Showcase #66, featuring B’wana Beast (DC, Feb. 1967)
“The Birth of B’wana Beast”
Written by Bob Haney? Pencils by Mike Sekowsky. Inks by George Roussos. Cover by Sekowsky and Joe Giella. Edited by George Kashdan.
The setting is a new country in East Africa. The Zambesi tribe are holding a celebration. They have new copper mines and the first loads of ore are about to be trucked to the coast. The ore is the tribe’s hope for a better future.
Rupert Kenboya has returned to the village to escort the ore by helicopter. He is the National Police Commissioner and the son of the tribe’s chief, Kilo. He is modern-minded, and sees the old ways as superstitious. His father considers his visit a good omen. Getting the trucks to the coast will not be easy.
The witch doctor, Mondoko, casts bones to determine if the trucks will reach the coast. He predicts two giant beasts will fight after they pass Zambesi Falls and there will be danger. Rupert kicks dirt over the bones and sets the convoy going. His father taps him with his golden spear for good luck.
Some miles ahead Mike Maxwell, a white(1) game warden, sights something that spurs him to action. (We’re supposed to think it’s the convoy.) He gets in his helicopter and races to Mt Kilimanjaro. A shaggy gorilla(2) on the peak spots him and joins him as he lands in the crater, running down a flight of steps. (Outside the crater is depicted as snowy but inside the crater is not.)
Mike calls the gorilla Djuba. At his command it gives him a goblet from which he drinks a liquid that makes him bigger and stronger. Then it places a helmet on his head. When he has completed his change to B’wana Beast he utters a cry, “ki-ki-kuuuuuueeeee!” Then, bidding Djuba farewell, he races off “with a strength and speed only the jungle animals themselves possess”. From the splash page we know that he’s both an outlaw and a hero.
As the convoy reaches Zambesi Falls(3) someone flashes an SOS from the top of the falls. The helicopter leaves the convoy to investigate. As the trucks round a bend in the trail B’wana Beast shows himself and utters his cry. An elephant appears and blocks the road with a tree. Then the convoy is charged from other directions by a buffalo and B’wana Beast riding a rhinoceros. They overturn one of the trucks and the Zambesi flee. (The Zambesi are armed and shoot at them, and it makes no sense at all that B’wana Beast and his animals don’t all get shot.)
At B’wana Beast’s direction the elephant, Tembo,(4) rips off the cargo hold from the toppled truck, places it on its own back, and reloads it. (B’wana Beast says they have little time, but I think that would take forever.) Then they head off into the jungle.
Meanwhile, the helicopter has reached the falls. Whoever sent the S.O.S. has gone. Rupert realises it was a phoney and directs the pilot to hurry back to the trucks.
The Zambesi return to their trucks. Suddenly the head and shoulders of a giant in Arab headdress with an inhuman face appear in the jungle. The Zambesi recognise the figure as “He Who Never Dies”. Their rifles have no effect and they flee again.
A giant mechanical crocodile on caterpillar tracks emerges from the jungle. We see it is being driven by “He Who Never Dies”, Hamid Ali. He says he has lived a thousand years and panicked the Zambesi with an illusion of his face.
Ali has a gang of international scum with him in the crocodile. He orders a black giant with an eyepatch called Tonka to “read the signs”. Tonka examines the ground and tells Ali that B’wana Beast was there. Ali calls B’wana Beast his “greatest enemy” and deduces has taken part of the ore. He knocks the trucks off a cliff with his crocodile and heads into the jungle after him.
Rupert’s helicopter lands and the Zambesi tell him what’s happened. Rupert doesn’t believe Ali is immortal and chastises the Zambesi for thinking so. He and his pilot head off after B’wana Beast and Ali.
By this point B’wana Beast and his animals are crossing barren ground. Ali’s crocodile emerges from the jungle. B’wana Beast tells Tembo to continue ahead while he, “Rhino” and “Old Shatterhorns”(5) delay their pursuers. B’wana Beast, his rhino mount and the buffalo commence a charge. As they charge B’wana Beast places his hands on the sides of his helmet and starts making his strange cry, and in the issue’s most striking moment the “fabulous powers of the helmet” emanate into the charging animals and cause them to merge into a giant beast with characteristics of both. With B’wana Beast riding the rhinuffalo rams the crocodile.
As the helicopter arrives Rupert’s pilot says the clash was what Mondoko’s bones predicted. Rupert dismisses the idea and orders him to take them lower. The rhinuffalo has gotten in under the head of the crocodile and Ali can’t use his cannon on it. But he spots Rupert (his “other greatest enemy”) and tries to shoot him down. B’wana Beast sees the danger and has the rhinuffalo knock the crocodile so he misses. Rupert’s pilot tries to drop a grenade on B’wana Beast, but Rupert shifts the stick as he lets go and he misses too.
With the fight still raging, the story segues into an account of B’wana Beast’s origin. Mike and Rupert are pals from university. As athletes and scholars they always tied. When they graduated Rupert asked Mike to come with him to Africa to be a game ranger, “head of all our new national animal preserves”. They flew to Africa in a small plane provided by Mike’s father - he is a millionaire - with Mike piloting. But as they neared Zambesi country the plane was struck by lightning and crashed on Mt Kilimanjaro. A shaggy gorilla approached the wreck.
Rupert got Mike out of the burning wreck and took him into a defile on the rim of the crater in an attempt to escape the gorilla. He found a cave which appeared to be inhabited and gave Mike a drink from a cup filled with water (“must be rainwater in it from the dripping cave walls”). The gorilla entered and made sounds like speech. (“The gorilla…it talks! But…how? Must be some weird mutant-species!”) Rupert attacked it to protect Mike, but the gorilla quickly got the better of him. Then Mike, recovered and transformed, took over. After a terrific battle he defeated it with a wrestling hold and gave his cry for the first time, pounding his chest.
Mike told Rupert that the drink had improved his senses. It was as if he had become part animal, with “animal strength, cunning and reflexes”. Rupert observed he now prowled instead of walking. The gorilla fetched a strange helmet and placed it on Mike, “like a servant offering a king a crown”. Mike found it attuned him to the gorilla’s mind so he could understand its feelings and direct its actions. He said its name was Djuba and demonstrated he now had the power to command it.
Mike speculated the helmet was a product of an ancient civilisation “with knowledge and science beyond ours”, and that his transformation was due to minerals from the rock. Rupert suggested that Mike’s new power could be used to help Rupert’s people, and between them they hatched the plan of Mike’s taking on a second identity to fight evil and do good. They set out for Rupert’s village.
Rupert was appointed National Police Commissioner and Mike became a naturalist and game ranger.
The natives named Mike’s other identity B’wana Beast. He broke up Hamid Ali’s poaching network. But the President ordered Rupert to arrest him due to many reports he had committed crimes. (Rupert attributed the crimes to Ali, but the President refused to accept this.) Mike thought of quitting superheroing, but Rupert told him he needed him to continue, and that he’d use his position to protect him.
