Monday, July 20, 2015

Tarzan's Return to Pal-ul-don

Will Murray's new novel Tarzan: Return to Pal-ul-don was an enjoyable read this summer, along with Murray Lannister's Forbidden Planet, and Anthony Horowitz's Moriarty. I've often thought it was overdue for a semi-official return to the lost land of Tarzan's Africa in novel. There were countless forays into Pal-ul-don back in the Dell comics days, and more notably in the Manning strips. But hey, more recently, Pal-ul-don has only fleetingly been mentioned in some of the Dark Horse stories written by Bruce Jones, who BTW, grew up in the good old fifties era. The new and excellent ERB strips include one on Pelludicdar, another on Caspak, even a Niocene strip based on the Eternal Savage, and one based on The Cave Girl. But thus far, Pal-ul-don has bot even been touched. I've long had an idea for a comic of Tarzan visting Pal-ul-don, and another of Korak, with Kubert-style art. A few times, notably last year, I even tried to draw the Korak one. But my art was, truth be told...not very good.
     However, this nook should whet readers' appetite for a return to Pla-ul-don that is probably as near to being canon as possible. The plot has Tarzan as an officer in the RAF, who is dispached to an unkown region of Africa to search a missing female officer code-named Ilex. This proves to be the northern region of Pal-ul-don, which Tarzan had not explored on his previous venture in Tarzan the Terrible, and where he encounters new beasts and races. His plane is attacked by pteranodons and crashes in the thorn-desert just outside the Great Barrier swamp.  He befriends a chocolate-brown tusker, whom he eventually names Torn-Ear, saving him from a giant crocodile (a phobosuchus or saurosuchus). The noble pachyderm proves a loyal comrade throughout the tale.
     The non-canonical stories of the comics are assumed here not to have happened (or at least havn't yet): Tarzan has never before encountered pterosaurs in Pal-ul-don. However, early on, the narrator infers only some of Pal-ul-don's races have tails, and a bit later references a race of tailess "cave men" who have tamed the Gryfs. I was a bit confused by this, until a realized that he seemed to be referring to the Tor-o-dons, which I always assumed did sport tails! Russ Manning, at least, depicts the Tor-o-dons as having tails, both in his newpaper strips and in the adaptation he did for Dell comics. Manning's version makes sense, under the assumption that Pal-ul-don's other "pithocantrophic" races were descended from the Tor-o-dons. Even the bizarre flying men of Manning's  strips had tails ( evolved for the same purpose as a peacock), and as I've opined elswhere, these must have branched off from the other races at some point. Truth be told, I can't recall offhand if ERB described the Tor-o-dons as tailed or otherwise. On the other hand, if they did not sport tails then the new races Tarzan encounters in Return to Pal-ul-don, who also lack tails, would most likely be descended from the them.
    The first such race Tarzan encounters the narrator calls "turtle men,": a tribe of primitives who dwell on an island in center of great lake (called Jad-Brang-lul, or "the turtle lake", in the language of Pal-ul-don). They live on the flesh of lake creatures, primarily large tutrles, and craft their shells into a type of armor. They also ultilize giant turtle-like creatures as living barges, on which they back and forth from the mainland. The great turtles may be one of beasts that have developed on a unique evolutionary pathway in the isolation of the Land of Man; they seem to resemble the Cretaceus turtle archelon, but sport a great mace-like tail, similar to that of an ankylosaur. The "turtle men" themselves are primitive in appearance, not unlike the Tor-o-dons, but appear to be of a slightly higher type. They prove friendly enough and briefly become Tarzan's allies. As is the case with many races in ERB's canon, the turtle-men are at perpetual war with a truely bizarre race known as "spider people," who serve as the villains for the remainder of the tale.
     Chalk-white in color, diminutive, and capable of scuttling up trees and cliffs in the manner of their arachnid namesakes, the spider-men are distinguised by a strange extra digit on each of their hands. The large, and gruesome white spiders that infest the region serve this race as pets and provide the vemom for their dart-like missles. These darts are feathered either in white (which signifies paralysis venom) or scarlet (signifying death). Prisoners taken by the spider-warriors are drugged by the white-feathered darts, then bound in tough spider-silk, held captive in the cavaties of huge baobab and bottle trees. The spider-men have no true city of village, and dwell within a hollow portion  of a great cliff, where they worship a dreadful arachnid horror, which is revealed at the tale's climax. Prisoners who are taken there never return--until the arrival of Tarzan that is!
     Rather surprisingly, there is no contact in this tale with the Waz-don or Hod-don, the dominant races south of this bizarre region. However, one tailed race from the original, which didn't get enough description previously, and is entirely ignored in the comics, is well represented. This race is the Waz-ho-don, a an outcast "mixed race," as the two dominant races are bitter rivals, who dwell in the city of Bu-lur, or Moon City. Lietenant Obergatz lived briefly  among the Waz-ho-don in Tarzan the Terrible, but neither Tarzan, nor Jane nor Korak ever encountered them. I had an idea for a story involving this race at one time, but I never got to it. I pictured them having rather bluish skin, but Murray's description of Mu-bu-tan makes more sense: his skin is white like the Ho-don, and his fur is black like the Waz-don. Tarzan saves Mu-bu-tan from the fangs of a hungry jato, or saber-tooth lion-tiger, and the two become staunch allies on Tarzan's quest. However, it's true that alhough Mu-bu-tan is a major player in the novel, it's true we don't actually see his city, which is bit of a letdown.
    In regard to the saber-tooth, at one point Murray suggests, as I specualted in an article about evolution in Pal-ul-don, that jato, a hybrid feline, might in fact be a three way mixture of lion, smilodon, and tiger. There is also a savage battle between the elephant torn-ear and a Gryf. A similar Gryf-elepant battle happened at least once back in the Dell comics I think, both times serving examples of the triumph of the mammalian order.
      Illex, the missing officer, is finally found and recued. She proves to hold a connection with Tarzan's canonical past, one that I won't reveal here.
    All and all, a satisfying read for those yearing for the return to one of Burroughs famous lost worlds. Will Murray is known for his Doc Savage pastiches, notably Doc Savage: Skull Island, which features, of course, Kong and lots of dinosaurs.
     Note: The entire cover art panorama is not included on the current paperback edition, but a hardback edition is due out soon, which I hope will include it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tarzan's All-New Adventures

