Ka-Zar

Astonishing Tales 7 (August 1971)

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If Herb Trimpe spent as much time on his figures as he did on the shading lines, his Ka-Zar story might not have been hideously ugly. It’s actually passable–ambitious at times even–until the dinosaurs show up. Trimpe can’t draw dinosaurs.

Roy Thomas scripts the story, which is an extended chase and fight scene. The narration’s weak and the dialogue’s weak. Ka-Zar is annoying with his Tarzan speaking, but he also lacks any personality. Sure, he’s got a sabertooth tiger for a sidekick… but it doesn’t make either compelling.

And Thomas’s conclusion is inept.

Then Gerry Conway and Gene Colan do Black Panther versus Doctor Doom. Frank Giacoia isn’t the best inker for Colan, but he’s not bad either. Sadly, Conway’s script is annoying beyond belief. He constantly questions the characters in the narration. I’m not even sure what person it is.

Overall, aside from Colan, it’s a waste.

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Ka-Zar the Savage 34 (October 1984)

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The cover proclaims this final issue as a “collectors’ item.” Until the epilogue, it’s unclear why. In an amazing turn, Ka-Zar and Shanna end up in the League of Cancelled Marvel comics, or something along those lines. It’s pretty funny.

Too bad Neary’s art is awful.

Otherwise, it’s a silly sci-fi issue with Ka-Zar being the savior of these human hostages in an interstellar prison camp. They’re being drained of adrenaline, which makes them unlikely to revolt. But, of course, Ka-Zar does.

Oh, and Shanna’s pregnant. Not sure if she ever gave birth… it’d be awesome if it was Peter Parker’s kid.

Anyway, the series comes to a lousy end. For these Carlin, Neary and Fingeroth issues, one could never guess the series was once good, much less sublime.

Oddly, Carlin’s explanation of the aliens is decent. Or, at least, unpredictable.

But unpredictability doesn’t make up for the rest..

Ka-Zar the Savage 33 (August 1984)

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Carlin’s destruction of the series seems to be complete now. In this issue, he reduces Shanna to a helpless damsel. He’s got Ka-Zar running around thinking about how he’s going to save after she falls victim to an absurdly drawn out incident.

But this moronic event occurs halfway through the issue, until then it’s just Shanna being a stupid female, ignoring her obviously smarter man.

For the first couple pages, it almost looked like Neary’s art was improving. It doesn’t, however. I’m just trying to think of good things about the comic. This issue ends with a note from the editor announcing its cancellation. Strangely, the editor, Danny Fingeroth, takes no responsibility… and he really should. The series has gone, albeit slowly, to pot since he took it over.

There’s one nearly good moment, with Ka-Zar and Shanna watching “television.” The punchline’s cute. It saves the comic from being entirely worthless.

Ka-Zar the Savage 32 (June 1984)

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Reading Carlin’s Ka-Zar is watching a series collapse on itself. This issue does have Marie Severin doing these wonderful imaginings of Ka-Zar and Shanna as a sitcom married couple. Those scenes, totally pointless and unbelievable, are awesome.

Otherwise… it’s awful.

Carlin turns Shanna into a ninny and a little of a harpy. She doesn’t trust Ka-Zar’s judgement because Ka-Zar’s dumb, remember? Carlin just amplifies all the textures of her personality (under Bruce Jones’s writing) until she becomes unbelievable.

The major incident with this unbelievable behavior regards Ka-Zar’s brother, who’s a villain and has a goofy mustache and dumb name. But he’s got an accent so Shanna’s going to believe him? It doesn’t seem likely.

But the plot also requires Ka-Zar to be really stupid and unobservant.

Carlin’s whole approach seems to be making the protagonists morons so they’ll fall for his bad plot ideas.

Neary’s bad art doesn’t help anything.

Ka-Zar the Savage 31 (April 1984)

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With this issue, from the opening page actually, Ka-Zar the Savage has devolved into complete nonsense. Carlin even manages to make the strong supporting cast useless against his Machiavellian pterodactyl man. Except the pterodactyl man is an inept idiot too, so it’s kind of a comedy.

