Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Russ Manning Years Volume One
Dark Horse Comics
$49.99, color, 289 pgs.
Script: Gaylord DuBois
Adaptation: Russ Manning
Artists: Russ Manning, Mike Royer
Collecting Tarzan #155-167 (Dec 65-May 67)
Everything I’ve ever heard about Russ Manning’s Tarzan, which I've never seen before, is true. This is beautiful stuff.
Manning, known for Magnus, Robot Fighter at Gold Key, shows that he’s no one-trick pony: His slick, fluid style works just as well on real jungles as metal ones. And his command of anatomy is arresting. Manning is easily on par with old masters like Lou Fine, Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Mac Raboy, and Alex Raymond – some of whom he obviously studied.
A favor he passed on. One of the most interesting aspects of seeing this work for the first time is that so much of it is familiar, because it’s been swiped by later artists. On a given page, I’ll see an entire scene lifted by Mike Grell for Warlord. Turn the page, and I’ll see feathering that John Romita Sr. would later use on Amazing Spider-Man. On this page there’s a pose swiped by John Buscema for Conan the Barbarian, on that one a face used by Steve Rude for Nexus. Call it swipes, or homages, or inspiration – but whatever you call it, an artist can have no finer compliment than to be copied by his successors.
Now, nobody’s perfect and I’ll surrender this much to previous Tarzan artist Jesse Marsh: He knew when to let a background go fuzzy so that the foreground stands out. Manning is a stickler; he draws every cloud, every blade of grass, every tree in foreground or background. His work is very precise and controlled, and it would have benefited from being allowed to breathe once in a while. But that’s a quibble; this is beautiful stuff.
I can’t say as much for the stories. They are all adaptations of ERB novels, but compressed to the point of incoherence. Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar was allowed to stretch for three issues and Tarzan the Terrible and Tarzan the Terrible for two each, which is barely adequate. But Tarzan of the Apes, Return of Tarzan, Beasts of Tarzan, and Son of Tarzan were condensed to single issues each, and suffered for it. Needless to say, a lot is lost – some stories barely make sense at that length, and sometimes characters or subplots appear out of the blue, because their introductions had been cut out. It’s a mess.
But who cares? Most of us know the stories already. I was perfectly content to simply savor the art. It’s just beautiful stuff.
Cap, I agree complete with your assessment of this volumes, i.e., beautiful artwork but adaptations “compressed to the point of incoherence,” and I also agree with your ultimate conclusion: “But who cares?” I have read this stuff before (Dark Horse reprinted it in the ‘90s in three digest-sized volumes with cover art by Mark Schultz) so I know exactly what to expect, but to have these issues in a regular-sized single-volume hardcover is a no-brainer for me. If anyone reading this is interested, my three digests are available for sale or trade.