Monday, December 31, 2018

Karate Kid #4

Karate Kid #4 
"The Rage of Yesterdays Lost"
script by David Michelinie writing as Barry Jameson
art by Ric Estrada and Joe Staton
color by Carl Gafford
letters by Milt Snapinn
edited by Joe Orlando
cover by Ernie Chan (penciller) and Mike Grell (inker)
cover date: Sept/Oct 1976
review by Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage
dedicated affectionately to Glenn "Continuity Kid" Walker

I have had a bit of a problem turning my attention to reviewing the short-lived Karate Kid series from 1976-1978. Although I have access to all fifteen issues, I really have no interest in the odd way that the series was created and presented. I didn't really get into it until later into the run, after it gets its feet more firmly planted, as it were. And that is only speaking generally; as you are about to read (I hope) I have huge specific problems with Karate Kid #4 due to my life experiences with Japan.

So consider this long-winded introduction my apology for not getting to this series earlier. I promise to try to do a monthly review of Karate Kid to the page for the next year; at fifteen issues total that means this should work for the entirety of 2019. Now let's try to muddle through this particular issue where the greatest fighter of the 30th Century faces off against the menace of Master Hand!

This issue begins in The Future on a mining asteroid as four Legionnaires are battling a chromium-steel robot armed with sensors to detect and nullify super-powers. We know this because the Legionnaires are considerate enough to tell us. Suddenly, Karate Kid appears from out of the past and kicks the robot to death. Or something. Karate Kid flares up that his team-mates pulled him back to the present-day in order to save their lives because he doesn't have any natural abilities.....why, the ingrates. Oddly enough, Brainiac 5 is one of the Legionnaires who needed saving and he doesn't have any super-powers that the robot could have nullified, either. And I find it very hard to believe that Lightning Lad and Mon-El couldn't have found SOME way to destroy a measly robot. But, I guess the point of this scene is to establish that Karate Kid is currently living "in the past," so let's get back there, shall we?

Karate Kid returns to 1976 New York City just as a new terrorist calling himself Master Hand has taken students and teacher Iris Jacobs (and Karate Kid supporting cast member) hostage in their public school. Scene change to inside the public school, which is drawn as a five-story building. Now I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, so not the Big City BUT I have never in my life seen a public school with more than three floors to it. Talk about stretching the boundary of what's believable!
Karate Kid is gung-ho to rescue them (may I say "gung-ho" in a book about a
Caucasian karate master?) when the police of all people attempt to stop him. Enter NYC Police Commissioner Banner, who refuses to tolerate vigilantism in his city. He summarily orders Karate Kid off the premises. The whole point of this scene seems to have been a page of Karate Kid fighting the police and to extend the story another few pages.
Inside the skyscraper school we learn that Master Hand is a so-called "samurai" but was born without hands. He grew up in Japan with hooks instead of hands, a lowly bureaucrat slowly seething that Japan was becoming more and more Westernized. Finally, he had enough. He switched one of his hooks out for a samurai sword and came to New York to take little children and women hostage.
Master Hand's demand is for all foreign companies to dis-engage from "the Orient" within one month. If all western corporations refuse to do that, he will slaughter the class that he and his minions have taken hostage.
Okay, as Master Hand might say, chotto matte (= wait a minute). There is so much wrong about this origin story that I don't even know where to begin. Maybe I should mention that there is no such thing as a samurai class in Japan any more? What does exist is kind of like a Daughters of the Revolution thing? I mean, you know if your ancestor was a samurai, but you're a company executive or a lawyer or doctor or politician now. You aren't a samurai. Also, although I hate to say it, people in Japan who are different are not embraced. So if this man was born without hands, most likely he would have been hidden from society and kept away from city hall or wherever it is he worked. (This would have been a better origin story, but let's not go there.) And lastly, the argument about "westernized" Japan and "true oriental" Japan has existed in that country for centuries. Close to the events of this story, in 1970 Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima attempted to take over a Japanese military base, then committed suicide when he failed. Perhaps writer David Michelinie was thinking about Mishima when he plotted out this story? 

Later that night, (although we see and hear no more about any negotiations or what is happening to stall or appease Master Hand), Karate Kid stows away on a NYPD helicopter and drops to the roof of the skyscraper school. This boggles my mind for two reasons: 1. From years of watching MASH I thought that helicopters are totally aware of how much weight they are carrying, so stowing away on one is nearly impossible; and 2. Legionnaires have flight rings. Now I know that Karate Kid gave back his flight ring in an earlier adventure, but wouldn't he have to replace it in order to, you  know, maintain his membership?

It's scenes like this (and the earlier one with Brainiac 5 and the others) that make me feel as if Michelinie didn't really understand or trust his source material. Either that, or the editor didn't?

