Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tarzan of the Comics

Has interest in Tarzan diminished over the last three decades? If one looks at the duration of the various Tarzan series produced in comic book form, it certainly seems to have done so. After all Tarzan had his origin in the Pulps a form of literature which is now passed into extinction. The same is true for plethora of other pulp heroes and “lost race” stories that were directly modeled after ERB in the 1930s and 40s. The same now seems to be true of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and the entire “Sword and Sorcery” genre that sprang form the original Conan stories. All these heroes were of course, staples of the pulps, and once the pulps were gone, jungle and barbarian heroes, were quite likely already beginning to diminish. For someone who never truly knew the pulp heroes in their original medium, it seems a bit strange to declare them “unsuited” to the medium of comics, which they were soon forced to adapt. After all, the “Sword and Sorcery” boom of the late sixties and early seventies, not only saw the original Conan tales published in novel form, as well as their many imitations, but the birth of most of the barbarian comics, most notably Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, which was to last for well over one hundred issues over three decades. There were many imitations as well, most of them short lived. Two of the Warlord and Ka-Zar, borrowed from both the ERB and Howardian gnres, but managed to use fresh approaches, and in-depth characters which managed to breath new life into both. Ka-Zar, in particular, was a direct copy of Burroughs jungle man, and Warlord took place with in a hollow, prehistoric land within the world’s center. But without going into further detail on these separate pulpish creations, suffice saying that all of them-Ka-Zar, Warlord, Kull, Red Sonja Skull, Stalker, Claw, Tar, Tragg, Turok, Jungle Twins, Brothers of the Spear, Tor, Conan and even Tarzan and Korak—none of them exist now. Some heroes, such as Toka and Jongor of Lost Land, never made it beyond the demise of the pulps themselves. While the graphic medium of the comics seemed an ideal home to these fantastic adventures-I will never forget the gorgeous art by the likes of Mike Grell, Brent Anderson, and John Buscema-it was super-heroes who had their roots in this medium, which perhaps the plush heroes could never entirely adapt. Comics remains the domain of the super-hero up until this very day, but the jungle and barbarian heroes have passed into oblivion.

The first Tarzan comics series was produced by Dell comics in the fifties and sixties. It was a very successful run, lasting for well over one hundred issues. In addition to original adventures, the early Dell issues also featured sections on the Ape-English lexicon, educational bits on African animals and cultures, and information on Tarzan’s jungle realm, such species of ancestral elephant which inhabited lost Pal-ul-don. Most of the artwork tended to be substandard, and while most of the material was derived from Burroguhs, they didn’t follow ERBs stories particularly well. The Lost cities of Athne and Cathne were incorporated into Pal-ul-don, for example. The gryfs of Pal-ul-don were usually a drab green or gray, and “Pal-ul-donian” species such as pteranodons and Phororhcas were given the Pelluciadaran terms “thipdar” and “dyal”. The stories were much in the Burroughs tradition, however, in spite of the many embellishments. And the series also featured adaptations of the original Tarzan novels, which they followed very closely. Many of these adaptations, such as Tarzan and Ant Men , Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, and “Incredible Pal-ul-don” (Tarzan the Terrible were adapted by comics legend Russ Manning. Some of these were reprinted in the nineties by Dark Horse, but they pretty much spoiled them by their bad coloration.

