LEE GRANGER, JUNGLE KING
Created by Manly Wade Wellman and Jack Binder
Appears in Slam-Bang Comics #1-7, Master Comics #7-10 (Fawcett, 1940-1941)
Scientist-Adventurer Lee Granger parachutes into a “pygmy village” in Africa after vicious slavers bomb his airplane. It’s a tale as old as time and also, probably, the best thing to ever happen to the giant, strapping scientist. While the residents were unfriendly at first, Lee saves the life of the King after the regent stumbles into one of his own soldier’s poisoned spear-tips. In gratitude, they allow him to gentrify their village … with super-science!
In short order (haha), the rudimentary collection of jungle shelters has been overrun with tract homes and paved streets, none of which the natives need but they at least pretend to like it. A city hall is erected, Granger builds a laboratory, and educates the community that is now under his protection as to the secrets of civilization. “He teaches them about domesticated animals,” explains a busy caption in the midst of a montage, “Trains them to smelt and forge iron, and introduces them to the marvels of science.” He probably teaches them to code.
In fact, he introduces them to the marvels of science so hard that they turn into white people after a few issues, with no explanation. (Well, that is to say — you know the real explanation, but there was no in-story explanation). From the Jungle King’s third or fourth appearance, the indigenous African people over whom he presides I think might be from Norway. It’s genuinely hard to say whether this is more palatable than the original setup, although it puts an end to difficult visuals where a stern and impassive Granger directs his black villagers in their back-breaking labors…
One of the Jungle King’s other miracles of science involves performing a peculiar surgery on a wild lion in order to give it the gift of speech. This majestic beast, bridging the gap between animal and man with the power of expression, capable of giving voice to its deepest, most unknowable, most atavistic thoughts -- is named “Eric.”
Eric is frequently the high point of any Lee Granger adventure. While the strip as a whole is taking its white machismo very seriously, Eric provides hilariously prosaic interjections. Many scenes will be suddenly interrupted by a snarling lion ejecting itself from the camouflage of tall grass only to say something handy to the plot like “There’s trouble up north.” Thanks Eric.
Unlike your average Tarzan-style superhero, Granger relies on his scientific inventions as much as his physical powers and mastery of jungle skills. He invents giant arrows to take down magical djinns, and flies through the air on a biplane-backpack. He’s also not the only white jungle hero occupying this particular stretch of the jungle. Lee faces off against a human woman in a Busy Berkeley outfit who commands an army of giant ants under the earth, and allies himself with Nedda the Elephant Queen, who sounds hilarious.
If the generally prosaic Jungle King is to be remembered beyond the intriguing but undelivered-upon premise of “JUNGLE SCIENCE!” and a talking lion with an insurance agent’s first name, it would have to be this panel. Has any story in the history of Noble Savage storytelling ever managed to tell on itself so concisely as in this exchange?
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