I have this story in an Australian comic from the 80s called Savage Tales #7.(6) The final page is a condensation of the final two pages of the original story, so I don’t actually know how exactly it ended. The last two panels in my edition return to the present. One shows Tembo continuing its mission. The other shows B’wana Beast and the rhinuffalo fighting the crocodile, but the image looks truncated and was possibly altered or supplied by an Australian artist.(7) There’s can’t have been room to wrap things up, so apparently the issue ended with the fight still in progress.
The feature’s Showcase try-out lasted two issues, and the second reportedly ended on a cliffhanger too. Cliffhanger endings were unusual in Showcase. The issues appeared during a period (#60-#71) when the try-outs were mostly three issues long with the third one separated from the first two. The pattern suggests the “Binky” try-out in #70, made up of reprints, took B’wana Beast’s third place, and the cliffhanger ending of the second issue supports this.
There’s a story that Sekowsky wasn’t willing to draw the third part as he thought the feature racist. I think this mostly a bum rap. I can see three issues: the use of “b’wana” in the name; the portrayals of the Zambesi and Hamid Ali; and B’wana Beast’s character as a white jungle lord. I’ll discuss these in turn. The Tarzan parody in Inferior Five #3, which Sekowsky also drew, appeared the same month as Showcase #69.
“Bwana” means “master” or “sir” in Swahili. (Apparently the transliteration “b’wana” is not correct.) In older movies and books it appears as a term of deference black Africans use when speaking to whites.(8) So using it in the name of a white superhero in Africa feels dubious, although it apparently doesn't have that racial connotation in Swahili. It was probably chosen as redolent of Africa, and for the alliteration. But the character's name also reminds me of the title of Bwana Devil (1952), which was a hit in its day as it was the first of the 1950s wave of 3-D features.(9)
The story's attitudes aren't colonialist. It's emphatically set in post-colonial Africa, and reflects the hopes of the period that the post-colonial governments would work for and achieve the modernisation of their nations. The unnamed nation was possibly modelled after Tanzania or Kenya.(10) It’s depicted as a nation where black people are running affairs. (The only white official we see is Mike, a field worker who apparently works alone and has his appointment from the black government.) The most prominent black character is Rupert, who is depicted as a modern man determined to modernise his country.
Still, calling a white character “B’wana Beast” is a bit on the nose. For English speakers it's too much like calling him “White Jungle Lord”, although in Swahili the term is apparently racially neutral
The Zambesi are depicted as premodern, but there were (and are) such people in Africa. They’re not unaware of the modern world. The copper mine is apparently the tribe’s project, not something operated by people from elsewhere, and they drive the trucks themselves.
Rupert is intolerant of what he sees as their superstitions, but I thought that believable characterisation, the flipside of his desire for progress. No-one gets angry when he kicks dirt over the bones Mondoko is casting. Perhaps this is acceptable behaviour in the son of a chief. The writing doesn’t wholly take his side: despite his dismissal of it Mondoko did predict the fight, and the Zambesi who tells him that he’s wrong to disbelieve in Hamid Ali’s immortality is right too.
Unfortunately the story twice has the Zambesi run away. I don’t think it means to portray them as cowardly. When he attacks the convoy they fight back until he overturns the truck, at which point they flee. One can’t really evaluate their behaviour here as the sequence cheats and depicts their guns as ineffective when there’s no reason they should be. The second time they flee after their guns prove ineffective against the giant Hamid Ali. In their defence, they know he’s capable of murder and never learn the giant head is only a projection.
Hamid Ali is an evil Arab, but a criminal mastermind, not a Muslim extremist. His gang consists of outcasts from all over. His face is slightly monkey-like, as if whatever gave him immortality has also left him not quite human. He apparently has vast scientific knowledge and a criminal network, and he has plagued the Zambesi for a long time.
B’wana Beast is really a Super-Tarzan. My guess is the strip started with the idea of upgrading that kind of character for the new age, so they gave him superpowers and put him into the real, modern Africa. The GCD points out that the cover and splash logos have the sub-title “The Jungle Master”. It amazes me that I’ve looked at the cover many times without noticing that. According to the cover “His very name invokes terror”, but he’s shown defending an injured Rupert from a gorilla, and with his bare chest and spotted shorts he looks enough like Tarzan for it to be obvious he’s a hero.
My defence of white jungle lord characters is they’re fantasy projection figures originally created for white audiences. The jungle provides the environment in which adventure can occur, and the audience-member projects himself into that environment as a superhuman by identifying with the hero.(11) In this case, though, there’s the wrinkle that Rupert, much more than Mike, is the character the reader follows the story through. The story starts with Rupert, and Mike’s motives are concealed from the reader when he switches to B’wana Beast and attacks the convoy. We’re supposed to initially think he’s attacked it for the purpose of stealing the ore. While Mike is B’wana Beast we’re not made privy to his thoughts, so when he charges the crocodile uttering his cry we don’t know what he’s up to. In the crash sequence it’s Rupert we identify with as he rescues the unconscious Mike and tries to escape Djuba.
In his superhero identity B’wana Beast’s outside society; an outlaw, although Rupert and Mike didn’t plan it that way. I suppose the natives might think him someone who lives in the woods with the animals, like Tarzan, and not suspect he has a second identity; especially since, according to the flashback, he’s animal-like when he’s B’wana Beast. In the flashback we see him taking on a gang of poachers which has just killed an elephant for its tusks. It’s interesting that poaching was already viewed as a serious concern in this period. One can imagine the locals thinking he fights it because he identifies with animals rather than humans.
According to the origin sequence he communicates with animals telepathically, although he also gives them orders verbally. In the origin sequence when he first commands Djuba he uses animal-speak (“Djuba… alemb alemb…”). At other times he uses English. During the fights he directs them with his cries.
The most interesting of his powers is his ability to merge animals. I suppose if he’d won a series he could have done this with different animal combinations. I don’t know how long that would have stayed fresh.
Apparently after a while the drink wears off and Mike returns to normal, although we don’t see this happen. There’s no reason why Rupert shouldn’t try it. Possibly Djuba wouldn’t be happy with his trying the helmet.
On the splash Rupert speaks of the story as “the greatest adventure safari of them all, from Kilimanjaro to the Mountains of the Moon”. I take this to be a way of saying “from one end of Africa to the other”, but actually the Rewenzori Mountains, if they're the ones he means, aren’t that far away.
The opening caption on p.2 calls Africa “mother of man-- continent of fantastic mysteries, last home of high adventure”. But there are wild places elsewhere: what about the Amazon?
On p.3 Rupert refers to his “professors at Harvard”, but on the splash he speaks of “State University”. The caption at the start of the flashback speaks of “a great American university”. Although the flashback speaks of Rupert and Mike as having tied academically they likely took different courses as Mike’s specialty is zoology.
There are women background characters in some panels, but none that plays a role in the story or has any lines.
