Before we had Wolverine, we had Tarzan.
Nasty and brutish, with a deeply heartfelt soul and a knife always at his hip, Tarzan was the archetypical action hero of the early parts of the 20th century. Tarzan wandered his jungle home, dealing brutal justice to those who angered him. It didn't matter if the ones that angered him were men, or lions, or a group of wild apes, Tarzan was always ready to battle for what was right.
But Tarzan wasn't just about the action. Tarzan also had a soul, and brains, along with a rich compulsion to help his ape friends do better. He was a unique combination of innocent naïveté and jungle comprehension that made his character jump off the page, when created by empathetic creators.
The Unauthorized Tarzan is a really exciting work of comics art by empathetic creators. Charlton Comics published four issues of Jungle Tales of Tarzan in 1964 and 1965, believing the Tarzan properties to be in public domain (they may have been — but who wants to get into a legal fight about such things?). These stories have been lost for half a century, but finally Dark Horse has resurrected these comics and they're some of the most thrilling Tarzan comics I've ever read.
Sam Glanzman draws the majority of these stories. His rough-hewn and earthy art style is a perfect fit for the King of the Apes. Tarzan is broad-chested and viciously muscular, his rough-and-tumble body a perfect match for the guttural manliness of his face. You can tell right from the start that Tarzan is a man who is not to be fucked with. And the way Glanzman draws apes and elephants and all the other creatures of the jungle — all slashing holding lines and gorgeous blacks — brings real energy to his pages.
These stories are all adapted directly from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. This technique gives Joe Gill's adaptations a raw energy that adds vitality to the stories in this volume. Gill takes the interesting technique of telling the whole story via captions rather than dialogue, similar to the classic Prince Valiant comic strip, in which the captions added grandeur and vitality to the world that was created. For a modern reader, the captions are a bit hard to get used to — this book takes longer to read than a random Brian Michael Bendis comic — but they lend these stories a wonderful literary quality that serves them well.
The Unauthorized Tarzan is a slim book at only about 100 pages of story and art for a $29.99 cover price, but it's hard to imagine what else could be included in this book. Roger Broughton provides a nice perspective on this abortive series, but really the material in this comic speaks for itself.
In an odd touch for the era, both Gill and Glanzman are mentioned in the first issue editorial, and Glanzman's absence is noted when he isn't present for an issue. This was a prestigious book for Charlton, and editor Pat Muselli assigned two of their most respected creators to work on it. You can see their loving care in every panel of this wonderful book.