Savage Enterprises Publishing
Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

The Last Word

Ka-Zar: Destroying a Perfect Character — (September 1990) Not many people will agree with me as to the greatness of KA-ZAR. In fact, I'm pretty sure most of fandom no longer cares about someone who can in no way compare with the "special appeal" of a character like The Punisher. That is a shame, because The Punisher is not really a character. He's just a set of negative emotions unleashed in the realm of the Marvel Universe. He does some good by wiping out criminals, but even he can get boring after a while. "Hey you're a bad guy. Boom, you're a dead guy." is not what I call entertainment.

Lord Kevin Plunder (KA-ZAR) had his share of the limelight a few years ago. Sure he did have three on-going series which were all cancelled, but his last one was really something special. When he first shared billing with Dr. Doom in Astonishing Tales, the writers just didn't know what to do with him, and it showed. He was dragged into the city and became the Lord of the Concrete Jungle, fighting alongside Nick Fury and SHIELD. Considering he was a regular, yet well-developed human, out of his environment, it's amazing he wasn't killed after the first day. But death in comics is, of course, an impossibility.

With his second series, Ka-Zar Lord of the Hidden Jungle, the writers decided to keep him where he belongs, in the Savage Land. Yet, for unknown reasons, they didn't know what to do with him. It was the perpetual Tarzan theme with high-tech foolhardiness thrown in. Still, there were some fun and exciting times. It was during this series' run that Shanna the She-Devil was introduced to Ka-Zar, after failing to keep her own series alive. It was a nice touch but their relationship was not developed. Released concurrently with this series, was a black-and-white magazine starring my favourite Lord of the Savage Land. Ka-Zar took Savage Tales away from Conan after the fifth issue while Conan went off and started Savage Sword. The regular series was cancelled right in the middle of an inter-dimensional war. We had to wait a while to find out how it ended. It was finally revealed in an issue of The X-MEN.

We now reach the best run of Ka-Zar stories, and in my opinion some of the best stories of any series. This last regular series, Ka-Zar The Savage, was written by Bruce Jones and drawn by Brent Anderson. I add these names because they created something which was truly spectacular. They did something which no one before them thought of doing, fully exploring the Savage Land, even finding a secret part named Pangea which no one knew existed. It was during the exploration of Pangea that the stories really shone. We were shown vast and intriguing civilizations which lived there and were also introduced to Belasco, who later became a thorn in the X-MEN's side after kidnapping Colossus's sister and turning her into Magick. Plus, if people remember correctly, Ka-Zar was one of the first books to be tried out as a Direct-Sales title only, and with enough success to encourage Publishers to experiment with this now-lucrative market.

Yet, as all good things must end, so did this one. Once Bruce and Brent left, their replacements just couldn't follow what was done before and the book had to be cancelled. Still, Bruce did manage to marry off Ka-Zar to Shanna and we left them knowing she was pregnant. The editor's good-bye on the final issue told us not to worry, that Ka-Zar would return, and he was very hopeful that it would be soon. That is why it is such a shame what happened next.

Fast forward in time, and the Avengers are fighting Terminus. Their final battle is fought in the Savage Land and Terminus is defeated, but not after having destroyed Pangea and most of the Savage Land. The Atlantean devices which kept the Savage Land a beautiful pre-historic paradise were destroyed and the Arctic wasteland came through and finished the job. Of course, it was only until this year that we found out that the Terminus which destroyed the Savage Land was really just his flunky. What a waste.

A Savage Man with no Savage Land is really no Man at all. At least that's the way it seemed. Lord Kevin Plunder slowly drifted from book to book, not really knowing what he was doing. It was only a few years ago that he helped the X-Men with their enemies in a small part of the Savage Land which managed to survive. Shanna gave birth and Ka-Zar thought he was home again.

Now, flash forward to last month, with the release of KA-ZAR, Guns in the Savage Land graphic novel. With Chuck Dixon and Timothy Truman as writers and Gary Kwapisz and Ricardo Villagran as artists, I was expecting a real treat. After all, being familiar with Chuck's work on Airboy and his current work on Conan, and Timothy's work on Scout and Hawkworld, how could it miss? Easy, I forgot about their fascination with guns and planes.

