I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
It's the SPECTACULARLY SPECTACULAR LONGBOX JUNK #1 SPECIAL COLLECTOR EDITION ULTIMATE NUMBERED HARDCOVER REMASTERED ANNOTATED DELUXE PRESTIGE SECOND PRINT VARIANT!
How about a Longbox Junk Retro Review instead?
On occasion, I like to step back away from my usual bargain bin fare to shine the spotlight on some of the older and more "valuable" comics in my collection. The comic at hand for this "Retro Review" is an extra-sized (68 pages) Gold Key one shot from 1968 featuring the one and only King of Skull Island. . .KONG!
Unless you've been completely isolated from pop culture for the past EIGHTY-FIVE years, you MUST have at least a passing knowledge of the giant ape known as King Kong.
When I decided to do a Retro Review on this comic, it struck me (for the first time that I even really thought about it) as odd that the admittedly somewhat thin tale of a gigantic gorilla has survived that many years. . .especially considering the media-saturated culture of today.
A story about a giant ape doesn't really seem to have the sort of cultural impact to still even be a thing people remember 85 years down the road. But the fact remains that if you say "King Kong" to someone today, most people will basically know what you're talking about.
So I read the comic and did a bit of research, finding out that it's based more on the original 1933 novel than on the better-known movie (due to a tangled web of copyright disputes lasting to this very day).
So then I read the original novel online (only place I could find it) and found myself enjoying a great, fast-paced little piece of pulp fiction that is still very readable to a modern audience (and much better than the original movie). But my main takeaway from the King Kong novel is that it isn't REALLY about a giant ape! It's ACTUALLY about colonialism and cultural appropriation. . .
Of course, you can just read the novel (and this comic) as a classic pulp adventure story, but I personally found the subtext to be an interesting reflection on how it's in the nature of man that when something new is discovered, the IMMEDIATE reaction is usually a consideration of how to profit from it. We as a species seem to be incapable of just leaving something alone if there's ANY chance to somehow exploit it for gain.
THAT'S the real story of King Kong. It's an uncomfortable look in the mirror at mankind's compulsion to exploit EVERYTHING! All hidden in the background of a pretty good adventure story about a giant ape.
Or maybe I'm just overthinking a pretty good adventure story about a giant ape. You decide.
Let's get into this comic!
Gold Key (1968)
SCRIPTS: Gary Poole
PENCILS: Giovanni Ticci
INKS: Alberto Giolitti
COVER: George Wilson
Let's take a look at the cover first before we get into the story. . .and what a cover it is!
I think I mentioned a while back on one of my other Retro Reviews that I paid more than I should have for a box of "Collector Comics" at an estate sale auction a couple of years back just because I wanted this comic book.
There were more "valuable" comics in there (Including a few E.C. Weird Science comics in decent shape, and each "worth" more individually than what I paid for the whole box) but THIS cover was the one that caught my eye and made me bid on the lot.
I mean. . .just LOOK at it!
The bold colors, the details on the planes, Kong's raging face, the positioning of all the elements, the sense of height, scale and movement. There's NOTHING I don't like about this cover. NOTHING!
The cover on this comic is worth the price of admission alone. Gold Key has some of the hands-down BEST painted covers of their time, and this is one of their best, in my extremely humble opinion.
Moving along. . .
The story goes like this:
We open in the 1930's on a New York dock aboard the steamer, Wanderer (Venture in the movies), where we are introduced to Jack Driscoll (First Mate) and Carl Denham (obsessive movie maker) as Denham's agent refuses to have anything to do with his crazy idea to sail into parts unknown in order to make "The Greatest Movie Ever Seen".
Undeterred by his agent abandoning him, Denham wanders the streets of New York and finds the perfect girl for his film. . .Ann Darrow, who is homeless and starving on the streets of the city. She agrees to take a leap of faith, and the next morning the Wanderer sets sail. . .
During the long voyage through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and into the Indian Ocean, Driscoll and Ann fall in love. Finally, Denham informs Captain Englehorn of their destination. . .an uncharted island with a gigantic rock in the shape of a skull and with a huge wall across it to protect the natives from "something" called. . .Kong.
Captain Englehorn is skeptical about the existence of such a large island not on any charts, but soon enough the skull-shaped mountain is spotted and the crew puts ashore on the "Isle of Kong" (Skull Island in the movie).
On the beach, the crew hear loud drums and are afraid that the natives have spotted them and are readying to attack. Denham claims to have heard similar drums before. . .not as war drums, but as part of a ceremony.
The crew decide to follow the sound of the drums deeper into the jungle and discover a gigantic wall and a tribe of natives engaged in a ceremony. . .
The natives become immediately hostile when the crew of the Wanderer interrupt their ceremony. After a tense standoff where the chief demands the strangers give up Ann (or "The Woman of Gold) as a gift for "Kong" to pay for their intrusion, the crew manage to talk their way out of the situation without violence and make their way back to the ship. . .
