Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tarzan, Dinosaurs and Pirates---Oh, My (Part 2)

When we left off last week, the Mad Arab was sailing towards a specific destination in Pellucidar along with several mercenaries and a crew of "Death-Cult" cannibals who worship him as a god. Tarzan had joined with a pirate ship commanded by the Cid and was in pursuit. Another mercenary was wandering around on his own. And Ayesha and her Pellucidarian warrior friend were flying off on a thidpar (a domesticated pterodactyl).

Well, things don't get any less complicated as the story progresses, but the storytelling and art remain top notch, so we're always able to keep track of everyone without any problem. As I mentioned last week, this is one of the elements of the story that really makes it feel like an Edgar Rice Burroughs tale. ERB often had several characters or groups of characters operating independently of each other, shifting the action from one to another at cliffhanger moments.

Beginning with Tarzan #19 (December 1978), Sal Buscema takes over the interior art from his brother John. (Though John continues to provide most of the covers.) In issue #20, Bill Mantlo takes over as writer, though he follows David Kraft's plot for the remainder of the story arc.

A big part of the story here is essentially a chase scene, with Tarzan pursuing the Mad Arab. But within this framework, alliances are shifting swiftly. The ape man has a falling out with the Cid and goes off on his own. The Cid then mistakenly thinks Tarzan has stolen his buried treasure and so pursues him. On the Mad Arab's ship, the mercenaries are divided on whether to obey him to get a cut of whatever power source he's after or double-cross him at the first opportunity.

Double-crossing Abdul Alhazred is no easy thing, though. Aside from his crew of fanatically loyal cannibals, he's also apparently immune to bullets.

Tarzan has a run-in with reptile-men and neanderthals, all of which leads to him hijacking a thidpar despite being tied up. This is seriously awesome.

In the meantime, Ayesha and her warrior friend (it's a sort of running gag that she doesn't learn his name until the end of the story) crash-land their thidpar on Pellucidar's small geostationary moon, where they are promptly captured by Mahars, the telepathic pterodactyls who were the main villains in the first two original novels. 

Ayesha and friend prove themselves to be awesome--especially the princess. She is not only able to resist the Mahar's hypnotism, but fights one by breaking off one of its fangs with a rock and then using this as a weapon to stab it. That is indeed double-seriously awesome.

It turns out the Mahars have built a sonic cannon on the moon, but that it is powered by a giant crystal located inside a city of pyramids in the Land of Awful Shadow--the land kept in perpetual darkness by the moon's shadow. While Ayesha and friend are destroying the cannon, all the other characters end up at the city. This now includes an army from David Innes' empire who are out to crush the Mahars. At first, the Mahars seem to have the upper hand, but a convenient dinosaur stampede abruptly shifts the odds.

It is the crystal that the Mad Arab wants. It's the source of his power and apparent immortality--with it he can conquer both Pellucidar and the surface world. Tarzan has been pursuing his enemy largely for revenge, but when the two finally face off in a one-on-one duel, the fate of the world is at stake.

But how can Tarzan kill someone who is apparently immortal?

From start to finish, this is an exciting and well-constructed adventure yarn. It juggles a lot of characters and conflicting character motivations, but does so with expertise and makes sure we are never lost. I also enjoy the use of Pellucidar's moon and the Land of Awful Shadow as settings--places that Burroughs never got around to exploring in the original novels.

If I were to get nitpicky, I would say that several characters are killed off or dropped from the story a little too abruptly during the last two issues, but that is definitely a nitpick. Over the course of nine issues, writers David Kraft and Bill Mantlo, along with artists John & Sal Buscema, tell an original story that builds on and shows respect for Burroughs' characters and settings.

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