Thursday, November 4, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Jungle Norms and Snowbound Enemies

Doug: Welcome back to another BAB Two-In-One. Today I'd like to continue Joe Kubert's 4-part adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes. When last we saw the youthful jungle lord, he had beaten Bolgani the gorilla just outside the cabin built by his father, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. Today we see a Tarzan in his teen years, going through the life changes of adolescence. Tarzan #208 was cover-dated May 1972 and entitled, "Origin of the Ape-Man Part 2 -- A Son's Vengeance". Kubert was the series writer/artist/editor.

Kubert starts us off with a 2-page recap of the previous issue. You might note that DC was advertising on the covers that, while they had continued the numbering from the Gold Key series, they were letting everyone know their own number of published issues. Nothing wrong, then, with Tarzan fans who may have been slightly confused and come over to DC late being able to get caught up quickly. As we begin the new material, Tarzan has joined his tribe in the dance of the Dum Dum -- that ancient ape ritual used for only three reasons: a victory, the killing of an enemy, or the celebration of a new king. Tonight, it was the celebration of the killing of an enemy. Kubert really does a great job of visualizing what Burroughs had written. As a teen, I devoured the Tarzan paperback series. Going through these stories is a real treat!

It may have put some readers off, however, to see the culmination of the Dum Dum -- the eating of the deceased. In a rite that amounts to cannibalism, Tarzan used his new knife to section off a large piece of the dead ape -- much to the displeasure of angry Tublat. Taking after Tarzan, Tublat chased him into a tree. Being much lighter, Tarzan ascended higher and tossed insults at the older ape. On the ground, Kala -- Tarzan's mother -- barked her concern. Seeing her, Tublat abandoned Tarzan to attack Kala. Not caring that this was a ploy to get him out of the tree, Tarzan descended like a white missile to engage Tublat. With Tarzan's knife and superior intellect, Tublat didn't have a chance. Tarzan walked away with his mother, assuring her that no one would bother her again.

Back at the cabin, Tarzan begins to look through the picture books and primary readers that were indeed destined to teach him to read -- many years earlier. I've always had a hard time believing that Tarzan could teach himself to read; Kubert emphasizes over and over that Tarzan did indeed educate himself, reading in a language he could not speak! It's funny that he associates letters and words with tracks -- he quickly deduces that L-I-O-N is the track of Numa, and that M-A-N is his own track. Back to the tribe, Tarzan is determined to clothe himself. He taunts Sabor the lioness in an effort to kill her and get her pelt; his grass rope is not strong enough to hold her, and he ends his quest.

A note on the art: Joe Kubert does a phenomenal job at depicting the flora and fauna of the African forest and veldt. In particular, his cats are incredibly fierce and powerful. I'd also like to note his inks -- in this very blog we've often discussed the scratchiness of Vince Colletta. To see Kubert's work here, there's really not much difference. However, I'd argue that this style is perfect for the backgrounds and the humanoids in this tale -- it's a natural setting, and the lack of powerful lines and heavy blacks seems wholly appropriate.

Kubert portrays another curious scene, well outside the social norms of civilized man. Whilst among his "people", Tarzan notices that the young she, Teeka, has taken a liking to him. Annoyed that his playmate Taug seems to have taken a shine to Teeka, Tarzan jealously barks a challenge to Taug. As they begin to square off, Sheeta the panther enters the scene and moves toward Teeka. While Taug flees for the trees, Tarzan selflessly defends Teeka. Using his new, stronger rope, Tarzan hangs Sheeta from a tree. But as he turns toward the tribe, he sees Teeka walking away with Taug. Ah, the pains of adolescence...

