Friday, January 22, 2010

Kung Fu Week! DC's Master of Kung Fu...Ric Estrada! Plus, Lady Shiva's Debut!

For some reason, DC was a little slower about joining the kung fu craze than Marvel had been. Their first kung fu comic, Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter didn't appear until January 1975, while their second (and final) martial-arts mag, Karate Kid, made its debut in December of that same year. Dragon was based on a novel by "Jim Dennis" (really comicbook writer/editor Denny O'Neil teaming with Jim Berry--that Jim Berry?), while KK was a spin-off of the much-loved Legion of Superheroes.

Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter's first four issues featured four different art teams: Leo Duranona on issue #1, Jim Starlin/Alan Weiss and Al Milgrom on #2, and (I ain't jivin'!) Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry on #3. Finally, with issue #4, writer/editor O'Neil would find his regular artist--Ric Estrada (magnificently inked by Wally Wood on issues 4-8, Estrada stayed on as penciler until the series ended with issue #18, August 1977).

Estrada was best known as a regular artist on DC's war mags (they liked to call 'em "battle books" back then), who had dabbled with humor (in Plop!) and super-heroes (most notably on the Justice Society revival in All-Star Comics). Estrada's superb storytelling ability and skillful layouts made him an excellent (if unconventional) fit for chronicling the adventures of Richard Dragon, Ben (Bronze Tiger) Turner, and Lady Shiva. For proof, Ol' Groove presents RDKFF #5 (September 1976; the dazzling debut, by the by, of Lady Shiva) as exhibit "A"...

Since he'd already proven himself on Dragon's mag, I suppose it was a no-brainer for editor Joe Orlando to tap Estrada to pencil the Legion of Superhero's resident martial arts master's solo mag. What Young Groove really dug was the fact that none other than Joe Staton had signed on to ink Estrada's pencils. Karate Kid #1 was a must-have in my neighborhood, especially with that far-out Mike Grell cover. Even the story by that new kid, Paul Levitz (what ever happened to him?) was kinda cool. Check it out, baby!

Ric and Joe's art really meshed well together, don'tcha think? Staton stayed on for the first 9 issues and Ric hung on through issue #11 before handing the penciling reins over to a talented newcomer named Juan Oritz.

By mid-1977, DC was pretty much out of the martial arts business, with the Karate Kid returning the Legion, while Dragon and his pals becoming supporting characters in the Batman titles. Estrada went back to the war mags, but let us never forget that, for a while, Ric had been DC's martial arts master!


  1. Groove:

    I had no idea Starlin and Kirby did issues of Richard Dragon. The Starlin doesn't look to great, but sign me up for some Kirby Kung Fu today!

    FYI, I only gave Karate Kid #1 a C. This issue just didn't do it for me.

    Kung Fu Week was a hoot. Thanks.


  2. Kung Fu Week's not over yet, Andrew! Ol' Groove's still got a couple'a surprises up his sleeve. And I'll add that Kirby issue of Richard Dragon to the Request Line if ya'd like!

  3. This is so awesome! There's a missing page in Richard Dragon #5, though - page 12 appears twice, and there's no page 11. I know I'm six years late, but any chance of adding the missing page? Thanks a million!



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