Last year I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had not yet featured a story here on Marvel Madness that took place in one of the Marvel Universe’s strangest locations. The Savage Land. Now, in case you aren’t familiar, the Savage Land is a strange area of Antarctica that aliens turned into a vast nature preserve, placing a jungle in the middle of the frozen wastes that was populated by all manner of dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts. It’s an incredibly strange concept, and one of those funny little things to think about when you’re reading a Marvel comic that attempts to be more serious and grounded. Because, even when things were dire, and Captain America and Iron Man were involved in a bloody Civil War, there was also a weird Tarzan ripoff named Ka-Zar running around in a loincloth fighting dinosaurs in Antarctica. I’ve previously had the pleasure of telling you all about a story involving the Savage Land where Stegron the Dinosaur Man, one of my all-time favorite weird characters, hijacked a flying ark full of dinosaurs and attempted to fly it to New York in order to overthrow mammalian supremacy, only to be vanquished by the combined powers of Spider-Man and the Black Panther. It was a ridiculous story, but it unfortunately didn’t feature too much of the Savage Land. Luckily, I’ve found another story, also oddly featuring Spider-Man, that shows off the Savage Land for all of its insane glory. We get dinosaurs, J Jonah Jameson, a surprise visit from one of my favorite Spider-Man villains, and for the second time over the course of these Marvel Madness posts, we kind of retell a large portion of King Kong. Comics are wild, y’all.
This story actually takes place right after a previously discussed Spider-Man story, when Peter accidentally grew four more arms and got involved in a fight with a vampire. But, that story ended with Peter going back to normal, so this one opens with him happily swinging around, glad that he now only has two arms. He swings around, monologuing to himself, fighting some petty criminals, and as always, worrying about his love-life. He kind of had to vanish off the face of the earth while he had too many arms, so now he’s worried that Gwen Stacy is going to be upset with him. But, before we get too bogged down in romantic angst, the story abruptly shifts away from Peter and toward the real star of the show. Mr. J Jonah Jameson. He’s hosting an emergency meeting of various editors at the Daily Bugle to tell them that things aren’t going well for the paper. Circulation is down, and Jameson blames it all on television, insisting that it delivers news quicker and more efficiently, so they need something sensational. Luckily, they also happen to have their TV on just in time to see an interview with an explorer named Calkin who just got back from the Savage Land with tales of some terrible new monster living there. Which gives Jonah an idea.
That’s right, Jonah has learned that there’s some enormous monsters stomping around the Savage Land, which is already full of dinosaurs, and he thinks they should send some reporters there to get the scoop. Specifically, Jonah wants to go himself to be the reporter, and wants Peter Parker to accompany him as the photographer. Because, despite all of his usual bluster, Jonah really does respect Peter’s photographic skills, even though Robbie Robertson does point out that this may be a little too dangerous a job to give to a freelancer they don’t even give benefits to. But, Jonah doesn’t think that any of that matters, and orders Robbie to give Peter a call, telling him to come to the Bugle’s office as quickly as possible.
Which, just so happens to cramp Peter’s style. Because he’s just arrived back at his apartment with Gwen Stacy, desperately trying to come up with an excuse for why he’s been missing lately that doesn’t involve multiple appendages and Morbuis the Living Vampire. And, just as he’s starting to win Gwen over, they get the call from Robbie. And, initially Peter is very much on board. He doesn’t care about the danger, and figures that he could use the money to propose to Gwen. But, she’s not a fan of Peter immediately jetting off somewhere, especially somewhere as dangerous as the Savage Land. So, Peter decides to do something to show Gwen what she means to him, and brings her with him to the Bugle office so she can watch him tell Jonah off. Which, is a weird move, but whatever. But, as soon as Peter marches into the office, Jonah derails their conversation with yet another brilliant idea.
So, Peter and Gwen showed up at the Bugle to yell at Jonah for attempting to convince Peter to go somewhere dangerous, and in a matter of minutes Jonah ends up convincing them that not only should Peter go with him, but Gwen should tag along too. For sex appeal. Folks, J Jonah Jameson is a hell of a businessman. And, in perhaps the most shocking detail of this exchange, it totally works. Gwen and Peter decide that it makes perfect sense for the two of them to accompany Peter’s weird boss to an Arctic dinosaur haven, and they get ready for their expedition.
While Peter and Gwen hang out spending time as a couple, checking out Jesus Christ Superstar, Jonah begins wheeling and dealing, calling up all the necessary people he needs to get this expedition going. He gets the explorer Calkin on board and charters them a ship to Antarctica, and a helicopter ride from a research base into the depths of the Savage Land. And, two days later, they get going. Our trio of heroes arrive in Antarctica to find Calkin waiting for them, giving them one last warning that maybe they don’t want to go spelunking in the Savage Land. But, Jonah insists that his plan makes perfect sense, and they fly out into the Savage Land. And, after just a brief trip, they find themselves in a humid jungle, ready to track down a monster. But, before they can do that, they make time for Gwen to get changed into a bikini. Because J Jonah Jameson runs a respectable newspaper. And, once that important task is handled, they begin exploring, and immediately find something ominous.
