Ka-Zar the Savage is a comic book series that I grew up reading. It was perhaps the most innovative of all the pulpish comics. By "pulpish" I mean comics which featured jungle and barbarian heroes. This sort of hero came to fame with the pulp magazines of the 30s. It is the superhero that is most commonly identified with the comic book medium, but from the 50s onward, it became inevitable that the pulp heroes would find a new home among these graphic booklets.
It was the Ka-Zar the Savage series in the early eighties that was by far the best. It was written by Bruce Jones, a veteran for Conan as well, also a long-time Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, and best know for his horror comics with "twist" endings in the pages of Creepy and Eerie.
I found out later that Jones went his own direction in having his hero discover a whole new expension of Marvel's original "Savage Land" called Pangea.
The name of the new land was, strangely, enough, not mentioned until issue 2, nor were the creator. The art was by Brent Anderson, BTW, in my opinion the best artist Ka-Zar ever had, an opinion shared by many reader. His art was reminiscent of the old Savage Tales magazine, only better even than Steve Gann.
Pangea, if you don't know, is the name of the prehistoric supercontinent which existed at the dawn of time, and broke up some time in the dinosaur age. I knew that back then, and figured that this was intentional.
And so it was, as Bruce Jones himself revealed in an issue of "Back Issue" on the series. Intentional, because, Pangea harbored creatures from every era of earth's prehistoric past.
I discovered the first issue in Hooks drug store back in 1981, and it seemed far too good to be true! The first panel showed a battle between a wooly rhinoceras and a pack of dire wolves. Ka-Zar himself surveys the primeval battle from a cliff. The story caption proclaims "A New Dawn...A New World!"
The scene is reminiscent of the first panel of the original Joe Kubert's Tor, his Fifties era caveman and dinosaur rag, with the titular hero overlook the primeval world, a battle between a T-rex and a dragon-like serpent taking center stage. Remember that Bruce Jones was a child of the fifties, and once wrote a piece where he recalled that first issue of Tor with fondness. So very possibly this first panel of Ka-Zar was a homage.
The first issue featured Ka-Zar leaving his mate Shanna the She-Devil on a search for his saber-tooth, Zabu, who is off searching for a mate of his own. He stumbles upon the vast new lost world of Pangea. It's revealed that the original Savage Land is covered by a perpetual overcast, in Pangea is generally clear-skied and sunny. There, Ka-Zar rescues Leane, the queen of the lost city of Lemura, from a band of marauding "Cat People" a nomadic tribe of saber-tooth-worshipers who kill the cats and drink their blood to attain their strength and courage. Leane's own pet smilodon, Felina, has been captured, and Ka-Zar and Zabu manage to set her free. The two cats get know each other, and Ka-Zar and Leane fall in love. Understand that Ka-Zar is now cheating on his mate Shanna. Ka-Zar's and Leanne's romance is short-lived however. Ka-Zar kill's a deer-like mammal (a syntheoceras of the Miocene) for dinner, only to discover its unsuckled calf. Ka-Zar kills the calf in grim mercy, and Leane is disrought. When they finally reach the gates of Lemura, Leane essentially dumps Ka-Zar, and he and Zabu wonder off.
Of note that the Lemuran caravan seen battling the attacking cat people is borne by macracenia, a type of mammal from Plesticene South America.
One thing notable is that Ka-Zar yearns for civilization here, very uncharacteristic of the character up until then! He also frequently uses slang, also uncharacteristic. Bruce Jones may have been borrowing from Travis Morgan, the hero of Mike Grell's "Warlord" comic, whose stories also frequently involved love triangles.
The second issue had Shanna showing up in Pangea, and she and Ka-Zar are saved from a fatal plunge by the warriors of the Aerians, a race of winged men. They become caught up in a war between the Aerian bird men and the Pterons, a race of humanoid pterosaurs who resemble the X=men villain Sauron. In rescung Queen Leane from the the Pterons, Ka-Zar inadvertantly reveals their love-affair to Shanna. And...well naturally, a love-triangle develops. Ka-Zar has to choose between saving the life of Leane or Shanna, and chooses Shanna, of course. Leane is rescued by Sep, a rogue Aerian whom she was having her own affair with. The third issue revealed in depth the bird-people's culture, and introduced Buth (pronounced with a short "u", even though I usually thought of that name as pronounced "booth"), who is initially portrayed as a braggart and bully, but ends up as a good guy.
The issue also introduced "skites", strange, pink furred mammals large enough to fly on, which the Aerians employ as steeds for "earth dwellers' like Ka-Zar and Shanna. These are ficticious mammals, which are either unique to Pangea/Savageland, or are some sort of prehistoric life-form left undiscovered.
An Aerian girl named Dephine falls for Ka-Zar, and places Shanna on a "hoxing skite" (it's explained that a feamle skite in heat will fly straight to her native island). It's up to Ka-Zar to fly to the island to rescue her as he does in the the 4th issue.
Ka-Zar saves her from an attacking nothosaurus, only to discover that the rogue Aerian Sep, and Leane's lover, has used ancient Atlantean technology to switch Shanna's brain with queen Leane. After a brief fight scene scene, Leane is captured and Shanna is restored.
Issue five basically recounts a tale from Ka-zar's past: A rabid sabertooth kills a youth of the Fall People, and gives rabies to his father. Ka-Zar and blood brother Tongah hunt the beast, fearing that the culprit might be Zabu, who has disappeared for a time, supposedly searching for a mate. Zabu, of course, is found to be alive and well in the end, but Tongah (who was a supporting character in the earlier series) is killed. This, we learn, is what finally caused Ka-Zar to question his savage existence and yearn for civilization.
