As I wrote last month in my post about Tarzan #207, I firmly believe that it would have been all but impossible for an American child of my generation to grow up not knowing who Tarzan was. Korak, son of Tarzan, on the other hand… well, maybe not so much. Sure, the scion of the Lord of the Jungle had been around since 1914, when he appeared as the infant Jack Clayton in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Eternal Lover. But he’d made a much smaller imprint on popular culture, at least as a solo adventurer, only appearing in a single film, the 1920 serial The Son of Tarzan; as far as most moviegoers (or movies-on-TV viewers) were concerned, the Ape Man’s kid was a boy named, er, “Boy”. Seriously, unless you were a reader of the novels, about the only way you’d know the name “Korak” was from comics — and even there, the poor guy had to work to stake his claim.
Though he’d appeared under his proper moniker in the newspaper comic strip as early as 1929, the comic books took their cue from the movies, and thus routinely called Tarzan’s son “Boy” — beginning with Tarzan #3 (May-Jun., 1948, and continuing until issue #139 (Dec., 1963), at the end of which Boy announced he was now a grown man and ready to start being called Korak, thank you very much. Almost immediately thereafter, Tarzan’s publisher at the time, Gold Key, spun Korak off into his very own title… which is the only reason your humble blogger knew his name. Not that I’d ever actually read an issue of Korak, Son of Tarzan, mind you; as I mentioned in my Tarzan #207 post, I was pretty indifferent to the Jungle Lord prior to DC Comics picking up the Edgar Rice Burroughs funnybook license in late 1971. But I habitually scanned the comic-book spinner racks at least once a week, so I at least saw the covers of just about everything that came out, even if I never so much as thumbed through a copy. I’m reasonably certain, therefore, that my fourteen-year-old self must have seen Gold Key’s last Korak, #45, when it arrived on stands in November, 1971 — though I probably paid it even less attention than I did Gold Key’s final Tarzan, #206, their spiffy George Wilson-painted covers notwithstanding.
But by March, 1972, things had definitely changed. I’d thoroughly enjoyed DC’s premiere issue of Tarzan, published the month before, which had featured not only the first chapter of writer-artist-editor Joe Kubert’s serialized adaptation of Burroughs’ first Tarzan novel, but also the initial installment in yet another serialized Burroughs adaptation, this one illustrated by Murphy Anderson and featuring a character I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of until then, John Carter of Mars — and for the icing on the cake, had also included a brief reprinted episode from Hal Foster’s run on the “Tarzan” newspaper strip. At 25 cents, it was a pretty great package — and with its Kubert-drawn cover and above-the-title blurbs heralding two additional Burroughs-based features, Korak, Son of Tarzan #46 looked to offer more of the same.
And to a certain extent, that proved to be true — though only to a certain extent, as I discovered when, after putting down my quarter to purchase the comic, I took it home and began to read…
Beyond the cover (and perhaps a little inter-office kibitzing?), Joe Kubert wasn’t actually involved with Korak., at least not at the beginning. The title was initially edited by Kubert’s fellow artist-turned-editor, Joe Orlando (though it would eventually come into Kubert’s purview with its fourth DC issue, published six months later). The lead feature, meanwhile, was scripted by Len Wein — the regular writer of Orlando’s Phantom Stranger title — while the artist was Frank Thorne.
Thorne (who passed away just a year ago at the time of this writing) was, like Kubert and Orlando, a longtime comics industry veteran, with credits extending back into the late 1940s. He’d spent much of the prior decade working for Gold Key on such titles as Mighty Samson, before coming to DC in 1968 to contribute to Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, and Tomahawk — the first two of which were edited by Joe Kubert when Thorne arrived, while the latter passed to Kubert from Murray Boltinoff in 1970. Not being a reader of any of those books (at least not after 1967), I was unfamiliar with Thorne’s work before picking up Korak #46. Still, it seemed pretty clear to me from the outset that although Frank Thorne might not be Joe Kubert, he drew an awful lot like him — or at least he did on this particular feature.
