He’s been with the Avengers and recently died, but in this week’s Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land #1, the jungle king faces a challenging new trial: teenage rebellion.
Ka-Zar is essentially Marvel’s Tarzan—they’re both men from wealthy British families who became children of the jungle when their parents were killed, forcing them to learn survival skills on their own with nothing but nature as their guide. Just as Luke Cage was born from the blaxploitation movement and Shang-Chi from kung fu, Ka-Zar’s whole deal is indebted to the pulpy adventure novels of the early 20th century. Ka-Zar’s stories have historically leaned a little more into fantasy because of his Savage Land roots, but the comparison stands.
More recently, Ka-Zar became an Agent of Wakanda and was later killed by the Cotati in Empyre, but, in true superhero tradition, his death was but a mere inconvenience. The aftermath of his resurrection is explored in Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land, where he’s shown to be stronger than ever. Much like his wife Shanna the She-Devil, who once went through a similar process herself, Ka-Zar’s intrinsic connection to the jungle has been heightened to previously unseen levels because of his revival. But even with his boost, the powers of the jungle are no match for a greater challenge: playing parent to their teenage son, Matthew. And that’s not even mentioning a hidden foe that Matthew seems to be in league with…
Most of my Ka-Zar knowledge is tangential from seeing him in other titles, so it’s a credit to this issue that I didn’t feel lost reading it. As with interconnected superhero titles, you’ll obviously get more out of it if you’ve been following his story elsewhere, but that doesn’t impede on its accessibility. Ka-Zar is, in all honesty, not a deep character. He’s Marvel’s Tarzan. He runs around in a loincloth and protects his jungle home. The cliffhanger at the end of this issue seems to signal a plotline very much in that vein, but with enough of a twisty hook that I’m curious to see how it unfolds. Ka-Zar tends to make for good allegories for environmentalism, but with an added element of teen rebellion and sabotaging legacy, writer Zac Thompson is setting up an interesting conflict.
Thompson’s story is good, but the art of Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land is undoubtedly fantastic and more than worth the cover price. Germán Garcia depicts the Savage Land with a faux-retro softness that’s matched by Matheus Lopes’s lush pastels, which almost give the appearance of watercolors. It’s the kind of aesthetic that harkens back to illustrations of the early 20th century in a way that’s not totally accurate to the period but feels that way in its execution. Letterer Joe Caramagna also deserves a mention for the lettering of the issue, which employs a lot of creative techniques to convey sound effects, often organically involving them in a panel. It’s all just a very clever visual device that enhances the material and demands your attention amid the increasingly crowded slate of Marvel titles published weekly.