Yeah, that appears to be a giant sacrificial altar in the middle of a supposedly uninhabited jungle. And, if our heroes weren’t creeped out enough by this, Calkin informs them that the beast they’re hunting, Gog, is much larger than this statue. And, even though they literally just arrived, Jonah has apparently gotten antsy, and has decided that he’s going to just start pounding on that giant gong to see what happens. Unfortunately, as soon as Jonah starts ringing the gong, a group of strange proto-humans come rushing out of the jungle, apparently the natives of the Savage Land. They run their furry little bodies up to the crew who instinctivly back up until they reach the altar.
Luckily though, the little cavemen appear to be terrified of the altar, even though they approached when its gong rang, and they won’t get close enough to attack our heroes. But, as Jonah begins talking out of his ass about their ways, a mighty roar comes echoing through the jungle, causing the cavemen to flee in terror. And, the source of that roar is none other than Gog, who comes crashing out of the brush, wearing a weird little tunic, and clearly very unhappy. But, before our heroes can think of anything to do, Gog grabs Gwen and just marches away and into the jungle. But, as you might have guessed, Peter is not okay with this. He goes chasing after Gog, careful not to use his spider powers and have everyone realize who he is. Which turns out to be a miscalculation, because Gog immediately just flicks Peter away like a bug, sending him careening off a cliff.
Peter’s in pretty rough shape from that fall, but he’s alive at least. And, because he’s now far away from Jonah and Calkin, he decides it’s time to put his costume on and give chase. He does briefly consider the fact that there would be no plausible reason that Spider-Man would independently be in the Savage Land, thus revealing his identity, but Gwen’s safety is more important that his secret identity. So, Peter suits up and begins swinging through the jungle, attempting to track down Gog and save his girlfriend before she gets Faye Wrayed.
So, while Spider-Man is swinging through the jungle, tracking down Gog, Jonah and Calkin are just hanging out next to the helicopter, wondering if it’s time to just cut their losses. Jonah actually is pretty upset that his actions have led to the presumed death of two young people, but he’s also pretty bummed he can’t get any great pictures for his newspaper as well. Luckily though, as Jonah is complaining, Ka-Zar shows up, having heard the sounds of their disturbance. And, weirdly enough, Jonah apparently has already met Ka-Zar from an adventure when Ka-Zar came to the city. So, the two have a bit of a relationship, and after Jonah tells Ka-Zar what’s going on, the jungle warrior agrees to help track down Gog and attempt to save Gwen. Which, is going to prove harder than we may have believed, because it turns out that Gog didn’t kidnap Gwen for his own purposes. He was acting under the orders of his master. Kraven the Goddamn Hunter.
Folks, I have made a startling discovery. After double checking the archives I have found that this is somehow the first time that I’ve ever discussed Sergei “Kraven the Hunter” Kravinoff. And, if you weren’t aware, Kraven is the best. He is the world’s greatest hunter, who has traveled the globe, fighting all manner of beasts before deciding his destiny was to hunt the most dangerous game. Spider-Man! Which, doesn’t go well for him. But, he’s apparently decided on a different challenge, and now lives in the Savage Land, controlling Gog, and looking for the one thing he needs. A queen. And, thanks to Gog’s handiwork, he has found his queen.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is swinging around the jungle, desperately looking for Gog. Which, primarily takes the form of him fighting giant snakes. But, eventually he finally comes across Gog, who is currently Gwenless, crossing a raging river. Spider-Man realizes that even though Gwen isn’t with Gog, if he follows him he’ll certainly find her. But, that means he’s going to have to cross the river. Luckily, he finds a small tree near the river-bank, and uses it to catapult himself across the river. Which works well! A little too well. Because Spider-Man ends up over-shooting his destination, and landing smack dab in the middle of a pit of quicksand.
Spider-Man obviously start panicking inside the quicksand, and begins looking for a way to freedom. Luckily, he has web-shooters, which he can use to anchor himself and pull out of the quicksand. Unfortunately, he’s also Peter Parker, and Peter Parker has the worst luck any human being has ever had. So, after anchoring onto a tree limb, he just rips the branch right off. And, it turns out that was his one chance, because his web-shooters are now jammed and useless. So, it looks like Spider-Man is going to die suffocating in mud trapped in a jungle in the middle of Antarctica. The heroes death.