In later years, Thorne would acknowledge the similarity of his spare, rough-hewn style to that of Kubert. ““I’ve always heard that my work appears to have a Kubert influence to it,” he told Back Issue magazine in 2016, “but I never actually tried to imitate him. I just had the kind of style that was like Joe’s.” In his “Korak” work, that similarity extends beyond Thorne’s style of rendering to his page layouts, which distinctly resemble Kubert’s. (The design of the two-page spread shown above is a good example; compare Kubert’s similar spread from pages 2 and 3 of Tarzan #207.) Whether it’s intentional or not, the effect is to suggest a continuity of vision between DC’s “Tarzan” and “Korak” features, despite their being written, drawn, and edited by completely different people.*
Checking the wreckage, Korak finds that there are in fact four survivors of the crash. (Good thing one of them had the presence of mind to moan, right?) He gets the last of them to safety just before the fatally wounded helicopter explodes…
For longtime Tarzan fans, “the lost city of Opar” would likely be a quite familiar location — but Edgar Rice Burroughs-newbie that I still was as of March, 1972, the name didn’t ring any bells for me.
Following behind Korak and the not-as-nice-as-she-looks Joyce Kingston, Clay Wendell tries to calm the delirious as well as wounded pilot, Miller, while the last member of the expedition, Pat Broderick, continues to gripe in a surly fashion. And then…
Korak looses an arrow, but it’s defected by the water buffalo, or “Gorgo” — forcing our hero to confront his adversary in a more direct fashion…
When sunset comes, Opar is still a day’s walk away. Korak begins to give directions to his companions for making camp; when Broderick bristles at taking orders from the young man, Korak informs him that if that’s how he feels, he can make his own camp without help…
The visual storytelling on this page isn’t as clear as it might be; while we see all three of Korak’s male companions get conked on the head, the son of Tarzan himself seems to be doing fine, until the last panel’s reference to “unconscious figures” makes it clear that he’s been knocked out as well.
On the next page, only three of the four men awaken — Miller, alas, has perished in the night. After burying the unfortunate pilot, the trio of survivors presses on, until…
Korak’s explanation of Opar’s origins is somewhat simplified from the authentic Burroughs version, first recounted in the 1913 novel The Return of Tarzan.; there, it was explained that the ancient Atlanteans who’d founded Opar had, over many generations, interbred with the Mangani, Burroughs’ fictional ape species (best known for adopting and raising Tarzan himself), resulting in the Oparians becoming a semi-human race. Of course, that is a whole lot to get a handle on (and perhaps too much to completely swallow), so perhaps we can forgive scripter Len Wein for hurrying past that part.
Somewhat more problematic than Wein’s skipping over the cross-species mating business is the absence within his story of any Oparian females, especially their queen and high priestess, La. As any devoted Burroughs-head would know, the women of Opar are supposed to be fully human-looking, due to selective breeding; so, you have to wonder what La and the other ladies are up to while their menfolk are making all this, um, fuss over Miss Kingston.
“Uuggh!“, indeed. At least we see the blow that fells Korak this time, even if he doesn’t.
Korak, Wendell, and Broderick all come to to find themselves in a locked cell; they’re not left there alone for long, however…
Hmm… I suppose the “golden hair” might explain the Oparian men’s fascination with Joyce, though it still doesn’t answer the question of where La and the other women are.
While I still have the opportunity, I suppose I should note that the conniving Miss Kingston, particularly in her Oparian attire (what there is of it), is likely to remind many contemporary readers of Frank Thorne’s later penchant for drawing beautiful, lightly-clad women. Granted, Joyce isn’t quite so, shall we say, generously proportioned as such later Thorne subjects as Red Sonja, Ghita, or Lann; still, the man had to start somewhere, right?
Korak has no interest in risking his own life for the sake of the treacherous Joyce, and he tries to talk Clay Wendell out of his plan. But the young man is adamant — he’s well aware that his supposed girlfriend was only using him, but he’s still in love with her anyway. “All right then — be a fool!” Korak tells him before turning away…
I can’t honestly say I recall what the fourteen-year-old me thought of this story back in 1972… but the sixty-four-year-old me of 2022 has some questions. What did happen to Joyce Kingston? Was she killed, or enslaved, or what? Did Clay Wendell ever try to go back for her after Korak returned him against his will to “civilization”? And so on.
