May 15, 2018

Bunduki: A Tarzan Clone in Zillikian

If you're a Tarzan purist, trying to collect everything about the Lord of the Junble, you might want to pick up (but not read) Bunduki, a series about  "the fearless lord of the jungle" by J.T. Edson (not Edison).

A British writer and right-wing goofball (1928-2014), Edson wrote mostly Westerns, and continued long after the genre stopped being popular, creating such "renowned" characters as Dusty Fog and the Ysabel Kid. 

Two have been made into movies, Trigger Fast  (1994), and Guns of Honor (1994), with Christopher Atkins playing Dusty Fog.

I don't know about the movies, but the novels are intensely homophobic, full of simpering gay-stereotype villains, and racist, promoting the myth that slavery was a benevolent system; most slaves were loyal to their masters, and rose to defend them against evil "Northern aggression."

So it's not clear why the Burroughs estate licensed Edson to use the Tarzan characters.  He didn't write science fiction, and he was a wacko.

But they did, and Bunduki appeared in 1975, followed by Bunduki and Dawn and Sacrifice for the Quagga God. Then the estate got tired of the Tarzan name being attached to such rubbish, so they forbade Edson from using Tarzan, Jane, or Korak in future stories. The fourth novel, Fearless Lord of the Jungle, omits any Tarzan references, and the last novel was unpublished.

Bunduki is part of the Wold-Newton Universe, where Philip Jose Farmer interconnects all of the fictional heroes, from Alan Quartermaine to Sherlock Holmes, as part of one extended family. He was adopted by the aging Lord Greystoke after his parents were killed in the dreadful Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. 

Later he married Dawn, Lord Greystoke's great-granddaughter, and they were zapped off to the planet Zillikian together.

Zillikian is completely Earthlike, with flora and fauna identical to Earth's jungles (with a few additions, like bears and giant snakes), plus jibbering savages, slave traders, a female despot, and effeminate traders to fight. It is the Africa of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original myth.  All it needs is a loincloth-clad vine-swinger with flowing golden hair to rescue the damsel in distress.

The novels were all reprinted by Piccadilly Publishing in 2016.  I suggest buying them for the cover art, but not reading the text inside.

May 14, 2018

The Tarzan Twins

Edgar Rice Burroughs gave Tarzan a son, Korak, but he grew up in the fourth novel, The Son of Tarzan (1915).

To cater to the kid market, he came up with a new duo, The Tarzan Twins.

Dick and Doc were not twins at all, but they did look alike, except for their hair: "Dick had a shock of the blackest sort of black hair, while Doc's hair was the sunny hue of molasses candy."

They were cousins born at the same moment to twin mothers and raised together, half the time in England and half in America.  When they were 14 years old, they discovered that they were distantly related to Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, so they set out to visit their famous uncle.

In The Tarzan Twins (1927), they get lost in the jungle and captured by cannibals.  Uncle Tarzan is not around, so they have to rescue themselves.

At the end of the story, they lose their civilian clothes and take to loincloths.  As Burroughs helpfully explains: "their life with the cannibals and their flight through the jungle had accustomed them to scant attire and had already somewhat hardened their youthful bodies."

A Big Little Book appeared in 1934, and the story was retold in Rex Maxon's Tarzan newspaper comic strip in 1935.

Burroughs was so busy with Tarzan, John Carter, and his other adult heroes that he didn't write a new story until Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-Ja the Golden Lion (1936).  It takes place immediately after the first: while exploring with the golden lion, Dick and Doc come across some evil sun-worshippers, outcasts from Opar, who plan to sacrifice Gretchen, a missionary's daughter.  They come up with a daring rescue plan; again, Uncle Tarzan is not around.    (not to worry, there's no romance.)

The books appeared together in 1963, and in reprints since.

The story was told in comic book form in Tarzan  #196 (October 1970)

A web comic strip was launched in 2016, written by Martin Powell and drawn by Carlos Arguela.

As far as I know, they have not appeared on film.

May 13, 2018

Not Wearing a Sign

"How dare you say that Tony Danza on Taxi was gay?  Or the guys in Orange County or Jaws?  Or Yogi Bear and Boo Boo?   You're reading too much into it!  The authors never intended that!"

I hear statements like this a dozen times a week.  If a character is not Wearing a Sign, not specifically stating "I am gay," he or she must be assumed heterosexual.  Fiction  is the last bastian where heterosexuals can breathe free, certain that they are alone in the world, that those pesky gay people do not exist.

