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Subj: Jungle Jim #1 - What On Earth...
Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 at 07:54:30 pm EST (Viewed 413 times)
You have never heard of Jungle Jim. You have no idea who or what this character is; and so upon opting to try out this first issue you are putting your faith in the intriguing Darwyn Cooke cover showing a rough n' ready machete wielding hooded figure. It looks earthy. Perhaps 'Jim' is an outcast Tarzan-type, content in his life in the deepest heart of the jungle amidst the splendors and challenges of nature? or perhaps he is a more civilised adventurer in the Indiana Jones mold? Whatever, it looks to be worthy of your time. So past the cover and the introductory credits page will be the thing that stops you cold first -
PREVIOUSLY:A merciless conqueror attacked earth, knocking our technology back one hundred years! But earth's defenders rebelled and Prevailed! And on other already-conquered planets rumour of earth's victory spreads, spurring new pockets of rebellion...
What is a first issue for? To introduce. Create characters. A situation. A sense of time and Place. A first issue has to do all of these things, and above all it has to sell the readership an accessible and coherent concept.
As Jungle Jim opens accessibility doesn't appear to have been at the forefront of the publishers mind. After the bafflingly oblique introductory text on the credits page, which worryingly suggests you have somehow missed an important chapter before this debut first issue, comes the actual first page of the story and a descriptive caption that tells us we are in 'The Pillaneese Jungles of Arboria. All bloods day. 9:52 in the morning.'
Arboria... where on earth is that? Nothing will appear in a quick Google search other than a reference to it being a destination for Flash Gordon, clearly absurd no? But never mind, the opener shows a shabby and disgruntled group of futuristic soldiers muttering curses about Monkeys and Squirrels, so clearly earth. As they succumb to an attack from waves of bugs we hear one call the name of Jungle Jim, and it is clear from these two pages that Jim is an urban legend of sorts, a ghost in the woods. The set-up of a quasi-Mythical figure is an engrossing thought, and one which writer Paul Tobin will carry through the issue as the mythical Jungle Jim comes to be the target of disparate parties. But if the reader was expecting this to be a story set in an earth based location with a lead who is part eco-warrior, part Rambo, then the next pages abrupt shift will either send them packing in bewilderment and indifference or... well, not.
We are thrust into an alien jungle city populated by a blue skinned advanced culture of human looking aristocracy. Surely this cannot be earth then? Invaded by aliens? A post apocalyptic world in the distant future? Well wherever we are and whoever the two we are introduced to are the talk is all Jungle Jim. A myth, a phantom, a superstition. And the possible answer to all heir dreams and problems. The use of legend by Paul Tobin to underpin this opening narrative is a clever one in many ways, legend is heroism, and it is being made apparent that a legend means different things to different people. The desperate see Jungle Jim as a peoples hero, a man of the people who will come forth to aid them in times of oppression. The oppresive on the other hand will always see such superstitions as challenging social order and threatening their leadership. And this then seems to be the intent behind dicovering if Jungle Jim is actually real for the varying parties. Certainly as we are introduced to the blue skinned Prince Barin and young lady Lille seeking an answer to the Jungle Jim conundrum the question is an intriguing one for the reader, what is not intriguing is just where and when we are in this books narrative. Earth? Alien Planet? In case you are unfamiliar with the name of Prince Barin the next two pages reveal all as lille is introduced to two of his Beast men who may be willing to help her in her quest and we learn she hopes to mount an audacious rescue of her brother, who is a prisoner of his majesty Ming the Merciless... on Mongo.
Flash Gordon. Jungle Jim is a subsiduary of Flash Gordon's world. Indeed to add insult Lille even lets slip she is only looking for him as she was unable to contact Gordon himself.
At this point what is the average reader likely to feel about this book, which promised one thing, only to deliver something altogether different. Is the unearthliness and fantasy of Flash Gordon really an appropriate way to market a book seemingly about a survivalist and Jungle expert called Jim? The reservations from those who actually KNOW who Jungle Jim historically was, i.e. an adventurer and hunter roaming the jungles of Asia in much the same vein as Alan Quartermain, will be even more critical and lost with this radical a reinterpretation. The premise is awkward and actually makes little or no sense - particularly as this Jim is presented as some form of Jungle god with shapeshifting abilities and able to control both plant and animal life to impressive effect.
In terms of focusing on the plot though questions and holes are already apparent, Lille is seeking a man who for all intents and purposes does not actually exist, Can't exist. Men don't become legnds and myths overnight, and quite why Lille is willing to expend the time and energy chasing a fairytale figure who would have to be at least a hundred years old when she says she intends to raise a small group to free her brother is something the reader shall have to resolve for themselves. There is no given reason for why she thinks this man is both real and currently active. But as we go on to see Jungle Jim is indeed very active once more, but why? Why now...?
If the production of Dynamite's Jungle im #1 shows anything it is what happens when marketing concerns gets in the way of what works best for a character and concept. The cover art, the name, the history - all of these things tell us that this character is rooted in the world of the classical big game hunter and colonial explorer. Updating that premise to reflect more modern concerns and appetites would not be unduly difficult, quite what then influenced Paul Tobin and his Publisher to uproot the concept to a purely science-Fiction John Carter pastiche is a matter for them, but the the finished result of this move is a book which is initially a puzzlement to understand, and as it unwinds feels more like a Flash Gordon book than one worthy of a character dubbed Jungle Jim. Are we on earth or Mongo? Upon consideration of the clues withing one has to settle on Mongo. But what or who 'Jungle Jim' is and where he comes from will need a very good explanation. Quite apart from being incongrous to the location the man who eventually introduces himself to Lille and companions bears little in common with the man roaming the Asian peninsula, this instead is part shaman, part Manimal.
Despite the disasterous introductory aspects Jungle Jim #1 does have many commendable points to its merit. The writing as the tale progresses becomes more crisp and confident as Lille sets of on her mad quest, most intriguingly Lille has a secret, and we are made privy to what it may be.
Immediately likable the Blue skinned girl and her two Beast-Men are clearly intended to be our guides to this series, Ming the Merciless is an omnipresent threat as his tyranny is the force which serves as the background element driving the book on. If Jim is set to serve as a resistance fighter set against this oppressive rule then problems may arise as he is encroaching on the mission of Flash Gordon himself, If it is to survive Jungle Jim has to find its own mission statement, its own way forward. As despite the deeply flawed premise there is actually the potential for a a very readable book. Paul Tobin's character work is enjoyable, and the series visual style is a success too with Sandy Jarrell's ability to tell a story complements Tobin's light suspense style very well.
In some aspects then the book can be hailed as a success, the artwork is very reader friendly and there are things to like within it once the story gets well and truly underway. But as a lesson in how to present a first issue to new readers this is regrettably the book I would choose to hold up as a prime example on how not to do it. Because Jungle Jim #1 as a book never seems at all comfortable in its environment, the fact being it doesn't belong in this environment... this is instead Flash Gordon.
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