Or – “The Older I Get, The More I Miss The Old Legion…”

With the recent return of the original Karate Kid (no, not Mr. Miyagi’s protegee Danny), Stephen mentioned that I was probably “frantically writing a post about Karate Kid in all his incarnations in the Legion of Superheroes.”  Well, I have to admit that until he mentioned it, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me.  After all, this is a Legionnaire we’re talking about, I said to myself.  In this, the machine age, there’s certainly a Wikipedia somewhere that’ll cover Mr. Armorr and do him justice.  “Wrong-ola,” says the Internet, “and also, your shoes are cheap!”  (That darned Internet always knows my weaknesses.)  Nobody has anything of the sort, not even a suitable blurb.  Indeed, all the information I could find dealt with the reboot versions of Karate Kid, both versions of whom are interesting, but don’t have the sheer versimilitude of the original, Pre-Crisis version.  My “frantic writing” ended up taking most of the week, (though two days of that were spent combing my collection for the relevant issues), but in any case, I found what I felt was necessary.  As the man who once made an argument that a clay dinosaur was the psychological equal of Samuel L. Jackson, I feel absolutely qualified to show why Karate Kid should be among your favorite heroes.  Thus, I bring you our inaugural version of Major Spoilers’ Hero History…  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Val Armorr of Earth… Karate Kid!



The story of Karate Kid properly begins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a young lad named Jim Shooter.  Shooter was only a teenager (reportedly 13 years old) when he first pitched ideas by mail to Mort Weisinger, the editor of the ‘Superman’ titles, including the Legion’s appearances in Adventure Comics.  The young man impressed ol’ Mort (though I’ve read reports that Weisinger was doubly hard on the boy to his face, while talking him up to the OTHER writers in his stable), and Jim’s first story ran in Adventure #346, appearing in the summer of 1966.  Shooter’s first script did more in 20 pages than some scripts do in 12 issues, including taking the opportunity to debut FOUR new members, augmenting the Legion’s powerset with the psychic illusions of Princess Projectra, the bizarre “Anything You Can Do, I Can Mess It Up For You” one-upsmanship of Nemesis Kid, and the brute strength and invulnerability of Ferro Lad.  Nemesis and Projectra provided powers that no other Legionnaire could, and Ferro Lad, while sharing some powers with the Legion workhorses (Superboy, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and occasionally Supergirl) was seemingly created with his eventual heroic sacrifice in mind.  All these were interesting, but not as interesting as the way the fourth recruit chose to introduce himself to the team…


This is known as the “Testicular Fortitude” school of resume writing.  It was 1966, mind you, and everyone on the Legion was trustworthy, loyal, brave, and best buds with one another.  This kind of forthrightness (bordering on the contentious and rude) was absolutely unheard of in The Legion.  Now, due to the events of the Siegel lawsuit, DC no longer has the rights to the name “S—-boy,” so we’ll refer to the gentleman that KK called out as “Tom Welling.”  ‘Tom’ flies down obligingly, but can clearly tell that this kid is nothing more than a human being from Earth, and is hesitant to, y’know, crush his skull like an eggshell?  Karate Kid’s stated super power is “Super Karate!!!!” but the thing that really constitutes his unique ability is his tenacity.  How driven is Val Armorr?  How does full-frontal-attacking a Kryptonian grab ya?


Once upon a time, I filled the time at my latest dead-end job by writing a series of pop-culture regurgitations called “The Back In The Day Cafe,” in which I awarded Bad Motha F@#%a wallets (ala Jules Winnfield)�to deserving candidates, and I’m frankly ashamed not to have thought of Val.  And when I say he punched a Kryptonian, we’re not talking about the current “Struggle To Push the Moon Back Into Orbit” Kryptonians, either.  This is a full-blown Pre-Crisis fly-through-the-sun-to-clean-my-cape, effortlessly-carry-a-red-sun-on-your-shoulders, make-a-rock-so-big-that-he-himself-can’t-lift-it-then-lift-it-anyway mega-freakin-powered superhuman under a yellow sun taking on one scrawny kid from Earth.  You think you know how this fight’s gonna go, right?  Wrong.


