Dynamite Entertainment promised a return to the essence of Tarzan with “Lord of the Jungle.” And writer Arvid Nelson sets this tale roughly alongside Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novel, “Tarzan of the Apes.” In doing so, the origin in this book settles into the turn of the century, as Lord and Lady Greystoke are stranded on shores of the Belgian Congo.
Like the jungle and the dwellers that await the young couple there, this first issue is brutal and harsh. There are several vicious deaths and a few quieter passings. Nelson exhibits the full scope of potential doom in the jungle, and it would appear that no one is safe. A legend of the title character’s stature, however, doesn’t survive by being safe. He should drive the story by being lucky, skilled, and intelligent. All that, however, waits for us in future issues. The nameless lad appears in this title as an adult for only one panel, and then only in shadow, setting the tale of his origin in motion.
Roberto Castro’s art is solid and strong, with plenty of details and specifically appointed layouts. Those layouts, with distinct panel borders, make this a book with classic sensibilities, playing to the strength of the imagery contained in the panels themselves as opposed to the design or layout of those panels. Rather than dazzle the reader with wild vinery and foliage, the flora is held in check by the panels, leaving the story to principle players: John and Alice Greystoke, a troop of gorillas, and another mysterious species of ape.
With that, it has to be said that this issue appears to introduce and intermingle gorillas and the Mangani, plying the aesthetics of the Disney interpretation with the uncertainty and brilliant vivaciousness of turn-of-the-century Africa. In the novels, Tarzan is taken in by the Mangani. In the Disney version, gorillas adopt the orphaned boy. Here, the Mangani appear, as do the gorillas, not side-by-side, but one after the other. One of the groups claims the boy, but to tell you who would certainly be spoiling a major story point in this savage tale.
The story wobbles a bit with the gorilla scenes. Nelson leaves the gorillas’ thoughts in their heads and allows their actions to speak for them. That’s certainly a departure from anything that most Tarzan fans are going to be accustomed to, but for now it adds to the mystery and eeriness of the troop.
My biggest concern with this issue is the slippery timeline. When the gorillas are introduced as a troop, we see a silverback gorilla laying claim to his troop. This was a bit puzzling as it quickly followed the slaying of another gorilla by gunshot, but a year has passed according to the caption box. Closer scrutiny is required to identify that there is a fallen gorilla (completely unrelated to the one shot earlier in the issue) on the page where the male is imposing his dominance. That might be a bit confusing on a quick read, but more deliberate study smoothed out my concern.
While there is no true reference to “Tarzan” in this issue, his father is called “Lord Greystoke” on more than one occasion. Also of note, the inside cover states that this effort is “based on the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.” The story draws heavily from the novel as opposed to any other interpretation. The source is always the most pure treatment of a character. Dynamite has secured another legend for its catalog, and for only a buck, you can’t go wrong to give this a look.