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.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Did Burroughs Write Alternate History?

Some have opined that ERB's "universe," and most particularly Tarzan's Africa, represent an alternate reality. Of course, ERB and others wrote in a time before the term "alternate history" had been coined. The "alternate history" genre seems to have had its genesis in the novel The Wolves of Willouby Chase by Joan Aiken, who wrote a Dickensian series of novels that took place in an alternate England, in which King James III was never deposed, and wolves have migrated to Britain via a Channel tunnel (rather than merely survived from Arthurian times). More recent novels of alternate history focus on such questions as : what if Rome never fell? What is the South had won the Civil War? What if aliens had become involved in WWII ? What if the newly discovered Americas had been inhabited not by native human tribes, but by Homo Erectus? Those last two examples are derived directly from the novels of Harry Turtledove, a veteran of alternate historical fiction.

Such writers as ERB and Conan Doyle didn't set out to write alternate history. Burroughs wrote in an era when life on Mars and Venus and even the moon seemed higly probable, however wild their speculations were. But as time has passed, Burroughs novels could easily be classified as such today. The locale for Doyle's Lost World actaully exiists but no prehistoric fauna exists there; Robert J. Sawyer's novel Dinosaur Summer speculates on how history might have preceded had Conan Doyle's story been fact (among other things, the movie King Kong, was a flop!).

As far as Burroughs' Africa goes, he seems to have been drawing on the mythic "Dark Continent" of Western cultural imagination, which in fact, Tarzan's Africa resembles the most. For one thing, the Congo appears to be far more extensive than it on our earth, and the savanna lands, which make up the bulk of the Africa we know, correspondingly smaller. It is generally assumed that Lord and Lady Greystoke were stranded on the coast of the Cameroon; however the first novel suggests that the locale is far south of the there, where technically there should be no jungle.

Another difference is in the fauna. It is fairly obvious that the Mangani are a speciesof great ape absent in the Africa we know. Just what are the Mangani? Most depictions of them resemble the chimpanzee the most closely, but are larger. Like chimps, the Mangani are aggressive, omnivorous creatures. They seem to be considerably more inteligen than any known ape species, and even havea language. However, this last may or may not set tham apart, as other primates such as the Bolgoni (gorilla), and even the Manu (monkey) seem to comprehend and speak the same tongue in Burroughs' Africa, which merely sounds like animalistic gibberish to humans. And speaking of the Bolgoni, the gorilla of Tarzan's Africa seems to be of a more aggressive disposition (and also omnivorous). This corresponds to what was then known (and feared) about gorillas by European explorers, but has little to with what has since been learned. There is also no mention of the chimpanzee (and their smaller, less aggressive cousins, the Bonobo, or pygmy chimps) in Burroughs novels. The bonobo may not have been officially recognized at the time, bu Burroughs may have intentially cosen to eliminate the chimpanzee from his version of Africa. I wrote a pastiche once set in Burroughs Africa in which I gave mention to "Rogani the chimpazee," but that is only speculation; others have speculated that this species may not exist in Burroughs' Africa any more than the Mangani exist in ours.

Then there is the matter of African tigers. In Tarzan of the Apes Burroughs intended the mangani term "Sabor" to refer to the tiger. It was originally a tiger, not a lioness, from whom Tarzan rescued Jane. This error may well exist in the origianl pulp publication. The only thing, of course, is that no tigers exist in Africa. Burroughs simply did not know this, so there was no intent on alternate world-building here. He corrected this error his later drafts, and the African tiger disapeared from Tarzan's Africa. This ommission may be, in general, for the better, as evidenced when Tarzan encounters a Sumatran tiger in Tarzan in the Foreign Legion. However, the possibility of African tigers remains enigmatic. Professor Louis Leakey, famous for his discover of mankind's ancestors, speculated that tigers did indeed once roam Africa's plains and jungles in his book Animals of East Africa. This book includes a fascinating chapter on the prehsitoric fauna of Olduvai Gorge, incuding pelorovis, a giant relative of the cape buffalo with sweeping horns, giant bison-sized pigs with four tusks, libitherium, an extinct girraffid crowned with antlers, giant baboons, elephant-like deinotherium, calictotheres---and Afria tigers. But were they truely tigers? Leakey writes that the skulls of lions and tigers appear virtually indentical, but when placed on a flat surface, the skull of a lion can be rocked back and foreward, while the skull of a tiger will remain flat. The "African tiger" skulls remain flat. However, Leakey cautions, "there exists no evidencd for he cat's striped coats." The jury appears to still be out on the existence of African tigers. But had Burroughs not corrected his error, Tarzan's Africa would be all the more identifibale as an alternate historical account.
Perhaps the most profound difference between ERB fictitious africa and our own is its apparent human history. Tarzan encounters many lost civilizations tucked away in its vast jungled reaches. This, in itself, indicates a far more extensive rainforest tha in our own world. Some of these lst colonies are from identifiable historical periods. The colonists ventured into the depths of Africa, put down their roots, and were subsequently cut off form their parent civilization. But other lost colonies-such as the warring cities of Athne and Cathne in the lost valley of Onthar--have a much more enigmatic origin. They resemble no known civilation from recorded history. What, then, do they represent? Opar is identified as a colony of lost Atlantis. But why are no native civilizations represented? Only Ashiar, which is possibly of Egyptian origin, would be a exception. Some might count the lost city of Ur, in the semi-pastice by Joe R. Landsdale, as canon, but other than it, no civilzation of subSaharan African origin exists. Burroughs invented the city of Ur, but never got around to describing it. In all likelyhood, it would have turned out to have been of near-Eastern origin, as its name indicates, not sub-Saharan African, as Joe Landsdale describes it (I really don't think the Landsdale portion of ths story should be considered canon, inventive and Burroughsian as it is).

The fact is that the inhabitants of cities like Athne may, in fact, be of true African origin, only it is NOT the Africa of our own history. In The Eternal Savage, Burroughs discribes a fictional, prehistoric Africa inhaited by white prmitives and primeval monsters. Nu, the hero of the tale, is in fact, astonished that some of the inhabitiants of modern Africa are Black! In Phillip Jose' Farmer' Hadon of Ancient Opar novels, and in Time's Last Gift, he strongly suggests that Africa's first human inhabitants and original civilizations were white rather than black. So did history proceed on a radically different course in Burroughs' Africa? Farmer may not be canon, but one look at the Niocene Africa, with its Pellucidar-type fauna and humans idicates, the answer, at least in part, is yes.
Are there any thoughts on this?