Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BAB Two in One: Denying One's Birthright and Secret Origins!

Doug: Hey, everyone -- it's only been 2 1/2 months since I first brought the amazing jungle scenes of Joe Kubert's Tarzan of the Apes to our BAB Two-In-Ones. I'm glad to say that we're finishing up today -- not because I'm glad it's over, but because the end of the story is so good! And hey -- I'm curious as to how many of you have read the ERB books about Tarzan. Anyone out there? I think they're just great -- perfect for a summer read! If you've never read one, then I strongly recommend that you should. If your only exposure to Tarzan was Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, or Ron Ely, then you're missing out on some wonderful adventure yarns. And by the way, this last installment in the Ape Man's origin come from Tarzan of the Apes #210, and was cover dated July 1972. As before Joe Kubert was the sole creator and editor.

Today's story, as mentioned, is the conclusion of Kubert's adaptation of Burroughs' first novel. Thus, there's a whole lot of action crammed into these pages. We pick it up with a brief recap of the previous issue's events, when Tarzan had rescued his cousin, William Clayton (unbeknownst to him at the time) from Numa the lion, and Jane Porter from one of the great apes. As Tarzan brought Jane back to the cabin of his father, Clayton has built a pyre to alert passing ships. As fate would have it, a French naval vessel was passing nearby with the pirate ship in tow. The commander, Lt. Paul D'Arnot, comes ashore and greets the deserted Englishman.

Clayton tells D'Arnot that Jane had been carried away by an ape. D'Arnot immediately organizes a search party, and they set off into the thick jungle. Cut away to Tarzan and Jane, who find mutual affection in spite of their communication barriers. Jane asks Tarzan to see the locket he wears; he shows her the photos of his parents (again, unbeknownst to him) inside, and then clasps it around her neck. Cut away again, and D'Arnot has a whole lot of trouble. Captured by local natives, out for revenge on the white traders and imperialists, D'Arnot will be the "payment" for all of those past transgressions.

However, the locals didn't reckon on the return of the "muwango keewati" -- the evil one of the jungle. Tarzan has used his rope to snatch one of the warriors right from the midst of his fellow, kill him, and then drop his lifeless body right back into the thick of the killing frenzy. The Africans fled at once, and Tarzan was able to descend and cut D'Arnot loose and spirit him to safety. Meanwhile, back at the cabin, Clayton treats Jane poorly as she relates the prowess of Tarzan. In his jealousy, Clayton brushes her off. Later feeling poorly for his behavior, he offers to lead a party into the jungle in search of the missing D'Arnot. Little did he know, the very benefactor against whom his ire had been raised was now giving relief to the French lieutenant.

While together, Tarzan's curiosity and intelligence proved overwhelming to D'Arnot. Tarzan could read English, and through that D'Arnot began to teach him to speak French. The two men became very close, and once D'Arnot had healed, Tarzan took him back to the cabin. However, upon arrival, they discovered that everyone else had been evacuated. Distraught at Jane's absence, Tarzan immediately fled, not giving D'Arnot the chance to show him a note that had been addressed to the Ape Man. D'Arnot, now alone, immediately became overwhelmed at his plight. That same evening, hearing a noise at the door, the officer leveled a rifle as it swung open and fired. But it had been the returning Tarzan that he shot!

Merely grazed, Tarzan healed quickly. D'Arnot showed him Jane's letter, and she informed him that she had returned to Baltimore, USA, and he was welcome to join her if he was ever able. To say he became single-minded would be an understatement. He insisted that D'Arnot take him to this "Baltimore", and so the two men set off on foot to make it possible. Upon reaching a trade outpost, Tarzan got some "civilized" clothes, and the two men set off for Paris. Once there, Tarzan showed D'Arnot the one book he could not decipher -- it had been written in cursive, and in French. D'Arnot was amazed that although Tarzan could now speak French fluently, he could not read the language! Opening the book, D'Arnot quickly determined it was a diary and had been written by Lord Greystoke of England. And what a story it told! D'Arnot assumed that the baby mentioned in the story must be Tarzan, although the Ape Man denied it; after all, the skeleton of an infant had been in the cabin the first time he'd visited. Little did he know that those bones had belonged to his deceased "brother", the first-born of his "mother" Kala. D'Arnot wasn't willing to drop the issue, however, as the Greystokes had made finger prints of their young baby!

