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Who's in? It's easy, all you have to do is post from your favorite martial arts related comic!
To kick us off, I've got kind of a long discussion to start here...

In 1975, DC Comics, in the pages of Denny O'Neil's Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter, introduced us to the three top students of the O-Sensei, generally considered the very best martial artists in the world. Who were they, you ask? Let's run down the list.
(mouse-over images for issue source)


Richard Dragon, a reformed thief taken in by O-Sensei after a failed attempt to lift his dojo's jade Buddha, Richard is a master of a vast array of disciplines. You'll notice this picture doesn't depict him fighting, unlike all of the images following. That's because he's retired as a fighter, he only teaches (except for that one time in Birds of Prey #85). Richard's expertise is the spirituality and philosophy that inform the fighter. As a teacher, his focus is on cleaning house internally, bringing the heart and mind in a healthy state of balance and clarity that better serves the fists.
Among his alumni are Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Vic Sage, Helena Bertinelli and Renee Montoya.
Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel did a disastrous twelve issue revamp in 2004 that in itself isn't a bad series, notwithstanding the dumb ending and the romantic subplot between Richard and Lady Shiva (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA), or at least it wouldn't have been if the lead hadn't been Richard Dragon. In it he was depicted as an angry, ruthless and self-loathing former cage-fighter who would train anyone at the right price. In short, the kind of guy who could've used training by the established Richard Dragon. The series' saving grace is that later writers have mainly ignored it in favor of the character it attempted to replace, though the visual design has shown up since (Richard's most loyal pupil, The Question, went through a similar situation around the same time and with the same results, though his mini was better).
In other words, Richard Dragon is a cool enough guy he beat up his own retcon.


Ben Turner is a master open-hand combatant who's prolly spent equal time punching other people as he has his own inner demons. Uneasy with his anger or the satisfaction violence brought him, Ben turned to martial arts. After years of merely gaining an outlet, and a stint with Mater Kirigi where the unscrupulous teacher reveled in Ben's quasi-sadism rather than helping him with it, Ben settled in the O-Sensei's dojo, where he finally found a teacher to exorcise his rage.
Adventuring with Richard in service of the CBI and/or G.O.O.D. (it's hard to settle the Kung-Fu Fighter history with Suicide Squad #38), Ben eventually faced an enemy that ran him through a personal gauntlet. Vowing to settle the score on his own, Ben ran off and never returned.
He spent years brainwashed as The Bronze Tiger, working for Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins before Taskforce X broke him free. With the help of Amanda Waller, he fought off the programming and has since been a prominent member of the Suicide Squad.
More recently, he has been seen wearing the Bronze Tiger mask once more, having finally triumphed over the demons he associated with it.
With one line in Suicide Squad #38, John Ostrander put the entirety of Kung-Fu Fighter in dubious canonicity. The series closed on the revelation of Ben a the Bronze Tiger, a plotline which wasn't resolved for another five years in a story by Mike W. Barr in DC Comics Present #39, featuring Richard confronting Barney Ling, their G.O.O.D. liaison, as the culprit behind Ben's condition. The problem there is that Denny had already featured the Bronze Tiger as an agent of the League of Assassins in Detective Comics #485. Things are reconciled easiest if you ignore the DC Comics Presents story and accept both Suicide Squad #38 and Kung-Fu Fighter, simply replacing any reference to G.O.O.D. with the CBI, otherwise Ben was brainwashed twice and Richard saved him the first time only to leave him hanging (for years!) the second.
Though unless they had some sort of serious falling out off-panel before any of it, I can't see Richard coming out of this looking good. No wonder the two haven't appeared together for thirty years! :(



Sandra Woosan was the O-Sensei's goddaughter and student. Being a Kung-Fu Fighter character, it can be taken for granted that her history is difficult to reconcile. But let it be known that whoever did it, and for whatever particular reason, Sandra's sister Carolyn was murdered, and she became Lady Shiva, using her prodigious knowledge of martial arts to seek her revenge. Growing beyond that desire, after her days with CBI/G.O.O.D./whatever with Richard and Ben, Shiva became an renowned assassin, her name whispered fearfully throughout the underworld as a force of nature, death herself. Constant learning and reinventing her martial self, if Richard is the embodiment of the spirit of martial arts, Shiva is the method. She is martial arts in action. None are as dynamic toward it as she. None are as deadly.
The major issue with Shiva's history is Batgirl #73 told such a different story, that David Cain killed Carolyn because her presence held Sandra back, where Kung-Fu Fighter #3-5 had a mobster kidnap Carolyn for information her uncle discovered, and after her accidental death convinced Sandra that it was Richard's fault. My only issue with the Batgirl origin is that it preempts and excludes her time with Richard and Ben, though perhaps after all this time she has grown beyond them.