Still, loose ends aside, Len Wein delivered a pretty decent yarn here, in your humble blogger’s present-day opinion, with Frank Thorne’s appealing artwork making up for any deficits. And, believe it or not, we’re not even halfway through Korak #46 yet…
In March, 1972, I was more familiar with the artwork of Michael W. Kaluta than I was that of Frank Thorne, despite the latter having been in the comics industry a whole lot longer. That’s because even though little of Kaluta’s work as had appeared as yet, most of what had been published had been in the pages (or on the covers) of DC’s mystery anthologies — which, unlike the war titles or Tomahawk, I did read. (One notable exception had been a very memorable “Fabulous World of Krypton” short which ran in Superman #240 [Jul, 1971], but I’d read that one, too.)
Like a number of his fellow creators who ended up working on DC’s Edgar Rice Burroughs books, the young Kaluta (who was 24 years old when he drew his first “Carson of Venus” strip) was already a fan of the author, as well as of several of the illustrators associated with his stories. Forty years after the fact, Kaluta recalled the circumstances of his landing the “Carson” assignment for an article published in Back Issue #55 (Apr., 2012):
I’d wandered by Joe Orlando’s office at DC… he was excited that DC had just got the ERB stuff away from Gold Key. He said: “We’ve got all of Burroughs’ stuff; is there some story of his you’d love to draw?” Everyone already knew Joe Kubert was going to handle Tarzan. I said, “Sure! The Barsoom Stories!!!” Joe was quick to tell me that Murphy Anderson had that sewn up — Murphy had been wanting to draw John Carter of Mars since he was a kid. So I asked if I could do the Venus stories. Joe was unfamiliar with them. “Are they any good?” I brought him a copy of Pirates of Venus and got the nod for the backup series within a day or two. “This stuff is really great!” said Joe O.
Orlando proceeded to assign the feature’s scripting to Len Wein; and soon, the two young creators were off to adapt Pirates of Venus, the first novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ last major series, originally published in 1932:
Burroughs’ novel (which can be read in full here) begins with a chapter in which the author explains that he has received this supposedly factual account from Carson Napier himself, by direct telepathy; Wein’s script cleverly adapts this narrative device by identifying Napier’s “dear friend” as the very person currently reading Korak #46, i.e., you and me.
Hmm… do I believe that a guy nutty enough to torpedo himself on a one-way solo journey to Mars, with no idea what he’ll find when he gets there and no way to get home, might also be stupid enough not to have accounted for Earth’s moon and its gravity in planning his trip? Why, yes, I believe I can.
Resigning himself to certain doom — either by falling into the sun, or drifting through space until his food ran out — Carson Napier settled in for a nice, quiet spell of reading, astronomical observation, and “fancy cooking”. Well, it’s not like he was planning to ever come back home, anyway, so maybe it wasn’t too big an adjustment. But then, after a month’s time…
The rope with which Carson had lassoed the creature’s pincers, or chela (hey, I just learned a word! Or re-learned it, I guess) pulls taut just before it can grab him. Whew! But then it uses its other chela to cut through the rope. Damn.
And that’s that for this first episode of “Carson of Venus”, which back in March, 1972 promised to be a highly entertaining serial — and so it was, if not for my younger self at the time, at least not beyond this initial installment. But more about that in a bit.
“Carson of Venus” was undoubtedly the best artistic showcase DC had yet provided for Mike Kaluta, who’d had to simplify his approach to suit editor Julius Schwartz in his one previous science-fiction-oriented outing, the “Krypton” short in Superman #240. More than ever before, the full range of his influences — which included the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements as well as such fantasy illustrators as J. Allen St. John, Roy Krenkel, and Frank Frazetta — was on display. And what was more, he could tell a story.
At this point, Korak #46 had already more than earned its 25-cent cover price. But there was even more goodness yet to come…
Our comic’s third and final feature, “Pellucidar”, was, like the first two, written by Len Wein; its artist was Alan Lee Weiss. Like his friend (and sometime roommate) Kaluta, Weiss was a young artist still in the process of establishing himself in the industry. His credits at this point included several stories for Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror comics, DC’s mystery and Western anthologies, and Marvel’s romance titles; also for Marvel, he’d pencilled an issue of Daredevil, working over the layouts of Barry Windsor-Smith, and helped ink one of Neal Adams’ Avengers issues. All this, plus he’d “appeared” as a supporting character in Batman #237’s “Night of the Reaper!”.