After the series had been cancelled, DC took up Tarzan, Korak, and other Burroughs heroes for a fairly successful run. DC’s approach was different than Dell’s, but no less true to Burroughs. Comics legend Joe Kubert, who had patterned his own hero Tor on Tarzan scripted and drew the first several issues. Kubert’s writing was distinctive, and in his Tales Tarzan is often an educated jungle loner, one of the few who truly understands honor and selflessness, in a world in which the lost races and tribes he encounters are governed basically by instinct, and man’s basic “animal” nature. This is very much in the vein of Kubert’s earlier hero Tor. Korak, Jane, are entirely absent from these stories, in which Tarzan’s only occasional allies are the Great Apes. In one of these tales, Tarzan liberates, a strange white-skinned race from a cruel Black Queen. He wrestles her champion, then fights a jet-black lion, which eventually becomes Tarzan’s companion. It turns out that the Queen is not truly evil, though part of her, up to the end of the story, had been morally blind. Her own tribe had been enslaved by Europeans, and she sought a misguided vengeance on people who merely looked the same. The following issue is the story of a ruthless white poacher who seeks to find trophies of “only the rarest African species”. He kills a caracal, and a white elephant calf, and then becomes obsessed with taking the head of the black lion. Since he is in Tarzan’s Africa, this of course, earns him the wrath of Tarzan. The Ape Man is eventually able to kill this intruder, but not before the black lion has been destroyed. However, a new lion cub is born to the black lion’s mate, which carries the trait of melanism from its paternal parent. In another story, Tarzan encounters a tribe of African pygmies living deep within a secluded region of jungle.

The region has preserved certain prehistoric species (though this is neither Pal-ul-don nor Pellucidar, but a separate lost realm). These include a saber-tooth cat, which Tarzan battles and slays in the opening sequence, and a strange carnivorous reptile, which isn’t quite like any known dinosaur species. Tarzan rescues two girls of the tribe who were intended as a sacrifice to this beast. Later, he is able to kill the beast in front of the tribe’s chief, who believes Tarzan’s rescue of the sacrificial victims has imperiled his people. Tarzan tells them that their own cowardice kept them from destroying the beast long ago. In addition to these original stories. Kubert also adapted some of ERBs actual novels, some of which hadn’t been done before, such as Tarzan and the Lion Man. Strangely, Kubert made some alterations in certain of the Tarzan stores. In his adaptation of “the Nightmare” (one of ERB’s “Jungle Tales of Tarzan”), he makes the dream-lion made of stone, and the Bolgoni Tarzan fights to the death at the climax is an albino!

This actually makes a bit more sense than the way Burroughs wrote it, as it is easier to see why Tarzan would mistake the gorilla for a figment of his imagination. Kubert left the series sometime after that, but the alterations of some of the novels would continue, even with a different set of writers and artists. The lost city Tarzan encounters in their adaptation of Tarzan the Untamed, looks nothing like that of the mad Xujans, and the inhabitants appear to be of either Greek or Roman descent. The people also worship a monster called a “glyph”, to which captive outsiders are fed. It resembles a mutant carnivorous glyptodont (a huge armadillo-like mammal). Tarzan battles and slays the beast, and rescues Jane, whom he had not found yet in the original. This ending may have come about because the writers had originally intended to adapt the next novel, Tarzan the Terrible, but by this time cancellation was pending, and they decided to wrap things up.

DC also produced a number of expanded issues of Tarzan around the middle of the series run. These issues featured not only a lead Kubert Tarzan story, but abbreviated Tarzan stories taken from the current Manning newspaper strips, a Korak story, and a few non-Burroughs features such as Detective Chimp, and Congo Bill. Later, they produced some “Giant” Tarzan Family issues. “Tarzan Family” was advertised as being “the” Burroughs book, and in this they meant exactly what they said. Only Burroughs characters were featured this time, including a lead Tarzan feature, a Korak feature, more Manning Tarzan features, and even some old Hal Foster Tarzan reprints, along with tales of John Carter and Carson of Venus. The series was soon cancelled however. Korak, by the way, was given his own series by DC, just as he was by Dell in the sixties. In most of the Korak DC books, the Son of Tarzan wanders the uncharted regions of the world like a lost spirit, in search of a girl he loves named Merium. This being Burroughs universe, he comes across all manner of weird monsters and forgotten races, in these lost regions. Often these Korak stories have a haunting, tragic quality about them, though there are a number located in the more familiar terrain of Tarzan’s Africa, with a couple of them even set in Pal-ul-don. DC also published a short-lived companion comics to the Tarzan series, titled Weird Worlds. These featured adaptations of the original David Innes and John Carter novels.