Speaking of Shiva growing beyond Richard and Ben, having three characters generally regarded as "the best" tempts writers sometimes to rank them. Birds Of Prey: Perfect Pitch may be one of my favorite books hands-down, and #94 in particular says some really cool things about Lady Shiva, but I can't help but focus on the really, really bad things it says.

Oh man, where do I even start? On the one hand, the diversity between the three means a lot of way's you might rank them, especially any with Richard at top or Shiva at bottom has a ton of Unfortunate Implications, not only that men are the best at fighting, but white men! Yeesh.
Not only that, but if I had to rank them (which i prefer to avoid, it's more fun to think of them as just the top three), I'd put Richard at third, being he's been inactive all this time. He's not only out of practice, but he's essentially taken himself out of the running, too. Meanwhile, calling Shiva third place in the same issue that talks about the training and reinvention she goes through makes it out like Shiva has to work this hard jut to play catch-up! Shiva! The force of nature!
Now, there's room to separate character from author, but it's still Prometheus we're talking about, the guy who basically has a list of the top thirty martial artists on-hand at all times, and has perhaps had the chance to compare them in different situations, so that lends it some degree of legitimacy. It really hits a nerve, not just because I love these three so much, but also because the rest of the book is so good. I get the meta behind it, since you can't have the conflict as easy as all that, and it would (hopefully) have gone the same if it had been Ben or Richard, but still, Shiva! I'm not going to get into the reason the rest of this particular scene hurts because I've turned this into enough of a rant (three second! three seconds!)


Instead, I'm gonna get into the second part of my post. The existence of Prometheus and his list of the top thirty begs the question, who's on that list? Especially who's number four?
For my money, I propose...


Dinah Lance
Assuming her metagene doesn't take her out of the running, the Black Canary has always been a formidable fighter, skilled enough to hold her own against Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva (not at the same time). The better parts of Birds of Prey #94 have more to say on the subject.

And with the Cry?

She's hell on two legs, a veritable One Woman Army Corps.
Of course, she's got some pretty stiff competition.


The advent of Cassandra Cain, if it doesn't shift the entire paradigm, has the potential, even the inevitability, to. The daughter of Lady Shiva and David Cain, if someone could gain skill by genetics, Cass would be the one. She speaks fist-to-face as a first language, after all, and has training by the likes of Cain, Bronze Tiger and Merlyn (in case she ever used a bow i guess?) as the end result of the League of Assassin's attempt to make the ultimate martial artist.


Connor Hawke, in Dixon's Richard Dragon series, was played as Richard's equal. While this may have been meant as a call-back to Kung-Fu Fighter #14, featuring "The Guy Who Trained Under Bruce Lee!" it comes off more as one more way Dixon wasn't fair to Richard, but wanted to build up one of his own favorites. That said, we still shouldn't discount Connor's skill, he apparently learned hella stuff in that monastery.

So what do you guys think? One of these three, or someone else entirely? Bruce Wayne? Ted Grant? Onyx? Cheshire? King Snake? Savant? Do Deathstroke's enhancements take him out of the running? What about Judomaster? Maybe Judomaster? Or even Judomaster? (it's funny though, between them, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker and The Question, so many Charltons have become legacies)
What about the old masters, dead as they may be? Kirigi, O-Sensei, Otomo, Natas?
Do you think my buddy Vic made even the top fifty?

For those interested, the former Wikipedia page on DC martial artists is a pretty cool list. [the page proper is defunct, wikipedia is a dick. i uploaded it to my own server, and the links still work]


So let's see what you guys have!
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