ADVANCE REVIEW! The Once and Future Tarzan will go on sale Wednesday, November 14, 2012.
There is a certain mystique about artists who draw the Prince Valiant newspaper strip — because frankly, they don’t hire just anyone to inherit Hal Foster’s pen. You have to have be both an incredible draftsman and anatomist, as well as able to handle the pageantry and fantasy of the series. So when I tell you that Thomas Yeates, the artist on The Once and Future Tarzan, also draws the Prince Valiant newspaper strip, that means something.
This one-shot collects the chapters from Dark Horse Presents into a single issue. I enjoyed the story in anthology mode, but it really shines when you read it all together. I have never been a huge Tarzan reader — never read the original books and I have only dipped into the comics a few times. But I know that his world is so much more vast than "Me Tarzan. You Jane." I don’t know how much this story connects to the established mythos, but it reads with a weight and gravity that makes me believe every panel. This story seems to take place in some post-apocalyptic future where the world has reverted to a jungle-like state with only a few industrial objects traded as reminders of the past. Tarzan is 300 years old, and the sole survivor of this past.
As expected, The Once and Future Tarzan is just a beautiful comic. Both the art and the colors have a careful sense of deliberate choice. For my tastes, too much modern comic art emphasizes style over technique and talent — every artist is so eager to make an impression and find their own voice they skip over the detail work. Thomas Yeates brings all of his Prince Valiant years to the table and creates something stunning. His animals are impeccable. His Tarzan a lean, muscular man grounded in actual human anatomy. His half-naked jungle women (you knew there had to be some!) are lithe and strong. They look like women who could do battle with monsters, instead of looking like strippers in a B-movie. (Oh, and there is a naked Tarzan scene, just in case anyone was wondering…)
And his monsters — Yeates draws some freaky, nightmare-inducing monsters. Can I say giant baby heads?
And as much as Yeates’s art is a throwback to the days of draftsment and detail, Alan Gordon’s script is also patient and considerate. This is a comic you read, not something you flip through. You feel like you are getting your money’s worth, that you have to spend some time with this comic. Gordon gives you dialog instead of quick quips and sound bites. This is a comic for people with long attention spans. I loved all of his set-ups, and the way he moved the story from the first burnt-out convenience store to a full-fledged monster attack in a secret jungle compound. It feels like Tarzan.
The only possible flaw I can find with The Once and Future Tarzan is that it is only a one-shot. I don’t know how long it takes Yeates to produce his incredible artwork, but I would love to see a longer series. I hope Dark Horse decides to bring them back for a five-issue Tarzan series, or put them to work on some of the Robert E. Howard properties like King Kull or Solomon Kane. This kind of diversity in art is something the comic world needs.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.