‘Tom’ eventually gets the upper hand and remembers that the ‘S’ on his chest doesn’t stand for France, but Karate Kid has sufficiently impressed the assembled Legionnaires to immediately be voted to full membership, something more powerful heroes like Polar Boy, Fire Lad, Stone Boy, and Plaid Lad had failed at.  Unfortunately, among the four new heroes, there was a traitor, and the gaze of the Legion turns to the taciturn martial arts master.  Things are not helped by the standoffishness that comes with his individuality, and the fact that they find him in THIS rather compromising situation…


When ‘Mr. Welling’ yells for “Kid” to come out and admit his complacency, Karate Kid turns and says nothing…  while the too-stupid-to-be-a-mastermind Nemesis Kid steps forward to admit his guilt.  Luckily, ‘Tom’ has deux ex machina powers and rebuilt a defense tower at super-speed, leaving Karate Kid to heroically leap onto the aliens flagship and subdue them with his bare hands.  After Nemesis took his leave and Ferro Lad sacrificed himself to save the world, Karate Kid and Projectra found themselves growing closer. � A few years later, he would recieve an upgrade to his costume, courtesy of the brilliant Dave Cockrum, giving him the appearance he has on the JLA preview cover, also seen here…


It’s worth noting that unlike the Michael Turner cover, he has a NECK.  Long-time girlfriend Projectra’s new uniform is likewise much better, and works as one of Cockrum’s most unique and sexy uniforms.  It showed a ton of skin, yet somehow kept her regal nature intact.  The romance between the born-to-her-powers-and-station Projectra and the rough-upbringing Val was one of the Legion’s longest, and we learned more about Mr. Armorr during this period as well.  His father was the Black Dragon, a legendary 30th Century Crimelord who learned a mastery of martial arts on the cut-throat backwoods planet Lythyl, while his mother was a heroic secret agent who was killed for trying to hide the Son of The Dragon.  Val was raised by Sensei Toshiaki White Crane, and was able to become as skilled as his father, while maintaining the heroism that characterized his late mother.

KK7.jpgIn order to prove himself worthy of the hand of the Princess, he arranged to spend a year in the past, in a primitive and backwards time…  we call it “Now.”  Or at least we did, thirty years ago.  How do we explain that the man from the future who was created in the 60’s went back in time 1000 years to 1975 which is 32 years ago?  It’s probably best to just move on.  It’s also interesting to note that Karate Kid’s genesis predated the Kung Fu craze of the early 70’s by several years, but when that craze finally did break wide open, Val recieved his own series.  He fought a number of bad guys (including, ironically, future Justice Leaguer Major Disaster), and actually managed to have a pseudo-romantic interest in one Iris Jacobs, later the supervillain Diamondeth.  He even teamed up with The Batman (which may account for why Bruce Wayne’s Batcomputer had a sample of the genetic material of a man who wouldn’t even be born for 1000 years), and his entire team met the Justice League and Justice Society during one of their annual crossovers.  Karate Kid did return to the future, and did finally ask for the hand of Princess Projectra, becoming one of the earliest Legion couples to marry (predated, I believe, only by the weddings of Bouncing Boy & Duo Damsel and Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl).  The wedding was also marked by the appearance of ‘Tom Welling’ and his cousin ‘Helen Slater,’ both of whom had been persona non grata in the Legion for a few years (this issue was very well-drawn by a pre-Watchmen Dave Gibbons).  ‘Tom’ proves that having a super-brain doesn’t mean you’re not an idiot…


Val’s robe by Liberace XVII of the planet Effemina 2.  Of course, nothing goes quite as simple as that when you’re in the Legion, and after some (non-Karate Kid related) Legion combat, the wedding goes off without a hitch.  The Legionnaires, being out of the then-current timeframe, had the ability to actually grow and change, and the huge cast allowed for the full range of life experiences (such as Ferro Lad and Invisible Kid’s deaths, or the aforementioned weddings, even the various changes that have captured Timber Wolf).  Karate Kid finally got the brass ring, escaping the curse of his “Freshman Class” and earning the hand of the Princess he could have only imagined growing up…


It’s always nice when you see a character make an arc, from tyro, to suspected traitor, to respected veteran, to happily married consort of the queen.  Unfortunately, his escape from the “Curse of The Class of ’66” was not a permanent one.  Karate Kid’s next meaningful appearance came only a year or so later, as the worst Legion menaces of all time came together and took a page from their foes books by banding together.  Lightning Lad’s elder brother was one of the founding minds, as well as the nefarious Nemesis Kid, and their stated goal was the conquering of the universe.  To that end, each member of this “Legion of Super Villains” chose a Legionnaire to kill.  For some it was easy (many of them had parallels to existing Legionnaire, such as Lighting Lord & Lightning Lad), but for Nemesis it was a foregone conclusion:  he targeted the man who undermined his initial evil scheme, those many years ago.  In Val’s defense, he was only one of many Legionnaires captured, including the much-more-powerful Element Lad & Ultra Boy, as well as retired member Light Lass.  It’s telling that when Light Lass escapes, only�Val has the fortitude to remain conscious and talk to her…


