Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dinosaurs in Comics: Enter the Savage Land!

This week sees the release of Avengers: The Initiative Special Featuring Reptil#1, a special one shot comic which features a variety of dinosaur-related Marvel super hero characters. For my friends Craig and Traumador, I'm going to take this opportunity to discuss a few of the elements appearing in the comics for any palaeo-enthusiasts out there who need some Comics 101.


So, we start with the most significant homeland of dinosaurs in Marvel Comics, the Savage Land! This hidden repository of prehistorical creatures first appeared in X-Men #10 (1965), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was obviously inspired by other hidden lands (the Lost World, Pellucidar). But before I get into the land itself, I have to mention its two most significant inhabitants: Ka-Zar the Savage and Zabu the saber-tooth tiger.

The character of Ka-Zar actually dates back to the 1930s when Marvel published pulp novels; Ka-Zar was a vaguely-Tarzan-like white man raised in the jungle by the lion Zar and went on vaguely-Tarzan-like adventures. When Marvel entered comics publishing in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 - Ka-Zar was there. But within a few years he had vanished to obscurity. The Ka-Zar introduced in X-Men #10 had the name and fashion sense in common, little else.

So, the history of the Savage Land is best followed by following Ka-Zar. Ka-Zar made appearances in several Marvel titles over the years (including Daredevil). In the late 1960s Marvel began to expand their lineup for the first time in more than a decade (due to near-bankruptcy in the 1950s). Among the new titles in 1970 was Astonishing Tales, a split book which co-featured Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom. Eventually, Ka-Zar sent Dr. Doom packing and became the sole feature of the title. Astonishing Tales only spent so much time in the Savage Land, however; Ka-Zar was soon dragged out of the jungles and went on adventures with SHIELD, separating him from his most unique selling point - his environment. During the run of Astonishing Tales Ka-Zar picked up a second title - Savage Tales. Begun as Marvel's first black & white magazine, Conan the Barbarian was usually the head feature but he drifted out when his own title (the Savage Sword of Conan) was launched. Ka-Zar dominated the series and the Savage Land itself picked up a feature of its own in the final issue, published 1975.

Although Ka-Zar was eventually driven from Astonishing Tales, he came back with his own title almost immediately. The new Ka-Zar book was set mostly in the Savage Land and featured his first meeting with Shanna the She-Devil, a female jungle hero whose own series had been cut short. However, it would take a few more years before Ka-Zar & Shanna would team up on a regular basis. During the Savage Tales stories, Ka-Zar befriended Bernard Kloss, a stuttering palaeontologist who became a regular character in the ongoing Ka-Zar series. Kloss was notable for his unbridled enthusiasm toward everything in the Savage Land and his inabilty to be frightened by the various quite-frightening denizens of the land. Unfortunately, Ka-Zar's series ended in 1977 on a cliffhanger which was swept under the rug in a subsequent X-Men appearance.

In 1981, Bruce Jones launched Ka-Zar into a new series which featured Shanna as a regular. It was during the course of this title that Ka-Zar and Shanna became married. It was also the first time that someone tried to explain just what the deal with the Savage Land was. Lying in the midst of Antarctica, it was a little hard to believe how a lost civilization of dinosaurs could survive. Jones expanded the Savage Land further with Pangaea, a plateau with civilizations which were further-advanced than most of what had been seen in the Savage Land at the time; Pangaea was revealed to have been something like an amusement park built by ancient Atlanteans. However, the ultimate revelation behind the Savage Land was that it had been built as a conservation measure by aliens but then left alone and forgotten. The science fiction turn in those issues of Ka-Zar was perhaps an ill-fit, but the title ended just then in 1984.

Since then, writers have tried destroying the Savage Land but it can't be kept down; a reasonably successful Ka-Zar series launched in 1997 to great acclaim, but sadly went under the following year. The Savage Land still turns up regularly in Marvel comics, often in the X-Men titles where it first appeared.

The Savage Land is great because it doesn't (and never did) require an explanation. Lost lands where dinosaurs still roam are a trope of so many fictional worlds that I don't suppose it bothered too many people that the Savage Land went without an origin for its first two decades. Now that it has an origin we can safely ignore (just like virtually every writer since 1984), it's simply a playpen for stories set in the Marvel Universe. Everyone from Spider-Man to Deadpool has taken a trip to the Savage Land for some dinosaur fun. It's the place where dinosaurs live; simple as that.

More on Dinosaurs in Comics tomorrow; be sure to pick up the Avengers: The Initiative Special Featuring Reptil! You can read a preview here!

1 comment:

Traumador said...


Though I'm looking forward to Devil Dinosaur myself!