“Thun’da: King of the Congo,” a Frank Frazetta creation from 1952 published by Magazine Entertainment, unfortunately only had a single issue featuring the fantasy legend. “Thun’da” #1 was a cover to cover Frazetta work of art, but the character quickly succumbed to editorial pacification and cinema deals which excluded him from receiving any compensation, forcing Frazetta to abruptly leave his creation.
“Thun’da” #1, the new revival by Dynamite written by Robert Place Napton with art by Cliff Richards, sadly, does not come close to the expectations set by that issue — the effort is not quite there and the lack of heart is evident.
It’s much too generic, never at any point establishing a location, leaving the reader questioning if we’re in the Congo or some off-beat Savage Land. Similarly, no identity is given to Roger Drum, the pilot who crashes his helicopter in this mysterious land and later is donned the moniker “Thun’da.” He wears no rank, no nation’s flag on his uniform, nor does his crashed bird. This is a major vice in modern war comics — a fear to pin any specific traits on their warriors, from rank and nationality and nearly everything else. We get a “guy in camo fatigues” and it’s not the same, muting any attachment we’re supposed to feel for the character.
This is attempted to be made up for in the narration and Napton getting inside Drum’s head. It fails — there are too many words where none need to be. This series should be about the art, and it’s not. Richards does a decent job with what he’s given in the script, but scenes could have been cut and a better story told with a striking scenic panel as opposed to Drum mumbling broken English.
Drum’s flashback scenes drag the issue on, killing the pacing. It feels like Napton was dragging things out as long as possible for 22 pages. I don’t care about Drum’s relationship with his dad or what he was doing with whatever government he was working for before crashing in this ambiguous land. It’s trying too hard to insert a layer that has no reason being there. At the end of the original “Thun’da” #1, Frazetta had established a distinct identity for the character. I have no clue who this guy is supposed to be.
The pacing is slow — it takes five pages before we see a dinosaur, and Drum is horrified. He first encounters a T-Rex, and Richards gives an homage to Frazetta’s issue having the beast devour the crashed helicopter. Drum vocalizes upon seeing the carnivore, an awkward “Gasp!” It seemed superfluous, but in the original Drum let out an expressive “Holy cow!” upon seeing a pterodactyl. It’s the only instance we see Thun’da as a frightened man. In this issue he gasps again — and then again.
Frazetta’s Thun’da is brutal. This modern Roger Drum is scared and lacks confidence. He loses focus often, even stumbling when confronted by Krag, the sabretooth tiger king. This was a key moment in the original issue, as it left Thun’da bloodied for the first time. Krag’s death in this revival is a badass panel by Richards, but the issue needs more if it. One panel is not enough. More man vs. beast violence is desperately needed for this series to work — it’s what Thun’da was originally all about. He had viciously and mercilessly killed a pterodactyl, at least six savage cave people and the enormous serpent known as The Father of All Snakes by the 10th page of the original. In this issue, besides Krag, Thun’da shoots a rabbit.
What’s worse, Jae Lee’s striking cover art is a textbook example of exciting a potential buyer, but then deflating them by the artwork and look of the pages inside.
A redeeming factor is a reprint of Frazetta’s original issue following the main story. Without the reprint, this issue would score 1 star but that touch of class matters. The 10 page story has been re-colored when compared to Dark Horse’s 2010 archive edition. Another bright spot is the implication the dinosaurs will be harassing Drum beyond the first issue. Once Frazetta left “Thun’da” after issue #1, the dinosaurs of the Lost Land became a rarity. Hopefully the giant lizards stick around a lot longer with Dynamite.