Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tarzan and Yet More Dinosaurs

Russ Manning was one of several superior artists who (along with Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth and Joe Kubert) has provided fans with some excellent Tarzan of the Apes comics, both in comic books and in newspaper strips.

In 1974, Manning wrote and drew four Tarzan graphic novels that were published in Europe. Two of these were finally printed in the U.S. in 1996 and, though now out-of-print again, are available from the used book market.

These particular two graphic novels are Tarzan in the Land That Time Forgot and its direct sequel Tarzan and The Pool of Time.  

These tie the Jungle Lord together with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caspak trilogy, which by itself is a fantastic idea. During his lifetime, Burroughs had Tarzan visit Pellucidar, but (though he added details that implied all his stories were set in the same universe), he never got around to sending the Ape Man to Caspak (or Mars or Venus or into the past or future. Gee whiz, Edgar, what were you doing with your time?).

Caspak has always been one of my favorite Lost World settings. This hidden and volcanically heated continent, located near Antartica, is a savage jungle filled with prehistoric monsters, cave men and a brutal race of winged men called Weiroo. As Manning's first story opens, Tarzan has been asked by a young man to travel with him to Caspak to rescue his girl friend, Lyla Billings. Lyla's mother (a character from Burroughs' original trilogy about Caspak) came from that lost world, and Lyla is, perhaps unwisely, returning there to find out about her roots.

What follows is a fast paced adventure, involving one beautifully-drawn action sequence after another. The first story contains numerous captures, escapes and fights, ending with a massive battle involving both men and dinosaurs, while the second story picks up immediately afterwards as the action moves to the skull-strewn city of the Weiroos.

Manning was an excellent writer as well as a skilled artist. His portrayal of both Tarzan and the land of Caspak are very faithful to Burroughs' original stories. The plot is well-constructed and action-oriented in a way that carries the story along in a very convincing manner. Perhaps most importantly, Manning makes good use of the supporting characters, letting each of them have their moments without ever forgetting that we're all reading this mostly because we want to see Tarzan kick some butt.

But mostly it's the art that makes everything work. Everything from the humans to the

Neanderthals to the Weiroo to the dinosaurs just look too cool for words. Manning had an excellent sense of composition, keeping his "camera" moving from frame to frame in a way that kept the action moving fast while still allowing us to understand what is going on.

I've reviewed quite a number of comic book stories involving dinosaurs over the last couple of months, haven't I? Well, that's to be expected. As the ancient proverb tells us: "When you've tired of dinosaurs, you've tired of life."

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