Also like Kaluta, his landing an assignment to illustrate one of DC’s new Burroughs features involved a certain amount of serendipity. As he explained in the same Back Issue #55 article that we referenced earlier:
Bernie Wrightson was originally going to draw “Pellucidar.” Bernie, Mike Kaluta, and I shared an apartment. I hadn’t read the Pellucidar books, even though I’d bought ’em for the Frazetta covers. So I figured if my roommate was going to do the comics adaptation, I’d give ’em a read. I’d gotten through the first four of the series when Bernie said he wasn’t going to draw the strip after all… DC had decided to give the Swamp Thing his own book and Bernie was going to pencil and ink it. “Pellucidar” was, for the moment, without an artist, and Bernie thought I’d be right for it. I liked “Pellucidar” and felt it was the next best thing to drawing Tarzan. In some ways, better.
So I went up to DC and proceeded to loiter in the doorway of Joe Orlando’s office, looking at the covers of all his books on the wall… After a while he asked me: “Whattayou lookin’ at?” I mumbled a few words about, “Um … Pellucidar… Wrightson’s not gonna do it…” [Orlando said,] “Nah, Gil Kane’s going to do it!” Gil Kane? Well, that was that. Going home now.
A week or so later, Joe called and asked, “Whaddaya know about Pellucidar?” “Everything! Thipdars! Mahars! What do you want to know?” “Gil Kane can’t do it. Do me some character sketches.” So I did. He liked them. And that’s how I got it.
As with “Carson of Venus”, the “Pellucidar” feature kicks off its run with an adaptation of the first novel in the Burroughs series it’s based on: At the Earth’s Core, which was originally published in 1914, and can be read in its entirety here.
Wein’s script wastes as little time as possible getting to “the good stuff”, and in re-reading this story in preparation for writing this post, I found myself a little bewildered about just what David Innes and Abner Perry were up to in the first place, burrowing deep into the Earth in their “iron mole”. Where were they trying to go, exactly? But a quick check of Burroughs’ original text, via the handy link shared above, clarified that Perry’s invention is supposed to be an excavation machine, with obvious practical uses for mining, etc., and that the maiden voyage on which the two men have embarked is supposed to be a mere “test drive” — take ‘er down a few hundred feet just to prove that she works, then turn around and come home. (I supposed I might have inferred all that from Wein’s first caption and its reference to a “final test”; but I didn’t, so there.)
Alan Weiss’ artwork is notable for providing his characters with distinctive faces and body language — something that’s probably easier to accomplish when you have a real-life model to work from. In the case of Abner Perry, Weiss’ model was his fellow illustrator Roy Krenkel — though the original idea of casting Krenkel seems to have come from Bernie Wrightson. As Weiss related in a 2000 interview for Comic Book Artist Special Edition #2:
It was Bernie’s intention to do Roy Krenkel as Abner Perry, which couldn’t be more perfect, because not only was Roy a wonderful Burroughs artist, but a delightful curmudgeon as well. We all loved him. So I wanted to follow through on that Bernie had taken a bunch of Polaroid shots of Krenkel, so he gave them me, so I worked from that reference.
Wein follows Burroughs closely here in having Perry come right to the verge of explicating the “hollow earth” theory that underpins the earlier author’s imaginative conception of Pellucidar, just before he’s rudely interrupted:
The wild dogs notice Innes mere moments after they do the giant sloth-like critter, and promptly come after him as well. He earns a brief respite, however, thanks to there being some baseball-size rocks at hand, which he hurls at the fierce canines with remarkable accuracy (our boy David played the national pastime in college, y’see)…
Alas, no cavalry seems likely to show; and thus, David Innes begins to resign himself to an ill fate, when…
Burroughs’ text implies that Dave’s new “friends” rip off all of his clothing; in the comics version, the curiosity of the ape-like humanoids seems somewhat more tempered, as they allow the poor guy to retain just enough of his jodhpurs to preserve his modesty. I guess somebody must’ve read them the Comics Code.
