Title: Beastie Boys
Subhead: Mark Waid and Andy Kubert will make you care about Ka-Zar
Published: Wizard #69 (May 1997)
There Mark Waid was, on the phone with artist Andy Kubert, scanning through a list of Marvel characters. Kubert was ready to leave the X-Men after six years, looking for a new project and wanting to work with Waid.
They wanted something new, something fresh, something different. So Waid set about investigating the “available” pool of Marvel characters, seeing what the two could collaborate on.
Iron Man? Nope, already committed to the “Heroes Reborn” project, along with the Fantastic Four, Avengers and Captain America. Daredevil? Sorry, spoken for. Ka-Zar? Well, yeah he was available, but…he was Ka-Zar. The savage guy with a knife. A cheap knockoff of Tarzan and Conan. Even fans couldn’t care less about Ka-Zar, let alone his wife Shanna and his sidekick saber-toothed tiger Zabu.
But there he was, and in actuality, he was perfect. In this age of high-tech toys and flashy gizmos, Ka-Zar was the definitive throwback vehicle for Waid and Kubert. It had all the elements—nostalgia, simplicity, and a plotline dealing with relationships, coming of age and fatherhood. Besides, Kubert grew up as a major Ka-Zar fan.
And so it began. There was just one problem…getting Waid out of his 90s type mindset and into the world of Ka-Zar the Savage.
“I can’t think of any character that embodies less any of the things that reflect my own life, as I sit here in front of my big 50-inch Mitsubishi and my surround sound,” admits Waid. “I’m really not much of a roughing it kinda guy.”
So obviously, Ka-Zar’s a tough sell. Heck, even Kubert had to do his share of convincing before Waid felt comfortable with the character. After all, in today’s power hungry mutant-mindset, a second-string supporting character with no superpowers, no flashy costume and two previous failed series, Ka-Zar’s the last name on everybody’s lips.
But that’s all about to change. Combine Waid, one of today’s hottest writers, with Kubert, the former X-Men artist, and fans’ ears will start perking. Throw in a major push from Marvel and you’ll find yourself hard pressed to avoid this series.
“I read the first issue,” says Marvel Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, “and it’s a lot of fun. It was exactly what everyone hoped it to be—a really fun read that grabbed you and said, ‘Hey what’s gonna happen to this guy’s life next?’ I’m real excited. I hope the fans go for it. I really, really do.”
Building the Perfect Beast
So Ka-Zar’s in your face. You like Waid’s writing and can’t get enough of Kubert’s pencils. But ultimately it’s still Ka-Zar. What could Waid, the writer credited with such high-profile superhero books as Flash, Impulse, X-Men and Captain America, possibly do with a powerless character like Ka-Zar to make you care? Not much initially, which explains Waid’s hesitancy with the book. But once the writer—known for his strong characterizations and supporting casts—discovered that the series was less about Ka-Zar and the Savage Land and more about his relationship with his wife Shanna, everything started coming together. Ka-Zar wasn’t so much Tarzan as he was the anti-Tarzan.
“Ka-Zar’s the one who was old enough when he was dropped in the Savage Land to remember Big Macs and the Brady Bunch and FM stereo,” says Waid. “Coming of age in the lawless jungle certainly adjusted his perspective—he didn’t have a whole lot of time to reminisce about FM stereo while fighting a triceratops to death. But there’s still some sense of something missing in his life, and it hasn’t been a problem until [he and Shanna] had their kid.
“Now that he and Shanna have a baby and he’s cast in the role of father, he finds this strange longing in him for the things he had when he was a kid. For some reason, Shanna is getting more into the Jungle Goddess thing and he more and more is missing the fact that he can get falafel from a street vendor. This is getting to be a real conflict and it’s going to be a real problem between them.”
So apparently there is some depth to Ka-Zar. He’s not just, “Me, Ka-Zar. You, Zabu.” But there’s still no flashy costume. No flowing cape. Heck, the guy doesn’t even wear a shirt half the time. He’s Tarzan and Conan wrapped into one, and thrown into a prehistoric jungle.
Enter Kubert, whose vivid pencils will most certainly pump some visual life into our hero. And Kubert learned from the jungle master himself, his dad Joe Kubert, who breathed excitement into Tarzan in the 70s?, with lush vegetation, ferocious beasts and spacious landscapes.
“I loved my dad’s Tarzan stuff,” he says. “That’s why I liked Ka-Zar because he was along those lines. He has no superpowers, he doesn’t fly, he’s got no telekinesis and he’s not a big giant guy. So I gotta do a lot of body language. I’ve gotta make him real fluid, especially in the action scenes. I’ve gotta make it look like this guy can take care of himself, even against big gigantic guys. He’ll have a 90s type of body, a real cut trim body.”
