Review by Frank Plowright
Originally published in the 1960s, the allure of Tarzan the Untamed as a collection is that it showcases the talent of Russ Manning, whose figurative precision ranks with the greatest American comic artists.
At the time he wrote the two novellas combined for Tarzan the Untamed, Edgar Rice Burroughs had six previous Tarzan novels under his belt, had smoothed out any rough edges and knew his character well. During World War I both Britain and Germany controlled territories in Africa, and continued their war overseas, and Tarzan’s connection with England inspires a mild form of patriotism. Burroughs was more forthright, and much of the language used to describe the Germans would today be considered offensive, not least his original title of ‘Tarzan and the Huns’. Manning breaks the strip down and draws it, with the script provided by prolific comic writer Gaylord Dubois. Between them they excise anything that could be considered controversial, along with a lot more as Burroughs’ plot is reduced to its bare bones, but follows its episodic sprawl.
The following ‘Tarzan the Terrible’ adapts the eighth Tarzan book, with Manning having seemingly forgotten he chopped out a subplot about Jane being captured by Germans from his previous adaptation. The search for Jane provides a focus for this story in which Tarzan meets another pair of lost civilisations, these living in an area also populated by carnivorous dinosaur like creatures.
A certain formula characterises Tarzan stories, which all too frequently betray their serialised origins, but Burroughs here made some changes by removing Tarzan from his comfort zone by pulling him out of the jungle for almost all of this material. Manning makes the most of it, with a lithe and graceful Tarzan in caves, prowling around German camps, and even has a scene with Tarzan disarming a sniper and using his rifle to shoot at Germans. Sadly, there’s a disappointingly minor role for the dinosaurs. It’s his work on these and earlier adaptations that led to Manning being chosen to draw the Tarzan newspaper strip, and it’s there that he really flourished. This art is obviously the work of someone who’s technically very good, but doesn’t have the inventiveness of his Magnus work or the decorative qualities of his newspaper strips.
This now more easily found along with Manning’s other Tarzan work for comics in the 2012 hardcover Tarzan: The Russ Manning Years Volume One.