Tarzan Celebrates His 100th Birthday With A Mildly Political 'Adventure'
Nov 12, 2012
Tarzan is a fictional character – an archetype of the man raised by the wild to become ‘lord’ and ‘king’ over all he surveyed. The creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan has appeared in dozens of books, as well as a respectable number of films, comic books, newspaper strips, and artwork. What’s never been explored to any great extent, however, is Tarzan’s timelessness – is he truly a character capable of being plucked from one era and deposited into the next while maintaining his relevance? It looks like Dark Horse Comics and scribes Thomas Yeates and Alan Gordon believe so, if THE ONCE AND FUTURE TARZAN is any indication.
(NOTE: the following review will contain MINOR SPOILERS for the sole purpose of discussing the characters, settings, and action. If you’re only looking for a final assessment, then skip down to the second-to-last paragraph, and check it out. However, if you’re looking for a greater investment in a review, then read on, brave traveler!)
In a world of the distant future, the surface of the Earth is hardly hospitable to Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. He’s taken to a subterranean world where he’s secreted away creatures that otherwise may’ve gone extinct. When a new threat emerges seeking to bring Tarzan and his animals back into humanity, he’ll go man-to-man with a tribe of Amazonian warriors, a military task force, and some New Age hipsters of tomorrow in order to set things right.
What works here? In a word: Tarzan. Well, Jane shows up, too, and she does just fine. Conceiving the two as a kind of immortal force watching over the world at large is a bit inspired, and, if anything, it shows that the ideals presented here are not bound by age … that we can only hope there remain out there ‘stewards of the Earth’ who’ll fight for its very survival when and if they’re required to. That’s a message anyone can embrace, and, for all its merits, it delivers a modest punch.
What doesn’t work?
Well, just about everything else.
The story reels all over the place, and, in the climax, none of it makes perfect sense. Clearly, the authors meant there to be a conflict at the heart of the tale – one is required for any truly good story – but, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you definitively what it is come the last panel. What can I tell you? There’s an ideology at work here – hippies and savages saving the world apparently destroyed by the rest of mankind – that I’m not certain serves the yarn. At times, these Amazons seem to be Tarzan’s adversaries … then his companions … then his adversaries again. That coupled with the fact that some of the writing that indicates to me Tarzan considers himself a bit of a noble swinger – wasn’t he supposed to be ‘tied down’ to Jane alone? – makes much of the prose fall flat.
It looks good, and it sounds good … but what does it all mean? You’ll need a smarter mind that mine to decode all of the gibberish.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that ONCE AND FUTURE is additional meant to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Burroughs’ TARZAN OF THE APES. And why? I’d imagine if you turned 100, you’d want mankind to celebrate it somehow. Whether this self-contained story will win any converts to the long-running Tarzan franchise is trivial; it’s a character that deserves celebration, and there’s no harm in enjoying a harmless riff on the legend, especially when it looks like it could’ve been done yesterday, pulled from the pages of newsprint for new audiences to explore. It has a wonderfully pulpish feel – though not a pulpish message – so take it all in with a grain of salt.
To be honest, ONCE AND FUTURE is the type of story that might’ve accomplished more had it appeared with a ‘forward’ or ‘afterward’ by Gordon, and that’s because it’s very difficult for this uniformed reader to measure the effectiveness or the intent. I believe I caught most of its nuances, but, without some pointers or Cliff Notes from the author, I’m left with giving it all my best educated guess. No doubt, there’s something I’ve missed here – as not all of it met with my expectations – but, in its current format, I gave it my best attempt.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE TARZAN is published by Dark Horse Comics. The book is dedicated to Joe Kubert. It is written by Alan Gordon with art and concepts by Thomas Yeates; layouts by albabe; colors by Thomas Yeates and Lori Almeida; letters by John Workman and Tom Orzechowski; with a front and back cover by Thomas Yeates. It’s a one-shot bearing a cover price of $3.50, not a bad investment if you’ve got it to spend.
RECOMMENDED. No, it ain’t perfect – there are a few parts of it that eluded me a bit, mostly as I’m not convinced this future world was suitably fleshed out in its scant 28 pages – but THE ONCE AND FUTURE TARZAN does easily show how a timeless character can be plucked out of one set of circumstances and their accompanying era and be niftily inserted into another one – completely surrounded by all-new details, villains, and foibles – while maintaining his core beliefs. Here gifted with long life, Tarzan has proven his timelessness, as he rises up to help those in need (the world around him), race into action, and save the day. Somehow, even Jane’s along to help just in the nick of time, and that’s as refreshing a development as one could ask for any one-shot installment revisiting a legend of old by giving him a contemporary makeover.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of THE ONCE AND FUTURE TARZAN for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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