Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Classics - Ka-Zar #14

One of the great unsung writers whose comics career got started in the '70s is Doug Moench.

An amazingly prolific writer, he turned out a vast number of scripts, especially during his early days at Marvel - and while every script might not be a classic, he had a very high batting average.

One of his tactics was to take each comic he wrote into new and unexpected directions, and a great example of that can be found on his run on Ka-Zar. His first issue is #14, which is cover dated February 1976.

The character is Marvel's version of Tarzan, right down to the fact that he's a wealthy English Lord in the civilized world and a brutal barbarian in the jungle.

Thee are a few differences - Ka-Zar is friends with Zabu, a sabretooth tiger, and he lives in the Savage Land, a jungle that somehow flourishes in Antarctica and is home to countless dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.

After 13 issues featuring the usual battles with dinosaurs and savage creatures, the comic was turned over to Moench, and he immediately turned the series on its head.

He loaded it with all kinds of fantastic menaces and unusual settings. He brought in Klaw, the master of sound, to be a powerful opponent for our hero. Moench took Ka-Zar out of the Savage Land - first bringing him to civilization, and eventually to another dimension, complete with flying sharks, barbarians and super science all duking it out for supremacy.

This first issue teams Moench with Larry Hama, who is a darned good artist (these days he focuses largely on writing). He turns in solid work here, although the thin inking style doesn't go well with Hama's strong pencils.

After this issue, Val Mayerik would take over, and his unique, organic style was a good match for Ka-Zar.

I wish I could say that this series was a big hit, but actually it only ran up to issue #20, and then the series was canceled in mid-story. Perhaps the story was too weird (and it was odd), or maybe it was just too much of a change for most readers - but for whatever reason, the story was shut down and ends on a cliffhanger!

I don't remember if it was ever properly wrapped up - I seem to recall a quick recap being posted in a comic somewhere, but I don't remember where.

It was a shame, because the series was lots of fun and unlike anything being published - Moench, Mayerik and Hama were really kicking out the stops on this series.

That's the danger of swinging for the fences - sometimes you hit a homer, and sometimes you strike out. This series may have been cut off before its time, but it was certainly a fun, glorious and entertaining failure.

Grade: B+



dhole said...

The only time I remember seeing Ka-zar refer to flying sharks was in some flashback exposition in X-men 115 by Claremont/Byrne. Perhaps that was their attempt to tie up those loose ends?

Agree about Moench, he's had a really impressive body of work.

Thanks for the informative review.

Chuck said...

dhole, I think you're right - Ka-Zar's next appearance was in an issue of X-Men. I'll try to track that issue down and see if that's the case. Thanks!