Welcome back, gang! It’s your Monday morning Comic book Quarterback, Andy Larson, hitting you with that “Hail Mary” pass which is my weekly Read Pile segment. Y’know those articles that are seemingly thrown out there on the interwebs in hopes they educate someone somewhere on the finer points that is more comicbookery.
Is that even a word? Comicbookery? Eh…it is now. That’s true genius, folks. Making up your own words.
Anyways, with the new X-men movie coming out this week (make sure you tune in this Friday for our review of it), I thought it would be a great time to read a comic series that has something remotely to do with the world’s most famous team of mutants!
Well scratch that, let’s be honest. Most people read the X-men because of certain characters: Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Rogue…oh shit…who am i kidding?!?
Everyone reads X-men for Wolverine, and if you say otherwise, you are a poser, a hipster, or a liar. You pick.
Anyways with that in mind, you know I was gonna pick a Wolverine book as my obligatory X-men read pile for this week. But not just any Wolverine book, but one straight from the cheesecake laden mind of a true master, Frank Cho.
Yes, Apes and Babes ahoy!
Let’s get downright primal with Savage Wolverine Volume 1: “Kill Island”
Welcome to Kill Island, a mysterious forsaken part of the Savage Land, from which there is no return.
Created by a Celestial style space god centuries ago to imprison a Cthulhu type creature, it was designed to ensure anyone who was crazy enough to go exploring it would be killed by its vast number of deadly inhabitants. From crazy Cro Magnons, to devilish dinosaurs, murderous Mer-folk, to uber menacing monkeys, if it can rip your arms off and swallow them whole, you’ll find it on Kill Island.
What you’ll also find is Wolverine, who now finds himself trapped on the island, and must kill or be killed in order to survive. Working along side, Shanna the She Devil, in a quest to blow up the machinery powering Kill Island, Wolverine will need all of his healing abilities and savage fighting skills just to live to see the next morning.
Of course, Wolverine doesn’t know about the bigger threat that awaits him if he actually succeeds in blowing up the machinery as that holds the Cthulhu monster in chains. That could mean enslavement for the entire galaxy, so he’s also gotta contend with teen genius Amadeus Cho and The Hulk who want to also make sure he fails in his mission.
Things I Liked:
Okay, so I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m a happily married man. I have a wonderful wife, Nicole Larson, who most of you have either heard on the show or read various articles she’s written here. She’s a remarkable woman and my love for her has no bounds.
However, just because I’m married, doesn’t mean I’m blind.
And as a result, the effects of a good looking woman are not lost on this cowboy, especially when in comic book art. It’s a deep rooted part of my sexual psyche, reaching back to the sweaty teenage days in ’92 when Marvel would release their notorious annual Swimsuit issues. And for my money if I want to enjoy a curvy beautifully drawn woman, there’s no artist I go to more than Mr. Frank Cho.
Even GotS favorite, Terry Dodson, takes a backseat to Mr. Cho in terms of delivering the goods time and time again. You can call me a sexist, a shameful pervert glorifying titillation and the objectification of women based on their physical appearance, and I’ll take that criticism fully.
However, at the end of the day, personally, I just feel Mr. Cho has a wonderful way of blending sexuality, humor, and bubbly fun all together in a combination that can’t be beat. I mean I’ve been huge fans of his sketches for “variant covers” that have been popping up on the interwebs over the past couple of years, and I feel like they perfectly encapsulate the type art I’ve come to expect from Mr. Cho. I mean come on, tell me this below exchange between long time comic book couple Colossus and Kitty Pryde doesn’t make you laugh just a little in between the eye rolls.
Anyways, so this particular book is full of opportunities for Frank Cho to flex his muscles as it were. On top of getting to obviously drawn Shanna, which is some ways just a continuation of his work from his “Jungle Girl” series in all it’s buxom glory, we also get a fantastic fun little quest romp through the Savage Land with Wolverine getting to be our immortal protagonist and guide.