Tarzan did indeed manage to get passage to Baltimore, and upon arriving at the home of Jane Porter, he was dismayed to find her still in the company of William Clayton, who was now Jane's fiancee -- and the recently named Lord Greystoke. At almost the same time, a cable arrived for Tarzan with the simple message: "Fingerprints prove you Lord Greystoke -- Congratulations!" Tarzan folded the telegram and put it into his suit coat. With one word he could have greatly affected the lives of all three people. But that would not have been the noble thing to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and heap major kudos on Joe Kubert for his faithful adaptation of Burroughs' wonderful tale. The art is lush -- if you think John Buscema draws animals well, Kubert would rank #1A in that race. These are beautiful stories, and Kubert's somewhat-scratchy style really works. Not sure if I'll review subsequent stories in Kubert's series (you may recall that I got all three volumes of the Tarzan Archives for a song while on vacation last summer), since there's so much Bronze Age goodness yet to cover, but I am looking forward to reading his version of Tarzan's continuing adventures!

Karen: Secret origin stories can be thrilling, or terrible. Messing around with the established canon of a comic book title takes some skill (as well as balls) and not everyone can re-tell and re-tool an origin such that it's acceptable (if not enjoyable) to everyone.

Karen: I've reviewed one issue of Steve Englehart's JLA run before, and eventually I'd like to cover them
all. But for today, let's consider Justice League of America #144, from July 1977. Englehart wrote it, and it has the team of Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin on the art. It also features dang near everybody in the DC universe! OK, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. Englehart gives us the first real meeting of the people who would eventually form the Justice League here. It all starts when Green Arrow is looking over the official origin of the team in a book and realizes that all the dates don't add up. What's funny here is that Englehart uses the actual dates from the comics -GA confronts Green Lantern to confirm he became a GL in September 1959. We get a footnote from Julius Schwartz to remind us that this is "comic mag time" -otherwise, these heroes would be getting a middle age paunch!

Karen: Once Green Lantern and Superman realize that Green Arrow is not going to d
rop this subject, they take him to the monitor room and show him a tape that reveals how the JLA members actually met. The tape is narrated by J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. The story begins as J'onn arrives on Earth, teleported here accidentally by Dr. Erdel. After he realizes he will be stuck here for a while, J'onn begins his life as Detective John Jones. He is a witness to both the prosperity and paranoia of the 1950s. But he finds himself growing to like his temporary home.

Karen: Unfortunately some of his fellow martians arrive and they began causing all sorts of problems in their attempts to kill J'onn. The public is in a panic over the alien invaders. The Flash gets involved, and he decides the only way to settle the fears of the public is to bring in someone they all trust: Superman! Ironic, considering he was also an alien.

Karen: Flash winds up getting the attention of not only the Man of Steel, but his pals Batman and Robin as well! I love the interplay of the dynamic duo here: Robin: "Oh boy -martians!" Batman: "Calm down, youngster!" Englehart captures this more innocent age rather nicely. The four of them head off to deal with the martians, but are overheard by a reporter. Before you know it, the word has spread and a ton of super and not so super characters are wanting to join up. We get a nice full page shot of all these heroes: the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Vigilante, Robot Man, Plastic Man, Congorilla, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and lastly, Rex the Wonder Dog!

Karen: Now if this all sounds familiar, it might be because you've read The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. Although the overall story is different, I can't help but think he took some inspiration from reading this. Particularly later on, when a future JLA member shows up in his civilian identity.

Karen: Seeing as how it's a DC comic, the heroes split up into three teams. It's during these separate adventures that we get cameo appearances from Rip Hunter, Time Master, Adam
Strange, and test pilot Hal Jordan! Jordan has had a close encounter with the martians around the site of a rocket launch. The heroes who will become the JLA answer his call and they discover the martians have tied J'onn onto the rocket, to send him into space to die. The heroes work together and overcome the martians, then free J'onn and hear his tale. Superman says he'll take J'onn back to Mars, but he doesn't want to go. He says Mars is hopelessly evil -but Earth still has a chance. He wants to stay and help his new home. "I can understand that," Superman says. But the anti-alien hysteria is too high right now for J'onn to come out publicly. Aquaman suggest they wait six months, when things should have calmed down. Superman adds, "We ought to form a club, or society..." A doubtful Batman responds, "Perhaps. I'm not much of a joiner!" Did Batman ever talk this way before?