Moving on, we get a few pages of Karate Kid battling the henchmen on the roof, and then a quick take-down of Master Hand before he gets the, hand.... by threatening to gun-down his hostages unless Karate Kid surrenders. Karate Kid steps down, but makes a snide comment about what true honor is. Master Hand agrees to challenge him, winner take all. (Why Master Hand  didn't just tell his minions to shoot Karate Kid, I'm not sure. Maybe Karate Kid spoke about honor before Master Hand could give the order.)
We then get a few pages of Karate Kid facing off against a guy with a sword for a hand. Having faced Mano before it seems like Karate Kid would know how to dodge a weapon on the end of his opponent's appendage, but Master Hand actually manages to cut Karate Kid a few times.
Finally (!) Karate Kid defeats Master Hand. Totally beaten, Master Hand intends to swap his sword around and fall on it, but Karate Kid prevents his suicide.
As Karate Kid and Iris lead the children to safety (via an elevator, I guess?) Police Commissioner Banner is about to arrest Karate Kid when Special Agent Perkins from the Governor's office arrives, granting Karate Kid Honorary Police Officer status in the state of New York.
The art by Ric Estrada and Joe Staton is serviceable at best. The fight sequences are well staged, I guess, but nothing too exciting. Karate Kid is actually drawn to be somewhat Asian, which is surprising to me after reading so many stories where he's clearly a Caucasian. It's a nice change. In fact, the best bit in the book is when Master Hand sees how well Karate Kid can fight and says that he must have some Japanese blood in him. This characterization of Master Hand, at least, rang true to me.

The ending seems rushed and confused. Karate Kid embraces his Occidental moral set and saves Master Hand, rather than letting him commit suicide and saving everybody the trouble of incarcerating him and re-patriating him to Japan. I don't mean to imply that Karate Kid should not have saved him, but a quick, "You're alive, that's all that counts" spiel at the end proves that either the Kid doesn't know as much about Japanese culture as he thinks he does....or Michelinie doesn't. There should have been another "honor comes from fighting, and not giving up!" or something dialogue. As it's written, it is totally hollow and meaningless. And of course, we never see Master Hand again.

So that's the fourth issue of Karate Kid. Not much to it other than to give Karate Kid official status in the state of New York. We'll see if that helps him out in any way in the next issue!

Fights Per Issue:
30th Century Robot: 1 panel
NYC Policemen: 4 panels
Master Hand henchmen: 8 panels
Master Hand (initial): 2 panels
Master Hand ("to the death"): 11 panels
Master Hand (preventing his suicide): 2 panels

Science Police Notes:  
  • The appearance of the Legionnaires chronologically comes between Superboy/Legion #218 (Tyroc joins) and #219 (The Fatal Five returns).  
  • Master Hand was deported to Japan, where he was tried and found guilty, then probably incarcerated for the rest of his life (unless he actually managed to kill anyone during his attack; in that case he was executed). 
This issue has not yet been reprinted.


  1. I'm not from New York, so I don't know how common it is, but there *are* five-story public schools there. (Actually, there are even taller schools!)

    Stuyvesant High School:

    Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts:

    James Madison High School:

    Washington Irving Campus:

    And it's not in New York, but when I attended NJIT in Newark, Central High School was across the street (NJIT has since taken over the building, with the school now occupying a new building):

  2. Okay, I stand corrected, although....these you show are all HIGH schools. Iris works at an elementary school. But I agree that they may exist. How did kids get from the top to the bottom, may I ask...just stairs, I guess?

    1. True; those were what came up from a quick Google search, and I didn't feel like spending *that* much time looking into it. :) (To be honest, had I not seen the one in Newark in person most every day, I might have thought a 5-story public school was odd; my own home town didn't have any schools higher than two stories, though any expansions made were done *out*, not *up*, which isn't always an option in a place like NYC, I'd assume.)

      I'd also assume the NYC schools have elevators, but even if they're available for student usage, they'd be constantly in use, so most students would just take the stairs regardless. But I really have no idea, honestly.

  3. I have had all the issues of Karate Kid since they came out and have not read them since I bought them. I remember being excited about a member of the LSH getting their own comic and being let down when it was in current times and not in the future. One of the big reasons I love the Legion is the whole scifi setting and this series was very far removed from that. And the art was a bit of a let down as well. Especially with that wonderful cover to number one by Mike Grell and not being quite as magical looking on the inside. This whole comic could have been so much more. Ok, I am going on here, thanks for listening.

    1. You basically summed up my entire problem with this series. :-)
      There are good points but overall I think most would agree that this series had more potential rather than actual success.

  4. I'm gonna go out on a limb & say this issue just might be a tad racist. Just a hunch but I can't quite pinpoint where.....(sarcasm)