Dynamite’s revival of several classic characters briefly published by King Features Syndicate in the 1960s continues this week with King: Jungle Jim #1. Although not as famous as other King heroes like Flash Gordon and the Phantom, Jungle Jim’s been around in one form or another since 1934, so his name should still ring a bell with comics fans even today. The story of a shape-shifting jungle-dweller joining an underground resistance movement to battle the forces of Ming the Merciless isn’t a particularly original set-up, but does provide a great opportunity for pulpy, action-packed adventuring. It comes as a big disappointment, then, to discover that the issue actually peaks with Darwyn Cooke’s nostalgia-fuelled cover art.
If a mediocre comic is based on very old source material, it can be difficult to determine how much of it is deliberately cheesy homage, and how much might actually just be unimaginative writing (see also Dynamite’s recent John Carter: Warlord of Mars series). The reason that King: Jungle Jim #1 is such a huge let-down is that, while Paul Tobin and Sandy Jarrell clearly are aiming for pulpy homage, their attempt is so witless and devoid of charm as to read like a simple reproduction of the original ’60s strips. The few elements of the story which do betray a post-millennial edge, including a homosexual rhino-man (easily the issue’s most likeable character) and an alcoholic heroine (a very clumsy attempt at character depth), can’t make up for the achingly stilted dialogue and flat, unoriginal plotting which defined an awful lot of interchangeable silver age sci-fi comics. And unlike Cooke’s cover art, which promises a romantic adventure fable with just a hint of modern sensibility, Jarrell’s pencil and ink work is largely dull and lifeless, his one saving grace being a few skillful renderings of the alien jungle’s florid oppression.
One thing the story does get right is the depiction of its titular character. Jim is conspicuous by his on-page absence for most of the issue, and the result is an effective atmosphere of suspense as resistance fighter Lille Devrille and her two companions trek into the heart of the jungle, searching for a new kind of hero who could be man, myth or monster. This hint of mystery sets Jungle Jim apart from the more gung-ho heroics of fellow King character Flash Gordon, and it’ll be interesting to see if Tobin and Jarrell continue down this route as the series progresses. On the evidence of King: Jungle Jim #1, though, they’ve a lot of work to do if Dynamite want this comic to be more than just a sad retread of an idea well past its sell-by date.