Tarzan the Warrior #1, 1992, Malibu Comics
writer: Mark Wheatley
penciller: Neil Vokes
inker: Marc Hempel
colorist: Damon Willis
letterer: Brian Clopper
editor: Henning Kure
"Tarzan wasn't a ladies man/He'd just come along and scoop them up under his arm like that/quick as a cat in the jungle."
This lyric from the Crash Test Dummies' Superman's Song is all I've known of Tarzan, aside from the Disney animated film, of course, which was less King of the Apes and more Phil Collins comeback tour anyway. No, I've never delved into the Tarzan mythos before, so I was excited to read Malibu Comics' Tarzan the Warrior, which boldly proclaims, "You've never seen Tarzan like this before!" Well, since I've never really seen Tarzan before, I figured this new, presumably ferocious incarnation would be right up my alley. What would you expect from a hunched, back lit figure like the one of this issue's cover, clutching a blade and a staff amidst a head-high tower of flame?
Unfortunately, Tarzan's first appearance in this series is anything but ferocious. On the contrary, when the reader first encounters the beloved King of the Apes, Tarzan is tending to a wounded Bigfoot in Maryland, which is indeed a direction I did not expect. Further, when Tarzan and Jane elude the police in a fiery car chase, rescue an alien queen in peril, and battle a series of animals that shapeshift into monsters, I wondered if anyone would have suspected such a fantastic, science fiction context from everyone's favorite vine-swingin' yodeler. This plot was strangely two stories -- two contemporary takes on the character -- mashed into one delivery, and although I'm sure the yarns tie in with one another by the end of this miniseries, this inaugural chapter was a sloppy delivery. Simply put, fighting aliens and nursing Bigfoot isn't Tarzan's jurisdiction -- it's Fox Mulder's.
When a creative team decides to modernize a classic character for a contemporary audience, the challenge is creating a context that maintains the spirit of the source material while eliciting a modern sensibility, a sense of familiarity for younger and older audiences alike. Tarzan rescuing Bigfoot, an implied wayward creature of the wild like the hero himself, makes sense, or a Tarzan battling world-conquering aliens, akin to a predator prowling an urban jungle, would be interesting, but combining the two distills the effort for an effective first impression. Tarzan has come a long way from his monosyllabic origins, but now his delivery is tad too complicated.
Tarzan may not be a ladies' man, but in this issue, he's attempting to court a new audience. While the chance to get to know him, and the eye-catching front cover, scooped me up, the King of the Apes inadvertently dropped me, proving that, in some cases, the most entertaining strides are taken backward.