A Tribute to the of

It’s hard to believe that this month marks 3 years that the great Joe Kubert sailed off into the sunset. It took me a while to begin to appreciate his artistic talents, but when I really began to, it became a wonderful time of exploration, from Hawkman to Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock to Firehair, Tor to Tex the Lonesome Rider and with this edition of the Silver Age Sage, Joe’s nearly one-man show when he produced the first DC version of Tarzan of the Apes.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ best known fictional character was licensed by DC beginning with the April, 1972 issue which is emblazoned with “1st DC Issue” even though it is sequentially numbered with #207.

For a quick history, Tarzan #1 – 131 was published by Western Publishing under their Dell imprint. Then Gold Key, also under Western Publishing picked up the title from issues #132 - #206. Consequently, DC began at #207 and continued through #258. Later publishers include Marvel and Dark Horse, but that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the story, which was adapted from Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes by Joe Kubert, with a cover by Joe Kubert, editing by Joe Kubert, penciled and inked interior art (26 pages worth!) by Joe Kubert, lettered by Joe Kubert and, oh yeah, colors by Tatjana Wood.

Things begin, naturally enough, in the jungles of Africa, where a small safari is working its way along with a young woman having a rather heated exchange with the guide about finding her father. Just then, the guide, Mr. Klaxton, notes the unusual excitement among the monkeys. Just then, he understands why when a panther lunges into the mix. Moments afterward they heard the cry of the bull ape and a man wearing only a leopard loin cloth and wielding a knife attacks the panther. After a fierce, brief battle, the man again roars forth with the cry of the bull ape and fades back into the jungle.

The lady asks Mr. Klaxton what they’ve seen and he proceeds to tell the origin story of Tarzan of the Apes.

It seems that in the year 1888 at the port of Dover, England (I wonder if it’s simply coincidence that the Kubert School is located in Dover, New Jersey?) John Clayton, also known as Lord Greystoke and his wife, Lady Alice are setting out on a mission for Her Majesty, the Queen.

Lord and Lady Greystoke find themselves aboard the Fuwalda, with a less than savory captain and crew. It soon becomes evident that the captain is a cruel and vicious man as he is all too eager to mete out severe penalties to crewmembers for the slightest infraction. He threatens Black Michael with a pistol, but John Clayton intervenes.

The next day, a full-blown mutiny is afoot, but before one of the mutnineers can harm the Greystokes, Black Michael intervenes on their behalf. Their benefactor fears, however, that he cannot continue to keep them safe, so he sends them ashore in a boat with some provisions along the African coast.

Lord and Lady Greystoke are unsettled, but determined to make their way in this strange wilderness, but Alice is particularly worried for their unborn child. A bit of eerie foreshadowing is given in the caption at the bottom of page 9: “Neither knows that this will be the last time they will ever see another human being!

John Clayton wastes no time in constructing a shelter, thankful that they have been left with rope, axe and firearms, but the crude, elevated platform shelter is only temporary, as more than one large, potentially predatory beast is spotted over the course of that nerve-wracking first night.

Greystoke quickly works to build a sturdy cabin for he and his bride and within a couple of months they have a better fortified shelter. Here they spend their time as they await the birth of their child. One fateful day, however, John Clayton is doing some work when a huge gorilla attacks. Alice, hearing the disturbance, emerges with a rifle and fires at the ape, who then turns on her. Fortunately her aim was true, but the beast collapses on Lady Greystoke, knocking her unconscious.

After Alice revives, she is convinced they are back in England, but she never again leaves their dwelling. She devotes herself entirely to their newborn son, but a year to the day after his birth, she passes away, leaving a distraught Lord Greystoke.

At this time, Kerchak, the king ape of his tribe, is in a rage that will not be quelled and at one point chases the she-ape, Kala, who is carrying her newborn. During the course of the chase, the babe falls to its death from Kala’s grasp. Still clutching her dead offspring, Kala joins the other members of the tribe as a calmed Kerchak leads them to the Greystoke cabin.

Kala seizes the baby from the cabin while the tribe overrun and overpower Lord Greystoke, accidentally locking the cabin and leaving the bodies of the Greystokes while returning to the jungle.

Back in their native habitat, Kala treats the baby as her own, raising and protecting it and ultimately naming it Tarzan, which translates to white-skin. The young boy grows and gets stronger over time, but wonders why he is so different and to his eyes, ugly, as compared to his ape companions.

One day he and Kartun are at the water hole when Sabor the lioness attacks. He quickly learns to swim and soon the tribe arrives to answer the distress call. As time marches on, the young Tarzan learns to braid ropes from long grasses and becomes proficient in its use. Curiosity drives him to explore and one day he enters the strange cabin, discovering the books on the shelves and seeing pictures that resemble him. He idly picks up his father’s hunting knife and brings it with him as he leaves, only to come face to face with Bolgani, the bull gorilla from another tribe. A fight to the death ensues, but the hunting knife proves to be the deciding factor and a wounded but victorious Tarzan is taken by Kala to be nursed back to health.

Book One of Tarzan’s origin ends there and the incredulous woman tells Klaxton that she can hardly believe what she’s heard, but if it is true, then Tarzan may be able to help her find her father. [Several scanned pages can be enjoyed here; the complete origin story was reprinted in 1973, 2005 and most recently in this magnificent volume.] The rest of this 52 page book is a continuing tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs with a biography and photo of the writer on the “Dum-Dum” page, which will be the future lettercol header. We learn all about the career of this prolific writer, courtesy of Marvin Wolfman.

Next up is a 3-page reprinting of “Tarzan’s First Christmas” originally printed in the December 27, 1931 newspaper strip with a script by George Carlin (no, not that one) and art by Hal Foster.

Then the readers are given an 8-page treatment of another Burroughs creation as “Arrival” plotted by Marv Wolfman and scripted by Joe Kubert introduces us to John Carter. Superb art is provided by Murphy Anderson.

Finally there is a full-page pinup of John Carter surrounded by key scenes and characters rendered by Gray Morrow.

As you can see, you got a lot for your quarter with this issue and it’s a tour de force by Joe Kubert and a terrific showcase for his versatility.

We miss you, Joe, but are thankful for the tremendous body of work you left that we can still enjoy.

The first of September will be your opportunity to read the next edition of this feature. As usual, if you have questions, comments or requests for future reviews, I can be reached at my handy e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2015 by B.D.S.

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