The X-Men #10, March 1965
“Primitive warriors!! Mounted on giant carnivorous birds!! They’re about to attack us with rocks!”
Central Conflict: The X-Men Vs. “Primitive Warriors”
And the Noble Prize in Literature goes to…
Everyone loves a Marvel Girl.
By now, nearly every X-Man has expressed in either dialogue or private thought bubbles a heart spasm for Jean Gray. And why wouldn’t they? She’s pretty much the only gal around the X-Mansion or these pages. But Jean, as we know by now, isn’t interested in Warren, Bobby, Hank or Charles. She’s hot for Cyclops. Cyclops, meanwhile, only has eye for Jean. The omnipotent lens of the comic panel confirms this for us early on in issue 10, while Jean telepathically assembles (why not?) a rifle.
Like a rookie, Cyclops interrupts a moment of some heavy gazing with Jean to wonder why Warren (Angel) isn’t in the Danger Room training with them. The X-Men all scramble off to find Warren watching the news in the den. He’s absorbed in a story about an arctic expedition which recently spotted, and filmed, a wild man in a loin cloth, accompanied by a sabretooth tiger. Like all expert scientists confronted by something they don’t understand, they open fire. Tarzan and his tiger disappear into a crevasse.
Convinced that this bikini-briefed Tarzan-clone must be a mutant, the group campaigns Xavier to let them go after him. (Now, if you’ve seen the cover of this issue, you might expect that you’re in for an adventure with a Tarzan-knockoff. You’d be right. You probably wouldn’t expect them to go calling that out in the first panels, but they do. Hey, why front? I guess.)
The X-Men’s charter is to locate other mutants and persuade them to join their ranks. Believing Tarzan to be a mutant, they’re hot to trot to find and palaver with the wild man. They lobby Xavier for the greenlight to go adventure, but the Professor pumps the brakes saying, “There is no need to concern yourselves, my X-Men! He is not a mutant! If he were a true mutant, my sensitive Cerebro machine would have recorded his presence! Also I would have mentally sensed it! And yet… It is true that you’ve been inactive for weeks… and being young and adventurous, such a mission might be good for your morale!”
The X-Men are thrilled to be given permission. But… what is their mission then? If they know Tarzan isn’t a mutant, why are they going after him? What will they do when and if they find him? This doesn’t seem very thought-out, Professor.
But regardless, off our X-Men go to the arctic in some snappy winter gear.
This is where things get a little unclear. The team travels to the spot where the scientists (where have they gone?) had their run-in with Tarzan. Finding a crevasse, Cyclops peers into it with his optic blast in order to “see how far down my power blast ray can penetrate.” Why? The unintended (and inexplicable) consequence of this: “Look! Your ray caused a geyser of snow to shoot up behind us!” This—somehow—reveals a hidden tunnel, through which our intrepid teens go spelunking.
Now we’re in new territory. Plumbing the depths of this tunnel reveals a hidden, interior world of temperate climates, relict animal species, and outsized alien flora. We have traveled through the crevasse and passed squarely into the realm of Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Harryhausen. The speed picks up and the art becomes exponentially more vibrant. The narrative sticks with Angel for a while as we get a high-level tour of this savage land. “It’s like a vast animal burial ground! But the bones… they’re the wrong size! They’re the skeletons of… monsters!”
Angel tangles with pterodactyls while Cyclops blasts them out of the sky. The team scampers about in this untouched wonderland taking stock of the outrageous species, wilderness and landscape before them. This all comes to a grinding halt with the arrival of some bipedal militant ogres riding terror birds and swinging bolos.
The X-Men fall quickly to the machinations of the native force (slung rocks, volcanic gas bombs, stone arrows fired from quadratic bows). Jean Grey is carted off by the clan of the cave bear and only Beast is left conscious to witness the abduction. Enter Tarzan.
The wild man from the news footage arrives with Zabu his sabretooth tiger and introduces himself by repeating only “I am Ka-Zar!” (Tarzan).
Turns out, it’s pretty tough to have a conversation with ol’ Tarzan. Immediately failing to explain why they’re even there (why are they even here?) Cyclops, Beast and Iceman find themselves grappling with the wild man and his tiger, trying futilely to explain to him that they mean no harm.
Conveniently, a ruder-looking villain than they shows up to antagonize and distract Tarzan. “Maa-Goor, the killer! Last of the Man-Ape tribe!”
Even though the X-Men don’t know why they’re there, they know what they need to do now: rescue their team’s only woman. Motivated and airborne, Angel flies ahead of the pack.
But even though Angel is scoping the landscape, searching for Jean, he fails to sight the pack of rough hominids until he’s—unfortunately—within their net-throwing range. Claimed and carted off, Angel wonders, “Hoo-boy! How will the X-Men ever find me now??” Score another point for the cavemen, they’ve now bagged two X-Folk.
Our tribesmen take Angel and Jean atop a ziggurat where, horrifyingly, Stan Lee (or letterer S. Rosen) commits an error that no one on the creative team catches. Jean addresses Angel (whose real name, Warren Worthington III, was just mentioned a few panels back) as Scott (Cyclops). Mistake! Someone should write a letter. Or call it out in a blog post fifty years later.
Anyway, if you’re a rockbreaker just now reeling from the invention of the wheel, and you’ve got a couple off-world captives on your knuckle-dragging hands, what do you do? Like any good Skull Islander would, our cavemen take Jean and Angel to the sacrificial altar of Reptar. (How do you even get a dinosaur in a pyramid? And then once you let him out to feed, how do you get him back in?)
Luckily, Tarzan has tracked Angel and Jean to the cavemen’s nest.
Tarzan (whose own motivations are completely unclear) crows a rallying cry that summons a charge of mastodons.
And so the battle begins in earnest. X-Men, mastodons, Tarzan and his sabretooth tiger lay waste to the cavemen and, presumably, Reptar. “Run swamp men… Flee the might of the Jungle Lord!!”
The battle ends pretty swiftly. And the X-Men and Ka-Zar huddle. “We came here to find a true mutant, but the professor was right! Instead, we found a true friend!” Having had their fill of their weird-ass vacation, The X-Men return to their world and Tarzan’s mastodons crush the tunnels connecting their world to ours.
So, this was the Savage Land, right? This writer’s fractured understanding of the X-Men and their Universe includes a dinosaur-saturated jungle somehow nestled in the arctic where a 90s cartoon Xavier and Magneto once wandered. Though it never gets named here, this has to be that. The mythology is coming together.
Oh, and how does this new character stack up? Tarzan/Ka-Zar? Uh, not well. There’s a rich history of theft in comics and literature, sure, but the successful knock-offs must add something to the lore that’s being hijacked, right? (Examples include Fu Manchu and Dr. No, Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, a pair of sunglasses you found on the ground and Neo). So, no, Ka-Zar doesn’t pass that test right now, but we’ll see. As the final editorial lines of this issue claim, there’s more to come.