Issue six introduces Dherk, the last survivor of the original Atantean colonists in Pangea. Shanna starts to experience vivid hallucinations,one of rising water, another of snow falling on the land. She then meets Dherk, who appears as sometimes solid (when he saves her from charging arsinotherium), and sometimes as ghost-like. He tells her his history, and that Pangea was once the remotest outpost of the Atlanten empire. Shanna has begun to share his memories (what does snow have to do with the fall of Atlantis? Perhaps the continent entered an ice-age). Ka-Zar falls into a coma after being nicked in a battle with a giant scorpion. Dherk promises he knows the antidote to the "Morhah"'s venom, but he must guide Shanna to it himself without using up his energy. A pterodactyl attacks, and Zabu is wounded, leaving Shanna to pull the comotose Ka-Zar by herself. She falls un conscious during the trek over the snow-covered Pangean steppes. Dherk gives in and saves his rival.
Issue seven finds Ka-Zar and Shanna sheltered in a cave during a blizzard high in the step country. Ka-Zar has a nightmare with some very bizarre goings on. Shana psycho-analyzes the dream. Each incident has some sort of meaning. Basically, the dream has Ka-Zar fighting villains called the "black riders", sort of like the cultists in the "Kandu-Ra" story of Savage Tales. Since it's a dream, they're not really in Pangea/Savageland, though it appears to take place in the Savage Land, with certain objects of "civilization" here and there. There's an airplane soaring overhead in one scene, as well as pteranodons. The story culminates in a ruined lost city, with the "Black rider" cultists about to sacrifice some slaves to a squriming Lovecraftian horror in a pit. Ka-Zar of course, slays the tenacled monstrostiy, putting "an end to all fear."
As one reader astutely put it, the one element missing from this story is Zabu.
The tiger shows up in the next issue, but due to his wounded paw, they leave him behind as they venture back to the Atlantean ruins where they'd left Dherk. The Atlantean's body has disappeared. Ka-Zar and his mate investigate the place, and are nearly killed by a guardian robot. The discover the hidden history of the Savage Land/ Pangea, and Dherk is revived as an android!--and fills in the missing peices. It's revealed that Pangea was intended as a resort for vacationing Atlanteans, who stumbled upon the original Savage Land. They extended the jungle over this much vaster region via artificial climate control, but now the machines are in need of repair, which explains the geographic and climatic anomalies noted by the Aerians.
This issue also features the first look at a map of earth during Atlantean times, according to Jones, and a map of Pangea. We see that there are a number of Pangean countries, even the smallest of which dwarfs the original savage Land. Zharan (home of Lemuran and the cat people), Shalan (home of the Aerians), Thonos, Mot, Zuvi Land, and Atlantea. These nations remained largely unexplored after the series end, with at least three of them entirely so. What other strange races, and civilizations remain unknown, and really no one ought to reveal them save Bruce Jones, who is essentially Pangea's creator.
The next issue had Dherk, Ka-Zar and Shanna repairing the land's climate control machinary. They discover a set of tiny, albeit living, animals under a miniture glass dome. The beasts are all mythological! Shanna practically falls in love with the little griffin, though Dherk warns her that in actuality griffins were "vicious and deadly." Only few were ever captured successfully." Later on, though, we find Shanna stole the griffin in her knapsack. Dherk explains that the mythic beasts were once full-sized creatures in Pangea's zoo. The magnetic field within the miniature dome kept them small and virtually immortal. But the freed griffin begins to grow; he claws his way out of Shanna's knapsack. He then kills and a small dinosaur, and later a mastodon. The three track the beast to Arie Shalan, where the winged people are in mortal combat with the gigantic monster. Ka-Zar, Sahnna and Dherk are fitted with mechanical wings, and they and Aerians pursue the monster to Mrt. Falvius, Pange's only active volcanoe. The griffin perishes in the lava, but a first in the base reveals the words: Abandon All Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
Remember those words from Dante's Inferno?
Now this is part where something very strange happened to "Ka-Zar the Savage." Not a decline in quality--that came later. At the bottom of the last panel there appeared the enagmatic words: "Don't miss our next issue! Available by subscription and at selected retail stores."
Didn't they always name the title of next issue's story at the end?
I asked my dad what a "retail" store was, and he told me that just about any store is a retail store. So nothing had changed.
Next month: Ka-Zar refused to appear on the stands.
Something was wrong after all.
Well, every store is a retail, right? So I check every single store in town that sells comics. Not one of them has Ka-Zar. A whole month passes then another. At this time, I'm going to Kesling Junior High School. I'm taking shop with Mr. Wooden and English from Mr. Burns. I'm basically hating it all. Especially without comics. Well, there was still Warlord, at least (I'm not quite into Conan at this time). Ka-Zar, I assume, must have been cancelled, and they just didn't want to admit the book flopped. I even write a letter to Marvel demanding an explanation. They don't bother answering a measly kid's letter, of course. But somehow I discover that "retail" stores actually means "comics specialty shops." That is, stores that specialize in comics. Such a thing was unheard of, but it sounded nearly too good to be true!
