Monday, May 20, 2019

Karate Kid #9

Karate Kid #9 
"The Black Belt Contract!"
script by David Michelinie writing as Barry Jameson
art by Ric Estrada and Joe Staton
edited by Denny O'Neil
cover by Al Milgrom
cover date: August 1977
review by Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage
dedicated affectionately to Glenn "Continuity Kid" Walker

In typical mid-Seventies fashion, we start this story on the docks, after dark, with two shadowy characters in trench coats, one an Angry Black Man and the other a debonair White man, discussing underworld activity. An episode of SHAFT? Perhaps it's BARNABY JONES (a Quinn Martin production)? No, it's the newest issue of Karate Kid. 

Pulsar, the would-be assassin from last issue, has called out his boss, Kade, and told him, again, that he refuses to do any more killing for him. Since this exact scene played out last issue, I'm not sure why Pulsar expects to get a different decision this time? Clearly, this is here for any new readers to understand that Pulsar is a reluctant killer. In fact, Kade presses the remote control device that is somehow linked to Pulsar's heart, nearly giving him a heart attack, to demonstrate his full control over him. Chagrined, Pulsar agrees to kill again. This time, the target is Karate Kid!

At Karate Kid's apartment, the story continues directly from where we left off last issue: Princess Projectra has travelled to 1977 from the 30th Century in order to check up on her boy-friend. In doing so, she found him being kissed by his local friend, Iris Jacobs. The two women get into a very catty argument over Karate Kid, until Pulsar blasts at him and attacks. This is a very dramatic situation, and toes the line between serious and comical very well. We understand how Karate Kid is keeping secrets from both of these women, and I for one appreciate ratcheting up the tension here. From a story-telling point of view it's nice that this scene was interrupted by Pulsar; on the other hand, how in the world did he know where Karate Kid lived? 

Karate Kid propels Pulsar out of his apartment and then dives out the window to follow after him. Because this series is called Karate Kid and *not* Legion of Super-Heroes, he orders Princess Projectra to stay behind to protect Iris as he chases after Pulsar alone. I'm not sure I'm a fan of this incident, as it has been established several times how powerful Princess Projectra can be. She could theoretically make Pulsar think he has already defeated Karate Kid, allowing him to lower his defenses and be taken down for real. That would have given us twice the amount of fight sequence that we actually get. It wouldn't have allowed Karate Kid to be captured, though, which is the point of the plot. So again, the super-heroine is side-stepped in order to move the story in the direction the (male) writer wants it to go. 
Karate Kid IS defeated by Pulsar, but instead of killing the Legionnaire Pulsar brings him to Kade's office. Pulsar wants to negotiate for his freedom: he will hand over Karate Kid in exchange for the heart attack inducing remote control device. Kade refuses the offer, revealing that he has kidnapped Pulsar's wife. Surprised by this announcement, Pulsar is knocked unconscious by one of Kade's thugs. 
We then return to Princess Projectra and Iris Jacobs, who, in true adult fashion are having a heart to heart about how they both need to not link their self-image to that of a boy....oops, nah, that isn't what happens. They are sitting around NOT speaking to each other when Karate Kid's "television," which Projectra knows and recognizes as a 30th Century monitor globe, turns on and her father appears! 
By the way, may I just say that I'm not a fan of this page layout? I don't understand the need for the third panel to be vertical. It seems to me that the second panel (Projecta is shocked) could just as easily have been moved next to the first panel, and the third panel could have been horizontal. That would potentially have given us Iris Jacobs' reactions to the monitor globe turning on, too. Am I the only one who notices things like this? 