This past year, has launched a number of online Burroughs-related strips. This is the first time in ages I've seen a body of work that is so clearly by the fans...for the fans. Something like what the ERB estate had planned for Burroughs characters back in the mid seventies right after DC's Tarzan series folded. Most notable among these strips is the All-New Adventures of Tarzan strip written Roy Thomas and drawn by Tom Grindberg.
     The strip is not only good; the art is in the same league with Kubert and Manning. And the script also surpasses Thomas's own work on Marvel's Tarzan in the seventies. There is no attempt here to rehash the story of Tarzan's origin in an attempt to reboot the character for the new generation. That was basically what the recent Dynamite series was, and though some long-time fans were satisfied, that attempt ultimately didn't work. The art and script were fairly good, but the series was hyped as being the "uncensored version," when certain parts of the story were certainly "censored," such Tarzan's vengeful killing of Kulonga. This was merely the fact that it was an African happened to kill Tarzan's foster mother--it didn't reflect Burroughs' own attitudes on race, as Tarzan's later friendship was the Waziri demonstrates (Why, I often wonder is the clearly anti-racist message regarding the Pal-ul-don's warring pithacantropi tribes in Tarzan the Terrible never mentioned?) . Yet, the accusation of racism seems nearly unavoidable in dealing with Tarzan these days. There was also a race of near-human ape creatures, which were entirely absent in the original. They resembled somewhat the beast-men of Opar, but there was a suggestion that they might have been escapees from Pellucidar.
    The Thomas/Grindberg strip simply plunges right into Tarzan's Africa. Though there is now a separate strip retelling Tarzan of the Apes, there's no real need to do that here. Refreshingly, it really does live up to its promise and presents an all-new, though very Burroughsian story, not an adaptation of a previous work. There are two main plotlines going on in this story, which are at this point becoming intertwined. One involves Tarzan and La of Opar. The other follows Jane and Paul D'Arnot, and their encounter with an ancient Trojan colony in the African fastness. This is the sort of adventure that I can see plastered on the pages of the color Sundays back in the day, or nowadays, had Tarzan's popularity continued on past the mid-seventies. In other words, it's a good old-fashioned Tarzan strip. The only drawback here is that it sometimes takes a long time for the individual strips to appear. Manning and the other classic artists were on a rush-schedule, though it did not diminish their quality.

