How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
Two words: “KA” and “ZAR”! Who doesn’t love Kevin Plunder?
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Ka-Zar #14. “Revolution” by Mark Waid (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Todd Klein (letterer), and Joe Rosas (colorist). “Ka-Zar the Savage” by Christopher Priest (writer), Kenny Martinez (penciler), Anibal Rodriguez (inker), Dave Sharpe (letterer), and Chris Sotomayor (colorist). Published by Marvel, June 1998.
As much as I appreciated the recaps Marvel put in the beginning of their comics back in the late Nineties, I have to admit they’re a bit daunting if you were a brand new reader. I’m used to the silliness of comics, but let’s take a look at how Marvel recaps what has come before this, the final Waid/Kubert issue of Ka-Zar:
Following the destruction of the Savage Land’s Terraformer, Shanna absorbed the alien machine’s power, making her the sole source of sustenance for the hidden jungle. Ka-Zar enlisted the aid of the High Evolutionary, thinking he might be able to help Shanna through her transformation to “goddess” and back to normal again.
However, the High Evolutionary became fascinated by Shanna’s evolution. As he’s helped her learn to control her newfound powers, the two have grown close, leaving Ka-Zar out in the cold. The Evolutionary plans to use his extensive technological means to create a new Earth in a pocket dimension, offering Shanna the chance to become its “mother earth.”
Growing ever more distrustful of the Evolutionary’s intentions with Shanna, Ka-Zar ransacked the scientist’s subterranean lab in hopes of finding something to aid him in his inevitable battle to win back Shanna. Not really sure of what he was looking for, Ka-Zar stole the Evolutionary’s sample of Isotope E.
When the Evolutionary arrogantly infused Matthew with a small portion of Shanna’s power, Ka-Zar attacked him. Unfazed, the Evolutionary told him he couldn’t come with Shanna and him to the new world unless he agreed to take a back seat to his relationship with Shanna. Faced with this ultimatum, Ka-Zar finally realized how desperate his situation is, bringing us to the present …
Phew! I mean, it’s certainly handy, and allows us to pick up this book fully aware of what’s going on (Matthew is Ka-Zar and Shanna’s son, by the way), but someone who has never read a comic before might chuckle. Even if you accept the prehistoric jungle in Antarctica, you might trip up over the “Terraformer” and the “new Earth in a pocket dimension” or even the High Evolutionary himself. But let’s say you get past that. Now you’re up to speed! So what goes on in the issue itself?
You know the story is complicated when the first page shows Ka-Zar and Zabu (his friend the sabretooth) contemplating Isotope E and Waid recaps again! We get eight narrative panels, as Ka-Zar tells us that the H. E. has stolen his wife and son, “thrust” them “up the evolutionary ladder” and linked them “to an extra-dimensional force that fills them with godlike power.” We also learn that Isotope E is a “radioactive genebomb that could, if unwrapped, catapult [him] to Shanna’s level … and beyond.” How? How dare you ask! It’s a comic book, man! Ka-Zar has to decide if he will use Isotope E to fight back. Meanwhile, H. E. has “modified” some Savage Land creatures, and they’re building the Terraformer anew. H. E. tells Shanna that Ka-Zar rejected his invitation to join them in the pocket dimension, but we’re fairly certain he’s lying. He’s wearing purple armor – of course he’s lying! We see Ka-Zar talking to various humanoid creatures in panels dropped in between the H. E.’s conversation with Shanna. H. E. then shows Shanna what the Terraformer does: it creates the MATTER MATRIX (you must say this with suitable portentousness), which will take them to the new Earth and the next evolutionary step. They will become “beings of sublime energy,” and will be “recreated” on a distant world, where Shanna will “be at one with the land, the sea, the sky!” Shanna is suddenly hesitant, because while the power H. E. is offering is “intoxicating,” she doesn’t want to lose her humanity. As H. E. explains that this is no longer her world, Ka-Zar shows up. Shanna runs to him, but H. E.’s modified creatures block her path. He tries to explain how much he needs her, but Ka-Zar interrupts and gives him one more chance to give up. H. E., foolishly, asks him if he has “anything to fear from a bunch of angry savages,” and Kubert gives us a bad-ass splash page with Ka-Zar saying “Yes” and the Savage Land forces arrayed behind him. What’s the bad-assest thing about it? Kevin’s hair:
The Savage Landers attack en masse, but Shanna gets dragged away by H. E.’s creatures before Ka-Zar can get to her. Shanna realizes that her new powers addled her mind, and now she really wants to stay with him. It’s probably the hair! Ka-Zar claims that H. E.’s belief that they’re all just “dumb brutes” will be his downfall. He hops on a pteranodon and attacks H. E., but our villain “modifies” a dragonfly so it’s huge, and he hops on for an aerial battle! As they fight, H. E. starts to admire Ka-Zar, but our hero knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s defeated. At that moment, Zabu brings him a package, and when he opens it, it’s Isotope E! Damn, that’s cold! H. E. freaks out, because it will make Ka-Zar as evolved as he is. I guess. Ka-Zar says he’ll “crack” the box open and “spread Isotope E to the four winds,” which will evolve everyone on Earth to H. E.’s level. Given that that seems to be H. E.’s modus operandi, what’s the big deal? For some reason, H. E. caves, saying he’ll let Shanna and Matthew leave if only Ka-Zar gives him the isotope back. Before Ka-Zar can, however, his steed bucks him and he drops like a stone. H. E. catches the isotope, and Shanna tries to soften the soil to break Ka-Zar’s fall. But it’s not enough!
