JUDOMASTERMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1965
Creator: Frank McLaughlin
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patterned their fighting togs after that icon. But they all used the American flag. Only Judomaster wrapped himself in the Japanese flag.
Not surprisingly, Judomaster wasn't a "native-born" World War II superhero, i.e., one who actually was in comic books during the early 1940s. His series was set back then, but he was first seen in 1965, by which time a new generation of comic book readers didn't remember when practically every Nippon-related image in that medium was rendered with loathing and mockery. Charlton Comics was running a successful line of war comics set in that era, and at the same time experimenting with superheroes such as The Blue Beetle and Son of Vulcan. Judomaster, combining the two, first appeared in the fourth issue of Charlton's Special War Series (which had hitherto been perfectly representative of the genre), dated November, 1965. The story was drawn by Frank McLaughlin (Gil Thorp), with the writing sometimes credited to McLaughlin and sometimes to Joe Gill (Captain Atom).
Judomaster was U.S. Army Sgt. Rip Jagger, fighting that war on the Pacific front. Early in the war, he saved a young native girl from a Japanese sniper. She turned out to be the granddaughter of the local chief, who gratefully taught the sergeant all the handiest martial arts. Fastest-learned ones, too, apparently, because Rip very quickly became so adept, it made him uniquely qualified to wear a fancy costume as leader of a guerrilla movement, which freed the island from the Japs. Afterward, he continued using the outfit as a superhero suit, maintaining a secret identity just like all the rest. The fact that his costume looked just like a Japanese flag doesn't seem to have hurt, as neither the Japanese nor the Americans shot him (as a spy or enemy superhero, respectively).
Special War Series didn't continue. Judomaster next appeared in the back pages of Sarge Steel #6 (December, 1965). A few months after that, he had his own title — Judomaster #89 (it had formerly been titled Gunmaster, and set in the Old West) was dated May-June, 1966. In #93 (February, 1967) he acquired a sidekick, Tiger, who didn't have a secret identity — he was called that whether in costume or in his everyday life as Rip's unit's mascot.
A few months after that, Charlton pulled the plug on its whole superhero line, and Judomaster went down the tubes with the rest. The last issue was #98, dated December, 1967. Judomaster wasn't seen (and seldom thought of) again until after DC Comics bought the Charlton superheroes, and even then his new owners didn't show much interest in him.
He made a brief appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths, then was ignored for a long time. Like practically all the other DC-owned superheroes set in that time frame, he's considered part of The All-Star Squadron, but he doesn't seem to have had any actual adventures with them. He was spotted in a superhero bar, in Guy Gardner, Warrior (the title character is a former Green Lantern) #29 (April, 1995), but only for a single panel, so he could complain about having been stuck in comic book limbo for so long.
His limbo status was lifted in L.A.W. #1 (September, 1999), in which he teamed up with Peacemaker, The Blue Beetle, Nightshade,, The Question, Captain Atom and Sarge Steel, all based on former Charlton characters. He was brought into the present by the simple expedient of stashing him in the magical city of Nanda Parbat (which also figures in Deadman's back-story), where he didn't age. This group (the acronym stands for "Living Assault Weapons") was brought together for a six-issue mini-series, in which they dealt with a former sidekick (Tiger, now calling himself Avatar) gone bad.
L.A.W. didn't stick around. But having been pulled out of World War II and into the present, Judomaster is now established as part of the DC Universe, and no-doubt destined to linger.