     One more thing regarding the story itself; early in the story, there is a scene in La's palace in which La sics her pet--Ben-Id-Numa, the "Great Silver Lion,"-on Tarzan. Tarzan manages to slay the beast. La is mortified, claiming that she raied the lion from a cub, to which the ape-man replies "You doomed him, La!" One thinks La would have known better than to pit her lion against Tarzan--or perhaps (more likely) she expected what the outcome would be. Between Tarzan and her pet, she likely would have wanted Tarzan to survive the most. The scene is similar to an incident that occurred in one of Joe Kubert's Tarzan stories in the seventies, in which a vengeful Black queen pitted Tarzan against a jet black lion. In that case, Tarzan, or course, wins the battle, but manages to subdue the beast without killing him, and the two take on the Queen's warrior's togather. The lion, now Tarzan's companion, is eventually killed by a poacher, but his unique bloodline survived--but that's another story. In any event, I've posted before on the subject of exotic feline pelages. Genuine lions have been reported (and occasionally photoshopped), but never verified. Ditto with black tigers. Reports reddish lions and chocolate brown specimens have also been reported. But silver lions? None that I'm aware. But unusual color variants do undoubtedly occurr, including many that do not reach the eyes of zoologists. What would a "silver lion" look like, exactly? Grindberg makes Ben_Id Numa sort of a bluish gray with purple highlights--and in shadow the beast appears a deep rich purple, as you may see once you've subscribed.

   Anyway, a great sight on the subject of strangely colored felids (as I might have posted before) is here:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lords Of Mars

     So far, the Dynamite's John Carter series, Warlord of Mars, seems to be doing well, though their recent Tarzan series predictably folded. Surprising, in light of the Disney film's reportedly dismal performance at the boxoffice. I thought of doing reviews of all these new series, though I have been very busy the last year, and haven't really had the time. Most people know there has been Gulliver of Mars crossover series, and separate Dejah Thoris series with very risqué artwork.

   Mostly, my opinion is that these new series have been just okay, and sometimes slightly better than average. The artwork, in the main Warlord of Mars series, and the Tarzan series (called Lord of the Jungle--for some copyright-related reason?), has been tolerably old-school, yet still somehow not as much I could hope for.

    Not the Dynamite's other series weren't worth reviewing, but this one merited some special comment.

    Tarzan/JC of Mars crossovers have been done before, of course (something advanced publicity for the current series didn't mention), notably in John Bloodstone's pastiche-novel Tarzan on Mars, and the Dark Horse 90s comic series, Tarzan, John Carter: Warlords of Mars, which was written by Bruce Jones. I was one of the few fans who actually enjoyed that previous series, in spite of two unfortunate liberties that were taken with the source material. Bret Blevins artwork was what I would call authentic old-school.
   As for the current series, there was an apparent setup in the final issue of Lord of the Jungle. In the issue before that, there was mention of some sort of monster lurking the depth of Opar. Tarzan initially refused to investigate, but this obviously changed in the final issue. I never saw that issue, but from reviews I read, there was a definite implication that this creature was a Barsoomian white ape, thus intentionally foreshadowing the current series.

   Since none of the Tarzan/JC crossovers are authentically canon, this series assumes that the two heroes have never met before.  The story begins with Tarzan and Jane on a hunting expedition with some aristocracy who poke fun at Lord Greystoke's inability to shoot with a firearm. When they discover a poacher caught in a trap, Lord Marchmain attempts to have some "sport" with the injured man. Tarzan intervenes, and he and Jane end up on the run--but there's a strong suggestion that the whole incident has been a set-up, to what end, we do not yet know. Meanwhile, on planet NOT too far away (remember the Marvel comic ad?) John Carter is involved with a campaign to exterminate the White Apes of Mars. There is some questionable morality here, though it's uncertain just what position the authors have taken. The fact that the Therns are opposed to the slaughter (though for reasons more religious than ethical), seems to suggest the slaughter might be justified, a disturbing proposition.