Paul Neary and John Beatty take over the art. I feel like I’ve liked Neary, but I’m not sure… Ka-Zar doesn’t suggest he’s any good. His figures are stiff and blocky and his faces are worse.

Again, good art isn’t going to help Carlin’s script. He keeps with the series’s high level of conversation, but he can’t come up with a decent reason for the characters to be saying their lines. Shanna probably calls Ka-Zar stubborn seven times in the issue. It’s about all she has to say to him.

Apparently, now married, their other character traits have disappeared.

It’s terrible.

Ka-Zar the Savage 30 (February 1984)

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Well, after a couple good issues, Carlin’s Ka-Zar is starting to unravel.

The issue also has major art problems; some of these problems might even make Carlin’s script worse, but he still makes some awful choices.

He tries to keep up the high level of content, sending Ka-Zar and Shanna through a battle, imprisonment, another battle, an escape, another imprisonment… You get the idea.

Carlin loses track of characters a couple major times, with the character conveniently popping in to save the day, and he also makes a terrible antagonist decision. The bad guy this issue is a pterodactyl man. He thinks to himself a lot and he’s a big meanie. It’s a goofy villain, made goofier by Mary Wilshire and Ricardo Villamonte’s questionable pencils, and the issue sinks thanks to it.

The art looks dated, like a bland sixties comic.

Luckily, the strong cast still makes it throughly readable.

Ka-Zar the Savage 29 (December 1983)

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Carlin’s not doing much to make Ka-Zar his own. He follows the existing template well–down to Shanna’s step-daughter being emotionally affecting from her first panel–and it feels like a good impression of Bruce Jones.

Except Carlin doesn’t spend a lot of time on his protagonists’ emotions. He doesn’t keep their self-reflections going throughout the issue, instead using them episodically. It’s not a bad approach, it just gives the narrative a staggered feel.

To be fair, Carlin does get a lot done. He probably has enough content in the issue it’d run six “decompressed.” Ka-Zar and Shanna have a wedding and even get married, along with fighting a demonic bad guy and saving some people. Throw in another five or six pages of villain scenes and you’ve got a packed issue.

Frenz does fine fitting it all in. Even if his pencils aren’t beautiful or even ambitious.

Ka-Zar the Savage 28 (October 1983)

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Mike Carlin takes over the writing reins and does a fine job. He handles Shanna’s personal crisis well, though he doesn’t stick with it as long as Jones would have. And Carlin’s Ka-Zar is a far more assured protagonist than Jones’s. It might help this issue’s Ka-Zar has been maturing the last twenty-seven issues.

Another Mike–Mignola–inks Gil this issue and the result is mixed. Mignola sharpens Gil’s pencils, giving them a good amount of shadow, but he also removes some of the life. Ka-Zar looks boring, even though it’s full of action.

Carlin’s big problem is tying everything together, something Jones had to leave the Savage Land to avoid. This issue seems to kick off a longer arc where the entire Savage Land cast reunites, including the bad guys.

It’s a good comic book, but I’m a little wary without Jones at the helm.

Ka-Zar the Savage 27 (August 1983)

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Gil draws like a man possessed this issue. It’s his first time pencilling in a while and he opens the issue with this reintroduction to the Savage Land. Very scenic, but also very big–only two or three panels a page. By the end of the issue, Gil’s fitting maybe fifteen panels a page. Major action events happen in two inch tall panels. It’s incredible. Gil’s detail isn’t right for Ka-Zar–he’s more suited for horror work–but the enthusiasm is amazing to see.

Some of it must be Jones’s fault. His script has about two issues worth of content, with Ka-Zar’s Savage Land buddies healing him and Shanna. So there’s the future science medical scenes, but then we learn… drum roll… Shanna’s mind is going. So Ka-Zar and friends go into her subconscious to save her.

It’s a busy issue, but Jones and Gil make it work.

Ka-Zar the Savage 26 (May 1983)

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This issue is extremely hectic. The first three-quarters of it pick up immediately following the previous issue–Ka-Zar and Spider-Man duke it out until they decide to be buddies. Then they go save Shanna, which is easier said than done.