That night, as Driscoll, Denham, and the Captain discuss what to do next, natives sneak aboard the Wanderer and kidnap Ann! Driscoll notices her missing and realizes what's happened. He hastily gathers the crew of the ship to head to the island and rescue her.
In the meantime, the natives have brought Ann to the wall, where they tie her to an altar and call upon "Kong" to receive his sacrifice. Ann is horrified to discover that "Kong" is a gigantic ape that tears her from the altar just as Driscoll and the Wanderer's crew arrive and begin shooting at Kong. . .
Unharmed by their shots, Kong heads into the jungle, taking Ann with him. Driscoll immediately gathers a team of volunteers to pursue the beast. . .
While following Kong's trail, the rescue party is suddenly attacked by a strange creature from another time. . .a Stegosaurus! The stunned crewmen are unable to harm the prehistoric monster, but Denham has brought some gas bombs that are able to bring the rampaging dinosaur down.
After their battle with the Stegosaurus, the rescue party continue their pursuit of Kong, only to find their way blocked by a deep river. They hastily construct a raft, but as they cross the river they are attacked by a gigantic serpent that destroys the raft and forces the men to swim for safety, leaving them weaponless. . .
Despite their losses, Driscoll is relentless in his pursuit of Kong and they quickly catch up to the giant ape, who is in battle with a pair of Triceratops. Kong emerges victorious and continues deeper into the jungle with Ann, followed by Driscoll and his team. . .
The rescue party comes to a steep ravine that the men are forced to cross on a huge fallen log. As they do so, a Triceratops threatens them from one end while Kong reappears from the jungle and picks up the other end of the log, shaking the men clinging to it into the chasm below. Only Denham and Driscoll survive by swinging on vines to the sides of the ravine.
Since Denham is on the wrong side of the ravine to continue the pursuit, Driscoll tells him to go back and get help while he keeps following Kong.
With Driscoll now the sole pursuer of Kong, he watches as the giant ape barely defeats a deadly tyrannosaurus rex in a brutal battle, then continues to follow Kong as he heads toward the skull-shaped mountain with Ann. . .
At the base of Skull Mountain, Kong battles yet another gigantic creature in order to protect his prize. This time, a huge serpent! After defeating the snake, Kong climbs to his lair at the top of Skull Mountain, still followed by Driscoll. . .
Even in Kong's lair, he has to fight to keep his prize! Atop Skull Mountain, Kong is attacked by a pterodactyl. It's a fight the giant ape easily wins, but it distracts him long enough for Driscoll to make his move.
He grabs Ann and the two of them dive off the cliff and into the pool below, with Kong in hot pursuit. The strong current pulls Ann and Driscoll underwater and through a cave before throwing them over a waterfall and free of Kong. . .
As Driscoll and Ann float downriver to safety, finally arriving at the wall where Denham has gathered the rest of the crew, Kong crashes through the jungle, heading in the same direction.
Denham has realized that Kong is much more valuable than any movie he could make, so he concocts a hasty and dangerous plan to capture the beast.
Kong attacks the wall and rampages through the native village with berserk fury. Denham lures Kong toward the beach, using Ann as bait, then ambushes the beast with the remaining gas bombs. After a few tense moments the mighty Kong falls, helpless.
Denham declares that they're going to make millions displaying King Kong. . .the Eighth Wonder of The World!
The story then moves to New York City and the crowds gathering in Times Square for the gala opening night where King Kong will be put on public display for the first time.
There's tension backstage as Driscoll and Ann try to downplay the heroic roles Denham is building up for them in front of the gathered press.
As Kong is revealed to the waiting crowd, the flashing lights of the reporters cameras and the sight of Driscoll with his arm around Ann drive the giant creature into a frenzy.
Kong breaks his chains and escapes the cage he is imprisoned in, then rampages through the theater. Driscoll tries to hide Ann, but Kong quickly finds her hiding place and once again takes her captive.
Kong evades the pursuing police as he rampages through the streets of New York City, until finally, with nowhere else to go, he begins to climb the Empire State Building with Ann still his captive.
On top of the world's tallest building, King Kong roars his defiance. Below, the authorities call on the army to send planes to shoot the beast down.
The army planes quickly arrive and go on the attack. Kong gently places Ann out of danger, then turns to defend her from the strange flying things.
During the brutal battle, Jack climbs to the top of the building and manages to rescue Ann. Kong can only watch as Ann is taken away from him yet again. With a last scream of defiance, Kong is finally weakened enough by the machine guns to lose his balance and fall from the building to the street below.
As the crowds gather around the defeated Kong, Denham declares that it wasn't the planes that killed King Kong. . .as always, it was beauty that killed the beast.
Okay then. . .there it is. The comic book version of King Kong. Let's break it on down!
Overall, it's a pretty straightforward and no frills retelling of the story. If you've seen the original movie or read the original novel, then there's really nothing new here beyond it being an illustrated version of the same thing.
That's good in a way. . .and also sort of bad.
