Thursday, September 29, 2011

Staffel of Beasts

G-8 and his Battle Aces: v6n4, September 1935.
 Author: Robert Hogan

After looking at some of Robert Hogan's other pulp works (Secret 6, Wu Fang), it's a joy to return to his longest lasting and best series: G-8. G-8 was an otherwise anonymous flying spy during the days of World War One and his Battle Aces were Bull Martin and Nippy Weston. Rounding out the group was the make-up whiz and cook extraordinaire but otherwise slow on the uptake servant Battle.

I don't know which came first, Hogan's ingenious plots or the covers, but one of the joys of the books that reprint the original covers is seeing the outlandish cover with it's purplish prose title and wondering just how Hogan is going to work it into the story. For unlike many pulps, the covers were illustrative and not merely symbolic if they applied at all. I wish I had a better scan of this one to share, but my scanner is out of whack. It features a tiger with a snarling but human looking face jumping from an enemy's plane onto presumably one piloted by G-8.

The storyline is long into getting to that point though. It mainly features G-8 going behind enemy lines investigating a mysterious hospital and why the Germans are requiring all cripples to report there for duty. Like many stories, the common people and the effects of war that makes enemies of brothers and the dehumanizing aspects of it are never too far from the surface. Hogan treats the average German and the various cripples with sympathy without losing the action and sense of high adventure. In the end, the story does deliver on the cover, but the title is misleading. While a tiger does make its appearance, one does not a staffel make.

Hogan got a lot of mileage out of G-8. While the lead is never given another name, he is humanized. He is capable but not superhuman so. Unlike other heroes, he needs help for his really convincing disguises. Each story often features at least one scene of the main characters sharing a meal or about to and joking and teasing each other. Against the horrors of War, we see them as normal people as well. While he is ostensibly an aviation hero in WWI, G-8 spends much of his adventures on the ground. Along with dogfights in the skies, there are often harrowing crossings back and forth through No Man's Land on the ground in various disguises, him infiltrating camps, secret labs, etc.  More often than not, the plots themselves are pure pulp science fiction featuring lost races, super weapons and devices, seeming supernatural plots. This one is more prosaic than most but still one that almost could only happen within the pulp pages. Under Hogan's pen, one wouldn't have been surprised to see a whole staffel of beasts with human faces though.

All in all, a fun read from beginning to end.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lord of the Jungle

Should come as no surprise that Dynamite has announced that they are also adding Tarzan to their list of characters with multiple covers by the usual suspects Alex Ross, Ryan Sook and others. The surprise is that it took them this long after their start of chronicling the adventures of John Carter and family of Mars. Like the first Mars book, the first eight of the Tarzan novels are reportedly public domain. The estate owns the trademark rights to the Tarzan name thus the name of the comic not reflecting the jungle lord's name anywhere.

The release is a little confusing as it seems to indicate that like most of Dynamite's books, it's going to be an origin tale, heavily relying on the story written for a medium other than comics. At least in this case it's Edgar Rice Burroughs' original "Tarzan of the Apes" tale and not a Kevin Smith movie treatment. However, since it is a modern comic book adaptation of a longer prose work, we can expect quite a bit of decompression with large chunks also left out.

Yet, the writer/adapter Arvid Nelson says:"Tarzan's DNA is in everything from super heroes to space epic. But I was surprised at how little I knew about him, because the many adaptations wander very far from the original character. His true story is so much deeper and more interesting -- that's we're trying to bring to life in Lord of the Jungle."

I don't really recall much in the terms of "super hero" or "space epic" in that first story. And, if the covers are any indication, I don't really picture Tarzan as wearing golden arm bands, bracers and necklaces. As the ultimate nature boy jungle man, I see him wearing little that's so purely ornamental, that he'd sooner wear leather made from a beast he killed and skinned.  Maybe as a necklace a leather strap with the tooth of a fierce beast he found hard to kill. Still, I'd rather just see them to move beyond the books and the origin story. I've got those to read and the comic isn't going to top them.  The real challenge is to take the character into the realm of comics, competing against the superheroes and find ways to make him work and stand out. He needs foes and stories that are equally larger than life with art that gets across the dynamism of the character. Frankly speaking, as far as the original stories go, while Tarzan is a great character and has that name recognition, Ki-Gor actually operated more in the super hero mold facing the likes of a race of intelligent gorillas bent on conquest. Reminds me, I do have a used paperback of "Tarzan Triumphant" which I've not read yet. So much to read, so little time.

My view of Tarzan though will always be the Neal Adams paperback covers. No one else seemed to capture power, energy and savagery all at once. I love John Buscema and Russ Heath but there Tarzans always seemed a little too clean, Hogarth's looked a little too much like a flayed model.
Even so, it will hard to be resist the price of the first issue. They promise a full first issue for $1, that's roughly a third of the price of most comics. On that alone, I may have to give up a diet coke that day and buy myself a comic.