    In any event, Tarzan and Jane arrive on Mars, and Tarzan saves a pre-teen Thern prince from some pursuing Red Men, who allegedly are in the pay of John Carter. This is another set-up, and a fairly obvious one, this time by the Therns, who hope to rid themselves of JC by pitting one Burroughs icon against the other. The grossly fat leader of the Therns gives the Greystokes a warm welcome, and treats them royally, on the false pretense that Tarzan has saved his son's life, and feeds him a barrage of lies that John Carter is tyrannical oppressor, that a girl killed herself rather than be forced to become his concubine, etc. Obviously, all this sets up a coming showdown between our two heroes. What's surprising is how easily Tarzan himself is taken in by the villains. The Thern ruler is grossly corpulent, and often has a smirk on his face like he's laughing inwardly most of the time. Doesn't that set off warning bells? On the other hand, Jane remains suspicious of their hosts, and attempts to wran him, so far to no avail.

   This me to suspect that there's some sort of feminist vibe going on here, and if so the series doesn't entirely part form political correctness.

   Is that necessarily a bad thing? Well, if the male lead, in this case Tarzan is portrayed out of character, then to that end it is.  But hey, it's only the first two issues. And the story thus far promises a lot of action in the issues yet to come. Let's just hope ideology doesn't bog things down.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Joe Kubert Tribute

It's official.

The world has seen last of Tor in his wolrd a million years ago.


Because Tor's creator Joe Kubert, another comics-art legend, passed away, joining Frank Frazetta, Al WIlliamson, and Roy Krenkel in the great beyond.

To most people reading this, it will be old news; I first found out this sad message while speaking with artist and writer (and Savage planet co-creator) Dan Parkins at the 2012 Dum-Dum this year. It turned out that Joe passed away on Sunday August 12 (which happened to be my birthday), while I was visiting my uncle's house in Pueble Colorado, en route to the the convention in L. A.

Although most of us knew ths was coming, as Kubert was in his mid- eighties, it came as a shock nontheless. I'd just had a recent transaction with Joe less than a month ago. I had only just completed a correspondance course in inking from the Joe Kubert school of art. I had never been able to attend the actual school, since my folks suggested that I go into teaching. But I was able to take a penciling course, and later, one in inking. Joe was nice enough to go over each students' art lesson, and make corrections personally; I was fortunate enough to get an original Kubert-inked pteranodon drawing out of the penciling course. But as for the inking course, I had completed all but the final lesson; I was looking for a job at the time, and when I did find one, I was so caught up in it that I didn't finish.
Until this past summer that is. It seemed I had somehow lost that materials and instruction; but Kubert school was kind enogh to send me xeroxed copies of the final lesson. It's completed now, along with Joe's excellent feedback!

Joe Kubert and Russ Manning with the two artists a remember the most fondly growing up with. Kubert's Tarzan stories, which he did for DC in the early 1970s were among his best work; they share a quality with Tor, his iconic Cro-Magnon hero, in presenting Burroughs' character as a lone wanderer who inate sense of justice manages to prevail over the cruelty he encounters among the lost cities and tribes he is continually discovering.

Thanks, Joe, for everything, including a lifetime of incredible lost-world adventures. You will be sorely missed.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chico, the Black-Headed Leopard

I remember on the Ron Ely TV show back in the seventies, there was one episode that featured a mysterious feline that might be refered to as a "panthard"--an otherwise normal-coated leopard, with a melanistic "pantherine" head. Was this an authentic color mutation (some sort of incomplete melanism)? Or was this a case of someone getting out the spray-can?

