Monday, April 30, 2018

Karate Kid #3

Karate Kid #3 
"The Revenger"
script by David Michelinie writing as Barry Jameson
art by Ric Estrada and Joe Staton
cover by Mike Grell
cover date: August 1976
review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker
Editor's Note: This is the third and last review of the 1970s Karate Kid series that Glenn Walker completed for the Legion of Super-Bloggers before his untimely death in December. Glenn was looking forward to reviewing this entire series, so had written up and prepped three full posts before he passed away.
We here at LSB could not imagine not using these wonderfully written reviews; not only as entertainment on their own, but also one last testament to our friend's talent and enthusiasm. ~Russell

As with the first two issues of this series, the cover is another beautiful work by then regular Legion artist Mike Grell. This one, darker than the usual Grell fare and hinting at what would come a few years later in his career with Green Arrow and Jon Sable Freelance, has Karate Kid in a meelee with the titular villain of this issue and an unnamed combatant. Also, Iris Jacobs is in her unfortunately usual damsel in distress position on the floor in the background. It's a cover that almost perfectly captures what this story should have been. I love this cover, and it should be noted that in every case, Grell has delivered what he was supposed to - a dynamic cover meant to sell the comic, and it's a trick that has worked every time so far. I really wanted to read this comic based on the cover. The truth inside is more than somewhat disappointing.

Our splash page is a riddle. For decades the first page of a comic or story, the splash page, was almost meant as a reaffirmation of the cover. Here's a great action scene to show you what excitement is to come. Curt Swan, one of the greats of Legion past was particularly good at this. But here, in Karate Kid #3, the splash page shows us Val and Iris waiting in line at the bank. Let me repeat that. Waiting in line at the bank.

Yes, that's our splash page, Iris teaching KK about money and banks in the 20th Century. He's gotten a Good Samaritan donation for saving the city from Major Disaster last issue, and Iris wants him to start a savings account so he can eventually get his own place. I did find it interesting and wondered what kind of house-guest Val was that starry-eyed Iris wanted him out of her apartment so quickly. Nevertheless this banking adventure really has a Schoolhouse Rock or "the more you know" vibe to it in its teaching opportunity. I almost wish it had gone further so I could see how the bank folks handle Val's lack of ID or Social Security number, but thankfully, that's when the super-villain of the moment shows up.

This is the Revenger, no, not the grisly 1980s anti-heroine by Chuck Forsman, but a one-shot throwaway villain who only appears in this issue of Karate Kid, but really, it could have been any comic. The Revenger is Dr. Norman Grimes, this we know because we're told, gotta love those Bronze Age caption boxes. He feels wronged by his company Universal Concept (yes, this is the seventies, the villains are corporate) who took his research in heavy metals and weaponized it. The lonely deranged scientist, whose only friends are the pigeons he keeps atop the UC building, seeks revenge by building himself a colorful costume, a bolo-whip weapon, and a power arm harness to wield it. And the Revenger is born, going after the banker, jeweler (?), and head executive who wronged him.

This cookie cutter villain and cookie cutter plot are the work of Barry Jameson, and there's very little Karate Kid here, in fact one could have inserted any mid-level hero into this story and it would have worked: Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Creeper, Blue Beetle, or Karate Kid. And even though we were promise David Michelinie this issue, we get his pseudonym, only this time without Paul Levitz collaborating, although he was associate editor at the time. I always found it curious that despite Jameson and Michelinie being one and the same, the letter column insisted they were two different people, with Jameson continuing on as regular writer while Michelinie pursued other projects. And they say comics companies never lie to readers…

Meanwhile, after getting slapped away at the bank by the Revenger, KK goes apartment shopping, and he and Iris find a 'quaint' place above Duffy's Bar. Iris merely serves as a cypher and a caption machine in this issue, helping Val with life in the 20th Century, as uninteresting as possible: generic, like much of this issue. When news of the Revenger's second attack reaches KK, there is a terrific sequence of him jumping from the apartment window to the street, props to Estrada and Staton for that, as well as the fight sequence on the way to the Revenger.

I did like KK's running across car tops, and the way a gang of looters try to take out the new guy in town. The fight is good, but KK seems a bit too comfortable with 20th Century slang trading quips with the bad guys like Spider-Man. His familiarity with some present day things, and obliviousness to others is far too uneven. Again, here, and with the landlady, this could be any hero, and not meant for Karate Kid. Was this a retrofitted Spidey story?

Karate Kid finally catches up to the Revenger in the final act for a last fight on the roof with his pigeons, where of course the villain loses his last bit of sanity and dies by accident saving the birds. Our hero has no hand in this tale and it all seems pointless. What does Val think at this moment? What does he do next? Much like getting a bank account, I wanted to see him explain this rooftop to the authorities. This was not good, on any level. And it was also the reason this comic was not very successful. There were far too many cookie cutter villains and cookie cutter stories. Even with the lettercol, featuring major LOCers of the day Bob Rodi and Scott Gibson giving high praise to the first issue, this was going to be a rough ride.

Next: Master Hand! 


  1. Why did Michelinie use the pseudonym?

  2. Revenger reminded me of Green Lantern villain The Crumbler -- both were more pathetic than really villainous, more to be pitied than hated or feared.

    I guess there was a thing where "let's show how the villains aren't really evil, just misunderstood losers who blame others for their problems" going around at DC at the time.