Everybody knows Blue Beetle and Captain Atom…  but what about The Judomaster?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Special War Series #4 awaits!


Writer: Joe Gill (credited); Frank McLaughlin (actual)
Penciler: Frank McLaughlin
Inker: Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Typeset
Editor: Pat Masulli
Publisher: Charlton Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $100.00

Previously in Special War SeriesBased in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton Comics began publishing in 1944 and was renowned for their low budget practices.  In fact, the majority of their titles were written by Joe Gill, who could crank out scripts at a remarkable pace.  Of course, this issue proves that perhaps that high speed writing might not have been exactly as it seemed, as Judomaster’s creator Frank McLaughlin reports that this issue, which is officially credited to Gill, is actually McLaughlin’s own writing.  Charlton’s output in the 50s and 60s was mostly war comics, as they were the home of ‘Fightin’ Army’, ‘Fightin’ Navy’ and ‘Fightin’ Marines.’  (They saves a lot of money by not using the letter G.)  As such, it makes perfect sense that one of their earliest Action Hero titles begins as a war comic.

(Fair warning: This issue makes liberal use of the standard-issue comic book slurs towards the Japanese.  Apologies for any offense.)

Deep in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, Rip Jagger struck out from his squad to check on an injured opponent, only to see they Japanese soldiers attacked by a group of men in samurai garb.  Jagger himself is likewise overwhelmed, but when he awakens, finds that he is not a captive of the Japanese army, but is held by a group of rebels who saw his squadron captured.  Rip is welcomed, thanks to his heroic actions in saving one of the rebels, protecting Jagger and hiding him from the army.

The mysterious Sensei and his right hang-man Bushuri (who is a dead ringer for Toshiro Mifune, by the way, showing that McLaughlin did his homework) train Rip in the ways of Jiu-jitsu and judo, with relatively realistic depictions thereof.  That comes because Frank McLaughlin is an actual martial artist, trained in the disciplines his heroes uses.  Even Bushuri is impressed with how quickly Jagger learns and how fast his new trainee is, and quickly Rip gains the rank of black belt.  That comes in handy when the military returns with lethal intent.

Rip is gifted with a new fighting uniform, based on the flag of the very army that he opposed, a cruel mockery if there ever was one.  Jagger makes his first strike in the headquarters of the occupying forces, sending Major Yoku into a rage that anyone would dare oppose him.  Judomaster actually ups the ante by *sending Yoku a letter* explaining exactly what he’s going to do next: Cripple their operations by striking at their ammunition and fuel depots and destroy his troops barracks.

He proceeds to do exactly that, destroying the fuel depot and cleverly using one of their own bombs as the catalyst for the complete destruction of the ammunition dump.  He even withstands what should be a lethal shock from the electric fence by sheer grit and force of will.  But how can he destroy the barracks?

Lateral thinking, my friends…  Lateral thinking.

Yoku is defeated (but pointedly NOT killed) by Judomaster’s blow, leaving our new hero to start his own adventures in his own solo title.  Thanks to the aforementioned cost-cutting measures by Charlton, Judomaster’s first solo issue was #89, taking up the numbering of Gunmaster’s title, which itself took over the numbering of another book.  Sadly, Judomaster’s book ran only ten issues, and he only appeared half a dozen times after DC’s acquisition of Charlton properties in the 80s, one of which was his brutal death at the hands of Bane in ‘Final Crisis.’  Even so, Special War Stories #4 is an impressive comic, with strong art by McLaughlin that actually resembles real judo and martial arts and a clever story that makes good use of the limited page count, earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall. McLaughlin’s work is often forgotten in the shadow of other Silver Age giants, but his work is well worth tracking down.

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A Strong Debut

Charlton's cheap paper stock affects the coloring, but McLaughlin creates an engaging story with an truly intriguing protagonist, using every panel to good effect.

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About Author

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.

1 Comment

  1. Malone_hasco on

    Alright, this issue gets solid 5/5 for obvious Mifune alone. 100% sure that panel on the bottom left of page 8 is from Yojimbo.

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