By GW Thomas
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 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.
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 gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.