“Enter the Primitive World of … KONG the Untamed”
Thus read the heading of DC’s Kong the Untamed. Not to be confused with the big gorilla from Skull Island. Now THAT would have made an interesting comic book.
This Kong was interesting too. The text from the first issue’s letter page tells us the DC editors decided to try to revive the caveman again in comic book form. They tried some years back with Anthro. He debuted in Showcase and lasted six issues of his own comic in 1967.
Not that these were bad issues. In fact, the series started out with quite a pedigree and lots of potential. Alcala’s art, a staple of horror comics from DC and Marvel, gave the series a dark and ominous feel – you never knew what was around the corner. In fact, the first two issues seemed to be an attack followed by a chase followed by an attack. It was of limited appeal and limited scope. Nowadays it would have made an award-winning 12-issue miniseries.
Later issues lightened the look and the tone. Gerry Conway, fresh from his writing duties on Amazing Spider-Man, gave the book a “Lost World” tone by bringing in dinosaurs (something the letter columnists begged not to happen) and a Romeo-Juliet-like romance. After the dark and brooding first two issues, it turned into Kazar-lite.
#1. July 1975, “Kong the Untamed” by Jack Oleck ( w ), Alfred Alcala (a), Joe Orlando (e), cover by Bernie Wrightson. Born with blond hair to Attu, Kong is prophecy reborn! A mighty warrior and leader he shall be! Trog the One-Eyed, the tribal chieftan is jealous and fearful of the stripling and banished his mother and newborn child. As Kong grows on the outskirts of the tribe – he learns to hunt, forage and fight! When he asks to play with the children of his tribe, he is pelted with stones. When he is older, a teenager, he is attacked by a Beast Man (a Neanderthal – Kong and his tribe are Cro-Magnon). A capture/escape/chase commences between the tribe, the Beast Men and Kong and his mother. Eventually the tribe catches up with Attu and kills her. Kong vows revenge against Trog and the gods who cursed him with his blond hair!
Wrightson’s dark cover set the tone for the issue maintained by the art of Alcala, known for his art in horror books for Marvel and DC. The writing and art show us a dark and cruel world at the dawn of man. Whether the comic would last for dozens or hundreds of issues is doubtful; but the debut showed great potential.
#2. September 1975, “Blood Brother” by the same team. Cover by Wrightson. This comic features the full-page ad touting their Adventure Line!
Kong is attacked by wolves. The rock he throws in defense causes a spark. When he is safe, he learns to make fire! Kong is captured by the same tribe of Beast Men from issue #1 but is rescued by Gurat – the Beast Man he bested last issue. Gurat respects the yellow-haired stripling! The two outcasts join together to fight off Gurat’s Beast Men tribe and a deer-hunting Cro-Magnon tribe and become as brothers. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
#3. November 1975. “The Caves of Doom” by the same team, but with scripts by Gerry Conway. Cover by Bill Draut.
A cave provides shelter from a storm until Kong and Garut are captured by Kong’s former tribe! In escaping, they go deeper into the cave until they find a hidden valley of living dinosaurs and spear-toting humans! It is revealed that Trog is Kong’s father.
Uber-fan the late Richard Morrisey has a letter in the letter column – the only one with negative things to say about the book. Although it is better than Tor, he says, he predicts a swift death due to its lack of scope. At least it doesn’t have men fighting dinosaurs. In this issue, Kong and Gurat fight a dinosaur…
#4. January 1976, “Valley of Blood”, Gerry Conway ( w ), Tony Caravana (a), Jo Ingente (i), Joe Orlando (e), cover by Bill Draut.
Kong and Gurat are attacked by a human in this valley of dinosaurs! A spear hits Gurat and is left for dead by a river as the stranger takes Kong to his village. Kong, after the required fistfight, eventually befriends his apologetic captor, named Rolan. This new village is led by Priestess Jelenna in a society ruled by women! Jelenna strikes Kong for his male-centric views and Kong swears revenge (after getting revenge on Trog of course. Kong is getting an enemy’s list as long as Nixon’s by now…). Kong helps Rolan kill a Spiketail (a dinosaur) to win the hand the priestess’ daughter Sharra.
#5. March 1976. “Bones of the Martyr”, Gerry Conway ( w ) David Wenzel (i), Bill Draut (i) – although comic lists both as illustrators and does not say who drew and who inked, Joe Orlando (e), cover by Bill Draut and David Wenzel.
Rolan tries to foment a revolt of the village men against Jelenna. Sharra sides with her mother and the other women as Rolan is put to death. Meanwhile, Gurat is captured, and then befriends, by a pteradactile-riding tribe of Cro-Magnons. They attack their sworn enemies – Jelenna’s village – and rescue Kong. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but I wonder where the series would have gone …
Anthro outlasted Kong by one issue – two if you count his Showcase debut. So much for bringing back the caveman. Maybe they should have tried a comic starring a big gorilla instead…
Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael Curry