It’s sort of like playing a video game, like Tomb Raider or Uncharted, in that because Wolverine can’t die, Frank just continually throws escalating threats at him, and if he bites it from say an stone axe to neck, well, you just get to start over at the previous checkpoint.
But with that in mind, Mr. Cho opens up the narrative himself up to ton of jungle style obstacles to hurl at old Logan. From Dinosaurs, to armies of cavemen, to savage merfolk, to giant gorillas, to the final threat of the Hulk in some sort of boss battle, the reader just gets to a sampler platter of so many tropes from these kinds of jungle adventures that you can’t help but smile.
And when it’s done with such terrific artwork, it really becomes a visual treat which for me hearkens back to Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales series. From my perspective that’s pretty great company to be lumped in with.
Things I Didn’t Like:
Well, as much as I loved the art, I felt the opposite about the writing at times. And the biggest contributor to that feeling can be summed up in a play on one of my cohost, Rob Stewart’s phrases:
This is like ‘Random People Randomly Show Up Places: The Comic Book’.
I mean, the only character in this story that actually has narrative explanation for even being a part of the story is Shanna, as she was helping lead an expedition of SHIELD agents to investigate this forgotten island in the Savage Land. It specifically shows that mission, her crash landing, and then her adventures afterwards. From a story perspective, that’s clear backstory and motivation for her character to continue on with the adventure.
Everyone else including Wolverine, Amadeus Cho, and most randomly the Hulk, just appear without any rhyme or reason as to why they just decided to show up in this story. Wolverine is just beamed down Star Trek style with conveniently no memory of why he’s there at the beginning just because seemingly Frank Cho was writing a Wolverine story, from a meta-fictional standpoint that’s the easily way to get him to the thick of the action.
Same thing with Amadeus Cho, he just shows up as well with a silly explanation that he’s investigating “science stuff” but that’s not real motivation and you know it.
Then wow, again, the Hulk. Literally a deus ex machina, magically appearing from a machine that helps keep a god imprisoned on the island, only unlike a real deus ex machina, the Hulk doesn’t actually help save the day but in fact compounds the problems.
To use my analogy from before about this comic being like a video game, that’s pretty much what we are given instead of any sort of real motivation for the main characters. They are just sort of thrown it at the “Player 1 Start” position and we move immediately into the action. In fact, that’s what I kept on thinking this whole story was at first. Not so much a video game but a training simulation in a high tech VR lab at SHIELD Headquarters programmed by Amadeus Cho.
I mean it seems like an unbeatable Kobayashi Maru training exercise to take another page from Star Trek, what with the inescapable island, the host of various escalating threats, and no win scenarios the heroes have to continual face. Plus Amadeus seems so much more “grown up” and in charge in this story that I kept thinking it must be a simulation of his own design. I mean, he’s drawn like Jimmy Woo of Agents of Atlas for Pete’s Sake, all suave and in command. Not like some hip yet tragically wimpy teen genius that we’ve seen previously from this character, so ergo this is some sort of wish fulfillment story.
So I kept waiting for the payoff with after the Ancient Alien monster is released, to see the scene with everyone waking up in the lab, taking their googles off and say: “Okay, well, that approach didn’t work. Next time, Logan, don’t stab Hulk in head!”, before loading the simulation up again.
And although that narrative explanation is somewhat of a tired cop out, it makes a hell of a lot more sense then what we are given, which is pretty much nothing other than “THINGS HAPPEN!” .
One of the most interesting parts of today’s read pile was the fact that I finally got to read a book with Shanna the She Devil, and in doing so I get to tell some of the interesting history I have with this character. You see, I’ve actually known who Shanna is for a very long time. I mean…a real long time. As in she’s one of the first Marvel characters that I can personally remember, right up there with Captain America, Hulk, and Spidey. However, she’s nowhere near as famous as those characters, so how you ask?
Well it’s because she appeared in my absolute favorite episode of one of my absolute favorite cartoon shows growing up “Spider-man & His Amazing Friends”. For reasons I still don’t understand she was selected to appear along side other famous Marvel heroes such as Namor, Dr. Strange, and the aforementioned Cap in the super hero team up episode entitled “7 Little Superheroes”.