While DC’ Tarzan series enjoyed a fairly respectable run, it as cancelled before the end of the seventies, and shortly afterward Marvel picked up the Ape-Man, and run a series which lasted until 1979, along with another John Carter book entitled John Carter: Warlord of Mars. Marvel’s Tarzan had a less successful run than either of its predecessors, largely because of the numerous errors that were picked up by Burroughs enthusiasts. The first run of issues were a straightforward adaptation of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, interspersed with issues adapting stories from Jungle Tales of Tarzan. Then they went on to a Tarzan original story set mostly in Pellucidar, called “Blood Money and Human Bondage”.

All these tales were drawn by John Buscema, whose work on Marvel’s Conan was legendary, and who actually did a very good job depicting the Ape-Man. The main faults in the book lay in the script. The “Blood Money and Human Bondage” story was divided into chapters within each issue, which gave the tale a very pulpish, Burroughsian flavor. The story had plenty of action, captures and escapes, including two (Once where Tarzan dives off a Pellucidararn cliff the height of a skyscraper, and another where he breaks the jaw of a tylosaurus) that were a bit over the top. However, the story’s chief villain was Abdul Alhazrad, “The Mad Arab”, who is actually a character originally created not by Burroughs but by H. P. Lovecraft. Alhazard has acquired near- superhuman strength, and strange powers from a gigantic “living” crystal that is kept by the Mahars of Pellucidar. Alhazrad, and his flunkies, a gang of ruthless tarmangani, invade Tarzan’s jungle, kill one of Tarzan’s ape friend, and alter journey into Pellucidar through a “time portal” which seems out of place. Tarzan follows them across the inner earth in vengeance, and the story climaxes with a fight to the death between Tarzan and Alhazrad in the Mahar coliseum. One subplot involves a girl named Ashia, a princess of an African tribe, and her friendship with Danger, a young warrior of Pellucidar. These crash on the Moon of Pellucidar, where they are captured by the last survivors of the Mahar race. Here is where most Burroughs fans began to have problems with the series. Almost every aspect of the Mahars is wrong, as they are depicted as male, speaking without telepathy, and inventing a sound weapon when they are supposed to be deaf! They also bear only a faint resembles to the Mahars of Burroguhs novel. Another curious fact is that one reader remarked on the inclusion of Dangar, a warrior of Sari, who was introduced in Back to the Stone Age, when the writer were apparently unaware that a warrior named Dangar existed in the original series! After the Pellucidar adventure wrapped up, there began a new original Tarzan story, in which Tarzan returns home, only to have himself and his mate, along with Jad-bal-ja, captured by a ruthless showman, who takes them to New York for exploitation. Tarzan is drugged so that he can speak only in the guttural tongue of the Great Apes, which only sound like gibberish to the patrons, and is therefore billed as a “wild man” in Roger Tory’s “Safari Club”. Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja are forced to battle a gigantic albino gorilla in a simulated “Jungle”, behind thick glass for the amusement of the club members. The bolgoni has also been drugged, in order to make it savage. They are able to defeat the bolgoni and escape, however, when a New York gang,(to whom Tory owes money, intervenes. Tarzan and Jane scale the Empire State building, King Kong style, to escape their pursuers, and Korak rescues them in a biplane. The series lasted only one issue further, and this saw Tarzan and family safely returned to his native Africa. This final Tarzan adventure in the Marvel series had more in common with Mighty Joe Young and King Kong then with Burroughs. One problem I had with the story was that although hypocritical nature of the ruthless kidnappers, who are forever deriding Tarzan and his mate as savages, the animals throughout the series (with the exception of Jad-bal-ja), are simply portrayed as non-thinking killing machines. I was hoping that the drugs would wear off the bolgoni, so that perhaps Tarzan could reason with him, and both of them could get even with Tory. As it was, even though the gorilla is itself a victim of mankind’s cruelty, it is simply a “monster” that must be killed.

