Monday, May 30, 2011

This Comic's a Mutt -- a Mixture of All Kinds of Stuff!

Ka-Zar #3 (May 1974)
"Night of the Man-God!"
Mike Friedrich-Don Heck/Mike Royer

Doug: Lord of the Hidden Jungle time, kiddie-winkies. Today's fare is a look at that Golden Age pulp and comic book rip-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation, Bronze Age-style. Ka-Zar first appeared in the pulp magazines, then was brought to the four-color world as a property of Timely Comics, Marvel's predescessor.
He first appeared in the Marvel Universe in X-Men #10 (March 1965).

Doug: The story tips off with Ka-Zar and Zabu walking through the jungle, Zabu bandaged at the shoulder from last issue's battle. As they walk along, they are attacked by a giant snake. Seeing Zabu as weak, the snake begins to exert its coils. It's the man with the knife, however, who leaps to his friend's defense. With the confidence and savagery that is required to survive in the prehistoric jungles beneath the Antarctic Circle, Ka-Zar frees Zabu. And as I said above, it's a very Tarzan-like Ka-Zar who hoists the dead reptile above his head, yelling out (only not in the language of the great apes!).

Doug: The next several pages are backstory and origin for this issue's super-baddie. In a previous ish, Ka-Zar and "his temporary ally, Shanna the She-Devil" (yeah, just wait...) had defeated Maa-gor, the last of the Man-Apes. Again, he is a Burroughs-like creation, reminiscent of the "50 frightful men" who inhabited Opar and protected the High Priestess, La. Maa-gor is smarting from the beatdown, and in his feeble brain seeks revenge on Ka-Zar.
Reaching the forbidden mists of the Savage Land, Maa-gor stops. No one of his people ever survived the mists, yet Maa-gor stumbles in anyway. What happens appears to be akin to the Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans, as Maa-gor gets a heckuva lot smarter and better-looking. The narrator informs us that it is these mists which keep Zabu young and make Ka-Zar strong. I'm not really up on this lore, so I'll take his word for it!

Doug: So Maa-gor is now the Man-God, and he ain't happy. He mentally transforms his fur loincloth into a quite ugly zoot suit and then (don't ask me why) summons the consciousness of the South American mercenary El Tigre (see X-Men #25 -- what the heck??). Telling him they will share the wealth of the Savage Land, the Man-God then transports the two of them right into Ka-Zar's lair. Game on! Ka-Zar makes short work of El Tigre, and then he and the Man-God tussle a bit. Zabu gets in on the action, but ultimately Man-God comes out on top.
Of course -- otherwise our story would only have been nine pages long! So as Chapter One ends, we the reader are treated to a centerfold map of the Savage Land, with art by Mike Royer. It's not exactly the most detailed map one might wish to see, but it's a nice add-in to the story.

Doug: Avengers fans will like the appearance of one Bobbi Morse, agent of SHIELD, who revives Ka-Zar. You see, Bobbi was tailing El Tigre when our Latino friend had his out-of-body experience, and then shortly thereafter hightailed it out of dodge on a plane. Using a tracer bug (uh huh), Bobbi trailed our do-badder to the Savage Land and saw the skirmish with the Man-God (Friedrich, c'mon...). So after the butt-kicking was laid down and the bad guys cleared out, Bobbi whipped out some smelling salts (I carry them everywhere I go. You?) and brought Lord Plunder back to the land of the awake.

Doug: We cut to Man-God and El Tigre, who are gloating over a device "left behind by an alien race".
Basically it's a drill, and when Man-God turns it on, what pops out of the Earth but oil? El Tigre's pretty fired up, but then Ka-Zar arrives, and it's another melee. In the end, Ka-Zar is attacked by Zabu, now controlled by El Tigre. The tide of battle is turned, however, when Bobbi attacks. This throws off everyone's attention and timing, and although El Tigre gives her a whack upside the noggin, the distraction has allowed Ka-Zar time to empathically reconnect with Zabu. And they aren't happy! To be continued...

