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.