With Further Ado #288: Tarzan, the Rebooted

I remember in the early 90s when “upstart” publisher Malibu Comics burst on the scene with their new Tarzan comics. To add a bit of context, their efforts followed the classic runs of Tarzan comic series published by Gold Key Comics, with wonderful Russ Manning and Doug Wildey artwork, DC, with top-of-his game Joe Kubert art, and Marvel Comics, showcasing John Buscema as he was obviously loving every minute of it.

This new Malibu comic cover had a different Tarzan (albeit throwback) logo and a shocking image of the central characters with jarring colors. The front cover was by Marc Hempel and the alternate cover – flip covers were the norm back then – was painted by Simon Bisley. The cover copy taunted readers: “You’ve never seen Tarzan like this before!”

And they were right!

Writer Mark Wheatley, penciler Neil Volkes, and interior inker Hempel showcased a different approach to Tarzan. I don’t know if we were all using the word “reboot” back then, but this clearly was a reboot.

Wheatley explained to me that the Tarzan fans, at the time, were furious with him. But over time, his innovative run has now become revered and embraced.

How difficult is it to reboot a classic character? Is it necessary? Is it ever embraced initially?

Tarzan the Untamed

I just read the seventh of book in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original Tarzan series: Tarzan, the Untamed. My wife, Kathe, and I were in a wonderful comic shop in Saratoga Springs, Cosmic Capes Comics, not long ago. The cover to this hardcover caught my eye. How could it not? The insanely talented Joe Jusko is providing new covers to all the ERB books. He’s knocking it outta the park! Each cover is clever, creative and compelling.

Kathe sneakily bought this beautiful book for me as a birthday gift. I was too busy pawing through recent issues AHOY Comics to notice.

Now, I’ve read many of the original ERB books before – but not this one. It is fascinating to read as Edgar Rice Burroughs was clearly trying to reboot his character and franchise. As the adventure starts – it’s set during World War I- Tarzan’s beloved Jane is brutally killed by the Germans! His Waziri friend, Wasimbu is crucified. His home is burned to the ground. Naturally, Tarzan embarks upon on a vengeful rampage to find and punish the killers.

There’s the usual assortment of scoundrels involved, but there’s also a beautiful blonde (unfortunately named Bertha; that name just doesn’t hold up in 2024). At first it seems like she’s responsible for Jane’s death, but slowly revealed that she is really a double agent. Yes, she’s really a good guy! As I was reading this adventure, I couldn’t help but think that she was planned to be the new love interest of Tarzan.

As this novel was written during WWI, it’s easy to see the author’s hatred, at the time, of the wartime enemy: the Germans. In fact, the first part of this novel was originally published in the pulps as Tarzan and the Huns. That would prove “problematic”, as they say, in terms of selling the novel and the Tarzan series of books and movies internationally.

One can only imagine what it was like – back then – to have the tiger by the tail (lion by the tail?) for an author like Burroughs. Tarzan was a hit in books and in movies and the Sunday Funnies. There were Tarzan radio series, Big Little Books and lots of Tarzan merchandise.

The backmatter in this volume reveals Burroughs was struggling to develop long form Tarzan adventures during this period. And of course, he was operating without the corporate infrastructure that protects (or ensnarls?) all of our pop culture heroes today – from Batman to James Bond to Star Trek. A reboot, 1919 style, is fascinating to watch unfold. Reading this book, I was more obsessed with seeing how the author was going to “get out of this” than any trap with which Tarzan was struggling.

This glorious edition is packed with bonus material, including memos and letters from Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact, through these letters, it is revealed that ERB had a back door out of this reboot conundrum, and was ready to reveal that Jane’s death was actually a hoax.

So- you guessed it. She “got better” in subsequent Tarzan novels.

Tarzan, the Untamed
Published by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc
Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cover art and frontispiece by Joe Jusko
Foreword by Henry G. Franke III and afterword by Scott Tracy Griffin
363 pages