Luckily though, right before Spider-Man succumbed to the sand, he’s saved by Ka-Zar, who has also been tracking Gog. He’s able to pull Spider-Man out of the muck, and the two quickly catch up. Ka-Zar explains that he knows what’s going on, and promises to help Spider-Man find Gwen. Which is a good thing, because Gwen is currently hanging out with Kraven while he monologues about how great he is. He explains that he grew bored being the greatest hunter in the world, because he’d successfully conquered every possible animal. But, when he learned about the Savage Land he decided that it was his new destiny to travel there and dethrone Ka-Zar as the king of the jungle. So, Kraven traveled to the Savage Land, and almost immediately found a downed spaceship. Logically, he started poking around in the ship, and stumbled upon something unexpected.
So, yeah. Kraven started wandering around inside of an alien space-ship and came across a little pen, inside of which is a little tiny Gog. And, because Gog was wearing pants, Kraven decides that he’s an intelligent being, and not some sort of animal. So, Kraven frees little Gog from his prison, and decides to raise him like a son. Together they journeyed the Savage Land, and Kraven quickly realized that Gog was capable of growing to a tremendous size. Every day he began to double his size and weight, and with Kraven’s encouragement Gog became the towering figure that he is today. And, with Gog as his muscle, Kraven has apparently taken over the weird caveman civilization in the Savage Land, forcing them to built that altar to mighty Gog.
And, while Kraven is delivering this insane exposition dump, Spider-Man and Ka-Zar finally locate them. The heroes creep along the trees, listening to Kraven’s story and coming up with a plan to take him and Gog off guard. And, because Peter is still worried about Gwen finding out that he’s Spider-Man, he offers to take care of Gog while Ka-Zar fights Kraven and rescues Gwen. So, Spider-Man swings past Gog, punching him in the face and causing him to chase Spider-Man into the jungle before Gwen or Kraven could recognize that Spider-Man was there. Which, gives Ka-Zar the chance to shine. The two begin doing battle, fulfilling Kraven’s dream of defeating Ka-Zar. Which of course involves Kraven using his usual tricks to turn the tides against Ka-Zar.
Ka-Zar and Kraven continue to beat the shit out of each other, yelling about the law of the jungle, honor, and all sorts of other stuff that doesn’t really matter in regards to the story at hand. Eventually though Kraven gains the upper hand, and is able to get a noose around Ka-Zar’s neck, attempting to strangle him off a tree-branch. But, before succumbing to death Ka-Zar is able to kick Kraven off of a cliff, watching while the Hunter falls into a deep crevasse. He then runs over to Gwen, telling her that she’s going to be alright, and starts taking her back to Jonah and Calkin.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is fleeing from an enraged Gog, leading him further and further away from Kraven. And, after a while, Spider-Man appears to have lost Gog, and begins trying to find his way back to the helicopter. Unfortunately, while doing so he stumbles upon an enraged tyrannosaurus rex, which tries to attack him. But, before Spider-Man is forced to fight a dinosaur, Gog comes crashing through the trees, and starts fighting the tyrannosaurus rex, really enhancing those King Kong vibes. And, after a brutal fight, Gog is triumphant, and continues chasing Spider-Man. Luckily though, he’s realized where he is, and Spider-Man is able to lure Gog exactly where he wanted him. The quicksand patch. Gog comes crashing into the quicksand, and Spider-Man just coldly watches as this confused alien suffocates. And, with Gog taken care of, Peter takes off his costume and returns to the camp, much to the shock of Jonah and Gwen. But, they’re all reunited, and after brief farewell with Ka-Zar, they decide to return to New York, never to come back to this cursed place again.
This story is a pure delight, from start to finish. I am absolutely floored by the fact that this is the second time I’ve discussed a Spider-Man story that functioned as a loose retelling of King Kong, and especially so because they’ve both been very different parts of the story. Hell, this story even ends with a dedication to the memory of Carl Denham, the fake director who led the King Kong expedition in the movie. What a weird thing! And, beyond that, this is just a spectacularly strange story. The idea of J Jonah Jameson chartering an expedition into the Savage Land in order to increase circulation is a great one. And, of course he’s bring Peter along. Bringing Gwen to take sexy pictures was kind of out of left field, but still within the realm of possibility. Where the story really goes the extra mile, and why it becomes that special brand of insanity I’ve come to crave from my Marvel stories, was the idea that upon reaching the Savage Land they would find Kraven the Hunter who has been raising a strange alien as his terrible son. That’s just so brilliantly insane, and I love it. Kraven is a wonderfully odd character, and the idea of him hanging out in the Savage Land with an evil alien that he’s raising to help him conquer a race of cavemen is spectacular. Which makes it a shame when Spider-Man shows up and kills Kraven’s weird alien son. Makes sense why Kraven would go on to bury Spider-Man alive and impersonate him. Dude was clearly working through some stuff.
The Amazing Spider-Man 103 & 104 were written by Roy Thomas, penciled by Gil Kane, inked by Frank Giacoia, lettered by Artie Simeck, and edited by Stan Lee, 1971.
Categories: Marvel Madness