Brothers of the Spear Volume 1, by Gaylord DuBois, Russ Manning and Jesse Marsh (Dark Horse, $49.95)

 

I really don't have much to say about this book that hasn't been said on this site and elsewhere. 

 

"Brothers of the Spear" was a back-up series in Dell's Tarzan, and this book collects the stories printed in Tarzan #25-67 (Oct 51-Apr 55). As you can see from the credits, it's by the same people who did Tarzan and other Dell adventure books (and in Manning's case, Gold Key). And it's the same sort of stuff, with two teenagers from a southern African tribe moving north for plot reasons, and having many adventures. 

 

What's interesting, as everyone else on planet Earth has said, is that "Brothers" stars and refers to a black teen and a white teen, and there is absolute racial equality between them. That IS interesting -- honestly -- because of when these book were published. In the early 1950s, black people in America were treated incredibly badly, especially in the South, and this book was sold all over America. And the book sold well. With no problems.

 

That alone is really interesting. And very cool. It suggests that the (white) kids reading these books weren't quite like their parents. Or maybe the Africa setting was exotic enough that no white people thought it had any relevance for what was happening in America. Regardless, here was the book, and it sold, and white kids were reading it, while their parents were doing awful, ugly things to black people. I'm no sociologist, so all I have to say is ... hmmmm.

 

As to the stories themselves, they were the same sort of implausible adventures that take place with any "Fools Abroad" story. The kids are heading north for a specific reason, but despite being completely without guile they somehow avoid getting killed or enslaved, mostly by luck or athletic effort, and eventually stumble into exactly what they're looking for. But the real reason they survive is that they back each other up without question. Their unquestioned bond gives them greater strength than their foes, simply because they trust each other while the bad guys don't trust each other -- and because the bad guys can't imagine anyone else would trust each other that much, and so leave the door open for teamwork to win the day.

 

I loved that aspect of the story. I was less impressed with the rest. Maybe kids in the 1950s could believe these two naive quasi-adults could stumble through such horrific dangers without harm, but it's hard for someone in 2012 to do so. These stories are quaint, and sometimes charming, but not remotely believable or interesting. They are only worth the paper to reprint them for the strange racial tolerance they display in a racially intolerant era, but for little else.

 

 

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I’ll tell you what I liked most about the stories in this volume: the pacing. Each chapter is so short that there’s no time for any recap. It reads very much like a pulp paperback with short, punchy chapters in that respect. I’m still trying to appreciate Jesse Marsh’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” style, but the quality picks up midway through when Russ Manning takes over the artwork.

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