But even after Shanna’s rescued, Jones doesn’t let up on the pace. Ka-Zar’s hellbent on getting out of New York immediately and, even though it’s fairly fantastic (and owes a lot to Raiders of the Lost Ark), his scheme works.

The issue’s a particularly nice exercise. Jones establishes Ka-Zar as wanting back to the Savage Land, the cover is clear on the New York exodus… it all comes together quite well.

Except, of course, Frenz’s artwork. It’s not completely awful, but he’s lost the urban touch he exhibited a few issues ago.

The Mayerik-illustrated backup comes to a fine conclusion. Some great artwork in just a few pages.

Ka-Zar the Savage 25 (April 1983)

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Weird issue.

Since Shanna’s basically out of commission (she’s comatose in the second half and insane in the first), Peter Parker is basically the second protagonist. Jones splits the pages between him and Ka-Zar, though Ka-Zar has a lot more going on.

He escapes from the bad guys–Jones doesn’t, unfortunately, give the villains a satisfying send-off–and heads to New York for Shanna. There are obvious pacing problems as Ka-Zar globe trots, but Jones deftly covers that passage of time with Peter Parker. Peter’s taken with Shanna in a believable mix of protectiveness and chaste lust.

It’s too bad Frenz and Gil are lousy this issue, otherwise some of the quiet scenes would have been much nicer.

Aside from Jones’s usual problems with Ka-Zar as protagonist, it’s a fine issue.

The backup, still with waning Mayerik art, is exciting once again. Not shocking like last time, just exciting.

Ka-Zar the Savage 24 (March 1983)

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There’s a lot of action this issue. Jones really puts Hall through the paces fitting it all in. Ka-Zar and his evil lady friend fight the mad scientist and his men in the desert, then in their secret base. There’s also Shanna’s adventures in New York with Peter Parker.

Hall does a lot better in New York than he does with the action scenes. He does okay with them, but having Ka-Zar fighting in the desert, against Bond villains in jumpsuits, requires a creativity Hall doesn’t bring.

Most of the writing is good, though Jones relies heavily on expository thought balloons and narration. He’s got a lot of information to get across in addition to the action; he rushes to make it fit.

It’s good, but not particularly compelling.

The backup is positively disturbing and not because Mayerik’s art is losing detail. Jones reveals an alarming detail from Ka-Zar’s youth.

Ka-Zar the Savage 23 (February 1983)

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Jones turns Ka-Zar into James Bond this issue, setting him loose in Casablanca in a clumsy homage to the film. Jones includes lots of little details and nods and is very excited about it, but Casablanca isn’t an obscure film. Instead of witty, Jones’s homage seems overly cute.

His explanation for Ka-Zar’s resurrection is the James Bond stuff and then it’s desert adventure time. Oh, the evil secret agent woman forces herself on him. Ka-Zar is surprisingly risqué (and has been since the first issue).

Meanwhile, Shanna gets to hang out with Spider-Man a little more, but Jones severely reduces her page time in this issue. It’s too bad. Ka-Zar’s story is fantastic, but without emotional connection to the reader, whereas Shanna’s is all about that connection.

Bob Hall’s pencils are occasionally quite good, but usually just okay.

The flashback backup is fine, an excuse for Mayerik art.

Ka-Zar the Savage 22 (January 1983)

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Where the heck is Jones going with this comic book?

First off, the issue is a visual delight. Not because of the quality of the artwork, but because of the intricate page layouts. There is a whole page of a car chase from a birds eye view. It’s absolutely crazy stuff. Candido doesn’t do a great job finishing Frenz’s breakdowns, but with layouts like the ones in this issue… mediocre becomes spectacular.

Peter Parker is the issue’s costar, which is kind of fantastic. And Jones even gets away with Peter and Shanna getting busy.

But the threaten of a Parker dalliance is just a pit stop on Shanna’s journey this issue. She’s alone–with everything being taken from her (besides Ka-Zar dying, Zabu the sabertooth tiger is impounded–and she’s in a hostile environment.

Jones does an amazing job with Shanna as the real protagonist.

It’s a great comic.