Quick, While Darwin Isn’t Looking

1There’s the strapping, Teutonic Kevin Plunder, also known as Ka-Zar, Lord of Marvel’s Savage Land! In the mid 1960s, the company’s founding brethren, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, salvaged his exclamatory name from a pulp character who was originally Timely Publications’ answer to Tarzan.

Lee and Kirby made Ka-Zar (the son of a British anthropologist, lost in the wilderness) less of a blonde knock-off by giving his home a science fiction twist: The Savage Land is frozen in the Triassic Period by alien technology. So our loin-clothed swinger, accompanied by his wife Shanna and sabertooth tiger Zabu, faces, among other dangers, dinosaurs.

That this twist also puts Lee and Kirby in debt to Doyle’s The Lost World means little to the incestuous realm of fantasy literature. Avid consumers of pop culture know that the execution of an idea is {practically} more important than the idea itself.

Enter writer Mark Waid–a virtuoso comic scribe who can pit Superman against the Bible (Kingdom Come) and make Daredevil fun again (after the, you know, stack of murdered girlfriends).

2For Ka-Zar’s 1997 relaunch, Waid teamed with artist Andy Kubert (son of industry legend Joe) to portray him as a man torn between the jungle and modernity. It was a brief run of twenty issues, but it features some of Kubert’s most dynamic penciling, tropically enlivened by inker Jesse Delperdang and colorist Joe Rosas.

The saga opens with Parnival Plunder, Kevin’s greedy Manhattanite brother, sending an assassin to the Savage Land. And the beastly mercenary, Gregor, isn’t some ditzy local gangster. He’s the man who trained Kraven the Hunter, a Spider-Man foe obsessed with tracking the world’s deadliest animals.

5When we eventually cut to the Savage Land, gorgeous double-page spreads await. One sets the scene with a lushly forested volcanic landscape, pterodactyls soaring past. The other features Ka-Zar atop a rampaging Tyrannosaur. Look closely at both, and you’ll see that Marvel digitally added photographic texture to reptilian skin and treetops. This awkward fetish, which cheapens otherwise cohesive coloring (and was everywhere from at least 1997 through 2010) culminated in the work of Ariel Olivetti on Cable.

The technique doesn’t get much traction here, since Kubert’s panels are already extremely busy. Jungle growth, exotic creatures and tribesmen, and dizzying airborne battles rivet your eyes to the page.

Waid himself, like a hopping bird of paradise, flaunts what God Gave Him to shimmering effect. In recruiting locals to subdue Ka-Zar, Gregor takes polaroids of the tribesmen. They reply, “NOOOO! My soul! You have stolen my soul with your magic box!” He then supplies them with laser rifles and walkie-talkies, with which they take down Zabu and kidnap Ka-Zar and Shanna’s son, Matthew.

3Our heroes of course get their child back, after being drawn from the jungle into the antarctic wasteland surrounding it. But the real miracle is that this comic ends up being about their marriage and how to save it. Shanna feels that her husband’s secret stockpile of battery-powered gizmos (including a remote-controlled car, a disc-man, grunge music, and a Game Boy–whatever that is) betray their commitment to lives of paleo-purity.

When they visit New York to confront Parnival (and fight an oddly perspicacious Rhino–WHEEE), they stay in luxury at the Park Plaza Hotel. Ka-Zar lounges in front of a big screen tv, and Shanna sees herself reflected in the microwave door, longing for the passion of their early years together. Later, when Parnival’s gunmen have her on the run, her beau appears with the entire Bronx Zoo as back up. “I questioned his instincts,” she thinks, “when they were right on target.” She then dips him for a kiss, making all good Victorians blush.

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