The episode, which I have discovered was titled "Leopard on the Loose," puzzled me for years. But now I have discovered a blog article that revealed in greater detail all I remembered regarding the episode, and more.  That he was a friend of  Jai, that poachers were after him, that he ws valuable pecisely becuase of his coloration, etc. The only thing it did NOT mention was the leopard's name on the show, which  recall as being "Chico," though I could be wrong. As far as the animal's coloration, this was not solved, although evidence points toward a case of fakery, the same as the black puma Weakfoot, in the Disney movie The Ghost of Cypress Swamp and the black tiger "Rhu" in the filmatic semi-adaptation of Andre Noton's The Beastmaster. This sort of simulated coloration, as cool as it looked, sadly, was dangerous for the animal actors, and is now thankfully banned. The tiger who played Rhu tragically died as a result, and this is why the tiger in the sequal was normal-colored.

The site has loads of interesting info on mysterious cats and other cryptid wonders that are stll possibly out there lurking in the darkened corners of the world:

This article also contains some tantelizing evidence of a genuine captive black tiger in Ringling Brothers circus. I like how that guy describes how he loved big cats as a boy, and always went to the mall to checked out that same book, and oggle that mysterious photo. I would have done he same for sure!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The John Carter Movie

As all ERB fans are well aware as of this writing, the John Carter movie is relaesed in theatres. Plans for this live-action movie has been around since the late eighties. Finally, in March of 2012, Burroughs fans finally got our wish.

Was it worth the wait?

Pretty much. With high tech CGI at their disposal, now filmakers are truely able to give the story the treatment it deserves. I still wonder what it might have been like had it really been made back in the eieghties, when stop-mtion woould still have had to have been relied on for banths, thoats, white apes, and perhaps even tharks (though those would more likely have been played by human actors, and thus have come across as terribly fake). Or perhaps of the proposed animation version had actually been realized. As it is, though, we are able to see the Martian world as envisioned by Burroughs truely roar to life on the screen. The thoats, apes, tharks and banths are as close as possible to living, breathing creatures. Well, not the banths--we just get a glimpse a few dead ones (maybe they'll in the sequal--if there is one, which I'll get to in a minute). I really appreciate today's affects for their magic in creating what was heretfore possible only in Burroughs' fertile imagination.

As for the story itself, there are are certainly omissions, though its sufficient as a treatment of Princess of Mars (which would have made a better title than simply "John Carter," especially for non-Burroughs fans). The introduction of Woola the calot is well-crafted, but it would have been better had the kept the scene where he saves Carter from a pair of white Martian apes. Speaking of which, the apes do feature prominately in the later arena-battle. One thing got me to thinking. Unlike in the book, the movie's apes don't much look like primates, let alone resemble the African gorilla, as Carter describes them, perhaps because the idea of primates evolving on Mars would diminish credibility. That's okay, of course, except you still have to explain the presence of the Red Martians. They're humans, after all, and therefore primates. There are other liberties as well. I don't recall that thoats sported horns. Of the movies' creatures, Woola is perhaps the best-realized, sort of a sleek cross between a bloated caterpillar and a pug-dog with a lolling blue tonque.

I am pleasently surprised that they did manage to show the early scene when Carter comes upon the thark incubator, complete with the thark infants hatching. The movie also does not forget that, in the world of the novels, Burroughs himself is part of his own created "universe," and is merely the "editor" of the stories; the opening and closing scenes do more than justice to this aspect of the series. The role of the Holy Therns is explicit even from the start, one thing that some fans have already found fault with, but seems to work okay.

More than that, I won't say concerning the movie's plot, though it's a fair facsimile of the book. The actress playing Dejah is simply gorgeous, as she should be. JC's hair is longer than in the iconic paintings by Frazetta and Whelan, more like the more recent actors who have played Tarzan.

The ending certainly leaves the gates open for another one, not to mention the entire series.

But my real question is: will it happen?

We're lucky, really lucky to finally see this, and for that alone we should be grateful. However, there is already talk on the internet about this being a flop, and others have responded that the charges are premature at best, and, unfortunately, a lot of people may have actually wanted such a big, Disney-sponsored franchise to come crashing down, as a way of showing that they hadn't fallen for all the hype. Whether the film is a hit or a flop is still a bit iffy at this point, as reportedly, it's been most successful oveseas.

But that's not really what matters.

