A Tribute to the of

The DC house ads were always of great interest to this reader back in the day. You could see all the fascinating offerings that the company was touting and wonder how you could ever lay your hands on some of them, all those years later when no one had heard of a back-issue bin. Thankfully they’re at our disposal today and thanks to my LCS I am finally able to check out a sampling from a series that piqued my curiosity.

Much like Anthro, which we explored here at the Silver Lantern a while back, I’d seen a few intriguing cover shots in those house ads from Bomba the jungle boy and wondered about that title, even though jungle action is pretty standardized. Well, it turns out there’s a bit more to Bomba than meets the eye.

Bomba, in fact, has a pretty long history, beginning with a series of boy’s adventure books published clear back in 1926, obviously out to run Edgar Rice Burroughs a little competition. A total of 20 different books were produced, the first 10 with a setting in South America and the last 10 in Africa. The last title hit the shelves in 1938, the year Superman came on the scene.

Then in 1949, Bomba took to the big screen in a series of films starring Johnny Sheffield, who had previously played “Boy” alongside Johnny Weismuller in the old Tarzan flicks. The final installment of the 12 movies rolled out in 1955. Talk about cranking out some product.

In 1962, WGN-TV aired the films over the summer in prime time, calling them “Zim Bomba.” Allegedly, “Zim” means “son of” in Swahili.

Finally, enter DC Comics, who decided to launch a Bomba comic book, presumably a licensed property and they even made reference on the cover of the first two issues about “TV’s Teen Jungle Star.” Issue #1 had a dynamic cover penciled by Carmine Infantino with the interesting inking choice of Charles “Chuck” Cuidera, better known as the co-creator of Blackhawk. Otto Binder was the writer and George Kashdan served as the editor.

Speaking of Blackhawk, Dick Dillin rendered the cover for issue #2 with Chuck again inking and George Kashdan was dual-hatted as writer and editor. Issue #3 brought Jack Sparling in as cover and interior artist (and the disappearance of Teen Jungle Star from the cover) with Kashdan continuing in his roles as writer and editor.

With issue #5, Dick Giordano took over as editor, which finally and at last brings us to issue #6, sporting a new, rather uninspiring cover logo with a Jack Sparling cover. Jack also handles interior art and they’ve brought in Denny O’Neil to script the untitled story while Dick Giordano edits. The publication date is July/August of 1968 with an on-sale date of May 16, 1968.

An interesting twist for this issue is the absence of any dialogue balloons. All the writing is done in captions throughout the story from a narrator’s point of view.

Things begin in an ancient, unnamed city, which had risen with its “gleaming spires and shining streets,” but it also contained abundant evil in the form of slavery, cruelty and “experiments that challenged nature” under the direction of a brutal ruler.

Well, as we all know, it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature, because she will have the last say. In this case, the very earth itself split open to release a mysterious vapor from underground pockets that killed the people and dissolved any metal it came in contact with, effectively destroying the city and its inhabitants as effectively as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in the Old Testament.

There were, however, seven men who escaped; Krag, the tyrant ruler and his six bodyguards. They made it to a cave outside the city and somehow placed themselves into suspended animation.

So, all that is the backdrop to the entrance of Bomba, the jungle boy, eons after the destruction of the ancient city. Bomba is behaving as any self-respecting jungle boy would, swinging from vines through the jungle, decked out in apparel taken from a leopard, but rather than the classic loin cloth, it’s a one-piece affair that drapes over one shoulder like a professional wrestler. He’s also sporting a bow and quiver with arrows.

He notes a stampede and decides to investigate, cautioning his companions, Doto the chimpanzee and Tiki the multi-hued bird to stay put. Pursuing the frightened animals for a couple of hours, he stops for water and is suddenly under attack from arrow-firing tribesmen. Bomba makes a break for it, but is soon overtaken. Before they can use a spear on him, though, the Chief stops them and identifies their friend, Bomba.