With the exception of a two- issue semi-tie-in with the Greystoke movie in the eighties, published by marvel, nothing more was seen of Tarzan in the comics after that for a long time. Then, sometime in the mid-nineties, Malibu launched their now-infamous Tarzan the Warrior series. To be fair, I cannot really comment on the script for this series, since I avoided buying it due to the very poor artwork. However, many ERB fans have complained that the story was non-jungle, and very non Burroguhsian. Malibu then continued with Tarzan the Beckoning, which was written and excellently rendered by Thomas Yeates. In spite of its Politically Correct content, this book was a vast improvement over what had followed. Set very much in Tarzan’s Africa, Yeates’ story featured flashbacks to Tarzan’s boyhood, African mysticism, and the discovery of a lost world, and thriving civilization which appears to reside within a “pocket dimension.” Strange beasts dwell here in, seemingly related to those in Pellucidar, including a strange flying reptile, which may in fact be a trodon, that nearly flies off with Jane, and a horde of giant lizard-like reptiles which set upon and devour the trodon once the flying creature becomes trapped in the forest canopy. Tarzan identifies the lizard as the same species as the gorobors of Pellucidar. As with most of Burroughs own novels the valley is inhabited by two antagonistic people. One are white-skinned descendents of the original Atlantis, who were once civilized, but who have devolved into a race of subhuman savages, by inbreeding, and the Rhomahal, a tall race of dark Africans who are technologically advanced, and have learned to live at peace with nature. While Yeates’ race of pacifist, vegetarian Blacks, who are the fathers of all human civilization, most definitely bears the stamp of modern Afrocentrism, Yeates’ infusion of his deeply held ideological convictions with his love of the original Tarzan novels make the tale interesting, in an offbeat kind of way. Beckoning comes across as exactly the sort of novel ERB himself might have penned, had he embraced the radical ideology of the sixties!

Malibu’s Tarzan was discontinued after that, but Political Correctness would remain a lasting presence within Tarzan comics from then on. Sometime later, Dark Horse acquired the rights to ERB characters. They began with their publication of Tarzan: the Lost Adventure, in authentic pulp format in a series of four issues. Each featured artwork by noted artists, such as Thomas Yeates, and Michael Kaluta. Later,the volumes were collected in hardback and paperback form. Each volume of The Lost Adventure also contained, as backup feature, a series of previously unpublished Tarzan strips by John Coleman Burroughs. The Lost Adventure was a good story for fans hungering for a new Tarzan novel, but in spite of the hype, most of it was a Joe R. Lansdale pastiche. Sales were successful, however, which prompted Dark Horse to follow up with two Tarzan comics’ series: Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars, and Tarzan vs. Predator at the Earth’s Core. While the former of these featured gorgeous cover and interior art by Bret Blevins, and script by Bruce Jones (a veteran at pulpish adventure yarns), it did not go over particularly well among fans. I am not entirely sure why this is so. First of all, it was true that there were at least two deviations from Burroughs’ Ape-Man which were indeed cause for Burroughs fans to raise cries of blasphemy. The first of these is that Tarzan apparently has a brief, but genuine love affair with Dejah Thoris, which sets up the coming conflict with her mate. Back in the eighties, Jones scripted a number of issues of Marvel’s Ka-Zar, who was a direct Tarzan take-off. He gave the love-relation between Ka-Zar, and his mate Shanna conflict, since Ka-Zar was constantly drawn to other beautiful women he encountered. With a Tarzan imitation, this was permissible, and even added spice to their romance. But with the original Ape-Man, it was entirely different story. The early Foster and Hogarth strips, in fact, much emphasized Tarzan’s monogamy. The other deviation was the curious fact of darkening Tarzan’s skin for no apparent reason. Tarzan skin remained uncharacteristically dark, for virtually all of the Dark Horse series, but in the John Carter team-up it was particularly extreme. Issues three and four in fact, colored him a dark purple brown of some of the native African tribes. Did anyone remember that the name “Tarzan” literally translates as “white-skin?” These two things aside, however, I found the series to be excellent. The art, in particular, was excellent, and harked back to the early Tarzan issues of seventies, when Buscema and Kubert were still working on them. The battle with Banths and White Apes in the arena was a treat, as was the sword fight between Dejah Thoris and Pudrid Mos. Jones gave the ending of the story was quite a twist, when Tarzan’s spirit returns to his body on early, the spirit of the White Martian Ape find the form of on of the Great Apes of Tarzan’s jungle. Curiously, though, some fans complained of the art, which was actually better than that which followed in Dark Horse’s ongoing Tarzan series. There was at least one objection, to Blevins’ scantily clad-sexy-drawn women, though I have never heard that compliant made of any other Burroughs artist. The Predator/Pellucidar series was also enjoyable, and brought some neat twists as well, such as when David Innes and his mate are found to be under the influence of a Mahar.

