March 26, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #354: Richard Dragon

DC Comics had its own master of the martial arts. Whose side he's on may depend on what comic you're reading.

Marvel’s martial arts hero Shang-Chi has been the latest big hit on the big screen for the MCU.  The character was one of many martial arts heroes that started popping up in the 70s, reflecting an interest in kung fu and the like in all forms of entertainment.  Marvel, obviously, wasn’t the only publisher to go that route, and DC had a couple of their own.

One of the more interesting such heroes at DC was Richard Dragon.  Only sometimes, Richard Dragon was a villain.

OK, to be fair, there’s actually been two Richard Dragons, and one was a villain while the original was a hero.  And, oddly enough, Richard Dragon first appeared not in a comic, but in a regular print novel.  Originally, he was one Richard Drakunovski, and he first appeared in 1974’s Kung-Fu Master Richard Dragon:  Dragon’s Fists.   That novel’s co-author (under a pseudonym) was DC writer Denny O’Neil, and he opted to transplant his creation into the DC universe as a martial arts hero in his own title, Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter.

Richard’s backstory was as follows:  he was a teenage thief who decided to break into a martial arts dojo outside Kyoto, Japan.  While trying to steal a jade Buddha statue, he was intercepted by the dojo’s student, Ben Turner.  Turner himself would go on to be the martial arts hero the Bronze Tiger, being one of the few unadulterated heroes in the classic era of the Suicide Squad.  And yes, I really should do an entry on him.  Regardless, Turner’s master O-Sensei saw something in Richard and opted to train him as well.  After seven years, Richard, now calling himself Richard Dragon, found inner peace and with Ben Turner left the dojo only to be recruited by the Global Organization of Organized Defense (G.O.O.D….that might be trying a little too hard).  Richard and Ben moved to Manhattan and battled a number of martial arts villains and the like for the remainder of his solo series.

Now, that was the 70s.  In the 80s, O’Neil was writing The Question, and he added Dragon as a supporting character, training Vic Sage in the martial arts and spiritual enlightenment.  From here, Dragon took on more of a mentor role in his comics appearances.  He would even go on to offer the same training and support to Sage’s successor Renee Montoya in the 52 mini-series.

In fact, Richard’s role as a mentor would end up leading to the next Richard Dragon.  Richard took on a student named Ricardo Diaz Jr in the New 52 era, but Diaz, once he learned everything Richard had to teach, decided Richard was weak and killed him.  Ricardo then took on the “Richard Dragon” name for himself.  He, it turned out, had a grudge against Green Arrow, but in this case, the Green Arrow was Oliver Queen’s friend John Diggle as Diggle had briefly filled in on the role, during which he had killed Diaz’s father.  Diaz, in turn, organized a group of Green Arrow enemies and, calling themselves the Longbow Hunters, took on the Emerald Archer and Diggle.  Though defeated in the end, Diaz proved dangerous enough to be able to nearly handle both Queen and Diggle by himself.

It’s worth noting that Diaz’s version of the Richard Dragon character did appear in the TV series Arrow as played by actor Kirk Acevedo.

That does suggest the best known version of Richard Dragon outside of the comics is the evil one.  Bummer that.

Regardless, that’s Richard Dragon.  He’s a master of the martial arts, and whether he’s good or bad depends on which one it is.  That may actually be one of the odder DC legacy characters yet.

But I may have another for next time.

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