July 20, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case Files #65: Judomaster

Some things may be better off left unexplained. Like this picture here.
Some things may be better off left unexplained. Like this picture here.

In 1986, Alan Moore’s Watchmen first hit comic store shelves.  Often cited as one of the finest superhero stories ever done in the medium, Watchmen was partially the result of Moore being denied the use of the Charlton Comics characters.  DC had acquired the rights to that company’s heroes in 1985 and even featured them in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  But DC had other plans, so Moore modified the various Charlton heroes into the various Watchmen heroes.  Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan.  Blue Beetle became Nite Owl.  The Question became Rorscach.  And so on.

One Charlton hero that managed not to get this treatment was a guy called Judomaster.

Judomaster was, as the name suggests, a master of the martial arts, particularly Judo.  He was first created in 1965, which actually explains a few things.  Judo seemed to be something of a fad around that time.  Batman, for example, was often written as if he were doing all manner of fancy fighting, but always written off as “judo”.  As anyone who knows anything about judo knows, the style is mostly about using an opponent’s force against themselves.  It’s not some fancy martial art that wins every fight.  My guess is around the late 60s, early 70s, comic writers knew judo was a popular martial art for kids to learn and so, rather than make up an all-purpose fighting style, they used one the kids at home would recognize.  I am sure karate served much the same point.

At any rate, Judomaster was one Hadley “Rip” Jagger, a U.S. Army sergeant in World War II who saved the life of a Pacific Islander chief’s daughter, and out of gratitude, the chief taught Jagger judo.  Jagger also got himself a sidekick named “Tiger” and probably won the “Most Masculine Name” competition six years running.

There are probably a lot of things wrong with this origin by modern standards.  Why a Pacific Islander is teaching judo I don’t know.  Why the chief couldn’t use it to rescue his own daughter I don’t know.  How anyone could show a caucasian man being a master of said martial art while having a guy named “Tanaka” as his sidekick I really don’t know.  You know that would have flown fine in 1965.  Not so much in 2016.

Remember: this show ran from 1972-1975. And it may have been Bruce Lee’s idea.

Beyond that, Judomaster is just one of those guys that is an expert of a martial art and are often depicted beating up all manner of super-powered opponents, whether it makes sense or not.  I couldn’t tell you how many superhumans Judomaster personally took on, since Charlton actually preferred the adventures of non-powered heroes (Captain Atom being the big exception), but that’s the type he was.

And while Watchmen may have left Jagger behind, The Crisis certainly did not.

He is referring to himself in the third person here. That's, like, a Crisis trademark.
He is referring to himself in the third person here. That’s, like, a Crisis trademark.

But really, Judomaster was forgotten as the Charlton heroes go.  He wasn’t bound for the Justice League like Captain Atom or Blue Beetle, or revived in a series of rather adult mysteries like the Question, or even connected in some way to the Suicide Squad like Nightshade.  DC suggested he was a member of the old All-Star Squadron, the stateside World War II heroes that kept the peace while the Justice Society was doing what they could to aid the war effort, but he never actually appeared in an adventure with them due to when the company acquired the rights to the character and when the All-Star Squadron’s book was canceled.

Oh, and then he died.  During another Crisis, this one an Infinite Crisis, Bane broke his back.  It was the same move Bane used on Batman, but Judomaster was not as sturdy it would seem.

Rip did have a son, Thomas, who joined Checkmate, the international spy agency, but that’s another story.

DC did revive the Judomaster name, though it got screwed up a bit.  The new Judomaster was a Japanese woman named Sonia Sato.  She first appeared in Birds of Prey speaking rather fluent English, then reappeared later in a new JSA title having completely lost her English somewhere (it’s always the last place you look), but now with a superpower of some kind of field around her body that deflected anything deliberately aimed at her.


But it would seem Judomaster, the original, was the sort of guy who was made to be forgotten.  Before he was killed off, he appeared for two or three panels in an issue of Guy Gardner:  Warrior, where Guy had opened his superhero themed bar and invited, oh, every superhero on the planet for the opening.  And there was Judomaster, sitting morosely at the bar, pointing out that everyone had forgotten him.

That was a little too on-the-nose if you ask me…