Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Volume 9A comic review article by: Zack Davisson
The ninth volume in Dark Horse's hardback reprint series of Dell Comics Tarzan coversTarzan #44-46 (1953) and Tarzan Annual #2 (1953). These issues continue the Jesse Marsh years, an artist who would draw Tarzan until 1965.
Tarzan's adventures are a weird mix of fantasy and reality, of dinosaurs and rhinos. The series tried to educate young people about animals and Africa -- including pages of the Swahili words for animals and information about the lifestyles of jungle tribes -- mixed with Tarzan battling lost Roman centurions riding on water buffalos. The jungle is as much a character in the series as Tarzan, and some stories Tarzan doesn't even appear, just his jungle friends like Tantor the elephant and N'Kima the monkey.
Unlike the stereotypical "Me Tarzan. You Jane," this Tarzan is an eloquent speaker who lives in the jungle with his wife Jane and their son Boy. Tarzan can't seem to get out of his treehouse in the morning without some trouble coming his way. As Tarzan says, "I never hunt adventure. Adventure comes to me." In volume nine he faces off against the Bat-people of the Valley of Towers, the Cannibals of Kando-Mor, and the Brothers of the Baracuda. It seems there is always some shipwrecked English woman to rescue from Arab slavers or some trap to rescue Boy from. It is funny to see what a sexless character Tarzan is here. Even though he sweeps down in a tiny loincloth and rescues half-dressed women, his relationship with Jane and Boy means that he is as virile as a Ken doll.
The writing in Tarzan is not deep, but it is entertaining. The pieces are very much of the time when they were written, although I was happy to see there is none of the racism that can be rampant during this era. The "bad guys" and "good guys" are pretty even spread amongst black and white, except for the Arabs who are nothing but slavers. Some of the "jungle facts" are amusing, but they do try to be educational and portray the African tribes as real human beings. If you can read music, there is even a section on the songs "Dancing Feet" and "Happy Marriage" that you can play.
I found Jesse Marsh's art uneven. In the introduction, Dan Nadel says that this volume represents a high point of Marsh's work, and if so I am glad I haven't seen those awkward beginnings. There is no denying that Marsh's background work is beautiful. He seemed to have a passion for portraying the jungle and its animals accurately, and his compositions are artistic and dramatic. But for such a figure-orientated book, Marsh just doesn't have the same level of talent for drawing human beings. All of the people are somewhat stiff and clunky, without the smoothness and flow you would want from a Tarzan series. I am probably doing Marsh a disfavor by mentally comparing his work to Byrne Hogarth, but that is the standard. It is easy to see what Marsh likes to draw. Anytime there is an ape and a human on the same panel, the ape will be delicately rendered with expression and feeling while the human is just some representational lines.
In fact, the best drawn story (and my favorite) in this collection is The Troubles of Tantor, where Tantor the elephant and his herd have their own separate adventure.