The Savage Land has always seemed like an underutilized setting for Marvel Comics, only popping up in various series from time to time when a McGuffin needs chasing, a character needs to make a surprise return, or a writer just really wants someone to fight a dinosaur. This week, the Savage Land and its most famous inhabitant, Ka-Zar, finally receive the long-overdue spotlight in Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land #1, written by Zac Thompson and illustrated by Germán García. While the series is a delight to look at, it's simply a building block for something more, a decent starter for a good story that may or may not actually arrive.
After "dying" at the hands of aliens, Ka-Zar is brought back to life in the Savage Land, and the series begins by showing he's not the man readers saw last. He's plagued by nightmares of his childhood, reminding him that he was brought to the Savage Land to colonize it and forcing him to wrestle with the sins of his father. He's also dealing with new abilities given to him upon his resurrection, which both benefit and hold him back at times.
Ka-Zar and his wife, Shanna, continue to protect the Savage Land, and they're doing their best to raise their son, Matthew, to do the same. Teenagers in normal circumstances are complicated, but raising one in the Savage Land brings forth an entirely new set of issues. In addition to watching over a land that isn't his, Ka-Zar needs to figure out how to keep his son from repeating the mistakes of their ancestors.
García's art is clearly the star of this first issue. It's subtle and often muted, but always intentionally so. The style is meant to invoke a simpler time, letting readers bask in the purity of a place largely untouched by the hands of man and the industry he develops. It's reminiscent not just of classic Savage Land comics, but also the Tarzan books that inspired Ka-Zar in the first place. Color artist Matheus Lopes really brings it home with a clever, reserved palate that puts you at ease, even when there's trouble afoot.
The script itself has both a whole lot more and a whole lot less going on. The characters are intriguing, and the family at the comic's center have some good back and forth, but it's pretty shallow overall. It really all depends on what happens next, because this tale could become something great, or take a sharp turn into some difficult territory rather quickly.
There's a "white savior" element to Ka-Zar, a British-born royal that serves as lord and protector over a largely untouched jungle filled with native people. Thompson is careful not to lean into this, but rather take a step back and examine why that isn't a good thing. A third-act reveal makes it seem as though the existence of Ka-Zar's family could ultimately be what brings danger to the Savage Land, and that would be a wonderful way to bring this all full-circle, connecting the character's past to the future and addressing how to improve these stories. It's a fine line to walk, one that countless creators have tripped over in the past, but Thompson seems to be moving in the right direction.
It feels like a cop-out to say "wait for another couple of issues to see where this goes" when reviewing a comic's debut. Every comic builds on its first issue. But there are series that showcase their greatness from the jump. Others only take a few pages to convince you to steer clear. Lord of the Savage Land doesn't get close to either category. It's a decent story with some great artwork that doesn't really leave a lasting impression once you set it down. Is that really such a bad thing?
Published on September 8, 2021
By Marvel Comics
Written by Zac Thompson
Art by Germán García
Colors by Mathews Lopes
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Jesús Saiz