However, I just thought I'd best subscribe, something I'd never done before. However (again) a wonderful thing happened to me that November. A man who sold old comics came to Scottsdale Mall. I fondly remembered buying two old issues of original Ka-Zar series years after mine had been lost or destroyed. Now, this year, he had some new ones as well, including the THREE Ka-Zar issues I'd missed. That year I got some old Black and White savage Tales as well, and some old issues of Tarzan in Pal-ul-don drawn by Russ Manning.
Okay. What happened to Ka-Zar and his friends after they found the tunnel? Well, they investigate, of course, though Zabu, with an animal's intuition, senses something evil, and refuses to enter. They find themselves in what appears to be the bowls of hell. They actually meet Charon, who ferries them across the river Styx. Charon, however, proves to be a robot; Dherk explains that there was a certain thrill ride at the Pangean amusement park, and that this must be it. But the similarity to Dante's Inferno are puzzling. Could the classic 14th century poet have visited Pangea? They encounter Cerberus, three-headed dog, and guardian of the next circle of hell. Zabu enters the fray, having followed after all. The beast proves flesh and blood, and they are able to kill it. Next they encounter hoards of demons, also real!
This issue concludes when they arrive at the underworld city of Dis. This issue marks the first "new format" issue of Ka-Zar. Marvel was doing a experiment at the time to see which of their books sold the best by subscription and at comic book stores. The three books chosen for the experiment were Ka-Zar, Mircronauts and Moonknight (I didn't notice the absence of the latter two because I didn't read them). The books were to have extra pages, extra features, and no ads. They lived up to the hype--pretty much, at least. There were ads for the other specialty comics, and regular ads on the inside and back covers (for the first few issues). This first new-format Ka-Zar featured an orignal work of cover art by Brent Anderson, intended as the cover for the first issue, and semi-fictional biographies of Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson on how they got into comics (for Anderson, it seemed his mother encouraged his love of comics, but his dad hated them; for me it was the exact opposite).
In the next issue, they discover that Dante did indeed discover Pangea in the 14th century. A rival named Belasco kidnapped Dante's bride Beatrice and fled to the ends of the earth. With the aide of the Aerians, Dante confronts Belasco and is nearly killed. But the villain is frozen when his sword slashes an overhead pipe. Unfortunately, Beatrice dies giving birth to Belasco's spawn, a progeny of demons which now infest Pangea's underworld. The issue ends with Ka-Zar confronting the revived Belasco. This is the first major villain in the series thus far, with the possible exception of the pterons. This issue also mark the start of a backup series called "Tales of Zabu", drawn by Gil Kane, which told the story of Zabu, starting with his birth as a cub, and the tragic slaughter of his mother and siblings by the Man-Apes.
The next issue featured the showdown between Ka-Zar and Belasco. The villain hypnotizes Shanna, whom he intends as a bride to replace Beatrice, and Buth, whom he nearly kills, and Dherk, whom he forces to self-destruct. He retells Ka-Zar the story of Dante from his own viewpoint, explaining also how he made a pact with some Lovecraftian god-like entities called the "Old Ones" (that name has been used several times in fantastic literature). They made him immortal, and gave him his very Satanic appearance. Though things look very grim for Ka-Zar and his allies, they manage to defeat Belasco and rescue Shanna in the nick of time. Belasco falls into a chasm, but it's hinted at that he may have survived.
In truth, Belasco next appeared in an issue X-Men, which was drawn by Brent Anderson.
The next Ka-Zar saw a return to the more conventional stories. After getting into an argument over Ka-Zar's previous affair with Queen Leane, Shanna gets swept downriver and into a strange valley inhabited by a new race of tailed humanoids, similar to the Waz-dons and Ho-dons of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan the Terrible". Mele, a warrior of the tailed men, saves Shanna from a river boa, and takes her to his tribes village high in the treetops. Ka-Zar, meanwhile, tries to find his lost mate, but finds the valley of the tree people surrounded by a vast wall of living wood covered in thorny vines. He slowly and painfully makes his way to the top. Shanna is introduced to the bizarre customs of the tree people, and is horrified, that if the husband or wife of a married couple dies, the spouse commits suicide. Mele's wife has died, but he explains that he had to remain to take care of his daughter Leila. Leila, however, is captured by a pterosaur-like creature called a sky-serpent. To spare the grieving Mele's life, Shanna agrees to be his bride. Leila, however, is saved by Ka-Zar, who kills the flying reptile with his sling. He brings Leila to the village, finding his mate in Mele's arms.
The next issue finds Mele joyously reunited with his daughter. Though Shanna could not understand Mele's language, Macha, Ka-Zar does. (There is anoher fictitious language, suposedly a derivitive of Atlantean, called "Thalic", spoken by some of the civilized inhabitants of the Savage land/Pangea).Ka-Zar is not particularly disraught, until he discovers that Mele and Shanna are now married! The tribe celebrates, for his saving of Leila, and Mele treats Ka-Zar to a hunting competition with his fellow warriors. During this, Ka-Zar finds it impossible not to like Mele, though the latter beings to suspect Ka-Zar was already in love with Shanna. To win the contest, Mele and Ka-Zar attempt tot steal the egg of a female "Borna" the local name for the styracosaurus. The enraged beast charges over a cliff, taking Ka-Zar and Mele. Mele is killed by falling on his own spear. And Ka-Zar, of course, is blamed.
