Comics Watch: Why Marvel Should Make a Ka-Zar Movie

X-Men No. 3 Cover - Publicity - H 2019
Leinil Francis Yu/Marvel Entertainment
This week's issue of the mutant comic delves into the Savage Land, an area ripe for adaptation.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen.

Dinosaurs, mutants and Beyonders. These are all staples of The Land Where Time Stands Still, better known as the Savage Land. In this week’s X-Men No. 3 by Jonathan Hickman and artist Leinil Francis Yu, the X-Men journey into the Savage Land to confront a new threat to their recent sovereign nation of Krakoa. Although a frequent locale for the adventures of Marvel’s mutants, the prehistoric biome in Antarctica has served as both battleground and retreat for characters ranging from Spider-Man, the Avengers and more obscure heroes like Moon-Boy and Devil Dinosaur. Those well-acquainted with the ins and outs of Marvel’s characters may also best know it as the home of the jungle man, Ka-Zar, his wife Shanna and their pet saber-tooth tiger, Zabu. As the decades of comics set in the Savage Land have proven, the territory is just as rich in storytelling potential as New York City, Wakanda and Atlantis. Despite that fact, the Savage Land has remained somewhat under the radar in terms of its pop-culture status, due to its lack of media appearances outside animation and video games, that may stand to change given Marvel Studios penchant for following up on old threads.

The Savage Land, created by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and Syd Shores, first appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics No. 22 (1941), and later gained its name and prominence in X-Men No. 10 (1965) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Like most aspects of the Marvel Universe, the history of the Savage Land is one of retcons, secret histories and complex origins, and given the most recent issue, Hickman and Yu’s X-Men run will certainly lend itself to a couple of those areas. Created by the Nuwali, one of the oldest alien races in the Marvel Universe, the Savage Land, became a controlled observatory for the god-like, extra-dimensional beings known as the Beyonders (see Secret War) to study evolution. The Savage Land on Earth was one of many natural preserves across the universe that held a similar purpose. Alien technology was utilized to keep the Savage Land and its prehistoric species intact, even as the rest of Antarctica and the world changed over time. When the Beyonders abandoned their experiment, the Savage Land continued to thrive, first under the care of ancient Atlanteans who created several tribes through genetic-engineering, and later through its protector Kevin Plunder, aka Ka-Zar.

Ka-Zar, the son of an explorer who had been left orphaned when his father was killed on their expedition, was introduced in X-Men No. 10, the same issue that saw the Savage Land given its name. Years after surviving on his own, Ka-Zar becomes reacquainted with mankind when he saves a new expedition of Antarctic explorers. This attracts the attention of Charles Xavier, who thinks the man might be a fellow mutant. Following the team-up between the X-Men and Ka-Zar, to defeat the Swamp Men, one of the area’s tribes of Atlantean descent, the jungle man promises to prevent the outside world from entering the Savage Land ever again. Of course, the area proved to be rich with possibility to remain untouched for long, and the Savage Land evolved into one of the Marvel Universe’s hotspots.

The rights to Ka-Zar and the Savage Land had long been a nebulous area. Though the land and a previous, and short-lived, iteration of Ka-Zar, John Rand instead of Kevin Plunder, were creations of the proto-Marvel, Timely Comics, the name and origins of the Savage Land, and the most recognized Ka-Zar emerged in the pages of X-Men. X-Men franchise producer Hutch Parker was unsure of the rights situation when the topic of the Savage Land appearing in a future X-film was broached in 2016. Marvel Studios showed interest in Ka-Zar right after Iron Man (2008), with him joining the list of B and C-list Marvel characters like Doctor Strange, Luke Cage and Power Pack who could conceivably lead film franchises. But so far there’s been no traction on Ka-Zar or the Savage Land within the MCU. Well, except for a potential Easter egg in Iron Man 2 (2010).

When Tony Stark is looking through his father’s belongings in Iron Man 2, there’s a map of Antarctica. It’s entirely possible that Howard Stark thought Captain America might have crashed there. But we know from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) that he crashed in the Arctic, in the northernmost part of the world. Given Rogers’ trajectory, it seems unlikely that Howard Stark would have presumed he crashed in Antarctica. An interesting thing to note about the Savage Land in the comics, is that its home to Anti-Metal, Antarctic Vibranium, which has counter-effects to the sonic vibrations of Wakanda’s Vibranium, and can weaken or even liquify other metals. It’s quite possible that Howard Stark had his suspicions about Savage Lands decades ago in MCU continuity, and sought out its Anti-Metal for his weapons manufacturing.

Beyond the fact that the Savage Land is playing a key part in the current X-Men mythos, and that Ka-Zar is now working with Black Panther as an Agent of Wakanda, a prehistoric, alien experiment seems like too good an angle for Marvel Studios to pass up. It doesn’t seem like a question of if, but when in terms of the Savage Land’s appearance, and where? Despite the X-Men’s connection to the location, there needs to be a lot of groundwork laid before we get there in a Marvel Studios X-film. Though Deadpool and dinos could certainly be a fun mix. The third Spider-Man seems like a likely possibility for at least a reference, given that Kraven the Hunter has made his home there recently. Some are speculating that The Eternals, which takes place over millennia, may give us our first glimpse of the Savage Land. A fourth Avengers film is also a likely candidate for Marvel Studios to set its first step into the Savage Land, especially considering that Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers kicked off with a mission to the Savage Land. But the best choice may be if Marvel Studios goes back to the idea that floated around nearly a decade ago, a Ka-Zar movie.

There’s arguably no better way to explore the anomaly that is the Savage Land, and its complex alien origins, than a film centered on Ka-Zar, Shanna and Zabu. Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige is known for being passionate about many of Marvel’s less popular characters, and looking at how to expand the genres that make up the MCU through them. Edgar Rice Burroughs' works, which Ka-Zar is obviously inspired by, didn’t light up the box office with John Carter (2012) or The Legend of Tarzan (2016), but under the guise of a superhero film these concepts may just connect with audiences.

Aquaman (2018) certainly proved that audiences are down for pulpy adventure stories with the DNA of Burroughs and Jules Verne. While a Namor film might seem like the most obvious answer to the success of Aquaman, Ka-Zar seems just as worthy, without treading similar ground, or water. A compelling new hero, a rich world of different cultures, threats, wildlife and the additional bonus of aliens who could not only expand the MCU but lead to Secret War or Wars seems too good to pass up. Marvel Studios getting its hands on the X-Men and the Fantastic Four may be the news that dominated discussion of the MCU’s future, but the Savage Land and Ka-Zar may be the surprising property, not unlike Iron Man, that the future of the MCU will be built from. And really, when you put it into perspective, is there anything cooler than the possibility of seeing the X-Men and Avengers riding dinosaurs into battle?