Bob Haney is commonly identified as the writer. I haven’t read if there’s a foundation for this other than the issue’s zanier elements. The GCD’s page on #66 tentatively suggests Haney or Sekowsky due to an Amazing World of DC Comics reference to “Mike Sekowsky’s B’wana Beast”, but its page on #67 just says Haney. The dialogue doesn’t have the hip excesses that were showing up in Haney’s work by that point. (The issue went on sale Nov. 1966, the same month as Blackhawk #228, Metamorpho #10, Teen Titans #7.) On p.12, as the crocodile enters the barren area, there’s a caption that refers to it as “an area of volcanic “badlands””. I don’t associate Haney with that kind of attention to scientific detail, but perhaps wrongly: I’ll have to look for it in future. It reminded me of Gardner Fox, but it doesn’t appear from the GCD he wrote for Kashdan in the period. Here’s an exchange from p.16:
Mike: Yeah, Ken…Dad’s not such a bad guy--for a millionaire! Ha! Ha! But then, your father’s a pretty big man himself!
Rupert: Sure, pal--he’s loaded! He’s got more leopard claws than anybody in Africa… Ha! Ha! Ha!
That could be Haney, but perhaps also Arnold Drake. The dialogue is a bit flipper in the final chapter: “that weird gorilla”, “that bozo is still on our tails” (p.18), “some weird mutant-species” (p.19), “that big buster” (p.20).
The issue is glaringly badly-structured. On p.15 the story we’ve been following suddenly stops and the origin takes up almost all the rest of its length. But it looks like a feature the creators were invested in, not something just tossed off. The African details haven’t just been faked. Kilmanjaro is a real location (and an extinct volcano), throwing the bones is a real practice, the story is set in the right region of Africa for Swahili words. Rupert’s and Mike’s partnership is interesting. Sekowsky does a good job depicting the more authentic Africa. As jungle adventure goes, it’s a pretty good comic.
My hat-tip to Wikipedia, from which I drew all the geographical information. Date information from DC Indexes.
Update July 2016: Haney called B'wana Beast one of his "failures" in his interview with The Comics Journal, which can be read here (see part four).
(1) The flashback establishes Mike as American.
(2) My copy of the story is B&W. Djuba is twice shown in Kilimanjaro’s snows and I wondered if it was intended as an African version of the Abominable Snowman. But a caption in pt. 3 calls the gorilla red.
(3) Possibly modelled after Victoria Falls, which is on the Zambezi River, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The river is obviously where the author got the tribe’s name.
(4) “Elephant” in Swahili.
(5) The name seems to echo that of Karl May’s hero Old Shatterhand.
(6) The cover shows a mostly-naked woman riding a giant turtle underwater and brandishing a ceremonial sceptre. This gives me hope for mankind.
(7) Older Australian reprints of DC comics often extended the art on pages with advertisement or fill-in tiers. Savage Tales is from a later period, but it may have reprinted an old reprint of the story, and the part-page conclusions of parts 1 and 2 are both extended this way. On the splash Rupert refers to “State University 75’” instead of “‘61”, as originally. The splash omits the “Showcase presents…” logo. Surprisingly, it also omits the border around B’wana Beast and the caption on the bottom left, from which I’ve taken the title of this thread. (And there's a little redrawing of the dust on the left.)
(8) Not all Africans speak Swahili, of course. Wikipedia has a map of where it’s used here.
(10) Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, but close enough to the country’s north-eastern border that the Zambesi’s territory could be in Kenya. The President is balding, like Tanzania’s contemporary leader, Julius Nyerere. But he lacks his moustache and his face is a fairly standard Sekowsky one. The Zambezi River is quite distant from Tanzania, to its south-west and south.
(11) Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli is Indian, but the male young reader has a different basis on which to identify with him: he’s another boy.
This post displaced the thread QuizUp Questions - PLASTIC MAN questions needed from the homepage.
Jungle Comics #1 (Fiction House, Jan. 1940) part one
According to DC Indexes the issue appeared in Oct. 1939. It was Fiction House’s second comics title. An advertisement showing Jumbo Comics #11 and the first issues of Fight Comics and Planet Comics appeared on the back cover. Sheena had acquired her leopard-skin costume but was not yet Jumbo Comics’s superstar.
Jungle Comics had a particularly attractive logo. The lettering was backed by an image of a jungle coloured a single colour. It uses fine-line drawing and chiaroscuro, and the effect is as if the logo were backed by a B&W photograph. Presumably the art was by Lou Fine, as the lion on the right looks like the one he drew in the cover's main image. I think it one of the best logos of the Golden Age.
The cover shows Kaänga saving a woman from a lion while some guy shoots at him from behind. The GCD attributes it to Lou Fine. It’s better-drawn than any of the interior features. The Kaänga figure is attractively-done but when I look at it closely I think his anatomy is off in places. Isn’t his head too low?
The issue has nine features. All the stories are set in Africa.
Kaänga was a blond Tarzan clone. He starred in the title to the end. According to the GCD this first instalment was drawn by Alex Blum.
Kaänga’s origin is given in a flashback. When he was a child his father and his party were killed by natives. He fled into the jungle, and was taken in and raised by a village of ape men. They’re only called ape men at the climax, and if that term had not been used in the narration I don’t know I would have guessed that’s what they are supposed to be. They’re small, slight and bald, with big ears. (But all Blum’s Africans are bald.) Possibly Blum was going for a monkey look, but they look more human than anything else. In the flashback they’re coloured white, and in the splash and at the climax brown.
On the cover Kaänga has leopard-skin trunks (like the newspaper strip Tarzan), inside ripped blue shorts. These must be the ones he was wearing when his father was killed. They’re long and baggy in the flashback, so I guess there was room to grow into them.
In the story a safari under the leadership of a Professor Mason is attacked a white slaver called Blacton and a band of Africans (described as "terror ruled"). Blacton shoots Mason. Mason’s daughter Ann flees, and Kaänga rescues her. She teaches him to speak in broken English and he tells her his origin. She wants to take him to civilisation, but when they reach a town Blacton is there and has them seized. He keeps Ann for himself and auctions Kaänga as a slave. The bidders are all whites. My inference is this part of Africa has slave plantations. Kaänga escapes and rescues Ann. Blacton and the other whites pursue him, and he lures them into an ambush by the ape men. There is a big fight, and Kaänga and the ape men are victorious. (The story is discreet about what happens to the evil whites. Presumably they’re all killed.) Kaänga and Ann part, as he wants to stay in the jungle and she feels obliged to continue her father’s work. But he secretly keeps watch over her, “for danger still threatens and is imminent…”.
The use of white slavers as villains, the slave auction, and the kindly ape men are interesting elements in this story. I don’t know if the ape men were ever seen again. Blum’s art is in an early Golden Age style and varies between competent and weak. There are a couple of large action panels.