Up until this point, "Tales of Zabu" told the tiger's story of being orphaned as a cub, then fostered by a female dire wolf, much to the chagrin of her mate. Zabu runs with the pack for a while, though a rivalry develops between him and the dominant male of the cubs. When the dominant slays a wolf who was zabu's friend, he battles and kills the dominant, and is banished form the pack. Eventually Zabu finds a mate of his own. By the time she is pregnant with Zabu's cubs, she is horrifically slaughtered by the Man-Apes. Zabu immediately follows, intent on revenge--and finds young Kevin Plunder. Issue 15 (the one just described) marked a transition in the "Tales of Zabu" back up series. Up until then, it had been drawn by Gil Kane. With the next instalment, Val Mayerick took over. Both artists were very good at rendering the Savage land, but I'd have to go with Mayerick being the best.It was with this next story that began the adventures of young Ka-Zar as a boy. It told the backstory of Maa-Gor, leader of the Neanderthaloid Man-pes, perhaps in greater detail than I'd have wanted. The villain is revealed to have had extreme anger issues, and even murders some of his tribal women, panels that I found hard to look at, and in fact, cut the story out of my original comic for that reason. Anyway, when Maa-Gor's own kill is devoured by two saber-tooths, he embarks on a genocidal campaign to destroy them all, and nearly succeeds, until Zabu rescues Ka-Zar. The issue ends with the suggestion that young Kevin wounded Maa-Gor with his father's pistol, an incident unmentioned in any previous telling of Ka-Zar's origin.
It was also around this time that Ka-Zar's real slide into mediocity and worse began. Readers have different opinons as to just when it jumped the shark. The original inker of the series had been Carlos Garzon. Since issue 12, the final in the "inferno" story arc, Armando Gil, who was arguably better, had taken over. For issue fifteen, Gil had also handled some of the pencils, as Anderson had done mostly rough layouts. The art was still excellent, especially the final page spread of that story, with Ka-Zar and Shanna gazing out over the vast jungles of Pangea. It was the following issue that marked the first real harbinger of Doom. I would not say it was the moment it "shark-Jumped." But it was definite warning sign. Issue sixteen was not drawn by Anderson at all, but by a "guest artist" named Ron Frenz. It was still inked by Gil, and the lush atmosphere of the Savage Land was still in evidence. Frenz did not do a bad job, either. Still, Anderson could have done better. The editor assured readers that Brent was merely taking a breather, and referred to Frenz as a "guest penciler". The same thing happened with DC's Warlord in fact, and from then on, I was always wary when the so-called "guest-penciler" showed up. Once he or she appears in a book with a regular artist, that book is pretty much doomed, from my own experience. With both Ka-Zar and Warlord, the original artist did return--for only two issues with Ka-Zar, only a single one for Warlord. When it happened again with Jon Sable Freelance, I just quit buying the book. Nor was I wrong; the artist didn't return at all for Sable.
I've written so much this evening, and I think I'll quit for tonight. I just can't be brief when it comes to Ka-Zar.
Okay. It's been a while, and now I'm going to continue.
This next issue of Ka-Zar had he and Shanna returning to the original Savage Land. Not a great deal was made of their home coming. The story was a one-shot with a twist ending that seemed like it belonged more in Alien Worlds, the Pacific Comics science fiction comic written and edited by Bruce Jones. Shanna and Ka-Zar rescue a green-eyed lemur from sacrifice by a tribe of pygmies. They become stalked by a mysterious monster, that seems to resemble an effigy carved into the handle of the sacrificial dagger. The pygmy chief is mysteriously murdered, followed by Shanna and Zabu (no kidding!). Ka-Zar reverts to his "savage" persona, and slays the tentacled horror, only to learn that the lemur and tentacled monster are both from another world, and that they are playing a game in which one assumes the form of one of the lifeforms on the planet, while the other attempts to kill him. Since, Ka-Zar saves him, he wins! But the players always reverse time to put things back they were, erasing the memories of the inhabitants in the process. Ka-Zar asks that he be allowed to remember; the alien grants his request, and K-Zar is overjoyed when he's reunited with Shanna and Zabu.
It's a good story, and I assume that the engraving on the knife likely represented some monstrous god. The tentacled aliens exploited the pygmies' superstitions for their game. It's noteworthy, as some readers pointed out, that Ka-Zar referred to the lemur as a rodent, when it's actually a primate, and the alien Ferroc didn't correct. He may, again as a reader suggested, have simply assumed that was the native name for the animal.
The next issue featured a wonderful though disconcerting cover by Anderson, with the title "Ka-Zar the Detective". It showed the Jungle Lord as a 30's style Noir private eye, and Shanna as a beautiful client in a leopard skin dress and hat. Zabu was introduced as Rex. When I first saw this cover, my initial thought was that this issue was to be he beginning of Ka-Zar's New York adventure that had been talked about for some time. It turned out to be another one shot story. Ka-Zar eats some sort of fruit that makes him hallucinate that he's actually his detective hero. We find that the Savage Land is not entirely cut off from civilization; every month a mail plane flies and parahchutes mail. Ka-Zar has a subscription to his favorite pulp-detective mag. His hallucination nearly causes him to murder Shanna, before Zabu overpowers him, and Shanna shoves the antidote down his throat. This issue was again drawn by Ron Frenz, but this time Steve Mitchel had taken over the inks; without Armando Gil's inking, the Savage Land lost its lushness. Fortunately Armando remained on the book until near the end.
But the real problem with this ish was that, according to that Back Issue, which I read only recently, this was the one issue that Brent Anderson most wanted to draw, but circumstances we'll never know of prevented him from doing so. This supposedly influenced him to quit work on Ka-Zar permanately, the first major decline in the series' quality. The reason Brent wanted to illustrate this particular issue is not hard to figure, as it resembles "Somerset Holmes," a Pacific Comics detective series that both he and Jones collaborated on.
