Karate Kid Vol 1 #10
(September-October) October, 1977
"Death-Duel on Orando"
Writer: David Michelinie (writing as Barry Jameson)
Penciller: Ric Estrada
Inker: Jack Abel
Colourist: Carl Gafford
Cover: Al Milgrom (pencils) and Jack Abel (inks) (signed)
Editor: Dennis O'Neil
Mission Monitor Board:
Princess Projectra, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Superboy
Sadaharu the Black Dragon and his men; Airn
On the planet Orando, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra arrive from the 20th Century and 1977 in the time sphere that Princess Projectra has steered and landed on her homeworld. She tells him that the distress signal for help from her father, King Voxv, sounded urgent, and that was the best way to travel. As soon as they land on Orando and emerge from the time bubble, they are attacked by strange, non-Orandoan men of oriental appearance with laser weaponry. While Karate Kid attacks them, Princess Projectra tries to help him but finds that her illusion powers are not working. Despite the skill of the attackers, Karate Kid manages to take them all down, but Princess Projectra is taken prisoner. The Kid comments to himself that he’s seen these attackers’ costumes somewhere, but will figure that out later. Projectra comes first.
At the castle of King Voxv, Projectra is taken to the main audience hall, where the reader and the Princess discover that the planet has been taken over by Sadaharu, the Black Dragon. He has had her brought to the castle as bait for Karate Kid and a face-off to the death. The Black Dragon explains his origins to the Princess and her father, and the reasons for his hatred of Karate Kid (see the Commentary below). Projectra is about to attack Sadaharu when she is stopped by Airn, King Voxv’s advisor, and told by Sadaharu to be cooperative bait.
Outside the castle, Karate Kid manages to climb the castle walls, breaks in, and takes on another group of Sadaharu’s men. After easily taking them on, he faces off against the Black Dragon himself. The two fight, but are pretty evenly matched, and when Karate Kid appears to have the upper hand, the Black Dragon grabs a laser weapon. He is about to shoot Karate Kid when the Legionnaire says that his master didn’t teach him about honour. The Black Dragon realizes the Kid is right and doesn’t press his advantage, but when he questions how they must still settle the matter, Voxv’s advisor Airn has a suggestion - that the two fight in the traditional Orandoan way of duelling over a pit of liquid oxygen. The Black Dragon agrees, but to make the stakes more interesting, says that the winner also gets Princess Projectra! Airn is upset at this for he didn’t mean for that to happen. While the combatants start to move towards the icy pit, Sadaharu orders one of his men, Hong Lo, to put the King and his daughter under guard. In a prison cell in the castle’s dungeon, Projectra and her father talk. When pressed by his daughter, the King says that she is of royal blood, but her suitor is not. It was a matter of time before Karate Kid asked for her hand in marriage, and thus he had to prove that he was deserving of it. Val Armorr voluntarily went into exile in the 20th Century to prove himself worthy as a commoner to marry the princess. Projectra is taken aback, as she finally understands why Karate Kid has cut himself off from his life in the 30th Century.
In the nearby icy grotto, as Karate Kid and the Black Dragon prepare to fight over a geyser of liquid oxygen, Airn tells them that the guards posted at either end of the bridge are there to ensure that neither combatant tries to flee and that the statues of ice they see around them are combatants whose fights went too long for the bubbling liquid below is unstable and has a tendency to erupt over the platform from time to time. And with that, the fight between Karate Kid and the Black Dragon begins!
Confident that everything that Val has done has been for her (and their) benefit, Princess Projectra starts acting like a Legionnaire. When one of the guards arrives with food and drink, she uses her wiles and her flight ring to dispose of the guard with some willpower. She then rushes off, knowing that she can’t save Val, but that she has some friends who can.
Meanwhile, as Karate Kid and the Black Dragon fight over a geyser of liquid oxygen, someone spills a brazier over the ice bridge, melting it and trapping them. Before the Black Dragon's men can throw over a rope, a group of Legionnaires (Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Superboy and Cosmic Boy) arrive on the scene, and starts into them. Believing that he will now die regardless, the Black Dragon attacks Karate Kid again. The Legionnaire tells him that if they work together they can both live, which manages to convince Sadaharu. They manage to form a human bridge to the land and save each other from a frozen death, just as the geyser erupts and smothers the platform in oxygen ice.