In the Legion’s darkest hour, with Projectra’s entire planet of Orando under Super Villain control, with the entire Legion under siege, Val knew he had to act.  Straining against his bonds, unsuccessfully, he pushes to the breaking point.  For a moment, Projectra is afraid her beloved is dead…


Only Karate Kid could act, freeing his teammates, and turning the tide (along with a little help from Light Lass after the return of her lightning powers).� Unfortunately, the villains had used the Earth’s stolen powerspheres�to teleport Projectra’s entire planet into another dimension, so even once free, they were adrift, and were targeted by the LSV.� Ever the opportunist, Nemesis Kid used his powers to develop the perfect fighting skills to take out his anger on the man he hated, mocking Val’s years of training, laughing smugly that he could better those karate skills with just a flex of his superpower…


Nemesis Kid’s attack�is brutal, cowardly, and inexorable, but Karate Kid refuses to fall.� Even past the point where he�believes he is�going to die, Karate Kid fights on.� All seems lost, and Val makes�the decision to die in combat, with honor, against one of his oldest foes, the man who tried to mark Karate Kid as a traitor with his own treachery.� Only the desperate cries of his wife�are able to�penetrate the Kid’s iron will and�the pain of his injuries.


His injuries so severe that they can’t even BE SHOWN in a comic printed in 1984, Val�realizes he only had a few minutes left.� Ripping his own flight ring from the venomous Nemesis’ finger, he does the last thing he can…


The destroyed powersphere signals the end of the Villains plans, but they still outnumber the Legionnaires.� Karate Kid’s sacrifice is a horrifying and galvanizing moment, but it’s effect is most obvious on Projectra.� With Val’s death,�Projectra acts as though her late husbands’ legendary determination was�passed to her, and she brings her full powers to bear on Nemesis Kid.


He ignores her illusions, but something in her eye shakes his resolve…� Nemesis is stunned, surprised at the ferocity he sees there, and he staggers back.� It’s a testament to the man that she loves that he could generate this level of loyalty and�vengeance.� Jeckie, long considered to be a lightweight ‘point-a-finger-and-pose’ kind of Legionnaire, shows Nemesis exactly the consequences you face when you�kill the consort of the Queen of Orando.�


From a story-telling perspective, this is an interesting choice: panning away from the killing of Nemesis Kid by panning to the already-dead body in the foreground.� Part of me fails to see how that is any better than just showing the death, but it’s a pretty powerful moment nonetheless.� The Legionnaires triumph over the Villains, and Karate Kid’s sacrifice made certain that he was the only one who had to die.� Though his strength and his resolve are obvious, one of the less-understood pieces of Karate Kid’s personality was seen a little over�a year later, when the reading of his�last will and testament�sent teammate and friend Timber Wolf on a personal mission of redemption…� to the planet that claimed�KK’s father’s soul, Lythyl.


For all the things we know about the Kid, it’s worth noting that he has an interesting sense of both poetic justice and humor.� Among the legends of Lythyl is an interesting piece of lore, something that underlies the legendary toughness of the corrupt planet of battle…


Okay, that’s funny and poetic.� Kind of like a filthy haiku.� I have to�give Karate Kid credit, though,�his last wish�at least helped to balance some of the evil done by his father, and done TO his father by the criminals and lowlifes of Lythyl.��The Crisis on Infinite Earths affected the Legion strangely, but even so, Karate Kid’s sacrifice stayed intact and meaningful, inspiring a second man to bear his name (this second KK even joined Cosmic Boy’s Substitute Legion), and acting as an inspiration to his teammates.� When Mordru wanted to demoralize the Legion (including special guest-star Projectra) he made them fight the one thing that they couldn’t bring themselves to bring their powers to bear against…


…their own honored dead.� The corpse of Karate Kid makes a small, but powerful appearance here, and Jeckie is forced to overcome her own fears and realize that Val was more than just that decaying body, and to realize that whatever that unknowable something was, it’s gone.� Even in death, Karate Kid remained a teacher and a hero, two very honorable goals, either one of which would be impressive enough.� After the�various reboots, Val kept returning (though usually much more Asian in appearance, which may say more about 1966 than about his creators), and currently is a member of the active Legion of Super Heroes in their current title.� It should be noted, however, that the costume we’ve seen on that JLA cover isn’t the current Legion’s Karate Kid, but the original, Dave Cockrum designed awesome gi-type uniform.� As we roll our credits, we have a look at some of the various Karate Kid’s uniforms, and a remembrance of the man who punched out a Kryptonian for his first trick, but refused to rest on those laurels…� Val Armorr, The Karate Kid.


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. TomGrice
    April 16, 2007 at 9:25 am — Reply

    Great job man! Your knowledge of the Legion is truly astounding! I bow to your superior art.


  2. April 16, 2007 at 12:26 pm — Reply

    Well, thank ye… Presuming that I have the time and energy (and, y’know, assuming anybody READS ’em) these could be a recurring feature. Anybody have any favorites they’d like to see in this semi-format?

  3. April 16, 2007 at 12:34 pm — Reply

    I just realized that Projectra was a Queen, and not a Princess when they married, making him The Karate King.

  4. April 23, 2007 at 2:36 pm — Reply

    That was cool. You did, however, leave out a couple of good parts, like KK kicking Darkseid in the face, throwing Colossal Boy through a wall, or the story I talked about here:


  5. April 23, 2007 at 2:40 pm — Reply


    I may have to turn in my Fanboy license… Shaaaame.

  6. June 4, 2007 at 2:44 pm — Reply

    Interesting. Stephen King used the name Jim Shooter for his main character’s nemesis in The Dark Half. Do you suppose that was a deliberate nod to the Legion scripter?

  7. June 4, 2007 at 3:16 pm — Reply

    I’d say yes… especially since that particular kid grew up to be editor in chief of Marvel Comics for over a decade.

  8. ron hamilton
    June 21, 2007 at 2:55 am — Reply

    Thanks for all your info on KK. I’ve become intriqued with the character with the lastest storyline in the JLA “The Lightning Saga.” Anyone who could beat on Batman like that and have Batman closest friend Superman rate him above the DarkKnight needs to be appreciated. Brad Meltzer has done a great job with this version of the KK, explaining that KK REAL POWER IS FINDING THE WEAKNESS IN ANYTHING. Not some super karate.

  9. July 19, 2007 at 3:22 pm — Reply

    Impressive work Matthew. Can i get permission for using some images and some info for a profile in another website.

    I publish everyweek a small profile of one of the main characters in Countdown, and i wanted to do one this week about Karate Kid.

    The site is in Spanish so we dont compete for the same public, and of course i will give you credit and also put a link to this site on my profile.

    You can check the forum here


  10. July 19, 2007 at 3:49 pm — Reply

    Well, the actual intellectual property is DC’s, so as long as you link to Major Spoilers, and don’t just translate this Hero History over, I don’t see a problem…

    Any thoughts, Stephen?

  11. July 19, 2007 at 4:04 pm — Reply

    No problem, i will write my own article but using some references form here. I need to get info on internet because most of the legion books were never published in my country. Just the last part of Giffen run and of course the moder Waid Reboot.

    Thank you again for the article, i never saw before the death of KK I. And it look really impresive. I have been waiting for a Legion print here for years.

  12. Randall Amos
    July 30, 2007 at 2:20 pm — Reply


    Would you be interested in knowing who created the The Karate Kid and the other members of issue 346 before they got into Jim Shooter’s hands?

  13. July 30, 2007 at 11:50 pm — Reply

    Sure… I’m always interesting in the minutiae of comic history.

  14. Randall Amos
    August 8, 2007 at 5:41 am — Reply

    The real story of The Karate Kid goes back to early 1966. My brother and I created 4 characters and sent them into DC in hopes of receiving a free subscription to Adventure. A few weeks went by and we receive a letter telling us a new Superman animated show would debut in the fall…that was it. We were really surprised when we went to the comic stands and found our creations on the front of the Adventure issue 346.

    The only change in names was Iron Lad became Ferro Lad, the others were exactly as we named them and described them, including their powers.

    So, Jim Shooter’s rise to fame and child prodigy status all came at the expense of ideas “borrowed” from a 12 and 11 year old.

  15. Wanderer
    September 10, 2007 at 1:54 am — Reply

    Actually, marrying a queen doesn’t make you a king; that’s why Queen Elizabeth was married to Prince Phillip, after all. So he wasn’t Karate King; just a Karate Konsort.;)

  16. steve
    October 2, 2007 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    you know, he almost looks like Kenshiro form fist of the north star when he was fighting nemesis kid

  17. James Salyers
    October 17, 2008 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    Thanks for reminding me of all the great comics I read as a kid. I picked up most of these second hand but remember them very fondly. I too loved Karate Kid’s ‘attitude’. I also liked Wildfire aka Erg1 (? I think) who also had a lot of attitude.


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