Friday, October 16, 2009

Forgotten Books: Batman and Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-woman

(My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)

One definition of a forgotten book is forgetting you even have a copy. As I leafed through all of my graphic novels, I stumbled upon Batman and Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-woman. Since I’ve read and written about the first three Tarzan novels, of course I’d select this book. This is the new Tarzan Blog. (No, not really, but those of you who only read my FFB entries certainly might think so.)

In comicdom, Dark Horse Comics owns the rights to Tarzan nowadays. Ten years ago, they teamed him up with DC’s Batman. Hmm: two rich guys, both lost their parents early on (at least Bruce knew his), both patrol their respective “jungles,” what’s not to like? I have to say, going in, I was wondering how much of the Burroughs world was going to make it in the book. A good amount, really.

The story takes place in this kind of nether world: the time is vague, Batman exists in Gotham, and John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka, Tarzan, is a famous figure, having had his exploits written by “a writer” (that’d be your ERB wink). Bruce Wayne has financed an expedition to Africa and Finnigan Dent (note the name) brought back some rare artifacts to be displayed in the new Thomas and Martha Wayne wing of the natural science museum. Later that night, a person dressed as a cat breaks into the museum and Batman stops her. And then Tarzan, decked out in a white (!) loincloth *in Gotham*(come on, at least let it be leather; and why a loin cloth? You’d think he’s just take off his shoes or something.) waylays Batman. No sooner does Tarzan figure out who Batman really is (can’t hide your scent) than a band of Masai warriors attacks them. Battle ensues.

Here’s where we get the typical posturing when two characters meet for the first time. If you’ve read the Tarzan books, you know he kills his enemies if that’s the only way to protect those around him. In Gotham, he’s about to throw a warrior off the roof when Batman stops him. “No murder in my city.” (You know where this is going, right?) The different dynamic duo win and discover the “cat woman” is Princess Khefretari of the hidden city of Memnon. Mr. Finnigan Dent (there’s that name again) looted the city and plans to return to finish the job. To the Batplane, Tarzan!

Predictably, Batman and Tarzan have to travel on foot to get to the hidden city. There are some humorous (and weird) episodes along the way. When they first land, Bats is taken aback with Tarzan’s pet lion. I mean, really! If Bats knows who Greystoke is, then he’s got to know the man is at home with wild animals. Cut to a later scene when Bats thinks the bull ape is friendly...and gets himself nearly beaten to death. It takes Tarzan’s fighting abilities to save the day.

Naturally, Finnigan Dent tries to kill our heroes but not before said lion rends one half of Dent’s face. Yes! Now I know where I know the name. Dent now has, say it with me: two faces. There are enough escapes and fights to make any fan of pulp fiction happy. The best one is when our heroes are chained together and thrown into the alligator pool. After their escape (giving nothing away here), you have the single best frame of the book. Tarzan, bleeding from a shoulder wound, is stopped by Bats for a field dressing. Igor Kardey’s art shows Tarzan, eyes rolling, head tilted, assenting to Batman’s ministrations, with one line, “Very well.” This from a man who had part of his scalp torn from his head in the first book. Next, Tarzan compliments the field dressing. Batman’s reply: “I’ve had practice.” So much said in so few words.

It’s a fun story although far from earth-shattering. The art is well done. Kordey gives Batman black eyes most of time, a neat take on the standard white. Tarzan is rendered fantastically, all muscles yet haunted eyes. You have a lot of little moments (like the field dressing scene) that pay homage to various things in each character's past. I remember reading it back in the day but, as I mentioned before, forgot I even had it. Come Christmas, I’ll probably forget it again. But, as part of my All Things Tarzan mode I’ve been in, I enjoyed it and would like to read another adventure with these two quintessential heroes.


Perplexio said...

I believe there was also an Elseworlds title that borrowed heavily from Burrows Tarzan. I forget the title but it had Kal-El crashing into the jungles of Africa instead of on a Kansas farm. Kal-El is raised by apes instead of the Kents and becomes a Tarzan-like figure.

Incidentally DC's ultimate Elseworlds was Speeding Bullets with Kal-El crashing in Gotham City and being found by Thomas Wayne (before Bruce was conceived). The Waynes adopt the alien child and name him Bruce. I believe DC either has or is going to reprint that one as its been out of print for quite awhile now.

Scott D. Parker said...

Perplexio - I have a ton of Elsewords titles. They became the only comics I would be for a long time. I have the Superman one you're referring to. I think, however, he lands in India since it's Kipling who narrates the story. It was part of the 1994 initiative to have every Annual be an Elseworlds story. Batman was a pirate, a 1920s gangster buster, and others. One of the Superman titles and the JLA (?) title was a two-parter.

I also have Speeding Bullets (somewhere). I'm going to dig it up and re-read it. Thanks.

Barbara Martin said...

This is one of those books that is meant to be entertaining.

Perplexio said...

My favorite DC Annuals were back in 1991 when they were doing the Armageddon 2001 thing and showing all the DC heroes where they'd be in 10 years as one of them ended up becoming Monarch, an autocratic tyrant. The Flash, New Titans, and various Batman titles were my favorites. In one of the Batman titles Bruce Wayne came out of retirement after the new Batman, Senator Tim Drake, was killed.

Oh one of my favorite Elseworlds was just a few years ago, it had Kal-El crashing into the English Country side and being adopted by the Clarks. The Clarks discourage Kal-El/Colin from using his powers as they don't want to draw attention to themselves and they must keep up appearances. It was quite humorous and even listed John Cleese as a contributor to the story.

Perplexio said...

PS: I know you're more of a trade paperback guy when it comes to comics but I've got to recommend Adventure Comics #3. It features a guest appearance from Tim Drake/Red Robin and is one of the best one-shots I've read in quite awhile. It develops the friendship between Connor & Tim very nicely-- not to mention I love Manapul's artwork (I can't wait to see how he draws the Flash when that new ongoing starts early next year).

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