The Chief apologizes, explaining that there is an unknown evil in the jungle that has the tribe on edge. Bomba vows to investigate and the son of the Chief, Jobo, volunteers to accompany the jungle boy. Soon they’re off and it isn’t long before they note the eerie silence, followed by a luminous light above the treetops. Before they can ponder things further, however, a jaguar arrives. Bomba takes to the trees while Jobo tries to run. Fortunately, the arrow of Bomba flies true and the boys note that the big cat has suffered a burn.

Now they head toward a strange green glow and discover that the plant life is misshapen. Then they see strange figures moving in the jungle, holding a glowing sphere that is mutating the flora and fauna around it. Then the boys are spotted and Bomba leaps into action. A two-page battle sans panels ensues as Bomba and Jobo take on these odd, mutated creatures and finally they prevail.

Soon things get even weirder when the boys encounter a huge globe emitting the light they’d seen above the treetops before. They cannot fight this and a disembodied voice confirms their thought. Then it unleashes white tentacles that ensnare the boys. Losing consciousness, they do not see a chasm open in the earth where they are deposited.

When they later awaken in the darkness they are summoned by a voice and make their way to a bright doorway where they first encounter the awakened tyrant, the mighty Krag. He explains that he once ruled this place hundreds of thousands of years ago and that he controls the glowing spheres the boys have already encountered. Krag is using them to try to reshape the world into what it once was, but thus far his efforts have only mutated some creatures and plant life.

Krag then announces that he shall eventually succeed and that he will need servants. Holding a glowing sphere, he prepares to bring the boys under his control, but a scream from Jobo interrupts things as he notes his hands are turning reptilian, perhaps from his touching the green sphere in the jungle. Lunging at Krag, Jobo starts another melee, which Bomba quickly joins, heaving Krag’s throne at his men.

The evil Krag, however, has other tricks up his sleeve as he coaxes more of the powerful spheres from a gap in the earth, warning them that the touch of the orbs will be instant death. The boys take cover under a rug, but one of the minions of Krag move toward them. Bomba flips him over his back and he falls into the opening, disrupting the movement of the spheres and causing a huge green fire to erupt.

Using the confusion to their advantage, Bomba and Jobo make their way out of the chamber, but Krag leaps upon them, slashing with his sword. Bomba hears Jobo breathe his last under the blow and attacks Krag in a blind rage.

Just then the ceiling gives way and the two are separated by tons of debris, allowing Krag to flee while Bomba scoops up the body of Jobo to seek his own escape. He looks to the chamber that is now in its death throes, exploding in green fire.

Bomba buries his friend and vows to find Krag and make him pay as this story closes. The lower half of the final page promises further adventure next issue: “Bomba pits his prowess against the evil genius of Krag! In a story so unusual it had to be called Nightmare!

Issue #7 ended up being the final effort by DC on Bomba. Maybe I’ll get my hands on a copy one day and see how the “Nightmare” ended. I kind of wonder if any part of this story was inspired by some of the old Bomba books. Maybe I’ll reach out to Denny O’Neil and see if he recalls this brief and rather obscure part of his career. [And I did just that; Denny had this to say: "All I can recall about the jungle kid is that he was my first DC assignment and I gave him a speech oddity."]

I’d long dismissed Jack Sparling’s art as sub-par, or at least not among my many favorites and I remember Al Plastino telling me about the time he shared a studio with him, remarking about how fast he worked. After reading this book, I have to concede that while Jack’s style still isn’t the most attractive to me, the man had talent and he took some interesting visual twists and turns in this book with unique panel arrangements and the afore-mentioned panel-less two-page splash fight scene, not to mention some detailed period backgrounds to kick the story off. I also learned that Jack is credited as the co-creator of Cain, the proprietor of the House of Mystery.

My curiosity about Bomba is finally satisfied and I learned quite a bit in the process about the origins of this character, who apparently hasn’t been utilized since the late 60s in comic book form. Maybe Bomba will make a resurgence someday. We could do worse.

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Long live the Silver Age!

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