The next issue was, somewhat deceptively, a major step forward. Starting here, the book trully lived up to its "no ads" promise. It was the first to sport a wrap-around cover, with fantastic Brent Anderson panoramic vista of the Savage Land, with Ka-Zar battling a dimetrodon, to save a dazed, platinum-haired outsider girl. Anderson was back in full force! There was also an equally spectacular interior double-page spread, of a new treehouse Ka-Zar built for Shanna. The story was called "A Stranger In Paradise," referring to the girl on the cover. Only, as Marvel comics cover are often deceptive, Ka-Zar does NOT save her from a dimetrodon. He does save her from a smallish T-Rex. Ka-Zar also battles the finback reptile of the cover, but in an unsuccessful attempt to save Charlie, a man who was maliciously taunted and tricked by the platinum-haired beauty. This girl, who was named Ramona Courtland, was actually a villian, and the worst ever to grace the magazine. During a tussle with the justifiably jealous Shanna (Romana has been moving in on Kevin the entire story), Ramona's gun fires a bullet, which lodges in Ka-Zar's brain! But it does lodge in the skull area, and does not kill him. His only hopes lies in the civilized world, so the next issue began his New York adventure for real.
For the following issue Brent finally got to draw some city scapes, as Ka-Zar wandered about the Big Apple, defeating hoods, and rescuing a little girl from a burning building. The issue also saw Romana Courtland freeing one of Ka-Zar's long-time foes, Kraven the Hunter, from a Maximun Secutiy prison, to help capture Ka-Zar. This goes horribly wrong, as in the next issue, Kraven pursues Ka-Zar for his own vengeance, and a battle ensues. Kraven is disappointed at first with his adversary's performance, not realizing that Ka-Zar has a bullet lodged in his skull. Ka-Zar heroically saves his opponent from a fatal plunge, but Kraven is at first hardly grateful, swearing to "crush his bones for for the humiliation." Shanna, and Peter Parker/Spiderman show up, and Ka-Zar and Kraven are saved. Kraven does show same appreciation then, when he learns o Ka-Zar's condition. They rush the jungle lord to the hospital, but the doctor informs Shanna and Peter that " "we lost him."
Let's see...this is now another issue forward, and Ron Frenz had by then taken over the art. Brent Anderson had quit the series for good this time, never to return. It was the second issue following Ka-Zar's arrival in New York, where the book trully jumped the shark.Despite some brief spkies in quality, the book was never again what it once was. The true beginning of the end had arrived. Though the replacement artist wasn't bad, he wasn't nearly what Brent had been. I wonder, if having Brent continue on the book was impossible, why they didn't go out of their way to hire some of the artists of the old Savage Tales.John Buscema, after all, reportedly the artist they originally had in mind. There was no better time to hire him! Or perhaps Steve Gann, the one artist whose work possibly could have equalled Anderson's.
t any rate, no such effort was made.The last thing Brent ever did on the comic was a separate back cover, depicting a scene that went along with "Tales of Zabu." Ka-Zar is depicted as a youth, playing with Zabu, with some tiny protoceratops hatchlings visible in the foreground, and hysiphalodon perched in a tree. The tree-dwelling dinosaur was taken directly from a paleo-artist (don't remember whom). This species of dinosaur was once believed to have been a tree-dweller, but this was an error based on incorrect interpretation of the creature's skeleton.
It also during this time that the "Tales of Zabu," backup series was in full swing, now chronicling Ka-Zar's boyhood adventures in the Savage Land. I'll need to go back to the issue with the aliens to fill in: Zabu suffers from a wounded paw, and seeks out the Kulu plant, an herb with curative properties. While swimming a river, the smilodon is attacked by a crocodile, but manages to kill the saurian by means of properties of the Kulu plant. Zabu hurries back to where he left the boy, Kevin Plunder. He appears to have second thoughts about adopting Kevin fearing the child will grow up to be like the hated Man-Apes. One panel suggests that Zabu is attacking Kevin, only we learn in the next that he has knocked him from the talons of a hungry pterosaur. This story actually spanned two issues.
At the end of the next installment, Kevin IS actually captured by a pteranodon. The ensuing story-arc was to last over the course of Ka-Zar's New York adventure. It had a number of near unbelievable cliffhangers, twists and turns, matched only by the goings on in the main story. Bruce seemed pretty much in his element here, as plot twists had long been his speciality. Zabu pursues the winged reptile up a precarious cliff, only to find the monster preparing to feed the boy to her young, in a scene taken straight from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan at the Earth's Core, and the Eternal Savage. Jones does not appear to be aware here, that female pteranodons lacked crests, but the same was true of ERB. Zabu saves Kevin by a hairbreadth, but the enraged mother pteranodon, knocks them over the cliff, plunging boy and smilodon into a river. They wash ashore, and it looks as though all will finally be well, except that Maa-Gor stands over them them, wielding his spear. The enraged caveman now has his opportunity for revenge. He kills Zabu (he thinks), and is about to kill young Kevin, when it occurs to him that he could raise the yellow-haired outlander boy as his foster son. He takes the comatose boy back to his tribe. The bewildered boy revivies, and begins tutelage under his new parent. Meanwhile, Zabu ,Maa-Gor's spear-shaft barely having missed his heart, revives as well, killing an unwary vulture for sustenance. Once he has regained his strength, Zabu tracks the boy's captor. Maa-Gor, on finding the tiger's carcass missing, sets a trap for Zabu. It works, and Zabu finds his paw snared. Rather than slay the cat himself, Maa-Gor prepares to relish the irony by having Kevin slay Zabu as a test of loyalty to his new new father. At first, the boy springs forward to obey, and thrusts home his spear! He then stabs again and again, prompting Maa-gor to worry that he'll damage to cat's pelt. Of course, we find that the boy has actually destroyed the trap, freeing his friend. Zabu attacks Maa-Gor, wounding him, and he and Kevin escape. The adventure serves as a rite of passage for young Kevin Plunder. The final passage proclaims: "He is Ka-Zar the Savage. He is a man."
