Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bomba the Jungle Boy: A Swinging Scene [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Bomba the Jungle Boy was created in 1926 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the organization that produced all those Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels by the truck load. The twenty Bomba novels were largely written by John William Duffield and included titles like Bomba and the Moving Mountain, The Abandoned City, The Swamp of Death, etc.. It was only a matter of thirteen years before the books became a movie serial starring Johnny Sheffield, now a grown Boy, looking for a new jungle to play in. Sheffield made a dozen Bomba serials from 1949 to 1955. The serials were cut into a popular TV show in 1962 called Zim Bomba. (Kurt Russell would play a parody of Bomba in an episode of Gilligan's Island, "Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy," February 6, 1965.)

In 1967, with the Zim Bomba episodes endlessly in repeat through syndication, DC decided it was time to do a Bomba comic. (There were seven issues from September-October 1967 to September-October 1968.) They would have preferred Tarzan, but Western had a long-running franchise with the Burroughs property. So if no Lord Greystoke, then his most famous clone. And to make sure the kiddies got that it was based on the TV show the title bore in big letters "All-New! TV's Teen Jungle Star!" (Many readers were not TV fans, as the letter columns showed, and the title was dropped with Issue #3. One letter writer, John Stewart II of San Antonio, Texas was familiar and made this comparison: "On TV, he has a knife, and sometimes a spear or bow-and-arrows. The television star doesn't have a pet spider monkey, parrot, jaguar, ostrich or any giant bird. All he has is a pet chimpanzee and, once in a while, an elephant or two." The comic version of Bomba was more fantastic, and fans such as Stewart liked that.

To get the series started, DC editor George Kashden set Otto Binder (science fiction writer and old pro from the Superman comics) to write the first issue. After this premiere, Kashden would write the comic himself until Issue #5, when Denny O'Neil would script the last two. The first issue had a single page text piece called "The Amazon Jungle," meant to familiarize those who thought the comic took place in Africa. The piece may have been written by Otto Binder, but George Kashden seems more likely. Either way, it's a dull one, obviously cobbled from an encyclopedia.

The story in this first issue sets the pattern with a three-part tale, similar to the old serials. A group of archaeologists come to the jungle to look for the ancient Incan temple of Xamza, but they are attacked by Jojasta and his marauders. The bad guys kidnap Dr. Jasper Craine, then ambush Bomba, forcing him to make a dangerous detour. His animal friends, the jaguar, the condor, and the emu help him to escape, then to find Dr Craine and Jojasta at the temple with the treasure. To Bomba's surprise, Craine isn't really in danger, but Jojasta's partner. The evil witch doctor uses the Mask of Xamzu to destroy Craine's pistol, exposing his double-cross. Fortunately for Bomba, his pet monkey Doto and parrot Tiki save the day.

The response in the second issue's letter column is revealing. The readers suggest in two cases that Bomba should have super-powers and join the Teen Titans. Kashden largely poo-poos this, reminding the readers that this is a jungle comic and it should remain true to that formula. Later letter columns would only contain letters in support of traditional jungle characters. While I agree with Kashden personally, it does show that some readers wanted something more modern and it should be no surprise that the comic only went to seven issues.

The artwork in the first two issues was done by Leo Summers, an artist who got his start in the pulps and would later do work for James Warren's Creepy. His work on Bomba is adequate, but nothing to grab fans by the throat. (Unlike Carmine Infantino's cover for Issue 1!) Jungle comics had a long tradition before 1967. The jungle style created by Will Eisner for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle had been copied by virtually every jungle lord or lady after 1938. Summers doesn't try to emulate this out-of-date look. It is closer to what Western was doing in Tarzan and Korak, Son of Tarzan. Jack Sparling would take over with the third issue and not really improve on Summers.

Issues #3-5 featured a mix of traditional Tarzan plots with "The Deadly Sting of Ana Conda" having more tribesmen after gold, but two more experimental stories featured animated tree-men in "My Enemy...My Jungle" and a robot idol in "Tampu Lives... Bomba Dies." Tina, the local girl who wears a flower-print dress, is featured in these three issues. A love interest for Bomba, she morphs from simple native girl into a hip teen saying, "Maybe you ought to try a folk rock beat, Bomba! You know how mod these animals are nowadays!" Not surprisingly, the response for Tina was poor and she had to go.

Along with the character, editor and writer George Kashden also went. In the editor's chair, Dick Giordano took over. In writing, Denny O'Neil brought a new feel to the comic. Issue Six relates the history of a new villain, Krag, a baddie from out of the past. O'Neil writes the entire issue without dialogue balloons, making Sparling's art feel different. This experiment was not repeated in Issue Seven, when the dialogue balloons returned. To defeat Krag, Bomba has to go to the city and wear a suit. This last issue ends with him running towards his beloved jungle, stripping off his civilized dubs. Bomba was cancelled after Issue Seven. The changes by Giordano and O'Neil came too late and didn't really offer anything better. The feel was more modern, but somehow less jungle.

In 1973, DC would finally get their chance to do Tarzan right, with Joe Kubert scripting and drawing the comic. Though a commercial failure, Kubert's Tarzan was a high water mark in Burroughs-related comics. Bomba would be back as a back-up feature to the ape-man, with old artwork from the Bomba comics reworked as "Simba" for copyright reasons. DC retained the rights to their artwork but not the name. Looking for cheap filler, they did not want to pay to use Bomba's name again. And so Bomba faded from the world of comics, under an alias.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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