And as a result of her appearance in this cartoon, I remember scouring the newstands as a kid seeing what comic book she was actually in. It became somewhat of a frustrating quest because she obviously must have been important in order to be included in this episode, right? But none of the comics mentioned her??? What gives?!?
Anyways, I could go on about that episode and the impact it had on my childhood mind, but I think I’ll save that for a separate article where I review my favorite “Amazing Friends” episodes or something.
But in any case, Shanna was first introduced back in 1972 as part of an initiative headed by Stan Lee to create a line of Marvel comics aimed directly at women. This line also included Night Nurse (which has some links to the characters portrayed by both Rachel McAdams in Doctor Strange and Rosario Dawson’s character of Claire Temple from the Netflix universe), and Claws of the Cat (which has links to the character of Tigra and later Hellcat).
Originally the Shanna series only lasted 5 issues, but is somewhat well known for being one of comic book author, Steve Gerber’s, first forays into comics at Marvel. Plus it’s got some pretty nice Ross Andru art with inks Vince Colletta and a slew of neat covers by people like Jim Steranko, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita.
However despite that talent, Shanna never got over with fans whether they be female or male and was eventually just paired with Marvel’s version of Tarzan, Ka Zar. That was pretty much the entire extent of her existence before this book. Just a generic jungle woman who served mostly as Ka Zar’s arm candy.
It’s sad, but maybe it’s a little fitting given she seems to be direct rip off (or homage…if you want to be nice) to the more well known “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” created by Will Eisner. Sheena actually was one of the first comic book characters adapted for a TV show as she appeared on the small screen back in 1956 portrayed by the gorgeous Irish McCalla.
They also made a movie about her in 1984, which consequently Marvel did the comic book adaption of. Maybe it was her appearance in that movie that convinced the writers of “Amazing Friends” to include Shanna in that episode I mentioned before. They do call her “Jungle Queen” in the episode, just like Sheena.
Maybe they were hoping viewers would just think Shanna and Sheena were the same person…I mean…the only difference is just two letters in their names…
Look, I’m going to get real here. I will never ever give any book drawn by Frank Cho anything lower than a “C” on this blog.
I mean he could draw Shanna eating a ham sandwich for 24 pages and I’d still be like “Not much plot here, but boy is that one sexy looking ham sandwich”. Indeed, I won’t be one of these men who is afraid to say I like looking at beautiful women and Frank Cho draws incredibly beautiful women. But he also draws great jungle scenes, dinosaurs, and the like.
In a word, if there’s one thing that Frank Cho was born to draw, it was a book about Marvel’s Savage Land. And since that’s what this book is mainly about, it’s going to be a winner at delivering the goods directly from a master’s wheel house. It’s like asking Tim Wakefield to throw the Knuckleball. Some people just do something well, and it’s nice to see them do it.
Unfortunately, as great as that art is, the story is somewhat one or two steps up from the aforementioned “Shanna eating a ham sandwich”. I don’t have to rehash what I didn’t like from a narrative perspective because I basically said all of it in my “Things I didn’t like” section, especially on the character motivation part.
However, in summary, I feel like maybe Frank could have benefited from a bit more exposition instead of just tons and tons more dino fights. I mean, I really like some of the ideas, like an ancient Cthulhu type monster imprisoned on a lost forbidding island, the Man Thing type creature restoring Shanna’s life, and even the dialogue heavy parts between Amadeus Cho and the chieftain. It’s just that I can’t shake this feeling that lots of neat things were thrown into a blender and what came out came out in a jumbled mess of bad ass set pieces.
However, I’ll still bump my grade up from the standard “C” just because those set pieces were friggin’ awesome! I mean who doesn’t want to see Wolverine fight a bunch of crazy giant apes?!? Show of hands?
C’mon, raise your hand. If you don’t, I’m a monkey’s uncle.