Remember all of that stuff I’ve said about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #20 and Metal Men #37 recently? Well, forget it! I must have been taking crazy pills. I’ve discovered the definitive moment that ended the Silver Age: the publication of Tarzan #206, the final Gold Key issue. Want to know why? Read on.
Tarzan has been a character in comics books since the earliest days of the industry. He had been featured in different titles from different publishers before finding a permanent home in 1948. For nearly 25 years, the license to the Tarzan property was in the hands of Western Publishing (via Dell and later Gold Key). Greats such as Jesse Marsh, Russ Manning and Doug Wildey handled the art chores, and Gaylord DuBois provided endless scripts. There’s some great stuff in there – especially the novel adaptations drawn by Manning. Those were reprinted by Dark Horse not too long ago.
ERB Inc. reportedly grew disenchanted with the Gold Key comics, and when the contract on the license expired, it was handed over to Joe Kubert and DC. Tarzan #206 was the end of an era – the end of the Silver Age of comics. At one point Western Publishing had been one of the true giants of the industry, much of their success due to an endless line of licensed properties. When Western severed ties to Dell in 1962, it continued licensing properties linked to popular movies and television programs. With the loss of Tarzan (and all other ERB properties), the beginning of the end was in sight. Western would limp through the 70s, and ultimately leave the business in 1984. For the record, Dell’s last comic was published in 1973.
Tarzan was the Jewel (of Opar?) in Western’s crown and its loss was almost insurmountable. DC’s aggressive play for the ERB properties signaled that the Big Two publishers were ready to expand from their superhero focus and pay the bucks required to get into the licensed property game. While many people point to the return of horror, or perhaps social relevancy as major signals that the Bronze Age had arrived – for me, the battle over Tarzan was the key event, as the Bronze Age could have easilty been called License Age.
During the 70s, DC published the ERB titles, along with the Shadow, Justice Inc, and even Welcome Back, Kotter. Marvel would bring out Godzilla, Shogun Warriors and even the ERB books after acquiring the license in 1977. It was a crazy time bringing comics into lockstep with pop culture as tie-ins to toys and merchandise really took off during this period. There was certainly never a Tarzan Mego figure during the Dell/Gold Key years.
When Western lost the Tarzan license in 1972, a relationship that had started in the post-WW2 years came to a sad end. In a way, it was the end of innocence for licensed properties in comics. Never again would we see such a long term relationship between licensor and licensee. There was a changing of the guard and Western Publishing was entering its final years. This was the end of the Silver Age.
Next: Deby loses its Dick
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