Dark Horse followed with Tarzan: The Ongoing Series. The first story sequence was “Tarzan’s jungle Fury”. The story concerned a strange plaque that had invaded Tarzan’s Africa., and has infected tarzan’s mate Jane. Also, strange animals like six-legged lions, and dinosaur like monsters, miles from the lost land of Pal-ul-don have begun turning up in Tarzan’s jungle. A mysterious girl named Kita tells Tarzan that her people, the Kavel have the cure. Tarzan Kita, and some tarmangani outsiders begin a trek to the Lost Cities of Fala, home to two races known as the kavel and the Arten. south of the Great Thorn Forest. The only problem is, Tarzan has visited the lost cities, and found them to be in ruin. Once they travel there, they find them to be inhabited and thriving. A series of a adventures follow, in which we discover the following: Upon his return from Barsoom Tarzan brought with him the spores of a sentient Martian plant known as the tara. On its native planet, the tara was part of the natural cycle of life, but once taken seed on earth, the plant’s DNA merged with in mutated certain terran life forms. It reawakened the DNA of the ancient Kavel and Artan, bringing the two people back to life. It also mutated the lower animals, turning them into monstrosities of Barsoomian and terran genetic structure. The human-tara hybrids are “grown” in pods, and human intelligence is increased a hundredfold. This enables Artan technology to grow at an exponetial rate, and their technology soon surpasses that of their ancestors. The Artan purposely cultivate more of their new species, aiming to eventually infect the entire planet. But where the original Artan and Kavel coexisted peacefully, their resurrected counterparts are bitter rivals. While the Artan seek to conquer humanity, the Kavel seek to destroy them through ritual sacrifice rather than to perpetuate the tara. Eventually, a means is found to eliminate the tara from the hosts’ DNA, therby eliminating the threat, and returning the plant/human hybrids to their original human form. The story neatly ties in with the John Carter crossover, and Jones is here at the peak of his form, expanding on the possibilities presented by the “lost race” genre, while making the grievous error which fled the previous series.

Jones wrote no further Tarzan stories for dark Horse however, and the following story sequences were less inventive. The next, “Tarzan and Legion of Hate,” dealt with a Nazi invasion of Tarzan’s Africa, and brought the Ape-Man back into contact with the Kaji amazons of Tarzan the Magnificent. It was a decent enough story, though it focused a bit too much on the destruction of Africa by Europeans. After that, Dark Horse launched a series of story sequences which teamed Tarzan with various icons of classic horror literature. These included Tarzan and the modern Prometheus, which teamed Tarzan with Frankenstein’s Monster, Tarzan Le Monstre, which teamed him with the Phantom of the Opera, and one other, which teamed him Jekyle and Hyde. I thought that these were getting away from being Tarzan altogether. There was no jungle in any of these stories, and it doesn’t seem logical that any of these characters, all of whom were the creations of other writers, would exist in Burroughs’ universe. The next few series were better though, and returned to the original format. Tom Yeates wrote and drew a separate Tarzan mini-series, which was first published in serial format in Previews This was an excellent adaptation of Burroughs’ The Return of Tarzan.