Doubtless Zabu and young Ka-Zar had many further adventures in the Savage Land, but this was the end of the Tales of Zabu series. Some readers suggested that a Shanna backup series might appear next. If that would ever happened though, or if the Zabu series would again be picked up, will never be known, for no other backup ever appeared in the rest of the series. Another possibility was an issue drawn by Bruce Jones, who also happened to be a talented artist, though he seldom had time, or a issue in which Anderson inked his own pencils. Needless to say, neither of these possibilities ever materialized. Throughout this time, most of the book's front and back covers featured semi-humorous photo-strips about the series creators behind the scenes. They were informative enough, but began to get old after a while. Still, some issues featured art on the interior covers, including one trully "sizzling" rendering of Shanna and Zabu. Another artist, name of Hernandez, did another ink drawing of Shanna as an interior cover, and two pinups, one depicting Ka-Zar battling Belasco's demons, and another of the jungle lord as captive of Zaladane and the Sun People. Then Editor Louise Jones informed readers that a short Hernanadez-penciled story would appear as a back-up. But this, too, never materialized.
While the Zabu stores were excellently drawn by Val Mayerick until the very end, the quality of the book itself was looking bleak. Most readers agreed that the "big Louie" story was lasting far too long, But Bruce Jones, to his credit, kept readers on edge with some literally unbelievable cliff-hangers. It trully appeared like Ka-Zar himself had bought the farm, when the cover of the next issue read "Shanna the Savage" with the she-devil herself leading a horde of escaped zoo animals. Huh? One supposition was that the book had stopped selling well, and they'd really elected to kill Ka-Zar off, and continue with Shanna. Most readers, however, knew better. Apparently Jones had to pull more than a few strings to get an issue with Shanna's name replacing Ka-Zar's. The issue had Ramona apparently shooting Zabu in self-defense, and Shanna freeing a horde of animals to get revenge. She nearly manages to kill Ramona, only to discover another woman in a blonde wig, and then getting shot herself. Rather than showing next issue's actual cover, it just said, "How can we have a cover if we don't have any heroes?"
It was a ruse of course, as Shanna and Zabu were only wounded. The next issue's action switched to Morroco (or another North African country), where Ka-Zar and Zabu are now employed by a cabal of spies, led by none other than Ramona Courtland. Ramona and company were spies all along, of course, and their real mission to the Savage Land was to recover the Ikatari plant, whose chemistry is being used in millitary weapons by a villain named Jeremy Sherber. We learn also, that Ramona bribed the doctor, but that Ka-Zar actually did suffer physical death briefly, and was revived. An altered stranger's body was placed in the NY city morgue, for Shanna to identify. Ka-Zar, Zabu, and Ramona's organization manage to defeat Sherber, with Ka-Zar punching him out once he learns that he intends to nuke the Savage Land, and destroy the source of his weapons. Meanwhile, Shanna, believing that everyone she cares about has now died, slips slowly and disturbingly into madness. Ramona gets her comeupance, blown up in a plane, while trying to seduce Ka-Zar. He and Zabu escape into the ocean where they are rescued by sharks by fishermen. Once back in the Big Apple, they team with Spider-Man, and are able to rescue Shanna from Ramona's goons. During their escape from New York (the title of that issue's story), Shanna briefly revives, and finding Ka-Zar alive, becomes hysterical, forcing him to knock her out. They are able to hitch a ride with some kids on a plane, and at last make it back to their home in the Savage Land. The story ends with Zabu fetching Ka-Zar's friend Buth from Aerie Shalan. Ka-Zar's long urban nightmare, at last, was over.
Now, one might suppose that once the whole "Big Louie" thing was over, the book would return to good old ERB-style jungle adventure. But as with the seventies Ka-Zar, his return from civilization heralded the actual downfall of the series. However, some maintain, with reason, that there was a momentary spike in quality the issue after Ka-Zar's return. And the art, in fact, greatly improved in the opinion of this writer. A couple of issues back, the inside back cover featured a stunning work of art; a silent comic of Ka-Zar leaping into a jungle pool, and battling a saurian.This was done by Ka-Zar inker Armando Gil in pencil ONLY. "Like what you see?" the caption read. "Then be here next month for a special surprise announcement!" What, was Armando taking over the art? Yes, in fact, he was! The next issue announced that this was last issue with Ron Frenz as the artist; he was leaving to do work on Marvel's Star Wars comic. Armando was now the regular Ka-Zar artist. It was a good switch from Frenz (who was better at rendering city scapes than the jungles of the Savage Land), though Gil's art didn't fit the book to the degree that Anderson's art had. Of course!
