Karate Kid Vol 1 #1
March-April (April) 1976
”My World Begins in Yesterday"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Ric Estrada
Inker: Joe Staton
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Joe Orlando
Mission Monitor Board:
Brainiac 5, Lightning Lad, Mon-El, Saturn Girl
The first issue begins in typical Karate Kid form, with a bang-up fight between Karate Kid and his foe, Nemesis Kid, in a major city in the 20th Century. Karate Kid appears to have the upper hand, though he is physically weakened somewhat, when a Legion time bubble arrives. This allows Nemesis Kid to develop the teleportation power to make his escape...for now. Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl emerge from the time bubble, and confront Karate Kid. We learn how Nemesis Kid escaped from a cell that was supposed to be foolproof, and left an after-image that fooled the Legion for over a year. When Nemesis Kid issued Karate Kid a challenge to come after him, Karate Kid did so, much to Mon-El’s annoyance. With the arrival of the Legionnaires, this allowed Nemesis Kid to escape because he was facing multiple foes. Val (Armorr) is quite ticked off, and he takes it out on Brainiac 5. This is only the beginning however, as after Brainy doubts Val's ability to defeat Nemesis Kid, Lightning Lad calls him dumb. So Karate Kid fights back against both Lightning Lad and team leader Mon-El. The Legion decides to leave Karate Kid here in the 20th Century to pursue Nemesis Kid, and they’ll only return when he calls for help. As the Legionnaires travel back to the 30th Century, they try to get their head around the communications gap they have with Karate Kid. Only Saturn Girl understands Val’s point of view, and even as she tries to explain it to her love, Lightning Lad, even he can't get his head around it. Karate Kid is on his own. Confronted by the cops, who think that he’s an actor in some movie, dressed like Bruce Lee in kung fu pajamas, Karate Kid flies away courtesy of his Legion flight ring. Unfortunately it was damaged in the fight with Nemesis Kid. Flailing away, he grabs onto a window three floors up and meets school teacher Iris Jacobs. The two become fast friends, Karate Kid oblivious to how Iris perceives him. Val is evasive, not really answering her questions, and he casually tosses away his damaged flight ring. With Iris’s help, Karate Kid makes his way to the roof, only to discover that Nemesis Kid has taken the time bubble and his meager possessions. However, he has left him a chronal energy detector, exactly the device that Karate Kid needs to find him with! Despite walking into an obvious trap, Val goes in search of the villain. Iris gives him a bus token, and Karate Kid heads out in search of his foe using mundane transportation. After chasing down a hood on the street shouldering a 30th Century weapon, Karate Kid determines the weapon was made by a company called Futuretech Inc..
At Futuretech, Karate Kid fights his way through a gauntlet of goons and security measures to get to the villain. From there, he fights his way through laser traps in the empty elevator shaft that he climbs up via the cables, and then faces a nuclear-powered Nemesis Kid. Thrown out of the top floor window of the building, he survives the drop of several floors and then launches himself back into the fray against Nemesis Kid. Capturing his foe with some deft footwork and dodging of nuclear beams that destroy the equipment on the floor, Karate Kid sends Nemesis Kid back to the 30th Century in the time bubble, with a letter to the Legionnaires telling them not to come after him, as he’ll get in touch with them when he’s good and ready.
This is the first issue of the Karate Kid solo series that came out in March of 1976. It was the first spin-off comic from the Legion main series, but I always considered it questionable. When I first heard about the comic back in the day, I wasn’t sure about the title. Karate Kid was a character in the Legion who had been seriously abused in a lot of ways since Jim Shooter brought him in way back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #346, and I have to say that I wasn’t a Karate Kid fan. The comic was likely created to take advantage of and appeal to the martial arts crowd with the popularity of Bruce Lee and the kung fu fighting movies. However, the series turned out to be very uneven, and frankly, lost its way with the martial arts *super-hero* effects that are not what makes Karate Kid the character that he is. That said, the cover of this issue is a beautiful piece by Mike Grell, though it does have a lopsided time bubble on it. What’s interesting about the cover is that it features Karate Kid leaping out of the time bubble, leaving a void in the bubble next to Superboy, and it’s rather strange as Karate Kid is actually coming to Superman’s time. Or perhaps deliberate? This issue marks an early appearance of a Paul Levitz script in the context of the Legion. However, this is well before his golden age period on the Legion, but he was hitting his stride on JSA at this time. This is not Levitz’s best work, let alone best Legion work, and it is marred moreso by the art on the story, with pencils by Ric Estrada and inks by Joe Staton. These two gentleman do very good art at times, but this is not an example of that; it seems rushed at times, and their styles are indistinguishable to me here. It’s not…pretty. The use of Nemesis Kid as the opponent for the first issue of Karate Kid’s own title is appropriate here. They have been rivals and enemies ever since - along with Princess Projectra and Ferro Lad - they joined the Legion of Super-Heroes back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #346. Nemesis Kid’s powers have always been very vague in definition, and for the most part he is not used all that well here. The revelation of the Futuretech Inc. company is one that raises questions. How long was Nemesis Kid here in the past? Is a year long enough to start a company, start production, start an arms network, hire thugs, build a whole building? And why didn't anyone else notice a guy in the street with a big future weapon over his shoulder? No one in New York blinks at a guy with ordinance that big and fancy? And where are New York’s protectors during this time? Paul Levitz calls the sequence a ballet of murder, and the nine-panel fight scene between Karate Kid and his martial arts cliche opponents is absolutely brilliant, a triumph of fight choreography, the mention of the Black Dragon, and finally the winning out and arrival of Val Armorr, Karate Kid. This is the sort of martial arts action one might expect of a comic series such as this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last for the entire series.
Finally, Karate Kid tells the Legionnaires that he has decided to remain in the 20th Century because the time period makes him feel alive and allows him to be the hero he was meant to be, relying on his wits and martial prowess, rather than relying on his teammates’ super-powers. It turns out later in the series we learn the real reasons for his staying in the past, but what he tells the Legionnaires is actually a good enough reason and he certainly means it at the time.