It's good because in 1968 they didn't have DVD, Netflix, On Demand, and what have you that lets us today just decide to go ahead and watch King Kong whenever we feel the need to watch King Kong.
It was only re-released a few times in theaters (the last time in 1956) and after that, shown on T.V. rarely. . .with each re-release resulting in a more heavily-edited version. This was a chance for people who might never have seen the original movie to get some King Kong.
This comic was also an opportunity for Merian C. Cooper to keep the ORIGINAL version of King Kong in the public eye even as Toho Studios released strange Japanese knockoff Kong movies that he really couldn't do anything about, due to Cooper's rights being restricted to published material during that time (note on the cover that this comic is specifically authorized and copyrighted by Cooper) and Toho's rights (as well as others) preventing further theater re-releases of the original movie.
The whole King Kong "rights" saga was (and still is) a real mess and makes for some interesting reading, but I won't go more into it than to say that this comic was partly an effort to preserve the original King Kong. . .which is a good thing.
It's also good because it DOES take the original source material (for the most part, but we'll talk about that below) seriously, presenting it to a new audience without trying to modernize or embellish it to match the times (as with the 1976 movie version of King Kong, which is SO 70's-Tastic that all it's missing is a disco soundtrack). King Kong is a classic pulp adventure and this comic gives you that classic adventure straight up with no mixer.
BUT. . .
Being based on the original novel, this comic misses a pretty big opportunity to include parts of that novel that didn't make it into the original movie or were censored out in subsequent releases, and that's a bad thing, in my extremely humble opinion.
Gold Key was one of the VERY few major comic publishers in the 60's that never displayed the Comics Code Authority seal of approval on their covers. That put them in a position where it was entirely possible for them to include scenes such as the infamous "Spider Pit" where the men thrown from the log over the ravine by Kong didn't just fall to their deaths, but were devoured by giant spiders, worms, and other insects at the bottom of the ravine (easily one of the best and most horrific scenes in the 2005 movie version of King Kong).
The novel this comic was based on is a more violent and brutal version of King Kong than any movie version prior to the 2005 release. The "Spider Pit" scene is the biggest missed opportunity for Gold Key to take advantage of with their not complying with the CCA, but there are about a half-dozen other, smaller scenes that could have made this a TRUE adaptation of the source material.
THAT SAID. . .
The good here outweighs the bad. A few absent scenes and missed opportunities doesn't prevent this comic from being a fast-paced, no-nonsense classic pulp adventure that stands the test of time, backed up with some (mostly) good art.
So let's talk about the art a moment and that "mostly" above.
This is a comic, so I can go on about the story, but the story is only half of what's going on in a comic book. Generally speaking, the art in the comic is good. . .even outstanding in places. The artist does a great job with the human characters and background elements. Unfortunately, he doesn't do so well with the creatures that Kong and the crew of The Wanderer encounter on Skull Island. . .and in many places he does a particularly poor job on Kong.
One would THINK that if you were doing a comic about King Kong, you would absolutely NAIL the title character, but through most of this comic, Kong is sort of gangly and skinny. His face is extremely inconsistent, and to be honest, Kong just doesn't look threatening except in a few panels.
It's not ALL bad, but Kong really stands out as the weakest part of the line art side of this comic. It's VERY disappointing to have the title character portrayed so badly compared to everything else.
And THEN there's the colors.
If I had to describe the colors in this comic with two words, they would be: Friggin' BAD.
I didn't include every page with this review, but take a skim through the ones I did scan, taking note of the colors on each one. There's bright pink, yellow, purple, orange, and red skies. Multi-colored trees and buildings. Kong is BLUE. The ground changes color from panel to panel. The colors are garish, inappropriate for the scene, lazily-applied, and distracting through about 90% of this comic.
The colors definitely take the decent line art of the comic down a notch and are probably the worst part of the whole thing.
King Kong is a story that just about everyone already knows. It's a fantastic pulp adventure tale that stands the test of time in its simplicity. It has a defined beginning, a middle, and an end. There's nothing fancy about King Kong.
This comic embraces a no-frills straight re-telling of the old familiar story of King Kong and I like that. I like it in the same way that I like watching The Lion King every so often. I've seen it a bunch of times. I know what's going to happen. But it's a good story and I don't mind re-visiting it from time to time.
Likewise, King Kong is a classic story I don't mind re-visiting every now and then. Do I want to re-visit King Kong (or The Lion King) all the time? I'm not THAT big a fan, but every now and then is just fine.
Is this a perfect comic? Not at all. There were definite missed opportunities to include scenes from the novel that didn't make it into the movie or were censored out during later re-releases. Although the art is generally good, the artist couldn't get a handle on arguably the most important thing in a King Kong comic. . .King Kong. The colors in 90% of the comic are bad.
But those few complaints aside, this is overall a good read with a classic adventure story that captures the imagination. It's an admittedly well-worn story, but at the end of the day it's a story that is still readable 85 years after it was originally written, and this is a solid illustrated version of that story.
Up Next. . .
Back to Longbox Junk business as usual.
Be there or be square!
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