After another visit to the cabin, Tarzan heads back into the jungle and for the first time sees M-A-N -- a tribe of black warriors. Little does he know that one of those people will change his life. Alone in the jungle, Kala forages for food. From behind, a black warrior launches a poison-tipped arrow into the mother of Tarzan. Dying almost-instantly, she leaves Tarzan truly alone. Hearing the commotion as the tribe finds her, Tarzan arrives to cradle the dead ape. Swearing revenge, he hurries to the "nest" of the blacks -- for revenge. Easily killing the man who had killed Kala, Tarzan appropriates his weapons and garments. He also returns to the village to "haunt" it, striking fear in the hearts of the the superstitious denizens.

The next chapter in the ape-man's life begins as he teaches himself to be proficient in the use of the bow and spear. Now armed not only with his superior intellect but poisonous weapons as well, this is a new Tarzan... a Tarzan that is soon to become Lord of the Jungle.

Karen: Much as Doug is continuing with Tarzan stories, I'll be continuing my look at Tomb of Dracula, with issue 19 (Apr 1974), by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer. This directly follows the Dracula-Werewolf cross-over. If you recall, at the end of that, Dracula was frantically flying after Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake, who had escaped in a helicopter with a magical book that could destroy all vampires.

Karen: Well, this issue opens up with the lord of vampires and his female nemesis wandering together through a snow storm in the Transylvanian alps. It seems that Drac did catch up to the chopper, but killed the pilot, and the craft then crashed.

Karen: OK, a problem here: Drake was clearly shown to be with Van Helsing in the pr
evious story. But here, he is miraculously not aboard the doomed helicopter! Wolfman wrote both stories, so I'm a bit surprised at this gaffe.
Karen: The story is of a kind we've all seen before: two mortal enemies are forced to work together in order to survive. Van Helsing, injured in the crash, needs Dracula's help to get to safety, and Dracula is keeping Van Helsing alive in case he can't find anyone else to feed on! So the two must fight their urges to kill one another and work together. However, Dracula has to sleep sometime, and Van Helsing makes a feeble attempt to stake him when he does. Honestly, Dracula seems too powerful for any one normal person to be able to defeat him.

Karen: We get a brief
interlude with Blade and Quincy Harker back in England. When last we saw the two, Blade had been bitten by Dracula. Harker is about to stake the vampire hunter when Blade suddenly arises and discovers that the bite has had no effect on him. The two believe that he has gained some measure of immunity to vampirism, since his mother was bitten by a vampire when Blade was in the womb. Sure, why not? With this new knowledge, Blade feels energized to pursue the Count again.

Karen: A sub-plot about a mysterious Dr. Sun, who apparently wants to destroy Dracula, got 6 panels this issue. We never see Dr. Sun, but we know he is using a vampire, a former
victim of Dracula's named Brand. More will be revealed in issues to come.

Karen: As time goes on
, Dracula grows weaker. He is nearly killed by an enraged Tur -you don't have to look it up, I did it for you. It's a half-ram, half-ibex found only in the Caucasus mountains. I am not making this up. However, before the beast can do in the lord of darkness, it is shot and killed by Van Helsing. She says she wanted to let it kill Dracula, but couldn't. OK, Marv, you lost me there. Did Dracula mesmerize her, while he was lying in the snow, getting stomped? Why would she save him otherwise? It makes no sense.

Karen: Luckily for Van Helsing, the missing Frank Drake shows up in another helicopter, firing wooden bullets at Drac. However, he escapes, and Drake decides it's more important to pick up Rachel than pursue Dracula. No, that will come next issue.

Karen: This was a real mixed bag. The idea of two enemies forced to work together is a great one, but the execution here could've been better. The mistake with Drake and the helicopter pilot was huge and really threw me. The art was Colan and Palmer's typical solid work. Now that I've read over a dozen issues of Tomb of Dracula, I've come to the conclusion that I enjoy it more the less Dracula appears - I wouldn't want him entirely out of the book (like the way Thor disappeared from his own title when JMS wrote it) but I'm more interested in the vampire hunters than I am in Dracula. So far, he's a pretty one-note character. Still, I look forward to reading further and seeing how the characters are developed.

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