Aug 19, 2012

The Comic Book Jungle

When I was a kid, in the 1960s, I didn't care much for DC and Marvel comics. Whenever I picked up an issue, it turned out to be the middle of a story that would go on for months, with installments in three or four different titles.

Gold Key Comics were a godsend, with stories that concluded in one issue. They offered Disney's Donald Duck traveling to Tibet or the Amazon, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig as Indiana Jones-style adventure archaeologists, and even more jungle beefcake than DC and Marvel.  (I also liked Harveys and Archies, but not Charlton).

1. Tarzan.  This was the Edgar Rice Burroughs version, articulate, wealthy, and retired from vine-swinging on a jungle plantation – and, when the television series began in 1966, illustrated by pin-up quality pictures of Ron Ely. Jane was usually absent; instead, Tarzan spends most of his time bonding with various noble Africans and extremely chummy white explorers. The testosterone-laced atmosphere is embued with a surprising degree of tenderness: In “Message in the Snows,” Tarzan and two explorers named George and Alec are captured by giant Autralopitheci. George is wounded. Cradling him lovingly in his arms, Alec cries “Oh, please don’t die! Not now – not yet!”

2. The back-of-the-comic, The Jungle Twins, which spun off into its own title in 1972, introduced the identical cousins, both with amazing physiques and a dislike for clothing. On an extended visit with Uncle Tarzan, they adopt a golden lion and use it to rescue a girl from a savage human sacrifice. She asks suggestively“How can I ever thank you?,” but they skip the kiss. “Don’t thank us! Thank. . .the golden lion.”

3. Korak, Son of Tarzan: not the Boy of the MGM movies, a curly-haired muscleman in leopard-skin Speedos.  He is not interested in girls, though he has a heterosexist back story, and spends a lot of time orchestrating heterosexual romances for others. For instance, in “Valley of the Monsters,” he saves an attractive young urban African named Muhammed Isolo (“graduate of Oxford University”) and helps him “go native,” strip to a loincloth and marry a native girl.

4. His back-of-the-comic feature, Brothers of the Spear, also spun off into its own title in 1972. They are the white Dan-El and the black Natonga, co-rulers of the lost kingdom of Aba-Zulu. They happen to have wives, but their administrative duties and marriages never take front-stage to the joy of stripping down to a loincloth and spending some quality time in the bush. 

5. Turok Son of Stone had the most interesting premise of the lot: two Stone Age Indians, the young Turok and the middle-aged Andar, are trapped in a lost world full of dinosaurs and savages. Both have magnificent physiques, of course, and they spend their stories trying to get home and rescuing each other from monsters, with no girl in sight..

Hours of beefcake and bonding for 12 cents apiece-- well in the early 1970s, 20 cents, then 30, 40, and 50 in quick succession, until the company finally folded in 1982.

See also: DC Comics Muscle