Karen: In any case, the whole thing is covered up and several months later, the League does officially form. They kept the whole tale of their first adventure quiet to protect J'onn but obviously that secrecy was no longer necessary, and both GL and Superman are glad the secret is out. I thought this was a really fun story, even if it seemed a bit silly that such a secret would be kept for so long. The nice thing about this story is it allowed us to see so many characters together, but it didn't actually violate the real origin story -it just added to it. You can't help but get the feeling that Englehart himself was having a bit of fan-boy wish fulfillment here, bringing so many different characters into one title. It's rather shocking to realize this whole story was told in one (admittedly giant-size) issue. I think today it would be strung out over 6 issues, or be a limited series. But this story works perfectly as is.

5 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, re: the Tarzan novels - personally I would only recommend the first 10 or so (or really, maybe just the first 6). I thought the quality really went down after that. I always preferred the John Carter of Mars books, personally. By the way, it's been a really long (really, really long) time since I read the first Tarzan book, but if I recall correctly, Tarzan's cousin's name Cecil or Cedric or something like that, wasn't it?
Karen: I totally remember having that issue of JLA! I totally loved those issues with tons of characters packed into them - and you're right, it's amazing that it was basically a done-in-one issue.

Doug said...

Edo --

Below is the list of all 24 (+1) ERB Tarzan novels. I'm not at home right now, so don't know for sure which ones I've read (I think I own about 2/3 of these), but would agree with your assessment that perhaps the first 10 or so are the best. I'll admit that they become formulaic, but I love 'em nonetheless. I recall as a teen that my imagination would just run wild with the scenery.

I particularly enjoyed the two early stories set in Opar, and loved the Pelucidar tales as well. I've not read any John Carter stories, not even in comic form!

1914 TARZAN OF THE APES
1915 THE RETURN OF TARZAN
1916 THE BEASTS OF TARZAN
1917 THE SON OF TARZAN
1918 TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR
1919 JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN
1921 TARZAN THE UNTAMED
1921 TARZAN THE TERRIBLE
1923 TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
1924 TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN
1928 TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE
1929 TARZAN AND THE LOST EMPIRE
1930 TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE
1931 TARZAN THE INVINCIBLE
1932 TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
1933 TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
1934 TARZAN AND THE LION MAN
1935 TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD MEN
1936 TARZAN'S QUEST
1938 TARZAN AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY
1939 TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT
1947 TARZAN AND THE FOREIGN LEGION
1964 TARZAN AND THE MADMAN
1965 TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS
1995 TARZAN THE LOST ADVENTURE

Doug

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that Englehart had a penchant for "secret origin" type stories...his first story when he took the reins of Captain America was the "phoney Cap from the 50's" one, which explained how Cap could have been active in the fifties when he was supposed to be on ice for 20 years (though I do recall reading later that Roy Thomas had given him a rough plot to work with).

And no sooner does he start on the Avengers book then we get a "here's what *really* happened with the Space Phantom and Cap's secret ID" biz that was supposed to have taken place (but never shown) after CA #113.

I never read the JLA tale featured, but it sounds as if it ran along similar lines.



cheers
B Smith

Karen said...

Absolutely spot on, B Smith. Thanks for pointing this out. Of course, considering Roy Thomas was Englehart's mentor, is it any surprise?

Karen

The Groovy Agent said...

Doug, do yourself a favor and read at least (at least!) ERB'S A Princess of Mars, the Marv Wolfman/Gil Kan arc of Marvel's Warlord of Mars and the annuals that go with them. John Carter isn't as well known to the public as Tarzan (few characters are), but is far, far more influential than our beloved Ape Man. And those stories I've recommended are great, trust me!

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