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Exclusive: The creators of Marvel's new 'Ka-Zar' series preview the Lord of the Savage Land's 'superhero evolution'
For nearly 60 years, the man who calls himself Ka-Zar has been the self-proclaimed Lord of the Savage Land in the Marvel Universe, protecting that strange locale from harm and all manner of invaders over the course of Marvel history. Now, after a recent battle brought him back from the dead, everything Ka-Zar knows about himself and the land he calls home is about to change.
The evolution begins in September with Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land #1, the launch of a new five-issue miniseries from writer Zac Thompson (Yondu, I Breathed a Body), artist Germán Garcia (Immortal Hulk, X-Men), and colorist Matheus Lopes that will change the man also known as Kevin Plunder's trajectory in the Marvel Universe forever.
Last year, during the Empyre event, Ka-Zar was killed by the alien plant beings known as as the Cotati, only to be resurrected by the Savage Land itself. Now, like his partner Shanna (who went through her own recent death and resurrection), Ka-Zar finds himself grappling with new abilities that challenge everything he thought he knew about himself. And of course, if that weren't enough to contend with, an ancient enemy also comes calling.
"What I love most about Ka-Zar is that he’s essentially this imperfect Tarzan-like figure," Thompson told SYFY WIRE. "He’s raised in this fantastic larger than life world of dinosaurs, roaming the wilderness with his sabertooth tiger companion and yet he has this chip on his shoulder. Though he’s arrogant and entitled he’s proved a formidable defender of the Savage Land. But when we pick up with him, he’s forced to confront that arrogance. On account of the fact that, uhhh, he just died."
Thanks to his recent death and resurrection in the Savage Land, Ka-Zar suddenly has a deep connection to his home, sensing the presence of every living being. He also has new physical gifts that he can't quite explain, something that proved a challenge to render artistically in a character who's been the same recognizable human adventurer for decades.
"When we started working on [the new abilities], I thought we were introducing very interesting concepts, but at the same time I wasn’t satisfied with the visuals I was producing. I felt he was losing some of the classic Ka-Zar feeling," Garcia said. "Then we all came up from different angles with ideas that made those abilities work through the most identifiable Ka-Zar iconography. Suddenly it felt like he was as Ka-Zar as ever, if not more! I’m not sure if I should say more about this, but I’m really happy with the reconceptualization, and it makes him very fun to draw."
Though it was challenging to reconceptualize the character on both every narrative level, Thompson describes it as a necessary part of the evolution Ka-Zar is about to undergo, and a key contrast to the steadfastness he once carried in the Savage Land.
"It’s an overwhelming and horrifying process for Ka-Zar as he’s never had to contend with power like this. He’s always been human but now he’s changing and evolving in unpredictable ways," Thompson said. "He’s developing a deeper sense of kinship with the place he’s sworn to protect and seeing the Savage Land in a whole new light. For years he was an outsider sworn to protect this place - now he’s a literal part of the environment indivisible from the countless other living beings who share the land.
He continued, "The central journey of this new series is how he changes in relation to these new powers and this new responsibility thrust upon him in the face of a rapidly changing environment. Just like our hero, the Savage Land itself is on the verge of massive change where everything and everyone will have to evolve together in order to survive."
In the exclusive pages below, you can see just a taste of how the creative team has set about reconceptualizing the character, through flashbacks, action sequences, and more.
That same sense of reconceptualizing was also applied to the Savage Land itself, which Garcia tried to re-envision through his own particular pop culture lens.
"I have this idea of The Savage Land that is less like an Amazonian jungle and more like Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Making it look unreal and fantastic is the fun part of it," he said. "The challenging part is finding room to display it. A story needs what it needs, and it’s not always a good idea to add background elements that would draw too much attention. But bit by bit I think we’re managing and I hope it comes through."
On Thompson's side of the storytelling, that new vision of the legendary Savage Land also brought to mind the horror influences that he applies to work like Lonely Receiver and I Breathed a Body.
"The world he’s called home for most of his life is changing along with his body. His personal journey is very much something that exists at the crossroads of David Cronenberg and Jeff VanderMeer. It’s body horror and eco horror at the same time. Which, I suppose, is my personal calling card," Thompson said.
He continued, "The series takes modern fears about technology and evolution and asks how these processes threaten somewhere like the Savage Land. We’re taking inspiration from Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s fantastic Immortal Hulk series and trying to find the root of what Ka-Zar fears most. We’re also channeling some of what Jonathan Hickman did with House of X and Powers of X - charting a big course for Ka-Zar that evolves the characters, the setting, and the general thrust of the character while remaining true to the core concept. We want to use the operatics of big superhero storytelling to make a big, bombastic horror book that traverses the whole Savage Land. That explores a world beyond death with giant horrific monsters and small character moments in equal measure. It’s an adventure inward as much as it’s an adventure through the many biomes of the Savage Land."
Over the course of these five issues, Ka-Zar will confront a lot, from his new powers to his connections to his family and the Savage Land to new enemies and new threats at his doorstep. By the end, Thompson hopes that readers will see a new version of the character come to life, one that maintains Ka-Zar's Marvel Universe staying power in exciting new ways.
"The end result I think is something wholly unique in the Marvel Universe: Giving Ka-Zar a lens that sees the world a little differently while also giving him a new set of powers that embrace the monumental task of his stewardship of the Savage Land," Thompson said. "Being a land defender is something that has taken on all kinds of new meaning in 2021 and we wanted to reflect that in a way that excited readers old and new. I think the end result is something that will excite readers looking for a pulpy old-school adventure through the Savage Land and those looking for some introspective horror.
"This book is the type of superhero evolution I’ve always wanted to champion and represents a radically new status quo that I hope stays for decades to come. I really think we’ve cracked something new and exciting with the character that no one is expecting but feels totally natural once you read it."
Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land #1 is in stores September 8.