Next, David finds himself carried by his captors through the treetops, until at last they arrive at a village…
The last page of the “Pellucidar” feature is also the very last page of Korak #46 (or the last that doesn’t include advertising, anyway), and so it’s the natural place for the “next issue on sale…” slug that DC was using regularly during this period. Nevertheless, it’s a little ironic that the slug appears here, considering the fact that although Korak #47 would indeed be released on May 11, 1972, the next chapter of “Pellucidar” would not; rather, DC readers would have to wait almost a whole other month to find out how David and Abner got out of their present predicament, as the “Pellucidar” feature moved into a whole new title, called Weird Worlds. — the first issue of which arrived on stands June 8.
What happened? Essentially, Korak — along with every other DC title — got downsized, as the company finally pulled the plug on its not-quite-a-year-long 25 cent-48 page “bigger and better” experiment, and the line followed Marvel (as well as most of its other competitors) in reverting to its old 32-page format, now offered at a 20-cent price-point. “32 pages” actually translated to 24 pages of actual comics content, which meant there was no longer nearly enough room for a lead story plus two backup features. So “Carson of Venus” got cut down from 9 pages to 6, while “Pellucidar”, as already noted, proceeded to set up shop in DC’s newly-minted third Edgar Rice Burroughs title, Weird Worlds — where it would share space with “John Carter of Mars”, a feature that had run in the back of DC’s Tarzan prior to the downsizing.**
Your humble blogger reacted to this development in a manner that, I must confess, causes me some chagrin today, as, along with picking up Weird Worlds, I also opted to drop Korak, Son of Tarzan. Why’d I ditch the latter book? A half-century later, I don’t recall my precise reasoning, but I think it was mainly a matter of not being especially taken with its titular star. The son of Tarzan was, it seemed to me, just that; a younger (and, at least as written by Len Wein, slightly snottier) version of the Ape-Man. Wein’s script for “The Treasure Vaults of Opar!” hadn’t told me anything about the guy I didn’t already know just from the name of his book — and it didn’t give me much reason to want to find out more, either. (It’s worth noting that “Korak” was the only Burroughs feature that DC didn’t launch with an adaptation of the novel that introduced the property to readers; and while it’s not hard to understand why they might have thought it would be confusing to adapt The Son of Tarzan — technically, the fourth novel in the “Tarzan” series — prior to the three novels that precede it in chronological sequence, the end result for this reader was that I knew nothing of Jack Clayton’s backstory coming in, and thus had no prior investment in the character.) As for Frank Thorne’s artwork, while I enjoyed it well enough, it still came across to me (fairly or not) as “Kubert-lite” — and as such, ultimately less compelling than the “real deal” that was available over in Korak’s pop’s book.
That left “Carson of Venus” — and as diverting (if implausible) as I found the storyline, and (more importantly) as drop-dead gorgeous as Kaluta’s art was, I couldn’t see shelling out 20 cents every two months for just six pages of the strip. And so, I reluctantly took leave of Carson Napier where Wein and Kaluta’s first episode left him on his first night on the planet Venus, trying to go to sleep as weird beasts screamed in the unseen darkness beyond the walls of his bedchamber — not to learn what happened to him next for many years to come.
It’s not the first long-ago, now-regretted comics purchasing decision I’ve discussed on this blog — and I can pretty well promise you that it won’t be the last, either. Make your plans now to collect them all!
*Roughly eight months later, when Kubert got caught in a deadline bind, he drafted Thorne to pencil his script for Tarzan #216 (Jan., 1973). The finished job, with inks by Kubert, carried no creator credits, and I think it’s more than likely that the vast majority of readers at the time didn’t realize that anyone besides Kubert had had a hand in the art at all.
**One has to question how long Korak could have continued with three all-new features anyway, as DC’s budget for its 48-cent books evidently required the use of roughly 12 pages of reprinted material per issue; in giving DC readers a full 37 pages of new comics content with no reprints for 25 cents, Korak #46 was close to unique.