Thursday, 22 April 2010

Jungle-Action #15. The Black Panther gets the point.

Don McGregor, Black Panther, Jungle Tales #15, K'RuelIf Johnny Rotten was right and he was the Anti-Christ, it strikes me that Don McGregor is the Anti-Kirby. Here, Jungle Action #15, he gives us the exact same concepts as Kirby would but approaches them from exactly the opposite direction.

Just as Kirby would've done, he gives us the Black Panther using a pterodactyl as a kind of airborne surfboard. Just like Kirby, he gives us, in King Cadaver, a man shrunken by radiation but gaining a giant head. And , of course, we get the issue's villain of the piece, who Kirby would no doubt have labelled Cactus Man.

Cactus Man; you can just see him stalking the pages of the Kirby Panther comic, with his powers of a cactus. But, whereas with Kirby, it would all have been an escapist romp with no emotional consequences for its protagonist, here, every page, every panel, is a feat of endurance for the characters (and occasionally the reader). This isn't Cactus Man, this is K'Ruel, and the whole tale lives up to that sobriquet as T'Challa is shot at with napalm, penetrated by a thousand spikes, left tied-up out in the sun, attacked by a pterodactyl and dropped from the sky towards a jungle of thorns. He's not the only one suffering. In the interludes, we get to visit the supporting cast, all of whom are having a tough time of it.

Don McGregor, Black Panther, Jungle Tales #15, Monica Lynne
The days when Wakanda's main worry was a man who can't spell the word "claw" are long gone. Under McGregor's stewardship, the forces of revolution have risen against our hero. Because it's Don McGregor, the Panther isn't totally right and the bad guys aren't totally wrong. In fact, some could argue the Panther is completely wrong.

He's been wrong to spend all his time in America, having adventures with the Avengers, and neglecting his own kingdom. He's been wrong in failing to have ever asked his people if they actually want the brave new Wakanda he's created around them. Because it's Don McGregor, we know this because he tells us, using lots and lots and lots of words. Possibly the worst part of the story for this is where the Panther's American squeeze Monica Lynne visits some of the locals and promptly goes off on a long speech about plates that really makes no sense. Even McGregor seems to acknowledge this as the old woman Karota totally fails to understand the point she's trying to make.

It'd be interesting to see a Don McGregor synopsis. I'm used to hearing Stan Lee talk of the "Marvel Method" and how he'd often give an artist only a rough outline - or even just a sentence - and then leave him to get on with it, and how this became the standard practice for all writers at Marvel. But that can't be how McGregor did it, can it? The way Billy Graham's visual story-telling works in this tale's so similar to how Craig Russell's worked in Killraven that I assume McGregor must have given his artist something altogether more detailed to chew on. Graham's work seems darker, more visceral, than Russell's, with none of the light touches Russell would throw in, but the use of flashbacks, the pacing and the interludes is remarkably similar.

On re-reading, I think I prefer this to the Killraven story I reviewed a bit back. It has all the same flaws as that but, somehow, the moral ambiguities of a rebellion against a super-hero king who spends most of his time in another country and has made no attempt to listen to his people, seems to lend itself better to McGregor's style. It's still not perfect. Too many words, too little structure, too many cut-aways to other scenes that add nothing to the story. But, as with Killraven, it's wrong to dismiss it out of hand - even if you're not sure you're ever going to be able to make the effort that it'd take to read it again.


R. W. Watkins said...

Yes! The majestic #15; my all-time favourite issue of Jungle Action. Frankly, I prefer Don McGregor and Billy Graham's Jungle Action Black Panther over Jack 'King' Kirby's self-titled magazine. I have complete sets of both, and I can honestly say that I've never gotten around to reading more than one or two of Kirby's creation. They simply don't have the stories to draw me in, and Kirby's style is not well-suited to the mighty Panther of the Dark Continent.

Laugh all you want, but I actually think that #15, with its thorns, lizards, pterodactyls and other exotica, is about as close as we've come to having an appropriate comics visualisation of Jim Morrison's other-worldly and often reptilian poetry! Billy Graham should have been hired to do illustrations for The New Creatures.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed revisiting this post, Steve - one of your best. Love the idea that McGregor was the anti-Kirby.
Cactus-man would have been great...

Not that I dislike the dauntless Don's Panther - probably my fave Marvel of the mid-70s after Warlock - but in retrospect it does seem a bit overdone.
Having set up the series to make a point - about racism, Africa in the 70s, modernity and tradition or whatever - in the end McGregor didn't actually seem to have much to say.

Funnily enough, it turned out that Kirby's original vision of an advanced super-technological society from FF 52 - produced at a time when both decolonisation in Africa and the fight for civil rights in the US were very much going on - was the more thoughtful comment after all.


Steve W. said...

Thanks, Sean.

And thanks too, RW. I seem to have missed your comment when it was first posted all those years ago. :)

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