Also beginning around this time, Danny Fingeroth took over the editing. Louise "Wheezy" Jones, who handled the editing from the start, was now gone to write her own series, Powerpack. Years later, it appears that it was Fingeroth's taking over that had the greatest impact on the demise of the series. He made many poor decisions, even though he seemed to think they were for the better. One example was, starting with the first issue drawn by Armando, the series was to be bi-monthly. This was supposedly to give the series creators time to flex their muscles, concentrate their talent, and make the book the best they could, and also to do "special covers, and all sorts of exciting new things," which, it turned out, never got done. On the upside, the book was to be printed on high-quality Mando paper from then on, and still only 75 cents.
The issue had Ka-Zar, Buth and Dherk, literally venture into Shanna's traumatized mind, via Atlantean technology still in use by the Aerians. They emabark on an odessey into nightmare, face unimaginable dangers, and at last restore Shanna to sanity. The issue was indeed a spike in quality, although since most of the issue did not involve jungle adventure, and since it was the last issue Bruce Jones was involved with, his own creation, Pangea, tragically, never got to be further explored.
The next issue Michael Carlin, a former writer of Crazy magazine, took over. Carlin had no experience with the pulp genre, so why did Fingeroth hire him? It turned out Fingeroth had his own plans for the series. As for Jones, his departure marked what was likely the fatal blow for the entire series, though future developments would hasten the book's demise greatly. The next issue was still drawn by Armando, but not inked by him.Though the script was by Carlin, it was also supposedly from "an idea by Bruce Jones." It may well have been Jones (who was a bit involved, I suppose, after all, perhaps more so than he was credited) whose idea it was to revive survivors of the pteron race ( a good idea) and the return of Belasco at the end, something that Jones had previously hinted at. But how did the rogue Aerian Sep know of Belasco?
The next issue was special and double sized, featuring the long-anticipated marraige of Ka-Zar and Shanna. Even though the book was still direct only, this particular issue was on sale everywhere in celebration of the event. Belasco shows up and crashes the wedding, and a predictable mele ensues, with the villain defeated in the same issue. It was an okay story, but one that fell short of reader expectations. It is notable that the reader response to this issue shrank considerably. Also, the Lemurans in this issue are seen riding horses, and though I thought maybe they were supposed to be some sort of prehistoric equine, more likely they were just modern horses that were poorly drawn. What happened to the macracenias ridden by the Lemurans in the first issue? Pity that Anderson was long gone. Ron Frenz, by the way, returned for this issue only. Armando Gil inked the issue, but he, too, disappeared afterward, never to work on the book again.
Strangely, the next issue was drawn by Mary Wilshire, the then-current artist for Red Sonja, who didn't seem a bad choice, but even more strangely, Armando was no longer inker. Instead, the original inker, Carlos Garzon was back, and remained so until the end. The story was called "Pangea War 2," and as one reader commented, consisted entirely of fight attempts to reach a peace agreement with Pangea's warring races. There was no further exploration of the land. To his credit, Carlin introduced two new races to the land: the Tubanti, an amphibious race from the Gorahn Sea, and the Chatorea, or "Snow Men," who were supposed to inhabit the high steppes. The latter was referenced only on a map of the Savage Land/Pangea in the the then-current edition of The Offical handbook of the Marvel Universe. The tubanti were well-rendered by Frenz and Wilshire, but instead of depicting their culture in-depth, as Jones did with the Aerians and Tree-people, Carlin made the Tubanti a race of witless buffoons. Carlin also introduced a new villain in the pteron leader Phangor.
At the end of the issue editor Fingeroth made another surprising announcement: yet another artist, a British gent by the name of Paul Neary was to take over the art next issue. Shame, since I rather wanted Mary Wilshire to continue, though with Armando's inks.
Neary showed up next issue, and his art was not just horrible; it was actually downright cartoonish. But no matter, I remembered thinking at the time. None of the so-called regular artists on the book stayed, did they? It was only for one issue, right?
No such luck. Fingeroth cheerfully announced that "Ka-Zar finally had a regular penciller" at the end of the issue. Worse still, he was actually right: Neary stayed on until the very last issue. Not that he really stayed very long. The book, it was now obvious, was as good as dead, though Fingeroth gave Carlin and Neary a cheering session. Strange that no such accolades were ever needed for Jones and Anderson. The two new creators, were, in their own way, oddly matched: the script and dialogue now seemed that of bad Saturday morning cartoon, and the art complimented it perfectly. The issue gave a rather cliched history of the first Pangea war and had Ka-Zar Shanna and Zabu return to the original Savage Land.
The next few issues had Ka-Zar's brother Parnival show up and try to steal the anti-metal. Shanna was totally taken in by him, something totally out of her character. There's not really much more to say, save that the inevitable final issue, explained the origin of the Savage Land. An alien race called the Nuwali created it as a preserve for creatures of all of the earth's past ages. Credit to writer Carlin where credit is due.
The Ka-Zar letters column, once at least two pages long, had shrunk to a single page throughout these final issues, and most of mail was no longer very positive. Still, editor Fingeroth seemed unwilling to admit the plain truth. For the final issue, he announced that though Ka-Zar was offically "canceled," it was only temporary. The other direct sales books, Micronauts and Moon-Night were also being "canceled," not due to flagging sales, but because the direct sales experiment had concluded, and that all three books would soon appear back in the mainstream. Dates were, in fact, set for Micronauts and Moon Night, but they said Ka Zar would "come along sometime later. Watch for him."