And then there’s the hair. Long and scraggily, you could’ve ripped it off Conan, slapped it down on Ka-Zar and nobody would notice. That’s why Harras wanted it changed. “Even though it sounds kinda simple, [updating the hair] was definitely a challenge because I wanted to do something that was 90s and I wanted to do something that would give him movement and flow,” says Kubert. “So, I looked through a lot of model magazines, and actually came across it by mistake. My sister-in-law works for a printing company in Manhattan and she sent me [some magazines]—I was looking for reference for suits and ties and stuff—and there was this guy who had this hairstyle that was Ka-Zar. When I saw it, I said that’s him. So I tweaked it a bit. I gave him this big curl kind of thing in the front, so when he’s fighting it flies all over the place. That part I was very happy with.”
The Past is History
A new look and a modernized attitude are great, but remember, Ka-Zar’s a character who’s had two previous series that failed pretty miserably. Is there really anything there, and is the third time truly the charm?
Marvel certainly thinks so, which is why the company’s putting some pretty big muscle behind the series’ launch. That’s because Harras has a lot of faith in these two creators, something he hopes will carry over to the fans. “Andy and Mark both really wanted to do this project,” he says, “and if those guys want to do something, I’m willing to go along for the ride. I’ve usually found that if the artist and writer are excited about something, that will translate into a book that the fans are excited about.”
Besides spending some big-time bucks on advertising, Ka-Zar’s been popping up in recent issues of Sensational Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. You can’t buy better visibility than that. And don’t think Harras sent out an edict demanding a certain number of Ka-Zar appearances before the relaunch. It’s more like a wave of…desire, of all things. “People heard about Ka-Zar,” he says. “He showed up in Spider-Man because I believe Mike Wieringo wanted to have his fun with dinosaurs and Ka-Zar as well. Adam [Kubert, Andy’s brother] is doing the Hulk and he wanted to have fun with Ka-Zar too. It’s one of those things where I think when people hear this character’s on the road back, other creators want to join in on the fun. And it doesn’t hurt that you get him back in the spotlight a little bit before you launch him.”
Rhinos and Tigers and Dinos, Oh My!
So the excitement’s there. The exposure’s there. But will fans ultimately take this new series seriously? After all, it co-stars a tiger named Zabu. Sounds more like a Disney cartoon or that green-skinned sissy cat from the old “He-Man” series. He’s not though. This one’s a ferocious saber-toothed beast who’s much more than just an animal sidekick. “He’s like Captain America’s shield,” says Waid, “but he’s smarter and he’s got a tail.[Laughs] He’s as much an extension of Ka-Zar’s right arm as Cap’s shield is of his right arm. They just have such a repore, Ka-Zar and Zabu.”
Okay, then there’s the villains. A jungle scene and a Tarzan-like hero? Gee, if we’re lucky maybe Ka-Zar’ll take on a rabid wombat or a ticked off gorilla. But wait, lest we forget, this is the Savage Land, home of the dinosaurs! “There will definitely be a lot of them,” assures Kubert, who’s love of “Jurassic Park” was a main influence for his drawings. “I wanted to do it because I wanted to do something completely different than I’d done before. You wouldn’t believe the amount of dinosaur books I’ve got in here. It’s hard to come up with technique and it’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun.”
As for more human-like villains, the duo clearly have some in mind. “All we know,” says Waid, “is we want to use the Rhino. I want to use all those Spider-Man animal named villains.” Kubert enthusiastically agrees: “I want to put the Rhino in so badly. So bad, man. I just think it’d be fitting for him to be in there—it’s the jungle and this giant cool character. I had a lot of fun doing the Juggernaut in X-Men, so it’d be a lot of fun to do the Rhino too.”
Waid adds that he would like to see Ka-Zar interact more with Marvel’s other heroes. After the first three-issue story arc in the Savage Land—where Ka-Zar goes up against Gregor, the man who trained Kraven the Hunter—the book moves to New York City for three issues.
“A big part of the focus once he gets to N.Y., is what’s Ka-Zar’s life like in the city? Once he and Shanna are in N.Y., he enjoys playing this kind of Colombo role. He enjoys the notion that people think he’s a stupid savage. So there’s no end to the information he can pick up when he just keeps his ears open. And Shanna adores that about him. Shanna just thinks it’s a hoot that he will play up the role of the incredibly wealthy savage in public. And when they get behind closed doors, they’ll just laugh their assess off about what he was doing in public. ‘Ha, you ate the lobster with your bare hands, that was really great. Next time, swing from the chandelier. I dare ya!’”
So apparently looks are deceiving. On the surface, Ka-Zar’s still that same ol’ B-Grade supporting character. But underneath, this book has all the ingredients for a big hit: one part hot writer, another part hot artist, two parts guest appearances and four parts strong publisher push. We can only hope these guys cook the mix just right.