"Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Jungle Adventure, Volume 2"
(Marvel Comics, 2011)
Genre comics at their most genre-y...!! Like the Tarzan films they sought to mimic, these 1950s "jungle" comics are easy targets for mockery, but also for affectionate appreciation. The stories are resolutely silly, full of contrivances and limitations, though punctuated with moments of brilliance. For pop culture/history buffs, there are a number of shrill anti-Communist storylines (and they are a real hoot!) some funny sexism (the female heroes, who headline their own stories, are repeatedly told by their male companions to stay away from dangerous situations) and a fair amount of not-too-subtle racism (although one series, "Waku, Prince Of The Bantu" has surprising depth, given that the main character is an African in a 1950s pulp genre). The animal stories -- with lead characters who are lions or apes, etc. -- are kind of silly, too, but also unusual and fun.
What all these stories share in common is fabulous artwork. Some of the most talented illustrators of the era are included in this collection: Joe Maneely, John Romita, Bob Forgione, Al Hartley and others, all giving these ridiculous short stories their draftsmanlike best. There's also some nice stuff from George Tuska, an artist whose work in the 1970s always seemed slapdash -- but here he's a much more controlled, classy artist. The Marvel/Atlas books of the 1950s often highlight a graphic craftsmanship that stands in great contrast to second-tier competitors, with a strong pool of talent, many of whom were, arguably, working at their peak. This book is an excellent example of that work, and a real treat for readers who delight in retro kitsch. I'm looking forward to more of the same -- though what I'd really love to see is some equally well-curated collections of Marvel's '50s romance books, which also have a similar charm. (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain childrens book reviews)