Writer Gaylord Du Bois
Artists Jesse Marsh, Russ Manning
The Brothers of the Spear are Natongo and Dan-El. Natongo’s father, Chief Lugongo, has raised Dan-El in his household since the passing of Dan-El’s father sixteen years ago. After Natongo and Dan-El both prove their right to be called a warrior in the annual Festival of the Spears Chief Lugongo finally reveals the truth to Dan-El. Lugongo reveals that Dan-El was not born in the village, but that his father, who had been exiled by his northern tribe, brought Dan-El, still a newborn, to the village before passing away from injuries suffered saving Lugongo from a crocodile. Lugongo explains that Dan-El’s father was known as Om-Ri The Golden for his blond hair and beard and pale complexion, which explains why Dan-El is the only white man in the village.
After Nantongo and Dan-El learn the truth of Dan-El’s ancestry they set out on a journey northward to find Dan-El’s people and learn the truth behind his father’s exile. Their journey is punctuated by close calls with lethal black mamba and wild boar until they stumble across a hunting party led by a beautiful young woman. Before they can make introductions a cape buffalo springs from the bush and charges the young woman but just before the half ton beast tramples the girl Dan-El stops it in its tracks with a well aimed spear thorough its heart. The action isn’t over though. By the time Dan-El and Natongo figure out that the young woman’s name is Liloma and discover they do not speak the same language the group is attacked by a war party from a rival village. They all race back to Liloma’s village to discover that she is not just a brave and beautiful young woman but the well loved Queen. Natongo and Dan-El help the Queen prepare the village for an attack and stick around to help the villagers beat back their attacking neighbors. When the battle is over and the butchers bill tallied Dan-El and Natongo somewhat sorrowfully continue their journey north to find Dan-El’s people.
Nantongo and Dan-El continue their journey north though they are beset with many obstacles, leopards, deserts, hippos, lakes, pirates, storms, slavers and crazed witch doctors, until they come across the Aba Zulu, a tribe of white Zulu’s. One of the tribe’s leaders recognizes a birthmark on Dan-El’s shoulder and a key that Dan-El has that belonged to his father and declares to Dan-El and Natongo’s astonishment, if not the readers, that Dan-El must be the son of the rightful King who was run out of the kingdom sixteen years ago by the usurper Han-Ool. Han-Ool is not a popular sovereign. He keeps the people in line by use of force and a cabal of sinister witch doctors led by the crafty Nagopa. Dan-El and Natongo have no trouble rallying a group of citizens loyal to Dan-El and the memory of his father to take the fight to Han-Ool, but dealing with Nagopa will be the true test of Dan-El and Natongo’s wits.
The Brothers of the Spear was a backup feature in the Tarzan comic books. It started in Tarzan #25 which was published in 1951 and continued through issue #156 in 1966. This hardcover archive edition from Darkhorse covers the first couple of years, issue #25 through #67. Gaylord Dubois wrote all of the stories but Jesse Marsh turned the artist reigns over to Russ Manning in issue #39 or page 93 in this new hardcover. There is a clear dividing line between the books that Marsh worked on and the books Manning worked on. It’s not just the artwork that changes. The story also takes a turn when Manning takes over. While Marsh was doing the honors Dan-El and Natongo were just traveling, usually with a couple of minor impediments and one major obstacle in each issue. While there were several mini arcs the stories were very episodic. When Manning takes over the story gets a little deeper and more plot lines are drawn out from issue to issue. During the Marsh issues you didn’t need to see the “to be continued” text to know when one issue ended and it was time to start the next one but during Manning’s tenure things were not as clear cut.
I enjoyed Manning’s artwork more than Marsh’s. They both were masters of the use of color. When you look at the individual items in a panel the color might seem ridiculous, pink mountains, blue rocks, pea green rivers, but when you look at each panel as a whole it all blends together and makes sense, Manning however seems to have a better knack at managing the contrasting colors and keeping a panel lively. Manning’s characterizations were also clearly superior to Marsh’s. Under Manning’s pen Dan-El and Natongo and the rest of the cast became much more distinctive and their emotions and thoughts were much easier to read.
While the artwork is delightful the story is repetitive and predictable, it still manages to be fun. Dan-El and Nantongo are almost too upright and heroic to be believed but I found myself enjoying their company anyway. I have to admit I’m curious what the two will do when they have the Abu Zulu stabilized, will they strike out on more adventures, or will there always be more mischief keeping them home? I guess I’ll have to wait until Darkhorse releases Brothers of the Spear Volume 2.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10