Meet the Comic Book 'Tarzan' Wannabes

It's not easy to fill the loincloth of Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero, but a surprising number of comic book characters have tried.
Michael Kaluta/Marvel Entertainment

Considering the comic book success of Tarzan across the decades, it should come as no surprise that the errant Viscount Greystoke should have inspired similar creations in the medium, but each of the ersatz Lords of the Jungle had their own selling points to separate them from Edgar Rice Burroughs' character, however vaguely.

The five characters below are far from the only Tarzan-related comic book characters in existence — Spider-Man's enemy Kraven the Hunter bears strains of the same DNA, as do pre-historic throwback Tor, Jann of the Jungle ("Can Jann save 'The Lost Safari'?" asked one 1956 cover) and countless other characters. Each one, however, offers up a different facet of how Tarzan made an impact in the comic medium as a whole. Not only a lord of the jungle, Tarzan turned out to be the forerunner of an entire species of comic hero, it turned out.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle

Sheena is a far more interesting character from a meta-textual angle than she is in-story; an orphan who raised herself in the jungle, Sheena's backstory is actually pretty generic. One of an initial wave of Tarzan-inspired characters, Sheena has a particularly fascinating pedigree; she was co-created by Will Eisner, who would later go on to create The Spirit and be named the father of the graphic novel, and was the first female character to ever headline her own comic book (Sheena, Queen of the Jungle launched in 1942). She's also one of the first times a concept has been adapted across genres, ahead of such characters as Supergirl, Batgirl and Spider-Woman.

First Appearance: Wags No. 1 (1937)

Yarmak, Jungle King

Australian jungle hero Yarmak wasn't just modeled after Tarzan — he was created as a specific replacement for him, after Tarzan comics were withdrawn from sale in the country. This isn't a unique situation in comics, thanks to the various international licensing agreements between publishers; Alan Moore's groundbreaking Miracleman comics feature a character created to replace Captain Marvel in the U.K. after a similar situation, for example. For a last-minute fill-in, Yarmak did pretty well for himself, lasting an impressive 56 issues before disappearing into obscurity. Some up and coming writer somewhere should consider a post-modern revival before it's too late.

First Appearance: Yarmak, Jungle King No. 1 (1949)

Turok, Son of Stone

Turok's origins might not mark him as an obvious Tarzan figure — he's, at least initially, a pre-historic Native American teen lost in a valley filled with dinosaurs — but both the format of those early stories and, notably, his co-creator Rex Maxon (who drew the Tarzan newspaper strip for years prior to this series) display the effect that the Lord of the Jungle has. Latter incarnations of Turok, who has been revived by Valiant Entertainment in the '90s and Dynamite Entertainment just a few years ago, would play up the notion of an honorable figure in a savage environment even more. Think of him as aping the appeal of the original without swiping the concept.

First Appearance: Four Color Comics No. 596 (1954)

Ka-Zar, Lord of the Hidden Jungle

Perhaps the most high-profile Tarzan rip-off — I mean, "influenced character," of course — Ka-Zar first debuted as a pulp hero in 1936, before being revamped by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and folded into the Marvel comic book universe early in the line's existence. An English aristocrat orphaned in the "Savage Land" — a tropical area in the Antarctic where dinosaurs continue to exist, because comics — he was raised by a saber-toothed tiger with near-human intelligence. When not safeguarding the Savage Land, Ka-Zar periodically visits the civilized world, saber-toothed tiger in tow, to teach the urban jungle the laws of the real thing. To all intents and purposes, he's the most obvious lift from the original, with the only real twist being that he co-exists with superheroes occasionally.

First Appearance: X-Men No. 10 (1965)

Lord Blackstock

A clear analog of Tarzan, created purely to comment on the tropes and ideas behind the original character — an increasingly common trick in 1990s and early-2000s comics, with characters like Supreme and Tom Strong serving similar purposes for Superman, elsewhere — Lord Blackstock originated in Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary, a series filled with pulp and genre stand-ins to illuminate the meta-text of the impact superheroes had on older adventure fiction genres. The father of one of the series' main characters, Blackstock was a straight-up Tarzan riff inserted into Opak-re, a technologically advanced secret African society similar to Marvel's Wakanda.

First Appearance: Planetary No. 1 (1999)