I have news for them.

1. Fictional characters do not exist, period. They are words on a page or images on a screen.  We know absolutely nothing about them except what is contained in those images.  It is up to the viewer to flesh them out, to fill in the blanks, to imagine their inner states, their motivations, their desires -- and to imagine what happens during the vast sections of their lives NOT on the screen. If they fail to make an explicit statement about their sexual identity on screen, that doesn't mean that they must be automatically classified as heterosexual.

We viewers must figure it out for ourselves.

2.  We figure it out by looking for clues.   Does the character leer at a woman?  At a man?  Establish a strong opposite-sex relationship?  A strong same-sex relationship?

The main gay clues are:

Bonding (same-sex romance)

Domesticity (living together)

My hero (same sex rescues)

No girls/boys allowed (lack of heterosexual interest)

Beefcake (physical display)

If one or more of these clues are present, the character can be read as gay.

3. There's no single correct answer. It's not like figuring out the answer to a riddle. The images are always vague, ambiguous, and contradictory.  Is this male-male relationship intimate and passionate enough to qualify as a romance?  I may think it is; you may not.

It's ok for different people to "read" different things into the text.

4. The intentions of the actors, writers, and directors are irrelevant.  No matter what they were trying to convey about their characters, the images are still vague, ambiguous, and contradictory.  So we still have to figure it out for ourselves, and we may get answers different from what they had in mind.

It's ok to see things that the authors didn't intend.

5. Mass media assumes that gay children do not exist.  No producer, writer, or director has ever, to my knowledge, acknowledged that there might be gay children in the cast, in the audience, or among the characters.  There may be gay adults, but all children, without exception, are assumed heterosexual.

Therefore gay children are interlopers in an alien country.  Everything they see, everything they hear, everything they read is meant for someone else.

They have to grab what they can.

If they must distort the text, misread a character, see things that aren't even there, that's fine.

When it's a matter of survival, anything goes.

Modern Tarzans

Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs' literary creation, was wildly popular in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing on the radio, in comic strips, and in now-classic movies, and inspiring a host of imitations.  His popularity waned later, although of course there were movies, comic books, a tv series, a Disney musical, and so on.  Contemporary adaptions must face a number of problems:

1. The myth of Darkest Africa may have played in the past,  but today everyone is aware that sub-Saharan Africa is not jungles and "savage tribes."  How would Tarzan fit into today's geopolitical landscape?

2. Without coming across as racist?

3.  And sexist?

4. The story is so intimately familiar, it seems impossible to put a new twist on it.

Here are the contemporary Tarzans:

Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996-2000).  Back in Africa without Jane, Tarzan (Joe Lara) has "epic" adventures that mostly rehash the books: he goes to Opar, Pellucidar, and so on.

The Legend of Tarzan (2001).  An animated Tarzan (Michael T. Weiss) and Jane face contemporary problems, mostly involving their friends disapproving of their relationship.

Tarzan (2003).   "This thrilling contemporary take transforms the classic Tarzan tale into a rapid-fire adventure."  Um...what was it before?  Jane is a NYPD detective who helps the Ape Man  (Travis Fimmel) combat the evil CEO of Greystoke Industries.  They also solve some regular crimes in this short-lived series.

Tarzan of the Apes (2008), a segment of Matinee, an anthology playing homage to the movies of the 1930s.    Edgar Rice Burroughs accompanies Jane to Africa.  The Ape Man, played by Aaron Sheehan,wears pants.

Tarzan Jr. and the Cuban Mercenaries (2010), an entry at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival.  Remember Boy, Tarzan's adopted son in the MGM and RKO movies?  He's all grown up (played by Quint Hankel), and has taken over for retired Dad.  He must fight the Cuban mercenaries who somehow show up in the jungle.  Sketchy black and white, like an old newsreel.

Tarzan (2013).  Tarzan (Kellan Lutz) and Jane fight the evil CEO of Greystoke Energies in this German production.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016), a sophisticated, articulate Tarzan (Alexander Skalsgaard), living in London in the 1890s, returns to Africa investigate the atrocities committed by King Leopold of Belgium (who really was responsible for the horrific exploitation of the Belgian Congo).  Wearing a loincloth.

Rory J. Saper plays the teenage, jungle-bound Ape Man.

Tarzan and Jane (2017), an animated teenage Lord of the Jungle (Giles Paton) with super-powers in a new children's tv series.
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