Kaänga swings through trees, but he isn’t depicted as able to talk to animals. He gets off a one-liner at the climax. When Blacton seems to have Kaänga cornered he says “Don’t shoot! He’s worth more to me alive!” When Kaänga socks him in the big battle he crows “Kaänga no disappoint you, Blacton. Kaänga very much alive!”
I called Kaänga a blond, but in the scans of this story at Comic Book Plus his heir looks ginger. I assume it’s meant to be blond. It is on the cover.
This character is an out-and-out superhero. He wears a bone white body stocking, has a face of the same colour, and wears a mask, winged cap, cape, and winged shoes. (Or is he naked from the belt up, with a bone white torso and arms?) He comes from a “ruined city deep in the jungle” which was apparently inhabited by a white (that is, pink) race. Only his father and himself are left. His powers are moderate super speed (he’s called “swifter than any man on Earth”) and an ability to know the future (which he doesn't obviously use). According to DC Indexes Jungle Comics #1 came out one month before the Flash’s debut in Flash Comics #1.
The White Phantom’s father commissions him to protect a Doctor White, who with his daughter is searching for “rare stones that possess a healing power for the sick”. An evil Professor Zaroff overhears White and his daughter talking about it and decides to trail their expedition and steal the discovery. The White Phantom warns the Whites they’re in danger. Zaroff shoots an associate who has refused to take part in his plans, and he manages to reach the Whites' camp and warn them before he dies. Just after they break camp a tribe of cannibals discover their traces. The White Phantom uses his super speed to lure them away, but after a while they give up chasing him and turn back. White and his party find mine with the stones. Zaroff and his mean appear and hold the Whites’ party at gunpoint. The Whites' guide, a native, bravely tackles Zaroff’s scout, and the latter fires a shot that causes the roof to collapse. Only the Whites, Zaroff, and one his men survive. Zaroff and his man are about to shoot the whites when the White Phantom arrives and stops them. The cannibals arrive. Zaroff’s man is speared but the others flee on a handy raft. Zaroff decides to swim for it but the river is full of alligators. The net tells me that should be crocodiles.) The White Phantom bids farewell to the Whites and they return to civilisation with knowledge of the healing stones.
As in the Kaänga story the main villain is a European, but this time we also have black cannibals. I consider the bit where the Whites' guide tackles the scout a hero moment, even though the result is a cave in. It’s good to see a black character used that way.
The fun element here is the story’s ruthlessness at killing off characters. I don't think the White Phantom did a particularly good job all told. The Whites survived: but no-one else.
Most of the stories in this issue are signed, but not always with real names. For example, the Kaänga story is signed “by Alex Boon”. This one is signed “by Taylor Martin”, but the GCD has no other credits for him. The action is mostly in the middle distance and there are a lot of small panels, but it’s a solid job with decent detail, albeit in an early Golden Age style. So it may be by someone who made a career in the industry.
Next: Fletcher Hanks! Immortal Norsemen! Casual genocide! And the original Captain Thunder!
The first version of this post displaced the thread Mars One #1 from the homepage.
How Rupert got his name. A theory by Fred Hembeck (which I have no trouble believing).
I was already getting uncomfortable in 1966 with white guys being the heroes of Africa. Or maybe it was the Sekowsky art!
If you are up for some low brow humor, watch Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. The film sends up many of the classic jungle movie tropes.
I should also mention that "Jungle Action" always sounded dirty to me.
3.”Tabu Wizard of the Jungle”
This is a Fletcher Hanks story. Tabu is a white jungle man. He once saved the life of a witch doctor, who rewarded him by giving him an “extra sense, which made him supreme in jungle-land”.
In the tale’s opening pages it looks like Tabu is going to be a super-Tarzan: he talks to animals, takes giant leaps, flies, and swims at great speed. But in the main part of the story he shows himself a jungle magician, able to do anything.
Tabu comes upon a village which has been destroyed by white slave raiders. He tracks the slavers and uses his power to terrify and finally destroy them. Through most of the story he attacks them from a distance while hiding in the jungle. But at the climax he confronts them in person, and transforms into an exotic form to finish them off. The form he takes I won't spoil. (One might quibble over whether we can be sure he kills them. He starts crushing them and vanishes with them, so it’s possible he dumps them alive somewhere horrible.) The witch doctor rewards him again by granting him a “seventh sense”, saying he will be “in touch with the invisible spirits of the jungle”.
The “Tabu” series continued for a while, but not with Hanks as its artist. He instead did “Fantomah”, a series about a jungle queen with similar powers that debuted in #2.
Hanks’s style has a surface naïve quality, but he was an accomplished artist, as these panels show:
4.”Camilla Queen of the Lost Empire”
A young scientist called Jon Dale has been seeking a lost civilisation in Africa. Misadventure separates him from his bearers and brings him to a plateau, where he finds the lost empire he has been searching for. Its inhabitants are Norsemen who went to Africa during the Crusades. They wear winged helmets, like Marvel Thor’s, and are ruled by a beautiful queen called Camilla. The water from a “sulphur spring” mixed with a “secret formula” of Camilla’s has kept them alive and young for over 600 years.
Camilla introduces Dale to a Dr Birch and his daughter Ruth who have also somehow come into her hands. The Norsemen sacrifice a daily victim to Thor by placing her on an altar that attracts lightning. In their view the victim goes to Valhalla to be with Thor. (Where they’ve been getting their victims from isn’t explained. The one we see is white, and so presumably from their civilisation.) Camilla makes a pass at Dale. He turns her down, so in revenge she makes Ruth the next victim.
Dale saves her by secretly grounding the altar’s electrodes. He then stirs up revolution by claiming the failure of the sacrifice means the gods are angry. Camilla flees and Dale pursues her. She starts growing older, and gives him her secret formula before dying. Returning to the city, he finds the Birches in danger from a mob. Showing a certain lack of tact he tells the Norsemen “the spell of eternal life is broken” and Camilla is dead. This enrages them, and they attack.
Dale and the Birches escape the mob and Dale destroys the city by throwing a flaming brand into the spring. He and the Birches survive the explosion - it doesn’t even mess their hair - but no-one else does. They descend from the plateau, and a rescue party finds them. Dale says it’s wrong to want to live forever and he will destroy the formula. Our heroes express no regret at having just destroyed a 600-year-old civilisation.
This was apparently intended as a one-off story rather than the start of a series, although a series resulted. It was likely inspired by some version of H. Rider Haggard’s She. The art has a clear line look. Some of the drawing is good, some much too sparse (especially the explosion), and the final part of the story is too rushed. (The revolution isn’t shown, and why does Camilla suddenly grow old?) The GCD credits the art to C.A. Winter, who here signed himself “Caw”.
The bearers at the beginning and end are the only African natives in the story.
5.“Captain Thunder and the Congo Lancers”
The British have an isolated outpost deep in the jungle. Four patrols sent to man it have been mysteriously destroyed. The colonel in charge assigns Captain Terry Thunder to the job. He puts together a patrol from soldiers he knows who like action and the colonel names them the Congo Lancers. (Presumably they’re in one of the British colonies with territory in the Congo Basin, but the region was predominately Belgian and French.)
En route to the outpost the patrol loses supplies crossing a river. Thunder sends his patrol on ahead while had and another man, Doyle, return for more. Doyle is killed by an arrow. Thunder takes to the trees and finds the slavers’ camp. (Once again the slavers are whites. The only natives in the story are some bearers at the start.) Their conversation reveals they have been attacking the garrison through a secret tunnel. Thunder locates the entrance. He leaves a snake inside the tunnel entrance and waits for the slavers. When they come out of the tunnel to get away from the snake he tries to take them captive but they start a fight. The sound of the fight leads Thunder's men to the tunnel entrance in the fortress, and they arrive in time to save Thunder after he runs out of ammunition.
The concluding action sequence is standard stuff, but this is one of the better stories in the issue as its heroes have more personality (albeit the same one: they’re all gung-ho) and the story has a strong opening hook. Fawcett had to rename its upcoming hero Captain Thunder Captain Marvel because it had been beaten to the name. The idea of fortress with a dead garrison may have been borrowed from some version of Beau Geste. The 1939 remake had just come out.
The GCD credits the art to Arthur Peddy. He's credited in the issue as "Peters". Blum was credited as "Alex Boon", and Hanks as "Henry Fletcher". So I suppose if "Taylor Martin" wasn't the name of the "White Panther" artist the pseudonym might be based on his name.
Next: The title's second-biggest early star! Comedy! Dick Briefer! And my pick for the best story in the issue!
6.”Wambi the Jungle Boy”
Wambi is a boy who lives in the jungle with the animals and understands their language. His best friend is an elephant called Tawn. A rebellious tribe is seeking to acquire guns so it can drive out a settlement of gold panners. Wambi spots the tribesmen doing a war dance. He spies on them from a tree but falls off his perch and is captured. He whistles for Tawn, and Tawn races into the village and breaks him free. Then Wambi warns the British authorities and they send a force that battles and defeat the tribe. They present him with a sword in thanks.
Wambi lives peacefully with the animals and gets them to live peacefully with each other. His background isn’t explained. He’s not black but not necessarily European. He wears a turban, which to my mind gives him an Indian appearance. I think he was likely modelled after Sabu in Elephant Boy (1937), and his friendship with Tawn supports this.
He never won the covers from Kaänga, but Fiction House gave him his own title, so apparently it saw him as the title’s second character. It initially appeared as a quarterly for three issues in 1942-43, but Fiction House tried it again for single issues in 1948 and 1949 and published it regularly in 1950-52. (Kaänga got his own title in 1949 but the GCD indicates it was mostly or entirely a reprint title.)
The feature’s artist was Henry Kiefer, who was still drawing it when it ended in 1953 in Jungle Comics #158, six issues before the title’s end. His art is somewhat like H.G. Peter’s early Wonder Woman work. He shows an interest in depicting animals, but at this stage he had his limitations at it.
The story of the present instalment is too simple to be interesting, and it’s my pick as the issue’s worst. The most notable thing about it is the number of silent panels. Kiefer mostly avoids depicting violence on-panel.
7.”White Hunters of the African Safari”
This is a comedy-adventure feature is about a trio of goofy but capable Africa hands, Buck, Rex and Slim.
A sheriff has placed an ad in a paper offering the trio's services. A Mr Cog hires them to lead a safari. The sheriff is holding them in his jail, and the advance is their bail. Cog’s daughter is to go with them, and the trio instantly fall in love with her. Cog treats the bearers badly despite the trio’s warnings. As a result the whites are attacked during the night by natives dressed for war. The trio fight them off and the whites begin the trek back to civilisation. Cog is speared as they cross a river but survives. The trio are about to come to blows over the woman when the angry natives catch up. A big fight follows. The party is saved by the arrival of territorial troops. One of them turns out to be the woman’s husband, deflating the trio’s romantic hopes.
The artist was George Wilson. The GCD calls the art “amateurish stuff”, but that’s too harsh: it’s on the crude side, but the storytelling is fine and one can see what everything is.
There was potential here, as the heroes are likeable, but it’s a whites-shoot-Africans-to-save-their-own-hides story and the comedy isn’t too funny. The sheriff and his jail seem to have wandered in from a Western.
The relationship between the bearers and the natives who attack the whites isn’t made clear, but the idea seems to be that Cog’s treatment of the bearers precipitated the attack. Perhaps the safari was passing through their home territory, and they joined with their fellow-tribesmen.
8.”Simba King of the Beasts”
This is a feature about a lion that ran to Jungle Comics #129 and managed a handful of further appearances in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Wambi, Jungle Boy.
Simba is a lion king, the leader of a pack. He has often fought other lions to defend his position. But he’s getting old, and his limbs are beginning to stiffen from old wounds. A young lion called Slita challenges him, and the pack’s council approves the challenge. Before the day set Slita tracks a hunter’s safari and attacks it. The hunter wounds him, and Simba saves him by chasing the men off. But when he’s recovered Slita renews the challenge. The day of the fight arrives. Simba cannot match Slita’s strength, but he wins due his greater experience. But he knows his time is past, so he leaves the pack with his lionesses and cubs.
I’m sure this picture of lion life is inaccurate in all kinds of ways, and their depiction is partly anthropomorphic (the lions have a council, they set days for challenges). But the story’s twists are interesting and the conclusion strikes an unusual note. The story is told using captions: the lions aren’t given speech or thought balloons. It’s my pick as the issue’s best.
This first instalment of the series was drawn by William M. Allison. His animal art is decent. I particularly liked this panel:
9.”Drums of the Leopard Men”
The Leopard Society has been revived under the leadership of a twisted white man called Zan Marzov. The Leopard Men attack peaceful villages, slaughtering the inhabitants. Heroic Africa hand Buck Barton is on safari with Marc Vandell, a diamond mine owner. Vandell has had enough of the jungle and forces their bearers to desert with him while Barton is sleeping. Barton tracks them and discovers the bearers have all been killed. One survives long enough to tell them they were killed by “leopards”.
Barton is attacked by a Leopard Man and subdues him. He disguises himself with the man’s leopard skin and follows other Leopard Men back to their base. He finds Marzov torturing Vandell to make him hand over his mines. Barton, who is armed, reveals his presence. He orders Marzov to free Vandell. Marzov pulls a gun and Barton shoots him through the hand. Real leopards wander in through the entrance and scatter the out-of-costume Leopard Men. Carnage follows. Marzov tries to use Vandell as a hostage but Barton knocks him into the pit where the leopards are and blows the whole place up with a grenade. Vandell tries to apologise, but Barton isn’t interested and tells him the trouble has just begun.
This story is by Dick Briefer. Briefer’s writing and art have a slapdash quality but his imagery can be striking, like Basil Wolverton’s, and for me that makes up for it.
This was his only story for Jungle Comics, which I regret as I’d have liked to see more from him in this genre. Barton is more abrasive than most heroes and has a thin moustache, like Congo Bill’s.
Despite the death of the lead villain the final panel implies the story was intended as the start of a series (and there’s a blank box below the final panel which was presumably for next issue text). However, this was the only instalment.
There’s a panel on the first page that’s racist to modern eyes. On the other hand we’re supposed to be shocked by the deaths of the native bearers. The sequence where Barton finds them is one of the story’s stronger bits. Too many jungle stories shrug the deaths of bearers off.
A final note on racism. I don’t think fictional depictions of Africa as a violent place are always racist, as it often was. There really were African cannibals and Leopard Men. But there are racist elements in a number of the stories in the issue and my panel choices don’t show them at their worst.
All images are from the scan of the issue at Comic Book Plus. Click to enlarge.
I try to remember that these stories were written in a time when there were large parts of the world that were largely unexplored. That's exciting, especially if what you find is hugely different from what you know. That's the upside to all of these "jungle tales."
The downside, as we know now, is making those other than ourselves weird, different and dumb as a sack of hammers -- making the white Western man the arbiter of what is civilized and what is not.
There were a lot of lost kingdoms in Africa. I guess any land that's unknown will spark the imagination.
Jungle Comics #2 (Fiction House, Feb. 1940) part one
This issue also had nine features. “The Red Panther” replaced “White Panther”, and “Roy Lance” and “Fantomah” replaced “White Hunters of the African Safari” and “Drums of the Leopard Men”.
Caw’s art looks different this time out due to his greater use of shading, and his style is so similar to Ken Jackson’s on Kaänga I was inclined to guess he drew both stories. But Jerry Bails’s Who’s Who confirms he and Jackson were different people.
The cover is attributed to Will Eisner. I can see his style in the woman’s face.
Ken Jackson drew the “Kaänga” stories in #2-#4. His linear art is stiff and cartoony, with sparse backgrounds. But his work is an improvement over Blum’s slipshod work in #1. I suspect he swiped Tarzan poses for Kaänga from the Sunday Tarzan strip, as there’s a mismatch between how well he’s posed and the artist’s stiff style. Ann he draws as a capable woman. The resulting look isn’t one I’m used to seeing on a jungle king strip, but I like it and wish Jackson had had a longer run.
In this instalment Ann is kidnapped and her house burned. Kaänga tracks her to a lagoon island ruled by a Dr Wratt who wears a thigh-length tunic and no pants and is served by a troop of man-apes. Wratt has conditioned the man-apes to kill anyone who attempts to leave the island. But Kaänga and Ann are determined to escape, and force Wratt to go with them. As they cross the bridge to the mainland Wratt gets away from them and turns back, and his man-apes kill him in obedience to his law. Kaänga wrecks the bridge by cutting its ropes, and the man-apes plunge into the lagoon where they’re killed by crocodiles.
In the opening sequence Kaänga kills a zebra for his dinner, and then has to fight a lion for it. He kills the lion by shoving his arm down its throat to choke it. Tarzan never did that, which is why he still has both his hands.
Kaänga’s hair is ginger on the cover and mostly ginger inside. Ann’s black hair is now blonde, but it’s my guess the colourist put in yellow where the artist meant him to put in blue highlights. Kaänga has leopard-skin trunks, but they’re coloured blue, like his shorts in #1. They must be from a blue leopard.
The instalment and the one in #4 are credited to “Red Bradey/Brady”, but Jackson’s name is on the one in #3.
2.“The Red Panther”
Like the “White Panther” story in #1 this story is credited to “Taylor Martin”. The GCD attributes the art to Arthur Peddy.
The right way to identify artists is by paying close attention to details. I’m a bad artist-spotter because I rely too much on my general impression. I tried comparing this story to the "Captain Thunder" story in #1. I can see similarities in the details: the missionary looks like Thunder’s colonel, palm leaves are depicted in a similar way and intrude into the panels in a similar way, both stories make use of clear silhouette backgrounds. But I get a different overall impression: the backgrounds in the “Red Panther” story are skimpier, it uses the silhouette technique much more, and it lacks the other story’s humour. To be fair, part of the difference is in how the stories are coloured.
The Red Panther doesn’t have super-powers. I think he’s an imitation of the Phantom, although he’s not designed to look like him. His costume, I fear, is not good. I was going to describe it, but one picture is worth a thousand words:
On the other hand, the story gets off to a great start. A missionary and his daughter have been seized by Tortug, a giant witch doctor, who means to prove his god is greater by roasting them alive. They declare their faith, and he responds his people will put their heads on sticks. This ideological clash makes for an exciting opening.
The rest of the story is more standard. The Red Panther swings to their rescue. He grabs them with his arms while holding onto the vine with his teeth. But as they make their escape the missionary falls into a trap and this results into their capture. The Red Panther tricks Tortug into an action that frees his hands and challenges Tortug to personal combat. To preserve his prestige Tortug has to accept, and the Red Panther prevails in the fight.
The Red Panther’s dentist got his own series from the next issue. Well, no. But he should have.
3.“Tabu Wizard of the Jungle”
This story is drawn by R.L. Gordon in what I think is an imitation of Hal Foster’s earlier style, probably using swipes. The art looks great and elevates the story.
This tale also starts very well. A safari under the leadership of John Brooks and his son Jim is out to reach the elephants’ graveyard. A white man runs out of the jungle calling for water, and Brooks takes him in. When he goes to check on the man that night the man leaps out of his bed and fatally stabs him. His act was a ruse to obtain the Brookses’ map.
The man slips away, and Jim finds his dying father. He tries to follow the murderer’s trail, but the murderer is waiting in ambush and shoots him. We learn the murderer is named Sanders and has a confederate, Spike.
Still alive, Jim tries to drag himself back to camp, but two lions find him. Tabu comes down from the trees and kills the lions with his great strength. He tends to Jim’s wounds and hears his story. He tells him he cannot restore his father, but he’ll lead him to the killer and the elephants’ graveyard.
As it nears the graveyard the expedition is confronted by a gorilla. Tabu warns the men not to shoot, but one does, and this triggers an attack by a gorilla horde. Tabu’s strength finally prevails, but three-quarters of Jim’s men are killed.
The expedition enters the graveyard. Jim laments he no longer has enough men to carry sufficient ivory. Sanders and his men emerge from the rocks, he and Spike brandishing guns. Jim recognises Sanders as his father’s murderer. The rogues fire, but Tabu blocks the bullets by transforming himself into a tree.
Sanders and Spike flee. Jim wants to fire after them but Tabu won’t let him. He tells him to let the jungle avenge his father. The rogues are killed by crocodiles as they cross water. Jim expresses his gratitude and Tabu says he can use Sanders’s safari to transport the ivory.
In this instalment Tabu’s powers are much reduced. He’s a super-Tarzan with a power of transformation. His limitations are shown by his inability to keep the gorillas from slaughtering most of Jim’s men. This story’s depiction of the danger of lawless men and of the jungle as a place where death might strike any time, combined with its nice art, epitomise what I want in a jungle tale.
Next: Camilla returns - or does she? "Captain Terry Thunder" becomes Beau Geste! And “Wambi” becomes readable!
Jungle Comics #2 part two
4.“Camilla Queen of the Lost City”
Caw’s art this time has a different feel to me, but these comparisons show we’re dealing with the same artist. The panel on the left is from #1, the other two from #2. I like the uncaricatured way Caw draws African faces.
The story is a variation on the one from #1 (as the GCD notes), with no connection to it. This time around the lost kingdom has advanced technology and has existed 500 years. Camilla is a descendant of Genghis Khan. There is no talk of Vikings or eternal life. The hero is an ivory trader, Captain John Stanley.
Stanley’s safari is attacked by a drone from the lost city, and his men flee. He manages to shoot it down but his men don’t return. He hears drums and sees a patrol of soldiers advancing towards him. wearing SF costumes and carrying high-tech weapons. They’re described as “natives” and drawn as negroes, but coloured blue.
Stanley tries to hold them off with a machine gun, “killing several”, but they paralyse him with a ray and take him to the lost city. He's brought before the city’s queen, Camilla, who this time around is a blonde who wears a diaphanous belly-dancer costume.
She tells him the city possesses the power to destroy Western civilisation and supports itself by robbing ivory caravans and trading the ivory for equipment through an agent. She makes a pass at Stanley and he turns her down. Angered, she vows to keep him a slave.
Taken to the dungeons, Stanley attempts an escape, which fails. Camilla decrees he be shot into space. He breaks free again and this time heads for the palace control room where he sets “terrific flexodium vibrations” in motion. As the vibrations shake the city apart Stanley flees with the unconscious Camilla. Awakening, she rejects Stanley and returns to die in her “beloved city”, now ablaze.
The first time out Camilla was called “Queen of the Lost Empire” rather than “Lost City”. The last caption promises another Camilla story in the next issue, but as with the first story the conclusion seems intended as final.
5.“Captain Terry Thunder of the Congo Lancers”
The first instalment of this series doesn’t actually identify Thunder’s outfit as British; but the plane the colonel sends to reconnoitre has British markings, Thunder’s men include a Kerrigan and a Doyle, and it’s my guess the “Congo Lancers” name was patterned after “Bengal Lancers”. (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer was a popular movie of the time.)
With this instalment the feature becomes a French Foreign Legion strip. Again, it’s implicit. But the costumes have a French look and the setting is clearly North Africa, despite the feature’s title. There’s a sprinkling of sub-Saharan animals around the fort in the splash panel, and a shot of a crocodile in a swamp at the bottom of the page. But Thunder’s unit is stationed in a desert fort and the locals are Arabs.
This art this time out is by Rafael Astarita, who also drew the next two instalments (so the GCD). His art has a classy, researched look.
Captain Thunder informs his superior by radio that two of his men have been struck with fever. He is sent five replacements, all rogues.
A desert nomad realises the fort lacks manpower and tells the local sheik. The sheik decides to attack.
In the fight the garrison takes many casualties. Eventually only Thunder and Krostoff, one of the rogues, are standing. The arrival of French cavalry saves the day. Krostoff attempts to kill Thunder, but Thunder is faster and knocks him out. He greets the cavalry as they enter the fort.
As this point Astarita kept the events at a distance from the camera and his pictures were static, so the action isn't exciting. But his fine-art style, applied to this subject matter, makes up for it. As with Jackson and "Kaänga" I'm sorry he didn't stay on the feature longer.
6.“Wambi the Jungle Boy”
This is another story about colonial authorities and a native uprising. But it’s much more fluidly told than the previous issue’s and has more interesting details.
A white renegade, Ricco, talks Wambi’s witch doctor stepfather into selling the men of his tribe into slavery. There’s a market for them among the Arabs. Wambi tries to talk his stepfather out of it, so they imprison him and mean to include him in the slave chain.
Wambi calls on his jungle friends for help. This time he’s rescued by monkeys. He heads for the fort on Tawn, but on the way passes the plotters and overhears their plan to destroy an outpost garrison first to get a free hand. Wambi warns the outpost, but too late: the wires have been cut, and the natives attack. There are too many of them, and the garrison is forced to retreat to the blockhouse, its ammunition exhausted. The natives try to batter in the door, but Tawn holds it closed while Wambi goes to the main fort for help.
His animal friends carry him there at speed.
A relief force immediately sets out. As it arrives the natives get through the door but are scattered by the enraged Tawn, and the relief force puts them to fight. Ricco is captured.
There’s no mention of the fate of Wambi’s stepfather. I wondered if he made further appearances, but the GCD doesn’t list him as having done so. After Wambi escapes he tells Tawn he’s homeless now, so apparently he’d been living with him.
The art was again by Henry Kiefer. The splash panel credits “Roy L. Smith” and “Dekerosett”. The use of two names might mean he wasn't the writer, which is how the GCD takes it. It tentatively suggests John Mitchell as the writer.
Next: Hollywood people are nuts! “Simba” takes a wrong turn! And Fletcher Hanks at his best!
Jungle Comics #2 part three
7.“Roy Lance in the Revolt of the Black Continent”
Men from all over Africa are joining a black revolt led by a fanatic prince called Dawambo. Director John Abbott wants to use this as an opportunity to make a movie with exciting footage. He talks a producer into letting him take a company to Africa along with actress Joan Sarret. The producer recommends he use hunter Roy Lance as his guide.
In Africa they meet Roy, and Joan is attracted to him. Roy organises the safari and it sets off. Abbott spanks her because she says she should obey Roy rather than him.(?) The company is surrounded and Joan is taken prisoner. Roy escapes and captures Dawambo. Abbott scares off the massive army by projecting footage of marching soldiers on a rock face. The company returns “with many exciting reels”. Abbott and Joan want to take Roy to Hollywood but he prefers to stay in Africa.
The set up of this story is elaborate and the conclusion badly rushed. The bit where Abbott spanks Joan has no connection to the rest of the tale. Dawambo is set up to be an important character but never has any dialogue. My theory is the creator/s meant the story to be the start of a serial, and wound it up quickly because the editor didn’t want one. The box on the first page introducing Roy, Joan and Dawambo fits with this.
The pan-Africa-revolt plot is a threat-to-white-supremacy fantasy, but it’s interesting. The way it’s foiled is awful: unbelievable and racist. I’m more offended by imagery of panicked, fleeing natives than I am by imagery of savage or angry natives, which this story is not short of. I think it more degrading. The script calls the Africans "maddened", "savages" and “barbarians.” On the other hand, the Africans aren’t drawn as racial caricatures, and Dawambo is even handsome:
The art is a bit stiff but good, with good backgrounds. A lot of effort went into that splash page. Here’s a map panel and a nice desert shot:
The story is credited to “Courtney Thomason”. The GCD takes this to be a house name. Apparently it was used on most (but not all) instalments of the feature up to #21, after which it became “Courtney Thomasen” for the remaining instalments.