Imagine for a moment a faithful ERB adaptation that really broke box office, generating tons of cash, and a huge demand for merchandise. That's what ERB really needs. And I think it's fair to say that no such miracle hasn't happened with this movie, whether it's fair or not (I'd opin not). A mere moderate hit, I fear, will be unlikely to even generate a sequal that isn't a straight-to-DVD hack job. Maybe they could have made it a bit clearer to non-Burroughs fan as to what was going on--by voice-over maybe, having JC explain his story to the audience. He did, after all, narrate the books.

The thing is, though, that now in Tarzan's 100th year, and in conjunction with the movie, the ERB estate has greenlit multiple John Carter comics series fromm Dynamite even a new, (though somewaht PC) Tarzan reboot. There are also a number of promising-looking ERB graphic novels, all by talented writers and artists, from Dark Horse, due out before the year's end. It would be wonderful if all this went over hugely, but I'm not all that optimistic.

I'll be blunt: what ERB really needs is demand. And demand requires a blockbuster.

Above is the link (you'll have to cut and paste 'cuz I still don't know how to links work in here) about the negative press regarding John Carter. This one is definitely on the side of the film.

Now if we if we could just get At the Earth's Core made into a cgi movie.

Again, I fear that'll depend soley on this movie's success.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Descent Into the Past

Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the lost worlds of Pal-ul-don, Pellucidar and Caspak. Tarzan visited all three (Caspak only once in the comics, thus non-canonical). But other prehistoric realms have featured occasionally in the Tarzan comics. There was a prehistoric world that existed just outside the elephant graveyard in a Hal Foster print, in which Tarzan encountered swarms of pterodactyls, a giant carnivorous saurian rather like a flesh-eating sauropod, called a "gigantosaurus," and a tryrannosaurus rex. In the Kubert DC comics, Tarzan encounters a lost realm deep in pymy country, where he encounters both a sabertooth tiger, and later on a strange survival from the dinosaur age, to whom the pygmies offer human sacrifice.

Then there is this Russ Manning illustrated comic story, published first during Tarzan's Dell comics run, and reprinted later when Dell became Gold Key, called Descent Into the Past. It has Tarzan venturing to a lost plateau were time his stood still for millions of years. A couple of astronauts land on the plateau in their space shuttle. It is up to Tarzan and his mangani freind Barkat to rescue the astronauts and lead them safely off the plateau.

Unlike most other lost worlds, Manning's lost plateau appears to harbor only mammals. There is not one dinosaur or prehistoric saurian to be seen, which indicates this particular lost land must have become isolated more recently then the others, sometime during the Cenozoic.

Tarzan says that the plateau represents Africa as it was a million years ago, but that is not quite right: most of the fauna he Barkat, and the astronauts ancounter is not African. There is the saber-tooth cat, whom is first seen attacking a herd of zebra-like horses. Tarzan and Barkat later slay the same beast or another of its kind. Though the saber-tooth dinofelis did indeed roam the African savannah of a million years ago, this species appears to be the more familair smilodon, which was indiginous only to the Americas. The phorohacas too, are strictly New World, as is the giant sloth. Both of these originated in South America. The dinohyus lived in North America during the Miocene, and other entelodonts ranged across Eurasia.
The Homo Eretcus-type hominids could be characterized as African, as humans first developed in Africa, then swept in and out of the continent on many separate waves.

The hyenodons are perhaps the only distinctly African species, but here Manning makes an additional error. He depicts them as merely huge, preshitoric versions of the familiar spotted hyena (as he did also in one of his Pal-ul-don strips), and this is incorrect. Hyenodons were not ancestral to hyenas; nor were they ancestors of canines, as Burroughs himself depicted them in the Pellucidar books. Hyendons were creodonts, an entire family of carnivous mammals separate form all the modern canrivora. There were also many types of hyenodont, ranging from small, weasel-like species, to enormous brutes. In fact one species, hyenodon horridus, was indeed nearly horse-size (as one of the astronauts observes), and likly superficially resembled the modern hyena. To get a good idea of a hyenodon horridus, check out the "wargs" in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Anyway, it's a good comic. it would still be interesting for Tarzan to discover a lost world that si authentically African, with libatheriums, deinotherium, chalictotherium, pelorovis, African tigers, dinofelis, and of course, our own ancestor, Australopithicus Africanus.