Back at the castle, the Legionnaires take the Black Dragon and his men away. Princes Projectra confronts Airn and accuses him of knocking over the brazier on the ice bridge, the oil stain on his robes being all the proof that is required. Airn admits that he did it because he loves Projectra, and felt that he could remove Sadaharu’s threat to Orando and Karate Kid’s threat to his love for Projectra in one contest. Airn is placed under arrest.
King Voxv thanks Val Armorr for saving his assistance in saving his world, and then orders him to return to the past to continue his trials. Karate Kid questions this after having just saved Orando, but the King says they have an agreement. Karate Kid reluctantly agrees to the request. Projectra then confronts Karate Kid about his feelings for Iris Jacobs, and Val freely admits to her that he’s in love - with Jeckie!
And finally the story of Karate Kid’s exile in the 20th Century gets a reason, one that makes a good deal of sense, and definitely fits in with what we know of Karate Kid’s character. This issue of Karate Kid’s own title is a half-decent story, one that answers a nagging question that was raised right at the beginning of the series, and explains a good deal about his actions and attitude towards his fellow Legionnaires. The story also gives a bit of finality to the tale that started in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #210 with the return of Sadaharu, alias the Black Dragon, but also clarifies Val’s feelings about Iris Jacobs (indirectly) as well. My only real problem with the issue is this. A Japanese crime boss with very good karate abilities somehow decides to take over an entire planet in order to lure a non-powered Legionnaire into battle. Why didn't he just take some hostages in Tokyo and alert the media? That would have gotten Karate Kid to Black Dragon a whole lot more easily than this plan did. Besides, how did the Black Dragon know that King Voxv would have any means of contacting Karate Kid? Wouldn't you have surmised that the King would have called his daughter, who would have called the Legion, and they would have taken care of him without ever involving Karate Kid? A bit thin on the plot, I think, but not surprising on the part of the author of the series to this point. The last page of this story is particularly well crafted and reads well. Projectra gives Karate Kid an opportunity to admit that he was unfaithful, but he admits whole-heartedly that he is in love with *her*. Glorious stuff.
The cover on this issue, rendered by Al Milgrom and Jack Abel is one of the more exciting covers in recent issues, with definite feelings of motion and violence evident in the artwork, but perhaps it’s because the cover features the Legion in a classic “He’s got to fight his own fight!” pose. Legion fans will recognize the Black Dragon on the cover as the villain fighting Karate Kid, but I’m not sure those who’ve not read the Legion stuff would recognize him. The interior art of the issue by Estrada and Abel is still not to my taste, as I find Estrada’s material a bit cartoony. The art this issue is all right, but there’s nothing epic in its feel here. Estrada’s bird’s eye view of stuff continues this issue, with eight pages having examples of it. I will also say that I didn’t think Projectra’s look of dread when Sadaharu menaces her on page 6 fit the Princess; I would have expected Jeckie to act more regal and more like a Legionnaire. I don’t know if this was the writer’s choice or the artist’s choice, but still...
Although Carl Gafford is credited as the colourist, no letterer is mentioned once again... No Queen of Orando is mentioned or shown. The King's mother and nephew are not shown, either, although they will play large roles in Projectra's battle for the throne in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #288... The reason for Karate Kid's "voluntary" banishment to the 20th century is finally explained, which makes the last nine issues of this series more compelling. He did it for love, to prove to King Voxv that he was worthy of marrying the future queen of Orando. However, despite saving Orando in this tale, Voxv decides that his trials in the 20th Century are not finished yet... Karate Kid mentions that the uniforms of the armed warriors he fights when he and Projectra first arrive look familar; the uniforms resemble the uniforms the Black Dragon's men wore in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #210, a nice piece of graphic continuity... Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, was broadcast on ABC-TV from October 1972 thru April 1975... Princess Projectra and Karate Kid continue their story in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #231. That issue was published before this story, but mentions the events of this issue only in passing... This is the last issue written by Barry Jameson (aka David Michelinie).
Next Issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #232