Thun’da was a Magazine Enterprises hero. He starred in Thun’da, King of the Congo #1-#6 and subsequently in supporting slots in Cave Girl #12-#14 and the one-shot Africa #1, which mainly featured Cave Girl.

Thun’da #1 was drawn by Frank Frazetta. Like many ME issues it has four stories. The first three depict Thun’da as a Tarzan-like hero in a lost world, but at the end of the third Thun’da, Pha and Sabre are cut off from the lost world by an earthquake. So in the fourth he becomes a standard Tarzan of the Congo.

From #2 the feature was drawn by Bob Powell. According to Toonopedia Frazetta left the feature partly due to the change, and partly because he didn’t get a payment when Columbia bought the rights for a serial. The serial was called King of the Congo and starred Buster Crabbe. A number of elements from the comic appear in its trailer: the plane crash, the giant gong, and the different types of dawn men.

Sabre is a sabre-toothed tiger raised by Thun’da. This is likely to remind the modern comics reader of Ka-Zar’s partnership with Zabu, but the idea of partnership between a jungle hero and a big cat goes back further. Tarzan had a pet lion named Jad-bal-ja, introduced in Tarzan and the Golden Lion. The Golden Age Ka-Zar lived in the Congo and had a lion buddy. Kaänga briefly had a pet leopard.

Tarzan encountered dinosaurs in the valley of Pal-ul-don in Tarzan the Terrible, and visited Pellucidar in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. Dinosaurs appeared in the newspaper strip, and the Dell series had done more than one story involving Pal-ul-don.

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Thun'da #4 cont.

"The Women Warriors!"

An entrance through a waterfall leads to a "great cave world" inhabited by a race of Amazons. An officer reports to the queen, Irana, that they have found a man worthy to be her mate. This is Thun'da. She sends a force to capture him.

Thun'da kills a panther that has attacked him and Pha. As he's rising the Amazons attack him. They capture him, and knock Pha down and leave her behind.

Irana tells Thun'da he can die by torture or fight her greatest warrior. If Thun'da wins he will go free, but if he loses he must marry her. Expecting to win, Thun'da accepts these terms.

Pha means to fight for her man. She follows the Amazons' tracks to their city and kills a soldier and takes her clothes and equipment.

The Amazon champion easily defeats Thun'da because his food has been drugged. Not realising this, he resigns himself to marrying Irana.

A group of Amazon priestesses in horned masks come to his chamber to dress him for the wedding. Their leader reveals herself to be Pha. (Apparently the others have departed.) She tells him his food was drugged, and she killed a priestess for her outfit.

Thun'da and Pha escape. Irana sends Amazon troops after them. Thun'da makes snow-goggles from a cedar branch, and he and Pha head for the mountain peaks. The glare of the snow renders the Amazons snow-blind, but Thun'da's and Pha's sight is protected by their goggles.

Irana vows to recapture Thun'da and make him hers.

The Amazons' caverns are lighted by "great floating globes of radiant energy". So Fox was still writing.

Pha is ruthless in this one. It isn't explicitly stated that she finds the city by following the Amazons' tracks, but that seems to be what's depicted.

There's another script/art mismatch when Pha takes the soldier's outfit. Her thoughts refer to the Amazon's "silken trousers". In the art the soldiers wear miniskirts.

The ending sets the Amazons and Irana up to appear again. They returned in #6.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da #4 cont.

"The Devil Drug!"

A white man named John Farris kills a witch doctor to obtain a drug that can rob a man of free will. One administers the drug by breathing it in the target's face. He uses the drug to obtain the ivory of the Membuti tribe, and sets out for Kenya with bearers.

On the way he comes upon Thun'da and Pha. He makes them his slaves, and orders them to tell him about the secret treasures of the jungle. They lead him to fantastic treasure-hoards. He makes maps of the locations and heads for the coast with Pha and a bag of diamonds. Thun'da he leaves in the jungle.

When he reaches the coast he dresses up and buys fancy clothing for Pha. Back in the jungle Thun'da is attacked by a panther. He instinctively defends himself, and by his exertion sweats out the drug.

Thun'da tracks Farris and Pha to the coast. By the time he arrives their ship is leaving. He swims to the ship, slips aboard, murders Farris off-panel, and leaves with Pha and the diamonds. The maps are destroyed.

I thought this story's premise a strong one. It doesn't do as much with it as it might have, but there isn't room: it's only six pages.(1)

Farris obviously means to make Pha his sex slave. He has a line where he says she'll make a fine wife when he tames her. The resolution, with its off-panel murder by the hero, isn't something one sees in a comic every day.

The idea seems to be Farris's death releases Pha from her trance. There's no explanation of why the drug doesn't affect its administrator. It's not clear how many of the Membuti he enslaves. We only see him subduing one, who might be their leader.

When Farris orders Thun'da and Pha to tell him about the treasures of the jungle they name the emerald mines of the pharaohs, the lost gold mines of King Solomon, the hidden hoards of Lobengula, the golden wealth of Carthage, and the jewels of Zimbabwe.(1) The first hoard they take him to is the fortune of Sheba.

(1) Counting the Cave Girl story, placed third, the page breakdown is 8/7/7/6.

(2) Spelt "Zambabwe" and "Zambebwe". Today's Zimbabwe was Rhodesia when the story appeared.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da, King of the Congo #5

This issue's cover story, "The Flying Devils!", is a nice fantastic tale. The other two Thun'da stories have ordinary jungle plots.

"The Flying Devils!"

Women who ride giant bird mounts and use giant and smaller birds as troops raid the jungle for human captives so they can offer them as sacrifices to "the Great Winged One". After three weeks of raids the Mambuti and Wahili light fires to signal Thun'da they need his help. 

The bird-women attack again as the tribes' leaders are explaining things. Thun'da shows the tribesmen it's possible to fight back. The attackers are named Tanyana and Evala. Thun'da unseats Tanyana and kills her mount, but she escapes with the help of another of the giant birds. The women and their birds retreat.

Thun'da sees they have headed towards the cliffs that separate the Congo from the Dawn World. He guesses they live somewhere on the great mountain, and sets off after them. The journey takes days. High in the mountains a flock of the smaller birds attacks him. He fights against it, but it is too much for him and he is overcome. Tanyana and Evala call off the birds and take him prisoner.

The Bird People conduct their ceremonies on an open-air platform. Tanyana shows Thun'da a sword set in a stone. She tells him if he can draw it he will not be sacrificed to the Great Winged One. Thun'da cannot shift it. Two medium-sized birds lift him and deposit him on the flat crag where the sacrifices are placed.

The Great Winged One appears. It proves to be an enormous bird, "the fabled Roc". As it lifts Thun'da to eat him he strikes at its face with his knife. When he strikes the bird's eyes it screams, drops him and flees. Evala and her mount catch him. She says by defeating the Great Winged One he has earned his freedom.

Thun'da's hands are bound again. Tanyana insists Thun'da die anyway as he didn't kill the GWO. Evala refuses to give way. The two women fight. While everyone is watching Thun'da cuts his bonds on the sword in the stone.

It is now late, and Thun'da guesses the evening cold will have caused the steel of the sword to contract. He succeeds in drawing it from the stone. The Bird People pay him homage. Evala commences paying homage too. Tanyana attempts to kill her. Thun'da saves her, but Tanyana directs the Bird People to attack them.

Thun'da swings Evala and himself to safety on a handy rope dangling from heaven knows what. The GWO returns and carries Tanyana off. Evala says it blames Tanyana, its priestess, for its blindness, and will kill Tanyana and itself. She says her people will be friends with the jungle folk henceforth.

Given that Thun'da isn't summoned until three weeks after the raids start some number of captives must have been sacrificed to the GWO. It's not clear if any Bird People other than Tanyana and Evala took part in the raids. In the art Tanyana appears to conduct the first raid solo. Evala is Tanyana's co-ruler, so she shares responsibility for the deaths.

Tanyana and the bird-women's use of bird mounts reminded me of Zaladane's and her followers' use of pterodactyls in Ka-Zar's feature in Astonishing Tales. Perhaps this issue was the Marvel creators' inspiration: they might have gone through old jungle comics for ideas.

Thun'da's blade is called the "knife of Kwa Kung" in all three of this issue's stories.

The bit about the cold contracting the steel of the sword is reminiscent of Fox's work for Julie Schwartz.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da #5 cont.

"Lord of the Little People!"

Elwin White has stolen nuclear secrets and is a passenger on a plane crossing the Congo. One of the plane's engines catches fire, and it crashes in the jungle. White is the only survivor. A group of pygmy warriors hail him as the god Muungu because he has come down from the sky in a ball of fire. White slips into insanity and embraces this identity.

The District Commissioner asks Thun'da to find White and recover the formula he stole. Thun'da has heard talk about a white Muungu and guesses he might be White. He sets off for the pygmies' country.

Thun'da is attacked by White's followers. He fights them and is knocked out. White has him bound to saplings which have been bent over and tied to the ground. He means to cut the ropes so the saplings will spring up and tear him apart.

Thun'da tells the pygmies he, not White, is the true Muungu. He calls upon them to listen as he summons down thunder from the skies. There is an enormous explosion in the distance. The pygmies are convinced. They release him and ask his forgiveness.

White flees. Thun'da pursues him. His thoughts reveal he arranged for a cache of gunpowder to be set off by a timer in case he got into trouble. He saves White from a crocodile, but has to fight it because White kicks him into the river. White is killed by a python.

A week later Thun'da presents the microfilm to the Commissioner. He explains White had abandoned Western dress expect for his shoes, so he guessed the microfilm was hidden in them.

The fourth story in #1 represented Thun'da as having forgotten what atom bombs and Russians are. Apparently he's recovered, as in this story he has modern knowledge of atomic power, microfilm and timed explosions. Also note the snow-goggles last issue and his understanding of the contraction of metals last story.

The District Commissioner's office is in Kenya. He's also called the Police Commissioner. Presumably he's the boss of the police Thun'da met in #3. (The ones from #2 could be his as well.) He has a map on his wall that includes Italian East Africa. It ceased to exist in 1941, so that must be an old map.

Wikipedia tells me Kenya is also the name of a commune in Lubumbashi (then Elizabethville) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then the Belgian Congo). But the Commissioner's map shows the colony of Kenya. Possibly Fox thought of Thun'da's Congo as an ungoverned region. 

The Commissioner's secretary is a modern black woman. She admires Thun'da's physique as he talks to her boss.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da #5 cont.

"The Treasure of Lobengula!"

A Capetown man has found and authenticated a map showing the location of the lost treasure of Lobengula. He shares his discovery with his friend Bruce Lanvin. He means to cut him in, but Lanvin kills him and takes it instead.

Lanvin thinks Thun'da will stop him taking the treasure, so he takes Pha hostage. (There might be a flaw in his thinking there.) As he travels with her there is a small earthquake. Later they are captured by Bwakka raiders.

Thun'da has been trailing Lanvin and Pha. He reads the signs of what happened, and knows it was the Bwaaka who seized them by an arrow. He heads for the Bwaaka village.

After watching all day he kills the night guards and escapes from the village with a figure bound in a blanket. But this turns out to be Lanvin. He returns to the village for Pha and intervenes when the Bwaaka bring her out to torture her. He fights the Bwaaka until they beg for mercy and accept his demands they stop raiding.

Lanvin prepares a bamboo cage and places automatic snares to catch Thun'da and Pha and deposit them in it. The trap works. He reaches the treasure of Lobengula. As he's gloating over it another earthquake causes the cave it's in to collapse. The earthquake frees Thun'da and Pha, and they find Lanvin's body.

It surprises me that Thun'da can't break the bamboo bars of the cage. And he has his knife! Couldn't he cut his way free?

The whole trap is a miracle of construction. The ropes are designed to part under Thun'da's and Pha's weights and drop them into the cage, and it must have an automatically closing and locking roof. The script speaks of cages, but the art shows only one.

As the story is constructed Lanvin appears to construct the trap while Thun'da is fighting the Bwaaka. This is a case of double time, however, as Thun'da and Pha don't reach it until the next day. I always find it implausible when automatic snares catch two people at the same time. How could the trapper know just where each person would step?

The journey to the treasure takes days, and Lanvin has no partners or bearers. It's hard to believe Thun'da couldn't have rescued Pha earlier. He isn't around when the Bwaaka capture her and Lanvin. Was he eating breakfast? Waiting ahead on the trail to ambush him? When Thun'da takes Lanvin from the village he's thoroughly bound. Presumably he frees himself of his remaining bonds while Thun'da is rescuing Pha.

Lobengula was a historical person. His treasure was one of the troves Thun'da and Pha took Farris to in #4.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da, King of the Congo #6

The warrior assisting Thun'da on the cover is King Rex, Chief of the River Bantus. He appears in two stories this issue. I suspect he was intended to be a semi-regular cast member, but this was the last issue and I don't think he appeared in the supporting slot Thun'da tales. The cover doesn't show a scene from either story.

Irana and the Amazons return in the third story. Sabre appears in the first, and the Kenya police appear in the second. Pha now has a pet monkey called Cheeka.

The handling of black tribesmen in the title shifted over the course of the series. In #1 Frazetta drew them as savages. Their visual depiction improved with Powell's arrival, but in #2 they were still mainly used as antagonists.(1) They were used in that role again in some of the stories in #3 and #5, but in "The Dragon Devil!" in #3 they also began to appear in the role of people Thun'da assists.(2) In this issue Thun'da allies himself with King Rex and fights with his people against an enemy.

(1) The exceptions are the black women the Berbers are shown to have captured.

(2) In #3's Cave Girl story the white villain victimises tribal Africans (with the help of black cronies).

"Terror of the Tusks!"

King Rex is so strong all weapons break when he uses them due to the strength of his blows. His village is attacked by elephants lead by elephant-headed men. He fights them and calls on his people to join him. But they panic and flee, and he is overcome and left for dead.

When he recovers he vows to avenge his people or die trying. He gathers many spears so he will be able to keep fighting as each breaks. Elsewhere, Cheeka tells Pha about the raids, and she tells Thun'da. (Pha can talk to monkeys?) He heads off to investigate.

King Rex fights the Elephant-Men. They are on the verge of overwhelming him by their numbers when Thun'da joins the battle on his side. After a hard fight the Elephant-Men flee.

Thun'da takes King Rex to a treasure cave - the journey takes "days" - and gives him the Axe of Kabala (from #3). King Rex tries it out, and finds it's the one weapon able to stand up to his strength.

When they get back Pha, disguised as a Voodoo priestess, spreads word they are returning. She exhorts the Bantus to fight with them. While she's doing this Thun'da and King Rex ambush two Elephant-Men by a river and kill them. Thun'da realises their elephant heads are masks. The river has diamonds on the bottom, which explains what the raids have been about.

King Rex and Thun'da show the Bantus the heads are masks. They raise an army and attack the Elephant-Men. The Elephant-Men bring their elephants into the battle and they wreck havoc among the Bantus. Thun'da sets fire to the veldt, knowing the wind will blow the flames towards the elephants. The maddened elephants turn on the Elephant-Men and kill them.

Sabre's role here is a cameo one. Thun'da leaves him to guard Pha when he heads off to investigate the raids, and he accompanies her when she's disguised as a Voodoo priestess. Still, I was wrong when I guessed he wouldn't appear again.

The idea of a river of diamonds is recycled here from #2, and the means by which Thun'da defeats the elephants is the same as that he used to defeat the mammoths of the Monkeyfolk in #1.

When Thun'da gives King Rex the axe he says it "once was death to touch", alluding to the plot of its debut story. Its blade is steel and its handle is horn.

In the final fight the elephants swing maces with their trunks. This is something war elephants were sometimes trained to do. John M. Kistler's book War Elephants can be previewed at Google Books.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

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Thun'da #6 cont.

"Killer in the Dark!"

A film crew comes to Africa to shoot a jungle picture. The director, Hans Bruler, is in love with the star, Joanne Cofford. Bruler releases his frustrations by treating his gun-bearer Mambebwa viciously.

Walking alone, Joanne is menaced by a lion. Thun'da intervenes and kills it. Joanne begs him to take a part in the picture as she thinks that will make it a smash. Thun'da agrees to do "a few tricks in front of your camera".

The next day Thun'da and Joanne perform a scene in which he saves her from a leopard. While filming the cameraman is attacked by a giant snake. Thun'da quickly kills it too.

Bruler believes Joanne has fallen love with Thun'da. Mad with jealousy, he attaches an infra-read sniperscope to his rifle so he can hunt him by night. A monkey sees him taking aim, and its chatter alerts Thun'da in time to evade his first shot. Bruler pursues him, firing repeatedly.

Thun'da means to drop on Bruler from above, but Bruler has second-guessed him and spots him. But Mambebwa has determined on revenge, and has gotten Thun'da's arrows. He misses Bruler with his first shot, and kills him with his second.

The Kenya police recognise the arrow as Thun'da's and accuse him of murder. The cameraman reveals he forgot to retrieve his camera after he was attacked by the snake and Mambebwa's first shot switched it on. The film shows Mambebwa killing Bruler, clearing Thun'da.

Mambebwa murders Bruler: he has no motives of saving Thun'da at all. But Bruler was about to murder Thun'da at the time, so I think he likely didn't commit a crime.

Joanne thinks the film could win an Oscar, which sounds unlikely.

The production uses a real wild leopard in the fight scene. The bearers drive it into position so it can attack Joanne and be killed by Thun'da on camera.

The camera and film still work after being left in the jungle for days.

Bruler is a stereotype German or Austrian martinet director who wears a monocle. Joanne's name might be modelled on Joan Crawford's.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

Thun'da #6 cont.

"The Woman-Stealers!"

Irana is still in love with Thun'da. She sends Amazon warriors to take Pha captive. They find Pha alone and seize her.

Bedouin hunters come from the Sahara to obtain ivory and slaves. King Rex and his warriors fight them, but the Bedouins are armed with guns and too much for them. King Rex orders his people to flee and sets off to find Thun'da.

The ground where Pha was seized tells Thun'da the Amazons have abducted her. He sets off after them. King Rex finds the trail left by the Amazons and follows it too.

Irana orders Pha to give up Thun'da. Pha refuses and insults her. Irana condemns her to be tortured. Just then the Bedouins attack. Their guns are too much for the Amazons also.

Thun'da arrives and finds the city deserted. The traces left tell him what's happened. King Rex arrives just after him and tells him about the raid on his tribe. The pair set off after the Bedouins and meet Amazons who escaped capture.

Instead of attacking the Bedouins immediately Thun'da picks them off one by one from concealment. When only a few are left he and the others attack the remaining Bedouins and kill them. Irana thanks Thun'da and swears friendship with him.

The leader of the Bedouins has survived the fight. He means to kill Thun'da in revenge. Finding him, he takes aim at his back with his rifle. Thun'da is polishing his knife and happens to see the slaver in its blade. He dodges the shot and throws his knife, killing him.

The guerilla tactics Thun'da uses against the slavers are another recycled element, from the third story in #2. Since only a "handful" are left by the final fight one wonders why he didn't kill all of them like that. One can take the art as explaining this as the fight takes place in the open, implying the slavers have left the jungle.

The slaver leader is the "last to fall" in the battle. I think we're supposed to understand he was shamming, but this isn't explicit.

The Amazon city doesn't seem to be in a cave this time. The exteriors p.4 look like buildings of the Pre-Columbian Americas.

Irana has a pet leopard. This was seen in her first story too.

The leader of the escapee Amazons is Marla, the Amazon Thun'da fought in the arena.

The Amazons appeared again as opponents of Cave Girl in Cave Girl #12 and #13. In those stories they're portrayed as violent and cruel, which provides context for Irana's order that Pha be tortured here.

Cheeka appears again in this story.

Image from Comic Book Plus.

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