Pulsar wakes up after he and Karate Kid are chained into a large microwave oven chamber. Kade, on the forefront of new technology, has bought a new microwave cooking chamber for his restaurant and is now about to microwave his two antagonists to death. Now, when this story was written more than 40 years ago microwaves were a brand new thing and not really understood by the average user. Kade explains that microwaves are sound-waves that will heat them up, but "sound-waves" is a poor choice of words. Microwaves are actually similar to radio or broadcast waves that heat things up by vibrating the molecules of the food from the inside. (And yes, I know this is an over-simplification. If you are genuinely interested in how microwaves work, check out the Explain That Stuff page.
Any-hoo, the idea that the oven chamber where Pulsar and Karate Kid are chained up is actually heating up is, of course, false. The two young men are shown to be sweating as if in a sauna, but the truth is that they would be in intense pain from the heat INSIDE them, not from heat in the chamber. And let's just assume that all of the hooks and chains shown to be in the chamber are made of microwaveable plastics, okay?
Still, the idea that they would be killed if left in the chamber is still true. As Karate Kid tries to think of a way out of their predicament, Pulsar tells us that he was originally just a thug working for Kade when he had a mild heart attack. Kade paid for his pace-maker to be an experimental atomic heart. This also gave Pulsar increased strength and the ability to expel pulse blasts when holding his conduit staff. 

Karate Kid has strained against the conduit staff Pulsar used to bind him, and he finally succeeds in bending it, propelling him against the door with enough force to break it down. They rush out of the chamber to confront Kade and free Pulsar's wife. 
Kade, however, still has the remote control device and he pushes the self-destruct button, meaning that Pulsar's atomic heart will now overload, causing a huge explosion. Karate Kid, being the hero of the book, manages to take Kade down, grab the device, and stop the process. Pulsar gladly surrenders to the police to pay for his crimes. This conclusion seems a tad trite, but the lack of motivation from Pulsar was realistically portrayed, so the denouement where he vows to give up his evil ways seems possible. These last few pages are probably the best part of the book, as we see that Pulsar is trying to escape from his fate in the only way he can think of. 
Karate Kid returns to his apartment, where he meets the frantic Princess Projectra and the confused Iris Jacobs. They have been honestly talking about their individual experiences and how they are both in need of "image fulfillment" that they are looking for through their association with a boy. Oops, no, that isn't what happened at all. They sat in silence, not choosing to be pro-active at all, waiting for the protagonist of the book (and their lives?) to return. This book is another example of how women supporting characters are often not given anything to do. If you were Princess Projectra and your father had called your boyfriend and left a garbled message, would YOU have sat on the couch and done nothing? I don't think so. That's a bad characterization for a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 
Our Hero, upon his return,  accesses the monitor globe and all of them hear the garbled message from King Voxv, asking for Karate Kid's help in saving his kingdom. Karate Kid vows to return to the future. 
To Be Continued----!  

Fights Per Issue:
Pulsar vs Karate Kid : 9 panels
Pulsar vs Kade's gang: 1 panel
Karate Kid escapes: 3 panels
Pulsar and Karate Kid beat up Kade's gang: 3 panels
For all the talk on the letters' page about this being an "action" book, there sure seems to be a lot of talking going on. Every issue's FPI (Fights Per Issue) ratio is pretty low.

I have mentioned every issue the preponderance of "bird's eye view" panels by Ric Estrada; you can see just by the pages I reprinted in this review that he is still doing it, so I won't waste more time by mentioning it again. His cartoonishness seems to be at a minimum this time out, although there are a few spots where Pulsar, as an African-American, seems to be drawn with a flatter nose or bigger lips than the Caucasian slash Japanese-American characters.

Karate Comments: 

Science Police Notes:  
  • Although Carl Gafford is credited as the colorist, no letterer is credited for this story.  
  • Pulsar's secret identity is Ben Day. His wife's name is Liz.  
  • Princess Projectra's appearance chronologically falls between Superboy/Legion #229 (when assumedly she and possibly he attended Chemical King's funeral) and #231 (when she and Karate Kid are enjoying time together in the future). 
  • This is the last issue with art by Joe Staton. He will later draw Karate Kid again when he becomes the Legion artist with Superboy/Legion #243.
This issue has not yet been reprinted.

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