Monday, April 02, 2007

Gorgo No. 15: The Land that Time Forgot

(This follows is the second in my posts about Charlton's giant monster comic books, written by Joe Gill.)

The story comes straight from the pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so much so it even steals the title of one of his books. But let's call it an homage, rather than a theft.

The story is almost certainly written by Joe Gill, but I'm a little unsure about the artist. Steve Ditko famously drew most of these comics, but this one looks very different from No. 3. Also, in No. 3 Ditko's name was right there on the splash page. No such signature here. Looking over this checklist, I only see issues #1, 4, 11, 13, 16, 18 listed, but No. 3 was definitely a Ditko issue. So we'll have to leave it a mystery for now. If anyone has further information, leave a message in the comments.

All right, on with the story. After a splash page depicting a scene we'll get to later, we start off "many years ago" as young Professor Carl Engstrom hears about a place in the African jungle where dinosaurs still live. He decides not to go, despite his interest, because of his wife and child. But his wife convinces him otherwise and they head off to unexplored African jungles where dinosaurs are expected to live. Do you see where this is going?

Of course, their "fella boys" (I assume this is some kind of slang for the black natives) jump ship as soon as they near the "land that time forgot" and Engstrom thinks they should turn back. His wife, once again, convinces him otherwise. Three days later, they see dinosaurs along the shore and they decide to head into the jungle. They are set upon by natives, Engstrom is knocked out and left behind.

Here we have a great transition between pages. At the bottom of page 5 (seen here), we get an image of Engstrom moving through the jungle and finding his wife. We don't see the wife, we only see a stressed out Engstrom's shocked face set against vines and flowers. On the top of the next page, we get a different image of Engstrom standing before a handmade wooden cross, behind him is an empty field.

He buries her body and searches for his daughter.

"But his search was in vain and finally, exhausted, mentally and physically, heartbroken and without hope, he left that land of death that time had forgotten..."

And with that, the prologue ends and we get our first glimpses of the title hero/villain. Gorgo and Orga (his mother) are swimming up river into the African jungle. On the way, they apparently fight a giant squid for food. Engorged, the duo falls asleep on the river bottom. But Gorgo, being the energetic youth that he is, swims to the surface to check things out. He smells "the odor of creatures of his own kind" and decides to go ashore.

And now, we see what has become of Engstrom. He's a bitter old professor kicking out a student for "wasting my time and yours." This student, Jay Conners, is expecting it, however, and says he's taking a vacation. Engstrom then heads off for a meeting that has been on his thoughts.

He meets a wounded explorer at the Explorers Club (what, your town doesn't have one?). It's the same place Engstrom heard about the land of dinosaurs at the beginning of the story. The adventurer tells consistent rumors of a white goddess have come out of the jungles. Also, talking about how the information got to him, the adventurer mentions this:
"No! Even the natives shun the place! You know the stories ... about prehistoric men and beasts! The other natives got their information through some mental telepathy of their own ... very strange but always true! That's all I can tell you about it, old chap!"
Telepathic natives. Fascinating! And yet this is the only mention of it. I guess telepathy comes in handy when it's hard to get a plot point to your hero.

Engstrom heads off to Africa, hoping this white goddess will be his long lost daughter. The first person he meets in Africa is his student Jay Conners who is there for his vacation, a hunting trip in Africa. The two go their separate ways, Engstrom up river and Conners through the jungle.

We follow Conners until his native baggage handlers run away. Conners, smarter than Engstrom's wife, decides he'll need to turn back. But just as he starts, he sees Gorgo tearing up trees and heading inland. So, "almost hypnotized by the adventure," Conners follows the monster into the jungle.

Meanwhile, we turn to Engstrom who is tramping through the jungle. His baggage handlers have also taken off, but Engstrom expected it. He now is hoping to find the natives that once took his wife and child. Sure enough, they come out of the trees and take him, bringing him back to their white goddess.

The white goddess has lived with the natives since she was a baby. And yet, when Engstrom starts speaking to her, calling her Gloria and trying to get her to remember him, she does! In fact, she even knows some rudimentary English. Wow! What a memory on that kid.

Now the story gets into high gear. A dinosaur attacks! It's kind of a weird looking thing.It's yellow and it's head is like an egg on its side with a mouth. It looks nothing like the more accurate T-Rex on the cover. It still looks like a dinosaur though, and it's angry. The natives decide that their goddess is no longer protecting them, so they have to sacrifice her to "Scaley." Meanwhile, we see that Gorgo's mother has risen from the river in pursuit of her child. There's a funny panel with Orga walking and all the beasts of the jungle running before her to get away. (Sorry, I don't have the editing tools or knowhow to take single panels out.)

Engstrom and daughter are tied to posts, just like on the cover. Scaley hovers over them. It seems they are doomed! That is until Conners arrives in the next panel wielding his shotgun. Engstrom tries to tell Conners that his bullets won't hurt the creature. But Conners, the able hero, says "If I can't stop it, then I can't! Anyway, I'll know I did my best!"

Conners faces Scaley down over the next page. There's one neat panel here. It's taken from the perspective of Scaley's mouth. We see black shadows of teeth above and below (picture that scene in the Empire Strikes Back when the Millenium Falcon escapes the sea slug: "The cave is collapsing." "That's no cave.") and the view below of Conners aiming at the creature. The gunshots annoy the Scaley. Conners' gun jams. It seems they are all doomed.

But then Gorgo arrives. He and Scaley rush at each other. The tremendous noise attracts other monsters and, in a scene that Peter Jackson would love, a total of three Scaleys and one triceratops join the battle. This gives Engstrom, Conners and Gloria time to escape.

On the next page, it's all neatly wrapped up in four panels. Orga joins the fight and tosses the Scaleys aside. The three explorers make it to their boat, where Conners starts hitting on Gloria. And finally we see Gorgo and Orga playing together as they head back to the river. And Conners says:

"I imagine that after they get through with it, there's nothing left of the creatures ... in the land that time forgot!"

Well, this comic book certainly had the thrills. We get Gorgo, dinosaurs and a hidden African land from the prehistoric past. We also get references to ERB, H. Rider Haggard and about a hundred other English lost world stories.

It is odd that none of the people recognize Gorgo. When Conners and Engstrom each see him for the first time, neither recognizes the creature. Which is weird, you'd think a monster that wrecked London (in the movie), New York and a few small Central American countries (early issues of the comic book) would be pretty well known by now. It's weirder because there is definitely a continuity to the stories in the earlier issues.

The art is not Ditko. Gorgo is drawn much skinnier and the T-Rex's are just downright weird. But overall I think it works. And some of the perspectives used are just terrific. The artist adds lots of fun little details in the background and other animals (monkeys hanging over Gorgo's rising form, lions and other creatures fleeing before Orga) are done with humor.

There is, of course, some racism in this story. I think that comes with a lot of these lost world type stories. They basically come straight out of an 19th-century British imperial perspective. Still, it's something that could easily have been removed. One strong African character would have done wonders for this comic.

Having said that, a lost world story is a perfect setting for a Gorgo comic and this one takes full advantage of it. A good fun story in one issue.

Next up will be Fantastic Giants before we get into Konga.

1 comment:

Clayton said...

What a trip! I actually HAVE this issue. I bought it when I was around 8 or 9 from a little neighborhood shop. I had NO idea that Ditko was involved in the Gorgo comics. I was looking for Art Adams related stuff and stumbled across this bit o' info. Thanks!