This occurred about the same time as a sequence called “Tarzan and the Moon Men” concerned a future invasion of Tarzan’s jungle by the war-like Kalkars, of ERBs’ Moon stories. Tarzan is able to reach them through the cave of Oo (from the Eternal Savage). This story offers a glimpse into Burroguhs’ Africa at the time some of ERB’s future projection novels take place. It also does decent job tying Tarzan and other ERB series together. The next separate mini-series teamed Tarzan with Carson of Venus, just as they had earlier with John Carter. The next Tarzan sequence was to be titled Tarzan: the Savage Heart, in which the Ape-Man was to return to Pellucidar on the false presupposition of Jane’s death. At this point something unexpected occurred. Dark Horse put this series, and any other ERB projects on hiatus for about a year, until the eve of the release of Disney’s Tarzan movie. At first, this seemed to be a wise move on their part. The trouble was, the movie, while a decent enough Disney cartoon, wasn’t Burroughs any more then their Jungle Book cartoon was Kipling. The film was aimed more for preschoolers and a “family audience”, and was as unlikely as anything to draw new fans to the real Tarzan. As a result of wait, the Pellucidar series was damaged. It was still among the best of the Dark Horse efforts, with Alan Gross (author of the excellent pastiche Farewell Pellucidar , which he actually tied in with this series), and Mike Grell on the artwork. Grell’s rendering of the savage splendor of Burroughs’ inner world for the first two issues is virtually breathtaking. However is art for the next issue is diminished, as some of the inks and finished pencils are done by another artists. The art for the final issue is wretched, and only the thumbnail layouts are Grell’s work. This is probably a result of the wait; Grell probably didn’t return to finish the book a year afterward. Dark Horse also published a single issue “Tales of Pellucidar”, as sort of a sequel to “Savage Heart” drawn by Tom Yeates and Steven Bisette. It is a black and white book. The stories are good, and it introduces two new Pellucidaran races, the Mealians, a race of cannibalistic humanoid, whoa re able to alter their skin colors as implied by their name, and a strange race of antlered ”Antelope people”.

The following stories were decent enough, but diminished much from what preceded them. The next was a Tarzan/ Batman teamup, which actually worked better than it sounded, since it brought batman to the jungle, rather than the Jungle lord to Gotham, and there ensues a very Burroguhsian tale, complete with a lost city. Tarzan: Rivers of Blood followed. This was a good story with decent enough artwork, at least to begin with. But the last few issues make the mistake of taking Tarzan back to civilization. Even Burroughs fans seemed to have lost interest in Dark Horse “s Tarzan by then, and the book was cancelled in the middle of the series. Very little has been seen of the Tarzan since, but Dark Horse has recently produced one more series, the disasterous Tarzan/Superman crossover. This series seems primarily set in the jungle, an features La of Opar. However, it is the most horribly drawn Tarzan comic ever, surpassing even Malibu. That is not to say that the art is sloppy or lacking in talent; it is intentionally rendered in the blocky “modern” stylized form sadly common in many modern superhero comics. This appears to be an attempt to connect with modern comics readers, but as with virtually all previous such attempts, it will only have the affect of alienating true Burroughs fans.