Doug: This was an OK story. Not great, maybe not even good. But it wasn't terrible, and in spite of Friedrich's somewhat sophomoric script (which required a fair deal of not only the suspension of disbelief, but also suspension of common sense) it was 15 minutes of Bronze Age entertainment.
Don Heck's art was stiff as usual, but not totally distracting as it could be in this era. There are some scenes where he really put out in terms of detail and background illustration (now there's something you don't see much of in many modern comics), and I appreciated the effort. So I guess the story wasn't gripping enough to make me seek out Ka-Zar #4, but I'm not sad or upset that I read it. If nothing else, it was a nice little Tarzan story...


Sean Strange said...

I must be one of the only people who really likes Ka-Zar and the Savage Land. Unfortunately, most of his stories are like this one: really silly. El Tigre in the Savage Land? Why?

If they had done more Burroughs-style stories with lost civilizations, ape-men, and the occasional outsider or alien who wanders in it would have been great, but they always had to ruin it by bringing in these costumed goofballs or sending Ka-Zar to New York. Sorry, but Spider-Man swinging around on webs and making wisecracks in the Savage Land is ridiculous! The one story that got it right was the early Hulk issues around 109 -- those are good.

It's too bad Kirby never did a Ka-Zar series, I think he would've given it the primal, cosmic, savage feel that it deserves.

Fred W. Hill said...

I collected a few early Ka-Zar comics, including the last few in Astonishing Tales and the first few in this series, including this particular issue. Some of them were fun, but most were rather blah. I was never really interested in any Tarzan comics, however, although I did give them a try when Marvel got the franchise, with Roy Thomas & John Buscema at the helm. Maybe having Ka-Zar teamed up with a sabre-toothed cat rather than regularly going around killing lions and leopards was what made me prefer Ka-Zar over the Jungle Lord he was ripping off.
IMO, though, the best Bronze Age "jungle lord" series was Don McGregor's Blank Panther run, with some of Rich Buckler's best art as well as top-notch art by the irreverant Billy Graham. T'Challa, of course, was a king who had to learn the pitfalls of having abandoned his responsibilities as a king to pursue personal interests, even for a reputedly good cause (joining the Avengers). Probably the best of Marvel's many stories involving someone trying to overthrow one of Marvel's many monarchs (Namor, Odin, Dr. Doom, Black Bolt, just to name the most prominent I could think of right off).

Edo Bosnar said...

Fred, the "Panther's Rage" story by McGregor is arguably one of the best comics stories of the '70s in general, and not just a 'jungle lord' or 'overthrowing the monarch' story.
As for Ka-zar, I only read of few of his earlier appearances, but I have to say that the Jones/Anderson series from the early '80s was top-notch (at the least the first 20 or so issues, anyway), and not at all silly.

Steve Does Comics said...

I remember reading this Ka-Zar tale in a black and white Marvel UK reprint and was outraged when they turned Maa-Gor into a man of style and sophistication. I'd sort of grown attached to him as he was.

That aside, I was always a fan of Ka-Zar, especially the Barry Smith issues.

Fred W. Hill said...

I fully agree with you, Edo, about "Panther's Rage" being one of the best comics stories ever and it's almost a wonder the series lasted long enough for McGregor to tell the full tale.
One of the great things about that era of Bronze Age Marvel was that they did expand their fare, allowing for many different types of stories and a greater degree of artistic freedom, so we could get stories like McGregor's Black Panther and Killraven, Thomas & Smith's Conan, Wolfman & Colan's Dracula, Starlin's Warlock, Gerber's Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown, and Moench & Gulacy's Master of Kung Fu, along with all the more usual superhero fare.
I never read the Jones/Anderson version of Ka-Zar but I have read other positive reviews of it and it certainly seems worth checking out.

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