Since things are so elaborately set up, for two-thirds of its length I thought this was going to be a good story with interesting characters (although the Hollywood people are nuts, or did I say that?) The rushed and insulting conclusion ruins it.
8.“Simba, King of the Beasts”
Simba is now living in retirement with his harem and younglings. A naturalist called John Mason is on safari with his young son, Dick. Dick wanders off and is attacked by a water buffalo. Mason saves him but the buffalo charges him and he has to take refuge in a tree. Simba finds the unconscious Dick, drags him to his cave for safety, and fights and kills the water buffalo.
Mason gets ready to shoot Simba but realises he’s not hostile. He follows the trail from where he last saw Dick and it leads him to Simba’s cave. Dick emerges and tells him the lions are friendly, and they wave them goodbye.
I prefer “Simba” as an animal series, so I was sorry to see humans and speech balloons in this one. The story also downplays how dangerous lions are. But it’s unsparing about water buffalos:
William Allison again drew.
Maula, a royal procession elephant bedecked with jewels, knows it will soon die. It sneaks away and heads for the elephants’ graveyard. Two ivory hunters realise what’s happened and use bloodhounds to follow its trail.
Fantomah meets the elephant and guides it the final part of the way. The hunters spot them from a distance. The bloodhounds become terrified, break their leashes, and run into the brush, where they’re mysteriously killed. When the hunters investigate they see a menacing apparition of Fantomah.
They return to following the trail and pass through the arch that leads to the graveyard. This turns out to be a valley of quicksand filled with ivory. The elephants go into the quicksand to die. Fantomah appears, tells the hunters they can never leave, and blocks the entrance. They threaten and move to attack her, and she vanishes.
The hunters use old elephant blankets to create a path on the quicksand to the now-dead Maula. They gather the jewels with which it was bedecked and find others, and gloat by the entrance over their horde. One of the men decides he doesn’t want to share, and fatally stabs his mate. He returns to gloating, but the ground turns to quicksand under him and he sinks to his death.
Fletcher Hanks often drew stories about evil people getting a violent comeuppance. In this one the hunters are drawn as brutal, but they don’t actually do anything wrong until after Fantomah tells them they’re “partners in death” and can never leave. So Fantomah here comes across as imposing an extrahuman morality. This makes for an interesting story and suits the character, so I particularly liked this tale.
Fantomah isn’t sweet-faced at this point, and wears a diaphanous gown instead of her later bathing suit. The setting is apparently Asia rather than Africa. Note the conflict between this story and the “Tabu” one, where hunting for the elephants’ graveyard is fine.
All told, this is a stronger issue than the first, with more interesting stories and better art. The two elephants' graveyard tales are the best ones.
All images are from the scan of the issue at Comic Book Plus. Click to enlarge.
Jungle Comics #3 (Fiction House, Mar. 1940) part one
This issue is very much a sequel to #2. It has the same nine features and all but “Roy Lance” were drawn by the same artists. It also has the title’s first text story. The GCD attributes the cover to Charles Sultan.
Fiction House ran the first of a series of promotions this month. Each of its four titles carried a one-tier strip. The parts together made up a mystery story, and readers were told to clip their coupons and send in a solution to possibly win a prize. The strip appeared at the bottom of a “Tabu” page.
I mean to cut back the synopses from this point, except in selected cases. All the stories can be read in their entirety at Comic Book Plus.
DC Indexes says the issue went on sale Jan. 15, but the promotion ad says Feb. 5.
Travelling home from their last adventure Kaänga and Ann find a leopard which has been speared. They tend to her, and the leopard, Cheba, afterwards accompanies them.
The king of a nearby village is a black American criminal called Sam Broot.
He controls the tribe through violence and fake magic. Via a trick idol he orders a man he fears be sacrificed to a python. Kaänga saves the man and defeats Broot in a hand-to-hand fight. Broot flees. The tribe thank Kaänga, and the travellers resume their journey.
This tale is just like a Lee Falk/Wilson McCoy Phantom story. Broot and Cheba will both return next time.
The fight with the python is interesting. You'd expect it to surround Kaänga with its coils while he frantically stabs at it with his knife, but it's handled more plausibly than that.
This time around Kaänga is ginger on the cover and blond inside. Ann is dressed as last time and blonde except in her one close-up, where she’s black-haired. Kaänga still has blue leopard-skin trunks. I think Ann’s blue pants ran in the wash.
2.“The Red Panther”
The Red Panther saves an unconscious woman in a boat from going over a waterfall. Awakening, she tells him she was sent in the boat to die by a native chieftain who hates her miner father. He claims the mine is the home of a tribal god and the white men are desecrating it.
The Red Panther saves her home from being burnt and her father from being sacrificed. He tells the tribesmen their god doesn’t want “murder and bloodshed” and has miraculously brought the woman back to life to show his displeasure. Her sudden appearance convinces them, and the chieftain flees.
The GCD is tentative about the attribution to Arthur Peddy this time. It’s certainly the same artist as last time: he draws the natives the same way. The villains could be the same guy.
The story is again about a clash between natives and Westerners. It’s not clear if the chieftain believes his claims about desecration or just wants to get rid of the miners.
It’s not a great series in writing or art. I sort of like it, though. It's standard Golden Age superhero action in the jungle. In both stories so far the Red Panther’s opponents are angry “savages”, but once their evil leaders are overcome everything’s OK. And the artist's depiction of the natives mostly doesn't cross my red lines.
This time out the artist drops the Red Panther’s cowl tassel or ribbon. The home of the miner and his daughter is a nice little cottage with two stories.
3.“Tabu Wizard of the Jungle”
A gang of renegade whites seize control of a native village. They murder the chief by having him torn apart by elephants.
Tabu is hanging out with some crocodiles and a monkey.
He hears a woman scream and saves her from a black panther. (Kaänga saved Ann from a black panther in his story too.) Her name is Vilma Day. She says she’s become separated from her safari and asks Tabu’s help finding it. He changes into a pigeon, locates it, and says he'll take her there. But the village is on the way, and as they approach it Tabu is shot.
He's not dead, so the renegades lash him to a tree with the intention of killing him the same way they killed the chief. Marshalling his strength, Tabu resists the pull of the elephants and the ropes break. But he’s still bound to the tree.
The renegades now attempt to kill him by causing a rhino to charge into him. (They happen to have a caged one handy.) Just before it hits Tabu changes himself into a rock. The impact breaks his bonds. He kills the renegades’ leader with a blow that breaks his skull, and the villagers overcome the others. Tabu takes Vilma to her safari and bids her farewell.
Golden’s art is less fantastic this time, but it’s still good. This series was more exciting than "Kaänga" at this point.
Tabu is standing on his logo in the splash panel.
Next: Camilla returns for real! Captain Thunder botches a mission! And Wambi is caged!