This brings up another attempt to “modernize” Tarzan in recent years, and has diminished the quality of Tarzan efforts in recent years: Political Correctness. The most obvious manifestation of this is the darkening of Tarzan’s skin throughout the dark Horse comics series. It may seem a bit of a stretch to suppose this is make Tarzan appear “less white”. But the remark of one of the Kaji Amazons who questions that Tarzan is truly white, and the fact that the Manning reprints issued by Dark Horse, are “recolored for today’s audiences” seem to bear this supposition out. The Dark Horse Manning reprints—of the Caspak graphic novels, and the Dell adaptations of Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, The Son of Tarzan, Tarzan the Untamed and Tarzan the Terrible, are all welcome additions, and featured stunning cover art by Mark Shultz, the artist for Xenozoic Tales. However, Tarzan’s skin is darkened even in these books. What’s more, even the Ho-dons are a shade darker than they are supposed to be, and the gryfs are a plain slate gray, quite a contrast from the brightly colored beasts of the book. This whole issue brings us back to the question of whether Tarzan’s can survive in the modern era. True there have been some Tarzan revivals, and more are likely to come, but each has had less duration than the one. Indeed, current interest in Tarzan seems at an all-time low. The seventies at least had the Filmation and Ron Ely TV series. The recent Tarzan TV show, and the movie Tarzan and the Lost City did not gather a following. The reasons for this apparent lack of new interest are not particularly clear, but current political trends may indeed be one of them. Indeed, the very concept of god-like white man in midst of “savage” Africa is apt to cause problems. The Filmation TV series, a and recent Disney cartoon solved this problem by removing African natives from the story entirely. The recent Tarzan movie made the mistake of emphasizing the role of tarzan’s loyal friends the Waziri. Taking pains to portray African people in a positive light, would, one might suppose be the way to go. But a critic in Entertainment Weekly, in his review of the movie, said, in effect, “What would those poor simple minded Blacks do without Tarzan to look after them. The grade he gave the film was “F”. Even worse was an online review (not by a mainstream critic, by the way) of the Disney Tarzan. Film. Since that film, avoided the controversy altogether by simply eliminating Blacks from the script, these writers charged the filmmakers, not with making a racist film, but making a film based on racist source material. Among their attacks one of them stands out as particularly ludicrous. This was an opinion that Tarzan’s killing of Kulonga, the native warrior who killed his ape-mother, is racist and shows that even an apes live is worth more than a humans to Tarzan and Burroughs, if the human happens to be black. Indeed! Suppose then, that Tarzan’s maternal foster parent had been killed by a white hunter? Would Tarzan’s reaction have been any less savage? Would Tarzan recognize the “humanity” of his mother’s killer, because the man’s skin happened to be as white as his own, and forgo his vengeful attack? The very question seems farcical, especially considering that a “civilized” hunter invading tarzan’s realm, would have been likely, if anything, be cause an even more ferocious rage in Tarzan. But this isn’t really the point here. The point is that many, especially the age of PC it seems, react to aggressively to what Burroughs wrote without taking time to consider it. While some Tom Yeates’s stories do bear the mark of PC, it is important to remember that Yates, a genuine Burroughs fan, unlike the afore mentioned critics, saw ERB’s Tarzan as very embodiment, rather than the antithesis of, the idealistic values he aspired to as a child of the sixties cultural revolution. He has remarked that Tarzan’s forsaking of his aristocratic roots in order to live a life in Africa among the Waziri has seemed to the essence of the sixties attempt to overturn an order they saw as outdated and corrupt. And indeed, Tarzan’s preferred life among the Great Apes, even after his discovery of his aristocratic roots, is even more primitive than that of the African tribes. Nonetheless, the very fact that Tarzan is a white-skin hero, in Africa is enough to provoke controversy. I am not sure how to get around this, though there a couple of ways. The first would be to limit the numbers of Natives in any given Tarzan project. Most of Burroughs indeed focuses on the lost civilization Tarzan discovers, and all of these people are of non-sub-Saharan African descent. This is route the old Filmation cartoon took. The second way is not to focus on Tarzan, but to develop more projects around Burroughs’ other heroes, such as John Carter, and David Innes.

One last thing on Tarzan comics and their diminishing popularity: There was a letter in one of the Dark Horse Tarzan letter columns that urged the artists to changed the traditional style which dark Horse was sticking to, in favor of the more modern look in other comics. He sighted Marvel’s current 90s’ Ka-Zar (who they tried to make over in a super-hero image) as an example of what would sell. The reason was that, even though certain old-time Burroughs fans (such as myself) deplore this style of artwork, many other readers prefer it, and that this would be the beast way to bring a new generation to Tarzan. My response is simply this: readers, who prefer the new stylized approach to the artwork to the traditional, will also prefer the “new” heroes to the “classic” ones. The approach will likely only alienate the old-time Burroughs fans. If Marvels’ previously long-running Conan series could not stay afloat in the nineties, despite the efforts to “modernize” the artwork. The aforementioned Ka-Zar series lasted shorter than the previous one, and dark Horse’s own stylization of Tarzan in the Superman crossover, has not appeared to have drawn in a new generation of Tarzan fans.


  1. Very interesting article which gives me more of an idea of how Burroughs' fans apprecaite the work. The best thing Dark Horse ever did with the character was reprint the Burne Hogarth graphic novels for all to see. Hogarth, Manning, Kubert and Buscema all did excellent definitive Tarzans. :)

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