in the Anning's 5 & 10 (now a specialty ice cream shop) in my home town. First I was stunned to see a comic titled Karate Kid. I think it was a sudden move from DC Comics, and they'd kept it a bit on the down-low from Legion fans unless you were really paying attention (which I must not have been). But here it was, a beautiful Mike Grell cover with Karate Kid protecting the United Nations and a redhead (always my favorite, so much so I married one) from the despicable and dangerous Major Disaster. The Legion fan in me had to have it.

As I mentioned in my review of the first issue of this series, this was actually my first issue of Karate Kid. If Anning's had had the first, I would have been all over it, as I was this one. A solo Legionnaire comic, yessss, and then there was the villain, Major Disaster. I had first seen him in a recent DC Special, which was a quarterly hodgepodge of themes, almost always a reprint book, in one called Earth Shaking Stories. The comic included tales of Captain Marvel facing an atomic fire that wouldn't go out; Superman facing off against Brainiac and Grax, the latter a villain who later menaced the Super Friends in their comic iteration; and Major Disaster, a foe so powerful, it took both Green Lantern and the Flash to take him down. Needless to say I was impressed.
Petty theft Paul Booker had accidentally stumbled across the secret identities of Green Lantern and the Flash, as well as the former's casebook. Using these secrets, and along with a variety of scientific devices that caused disasters, he embarked upon a super-villain career as Major Disaster. Later he would face GL again, and Superman and Batman, as well as the Justice League, before being turned into a laughing stock by Keith Giffen as part of the Bwahaha Injustice League. However Major Disaster, before Giffen, was a badass.

Now don't get me wrong, I love Keith Giffen, as he has been responsible for some of the greatest Legion stories, but when he tries to be funny as with Major Disaster or, say, the Legion of Substitute Heroes, I think it is usually to the detriment of the characters. I'm just going to say it, I really dislike his treatment of the Subs. I think, and I think all real Legion fans prefer the Subs as a serious auxiliary to the Legion, and not as a joke. There, I said it, and it may cause battle lines to be drawn, but it's how I feel.

Back on topic, Major Disaster to me, had never been a joke, so to put Karate Kid, whose 'super-karate' has often been discussed as not-really-a-superpower, against him was serious business. The Kid was seriously outmatched. And then I opened the comic to read it. It's really a hard call between the adult jaded me and the enthusiastic twelve-year old DC fanboy and Legion fan as to whether I liked the issue then, but let's just say, I continued to buy it for a while. I had been spoiled by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell in the new Legion adventures, and John Forte and Curt Swan in the reprints, so I hate to say it, but the team of Ric Estrada and Joe Staton were a disappointment to me. And the unfamiliar name of the writer, a Barry Jameson, did not fill me with anticipation either.

As it would turn out years later, Barry Jameson was a pseudonym, initially for the collaboration of both Paul Levitz and David Michelinie;  however,  that arrangement was only for this one issue. Barry Jameson, as only David Michelinie, would continue to write the Karate Kid series for seven more issues. Despite their later greatness, and I hate to say this, this is neither Levitz nor Michelinie's best work. The art does not help, but all that being said, this series does try hard, but suffers from not reaching its true potential and just being an adequate superhero comic.
After a brief reintroduction to Iris Jacobs, and a quick explanation of where and when Karate Kid is from, which she diligently and politely disbelieves, the Kid skirmishes with Major Disaster and his henchmen. The origin chat is intriguing as KK doesn't know what a comic book is, but does have a credit card from the future to show Iris. Notably Val's Uni-Charge card expires June 30th, 2948. Really? Aren't the Legion now (at that time) operating in 2976? Was this card expired before Val was even born? Is our hero really carrying around a fake ID, maybe to get into the go-go bars on Rimbor, while Jeckie is away with her folks on Orando? Yeah, Iris doesn't buy it either.
This first clash with Disaster and his men highlights the villain bringing a meteor down on the hero and Val smashing it to bits. It is a cool scene, more than a little telegraphed and predictable, but I dug it. When he fights the henchmen he demonstrates (or rather the writer does) some of his martial arts knowledge and even cracks wise like Spider-Man. KK is getting the hang of this. And afterwards, finally the media verifies that he is, in fact, Karate Kid from the 30th Century. One wonders if Metropolis newsman Clark Kent made the identification and put it on the newswire, as he would know. Bottom line, after that folks should stop calling him a Bruce Lee guy in kung fu pajamas.
This first fight is the one that counts because the next clash is weak and appears written in a rush, with both the laws of physics and any further martial arts finesse in evidence. Major Disaster has a machine that will send a shock-wave to destroy the UN building, plunging it into the East River. I can get behind that I suppose, I believe in men who can fly and women made of clay, but when KK stomps the ground and stops the shock-wave with his own…? Yeah, you lost me. Val is not Gorgon of the Inhumans, and despite us all wanting to believe, he doesn't have that kind of super power.
Major Disaster gets away (or does he?), and we don't see much of the red-shirted neo-Nazis, Nurike (sound it out), who hired him for a million dollars either. That alone puts a black mark on the motivations of a DC Comics super-villain, and I wanted more of it. We did get a couple interesting saves of Iris Jacobs, and while they were cool, they only cement the character more as a damsel in distress, and a meddling love interest. Notably, KK is still oblivious to any of it, only looking for a place to stay.

What we have here is half a good comic book, and no, I won't even guess which of the writers wrote the good half, but as last time with this series, this could have so much more, and wasn't. As an interesting side note, the letters column tells us that Barry Jameson is only with us for this issue, straddling the distance between Paul Levitz last issue, and, wait for it, David Michelinie in the next issue. Can't wait to see how that works out.

Next: The Revenger! 

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