So we reach the true crux of the issue. H. E., wracked with guilt, offers to “evolve” Ka-Zar somehow so he can survive. Shanna is having none of this:
She wants to save Ka-Zar using that weird native medicine, like “naja root” and “bark from the Haruka tree.” H. E. wants to use fancy “powers,” but Shanna has come to realize that “there’s no greater sin than tampering with the natural order.” She wants to save him as a human being, because that’s what he would want. If Ka-Zar had cancer, Shanna would probably want to save him by leeching him and chanting over his body! She demands that H. E. transfer her power back to the Terraformer, so he does, reluctantly. She also tells the Savage Landers that they should accept Ka-Zar as their king once more when he wakes up. Screw those democratic reforms! Three panels later, Ka-Zar wakes up. This cracks me up, even though I know it’s unrealistic because it’s a silly fantasy comic. He fell from a height of … let’s say 1000 feet. It certainly looks that high, if not more. He landed on the ground, and although Shanna used her powers to break his fall, he himself says it won’t be enough. Shanna puts her crude poultices on both cheeks, his nipples (?), and his upper arm. This somehow cures the broken back he must certainly have, even if he’s not dead. Yeah, okay. Let’s not think about it too much!
So Ka-Zar feels no effects from falling from the height of the Empire State Building, and that impresses the High Evolutionary. He says he believed Ka-Zar was a “thuggish brute,” but now he respects him. He has lost much this day, but “at least [he] has gained a new insight into the capability of humans …” Well, good for him. Ka-Zar then narrates that H. E. returned to his lab “and was never heard from again.” Oh, please. He’s a Marvel character! Of course he’ll be back! In an odd twist, H. E. takes off his mask and is revealed to be an ape. WTF? Now, this wouldn’t bother a first-time reader, because they’ve already suspended their disbelief so much already, but when did H. E. become simian? He wasn’t always that way, was he? Is Waid fooling with us, and this isn’t the real High Evolutionary? Wouldn’t that be just like Waid? Wikipedia doesn’t help me, by the way. It mentions his appearance in this issue, but doesn’t address his appearance. What’s going on????
Anyway, the final two pages are wrap-up, as Ka-Zar narrates that things got back to normal, even though Shanna suddenly was unable to raise plants. Oh well. The story ends with Ka-Zar heading off with Zabu to do some manly hunting. But wait! There’s more. The new creative team offers us a story behind this one, and all we have to do is flip the issue over!
Priest and Martinez give us a fairly simplistic story, as Priest is just setting up his run. Ka-Zar is on a subway, in between two dudes pointing guns at each other. He tries to take them out, and as he does, a gun goes off right next to his ear and some woman maces him. He takes out the bad guys, but can’t understand what anyone is saying for some reason, plus he’s blind and deaf from the gunshot and the mace (so how can he even hear what the other people are saying?). Then a cop shows up, but Ka-Zar decides he’s a bad guy too, because he has a gun. Zabu shows up after someone pulls the emergency brake, and the two of them escape with the woman who maced Ka-Zar. Odd.
Then we’re in the Savage Land, where Shanna and Matthew are communing with nature. After her experience with the High Evolutionary, Shanna can no longer feel nature, and she’s upset. Suddenly Ka-Zar wakes up in New York, but he blacks out quickly and we’re back in a flashback. Shanna tells Ka-Zar he needs to go to New York while she and their son go on a pilgrimage. Of course, there’s a bad guy watching her, and he has nefarious plans! Meanwhile, Ka-Zar wakes up in New York in the mace woman’s apartment. He’s still blind and deaf yet able to hear voices, which still make no sense to him. The newspapers and television are all abuzz about the wild man of the subway, and how there’s a manhunt on for him. Man, that can’t be good. But we’ll have to find out all about it next issue!
This is a fascinating example of how a comic book tries to draw in new readers. I’ve noted before how good Marvel was at this sort of thing back in the mid- to late-’90s, before, presumably, printing costs got too high and they cut things to the bone. A first-time comic book reader picking this up would, most likely, chuckle at the goofiness of the recap, but at least they would go into the story knowing what’s going on. And the issue itself is a fairly straightforward showdown, and once you get past the silliness, it’s the story of a woman who loves a man. How sweet! Even without the recap in the beginning, we get enough to the basics to follow along – the plot, ultimately, doesn’t really matter that much, because all we know is that the High Evolutionary is a misguided but not evil dude who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know how and Ka-Zar is the hero and that Shanna will eventually come to her senses. Waid and Kubert do a good job with the adventure, and even if the love story is a bit simplistic, it’s a nice summation of their relationship and sets up the rest of the book well.
Marvel even does something nice and gives the new creative team part of the book, so if you were buying the comic for Waid and Kubert, you could see what’s in store for you after they leave. The biggest problem with the new story is the art, which is not very good. Kubert has always been a bit bombastic, but his work is stellar compared to Martinez, who shows the worst excesses of Nineties art with none of the pizzazz. Priest’s story isn’t bad, but is a bit nonsensical. He’s deaf but he can hear people talking to him? And he can hear them, but not understand them? He’s still blind from the mace after many hours? I’ve been tear-gassed, and a friend of mine, who was also gassed, got some in his eye. His contact lens melted, but he was able to see after a few minutes. So what kind of powerful mace did that woman spray in Ka-Zar’s face? It’s an interesting direction to take, and although the art isn’t very good, it has a good hook. There’s nothing to keep you from picking up the next issue unless you’re just not interested in a Priest/Martinez book because you love Waid/Kubert so much. If you’re interested in Ka-Zar, this works fairly well.
It probably works because Ka-Zar isn’t that big a player in the Marvel Universe. Therefore, it’s easy to get into his back story and get caught up. Based on what I read of the second story, I wouldn’t have bought the next issue, but it wouldn’t be because I had no idea what was going on. At least there’s that!
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