We are introduced to a Kevin Plunder who is now riding right along the edge of insanity. He lives in filth and desperately yearns to be back in the jungle. His opportunity arrives when Wyatt Wingfoot asks for his and Shanna's help in finding another secret entrance to a different part of the Savage Land. Ka-Zar is all set and raring to go. Unfortunately, man has already found this entrance and has set up camp, mining gas from its grounds. The "best" man has to offer is also introduced, guns and planes. So naturally, when Ka-Zar jumps in to "save" the natives from man's greedy clutches, he too has to use guns. Boom-bang-kaplooie, the fight is over and the good guys won. Or did they?

Ka-Zar has been turned into what could be called a tyrant. He wants to rule the inhabitants because he believes they won't be able to live properly without him. He wants to rule all of the Savage Land and no one is going to stop him. Shanna knows he's lost it and returns to civilization with Wyatt. Ka-Zar stays behind to rule, not only with the force of his will, but with the inclusion of man's greatest "assets". Who the hell is this Ka-Zar?

Sure, he has always been proclaimed as the Lord of the Savage Land, but that was not meant as a true title. He lived in the Savage Land and watched over the inhabitants, helping them in times of crisis. But he never went around ordering them around and telling them how to live every day. In Astonishing Tales he was displayed as hating the modern world. The same applied in Lord of the Hidden Jungle where he continually kept man from setting up residence there. In Ka-Zar the Savage, we were shown that he actually missed civilization, or at least what it could offer. He did not seem like a man who would go crazy if he were forced to live in the city whether or not the natives told him he was not needed.

As stated previously, he lived apart from everyone else. He, Shanna, and Zabu had their own home apart from the myriad of villages which then existed. He helped them when asked. After all, he did have friends in the villages. So when the small scatterings of natives came together after the Terminus affair and told him he would not be followed, the real Ka-Zar would not have wimped and limped back to civilization, he would have stayed, as he always stayed, apart and happy. Which is why I keep asking myself, "What the hell did Marvel do?". They turned him into a loon and left him in a jungle full of man's evil. It took him so long to express himself to Shanna, and now he lost her to his insanity.

I'm sure quite a few people can be heard saying, "Well at least it makes for interesting reading". To those people I say, "Not a chance". If we've gotta dream, dream big. That's what superheroes are all about. Pick your favourite character, why is he your favourite? Why do you empathize with him/her? How would you feel if they totally destroyed him/her in order to make a so-called "interesting" story? Ka-Zar was always my favourite character. He was a regular guy living in a world where none of our world's garbage existed. No guns, no open warfare, no hatred, no prejudices, and best of all, no taxes. An ideal world where you lived by your wits in tune with nature. His latest story totally takes that away from him. I don't mind comic books which depress me with a sad story which makes me think. But I abhor books which depress me because of what they do to a character.

The Savage Garden of Eden has once again been destroyed by the entrance of the worst kind of serpents, guns. And now my world, the one where heroes exist and sometimes happiness can be found, has also been destroyed. Whenever things got bad in the real world, I always had my jungle where I could go and rest for a while. Now my jungle has been poisoned and all because certain people think guns are what makes a man a man.

Note: Marvel has recently revived Ka-Zar's book with Mark Waid at the helm. It's still too early for me to form a full opinion of the series since, with Ka-Zar, I prefer an overview of a body of work. Mark's track record with other characters has always been a steady 8 or 9 in my opinion. So far, I like what he's doing. But I'll have a better review of the material at a much later date.

Update Dec 2005: My Ka-Zar notes are now here:

  • [Ka-Zar The Savage Notes #1] Summary notes on early Ka-Zar (Astonishing Tales)
  • [Ka-Zar The Savage Notes #2] Summary notes on early Ka-Zar (Lord of the Hidden Jungle)

    (The Last Word (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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