This issue of JUDOMASTER was another of the books from the Charlton back catalog that Modern Comics reissued in the 1970s and sold three-to-a-bag through a network of discount department stores, supermarkets and the like. And it was another title that came into my possession during this time. I wasn’t quite as crazy about Judomaster as I was many of the other Charlton characters, but there were elements about the strip that appealed to me–chief among them being that his adventures took place in the past, during World War II. I was always a sucker for a Golden Age hero, even one added after the fact.
Jodumaste was created by Frank McLaughlin who both wrote and drew the strip. I knew McLaughlin as primarily an inker from his later work at DC–apparently, his association with Charlton editor Dick Giordano helped him to make inroads there. He was a regular contributor to editor Julie Schwartz’s titles, in particular often inking Dick Dillin on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. He wasn’t’ the most polished inker on the planet, but he was competent and reliable in the way that DC really appreciated in the early 1970s, and so he always had a certain amount of work. Apparently Joe Gill co-created Judomaster and wrote the first story, though the character was clearly close to McLaughlin’s heart and by this point he had taken up the writing himself.
Judomaster was a bit of a strange character when you came down to it. He was Sergeant “Rip” Jagger, who had been taught martial arts by a Pacific Island chief that he had once helped. His uniform sported the rising sun that was the Japanese wartime flag, a strange thing for a hero fighting on the other side of the conflict. In his new costumed identity as Judomaster, Jagger took on a sidekick, called Tiger, and fought a number of not-quite-super villains and even the occasional monster over the course of his run. As mentioned at the top, his adventures were set during World War II, so there were no crossovers with other Charlton hero strips (though a grown-up Tiger did once show up in the Nightshade strip in CAPTAIN ATOM as the Darling of Darknesses martial arts instructor.)
This particular story seems to continue from #93, which I never read. it opens with Tiger having been captured by Mountain Storm, a huge sumo-seeming guy on the Japanese payroll. The American forces are pulling out, but Judomaster refuses to leave his young protege behind, and so heads into the jungle to try to find and rescue him. As it turns out, Tiger has things well in hand himself. Eluding his captors at the first opportunity, he plays cat-and-mouse games with them, making them believe that he’s really an elusive ninja. Judomaster, though, isn’t so slick, and he soon falls into a concealed pit and is taken captive himself. The enemy uses Judomaster to lure Tiger out, where they can get at him as well.
Rather than straight out kill the pair, Mountain Storm and his commander Suzuki instead opt to drop a live tiger into the pit with the costumed dup. The tiger seems to have a taste for his costumed namesake, but Judomaster is able to stun it with a blow from behind, then he and Tiger are able to acrobat their way out of the pit–the watching Japanese soldiers apparently too stunned by this swift reversal of events to do anything about it. Judomaster clobbers the soldiers, knocking some of them into the tiger pit intended for himself, and then he and Tiger skedaddle, since the story is entirely out of pages. It’s an abrupt and pretty unsatisfying ending all around, honestly. McLaughlin’s artwork is nice enough, but a bit too open and empty for my tastes. There’s a lot of dead space in these panels, and the action isn’t quite kinetic enough. It’s perfectly fine, but nothing to write home about.
Following a two-page filler strip about karate masters battling bulls with their skills (seriously!) that isn’t really worth mentioning, the back-up slot is occupied with another adventure of Sarge Steel, a private eye/super-spy series that had held its own series and which appears to have been a real favorite of editor Dick Giordano. Steel is so named because his left hand has been replaced with a metal prosthetic, but otherwise he displays no superhuman traits. He’s just a tough dick/tough agent making his way through a dangerous world (depending on what strip at what part of the character’s development you happened to read.) This story was written by workhorse Joe Gill and penciled by Bill Montes, with Giordano providing the inks to the final artwork. It was also lettered by Charlton’s lettering machine, which meant that the copy all looked a bit mechanical and uninviting. Charlton really liked that machine, and used it on and off for years, despite the fact that it made their product look shabby.
This too is carried over from issue #93 and concerns Steel’s efforts to save a kidnapped ambassador from the cruel femme fatal Satana. There isn’t much plot, just a running fight as Steel is able to stave off one danger to himself and his objective after another while suffering Satana’s taunts until a rescue helicopter from the FBI can arrive to exfiltrate him and the ambassador. Steel is able to get the drop on Satana and hustle her aboard the chopper as well, so all the loose ends of this mission are wrapped up tightly. This was very much the sort of fare Charlton specialized in: unchallenging, by-the-numbers, basic. It checked all of the story boxes without having a single hint of innovation or creative investment. And you’d forget about every detail the instant you closed the book.