Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Running the Gauntlet

In real life, Running the Gauntlet was often a military punishment--a soldier being punished runs along a line of his comrades while they all whack away at him with straps or clubs. In some cultures, enemy prisoners were forced to make the run. In 1778, for instance, Daniel Boone was captured by Shawnee and forced to run a gauntlet while they hacked away at him with knives and tomahawks. Fortunately for Boone, he was really good at ducking and dodging.

In fiction, heroes are often required to run a gauntlet when they are forced to face off with one villain after another in quick succession. In Spider Man's 1964 annual, for instance, the web-slinger ran a gauntlet of enemies when he had to face off against the Sinister Six one by one. A DC Imaginary story we looked at not long ago had Batman running a gauntlet of booby traps set by Lex Luthor.

In Korak, Son of Tarzan #3 (May 1964), the Jungle Lord's spawn ends up running a gauntlet.

By the way, the cover image for this issue is for the other of the two Korak stories in this issue. Since it's impossible to look at that cover without wanting to know the story behind it, I promise I'll cover it on another day. But for now, we'll take a look at "Warrior's Test."

Gold Key's Korak stories were similar in many ways to their Tarzan stories, since both father and son had identical skill sets and spent most of their free time traveling through the jungle and stumbling into adventures. But for the first 11 issues of his own book, Korak differed from his dad by traveling with a sidekick. This was an ape named Pahkut, who popped up in at least one later issue as well during Korak's 45-issue run.

So when Pahkut and one other ape disappear from their tribe, Korak takes an immediate interest. During the ensuing search, he finds a big village located on a river island. The villagers are holding a young elephant prisoner. Like his dad, Korak is the friend of all elephants, so a rescue is in order.

This doesn't go well--Korak is overwhelmed by guards and captured. The villagers' queen then gives Korak a choice: he can either be fed to crocodiles OR he can take the warrior's test. Not surprisingly, he opts to take the test.

This involves Korak essentially running a gauntlet. He's given a spear, a bow and two arrows, then sent into a maze of thorn hedges. There he encounters two archers with four arrows. When he's able to outshoot them, he encounters a warrior in full armor (and discovers his spear is made from rotten and easily breakable wood).

Once past this guy, he finds himself facing off against Pahkut and the other missing ape, who have been starved and tortured to turn them vicious. But Pahkut knows his best friend, so they let Korak pass. (They themselves are chained to a wall, so Korak will have to come back later to free them.)

THEN there's a whopping big crocodile. But he's past the gauntlet after that, forming an army of apes and elephants to attack the village and free his friends.

The story was written by veteran writer Gaylord Du Bois and drawn by the great Russ Manning. It's a wonderfully compact tale, moving along quickly as it effectively tells its tale in just 10 pages.

Edgar Rice Burroughs created Korak in the novel The Son of Tarzan (serialized in All-Story Weekly in 1915/16, then published as a book in 1917). It's a great novel, but after than Korak was confined to a few cameos in the remaining books. I think Edgar Rice Burroughs found that Tarzan was more than awesome enough to carry the series without the need to bring in a proxy.

But Gold Key (and later DC Comics) discovered that Korak carries his own unique sub-set of awesomeness around with him, resurrecting the character to give him his own adventures. Whether father or son, you just can't keep a Lord of the Jungle down.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I agree that Korak is an awesome character.

    He makes frequent appearances as a teenager in the Tarzan comic strip as drawn by Russ Manning--his adventures are frequently on his own, without the presence of his venerable parent--although there are several sequences where Tarzan and Korak share the climax of an adventure together. It's always cool to see father and son interacting. The comic strip adventures are larger-than-life as well.

    Another place where Tarzan and Korak occasionally shared a story was in DC Comics' Tarzan Family title. I enjoy both characters, but there is something really special about these outings when they work together.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It's interesting that Burroughs never found much use for Korak in the original Tarzan novels, but that comic book and comic strip writers latched on to him and used him so effectively.


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