Now, as I recall, I did happen to see at least one issue of Micronauts and one of Moon Night on the regular stands after that, but that was it. And Ka-Zar, of course, never appeared at all.
While it seemed that Fingeroth was merely trying to deceive his readers and perhaps himself, you could take it as a colossal stretch of the truth, if you take Ka-Zar's return to mean that he was still a part of the Marvel universe, and would still turn up from time to time, as, of course, he continued to do.
Very infamously, Ka-Zar did show up in a two issue story of Avengers, in which the alien Terminus lays waste to the Savage land/Pangea. I'm not exagerrating here: They literally destroyed the Savage land, including Bruce Jone's creation, which later knowledge reveals many at Marvel hated anyway. A reader of that comic wrote to complain, saying "I guess this means Ka-Zar's series won't be resurrected." Like there had ever been any real plans to bring it back at all. And yet the editor's response--something about intending to "surprise" readers-- suggested that maybe there were plans to ressurect Ka-Zar as a "Big Louie" character, as he, Shanna and Zabu, wandered around the world for a while after this.
However, no such series developed, for which I was thankful. A bit later, there were actually two "resurrections" of the Savage Land--three, if you count the graphic novel. The first was in an issue of Alpha Flight, in which the Canadian superhero team locates a hidden potion of the Savage Land, which is located underground, like Lin Carter's Zanthodon, and thus escaped destruction. The second, and definitive, resurrection of the land occurred in an X-men Annual in which the High Evolutionary restores the Savage Land to its former glory. We also learn that some of the members of the races of the land, including some major characters, were rescued by aliens. Ka-Zar and Shanna return home at the end, with their baby boy.
Then there was the graphic novel "Guns of the Savage Land," with excellent art by Ricardo Villigranm. This story was a curiousity because it seems to go off on its own timeline, separate from the chronology of the Marvel universe. Ka-Zar, we learn, couldn't adjust to life back in the Savage Land, and returned to his father's English estate. Native American character Watt Wingfoot discovers what he believes is a hidden portion of the Savage land hidden beneath the Nevada desert. He flies Ka-Zar Shanna and Zabu there, but informs them that the place "may not connect with the Savage Land" since there is no record of it in the Savage Land or Pangea. Indeed, it appears to be another lost realm all its own, populated by dinosaurs (though no prehistoric mammals are evident), similar to Pellucidar, or perhaps a "reverse" Pellucidar, as "the entire world curves away like the surface of a bowl." A tribe of Native Americans have found their way into this lost world, and they and the land are being exploited by a ruthless oil company. It's up to Ka-Zar to lead the natives against the invaders. The story ends with Ka-Zar elected to stay in this new lost world with Zabu, while Shanna tearfully leaves with Watt--not to imply there's anything between her and him. Curiously though, this entire adventure seems to be forgotten. The new lost world was never heard of or referenced again. Even stranger, Ka-Zar and Shanna's young son is named Kyle in this story, while in later ones he's called Mathew! And it kind of makes Ka-Zar a deadbeat dad for not returning.
A short, rather old-school Ka-Zar story appeared in an issue of Marvel Comics Presents, that had Ka-Zar saving Queen Leane from the Swamp Men. Another issue of MCP had an actual Shanna story written, drawn and inked by Bruce Jones. The story took place in Africa, and had Shanna solving the mystery of a man killing his nagging wife. Both a Shanna story and a story with Jones art were both wanted for the original Ka-Zar the Savage. One reader grew hopeful, and saying it made him long for a jungle comic, and warned writers not to put Ka-Zar and Shanna in the silly stories that were the downfall of the Ka-Zar the Savage title. Thing is, jungle comics weren't selling well then, and even less so now.
In the mid Nineties Ka-Zar got his own bona fide series once again, with Ka-Zar, Shanna, Zabu, and Mathew, and their adventures in the original Savage Land. This new series went more the route of the sixties Astonishing Tales, as it was more super-hero-like than pulpish, and had the jungle lord tangle with super-villains like the Rhino. There was also another excersion to New York City, only this time it wasn't quite so "Big Louie" as before, since the city was transformed into a Savage Land, complete with dinosaurs! The series didn't last very long however, leaving the eighties series the most successful to date.
Ka-Zar continued to show up over the years since, often to team with the X-men. It was up in the air for a while, whether the High Evolutionary resurrected only the Savage Land. While the official handbook stated once that "Pangea's fate remains unrevealed," it eventually became clear that the entire Land was back. A Ka-Zar mini-series appeared in the mid-nineties that referred to both the Savage Land and Pangea interchangably. It had superior artwork, but was mostly not so much even a superhero tale, as a political/environmental one.
And that about wraps it up for the history and downfall of Ka-Zar. Incidently, it seems, according to the Back Issue interview with Jones and Anderson, Jones and Fingeroth got along well, but disagreed on the direction the book should take. Fingeroth, it seems, was not attempting to deceive readers; he really did think he was taking the book in bold new direction. Unfortunately for him and the readers, most of them didn't agree with the direction he took. Plus, the book was high-priced, direct order and bi-monthly, when readers had been buying the best jungle stories ever, every month, and relatively cheaply at the local store back in the Jones/Anderson era.
All that said, even though it was an extension of Marvel's own Savage Land, Pangea remains a creation of Bruce Jones to stand alongside Burrough's Pellucidar, Doyle's Maple White land, and Grell's Skartaris. The tragedy was that it was never further explored, and I wouldn't trust anyone other than Jones himself to do that.