King: Jungle Jim 1-4
Written by Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Sandy Jarrell
Published by Dynamite
An English Adventurer who still acts like the bad old days of Victorian England but has a good heart takes the fight to Ming on one of his many conquered worlds in one of the mini-series picking up the threads from the Kings Watch series started by Jeff Parker, Marc Laming, and Jeff Boyd.
This one is going to succeed or fail for a reader entirely based on how much you like an irreverent take on a classic character, and possibly just a bit on how often you interact with Paul Tobin online. The same quick wit and willingness to go blue when the occasion calls for it that Tobin uses on Twitter features prominently in this series, as there are plenty of jokes about Jim's inability to keep his clothes on as part of his nature-controlling powers, the excessive drinking, and of course Jim's generally sexist nature born of his time period. Once you realize that Tobin is going for an action comedy farce and isn't going to treat this obscure character with one iota of seriousness, it's a ton of fun.
Tobin, who is Jeff Parker's Periscope Studio office mate, captures the romp nature of this take on the old newspaper strip heroes better than any of the writers involved in the King project, managing to make things funny in his own style, instead of trying to ape Jeff.* They come at a frantic pace, and work well to cover the hand-waving that's going on here, as the former Victorian Adventurer with a troublesome backstory ends up becoming a weird combination of Animal Man, Beast Boy, and Swamp Thing. It's clear he's meant to be a bit of a jerk, and watching the earnest freedom fighters, who also have acid tongues, try to deal with him, works very well in a Dematteis/Giffen JLI manner. In the end, though, Tobin makes sure we know that there's still a battle to be won, and the final fight is a great set piece with clever plotting.
Speaking of Parker, his Meteor Men collaborator, Sandy Jarrell handles the art duties here, doing his best to keep up with the rapid pace of the jokes with visuals that match Tobin's breeziness. He does a nice job with the visual gags, like strategic coverage, but never steps into an exaggerated style that might have meshed just a bit better with the tone. Jarrell more than makes up for that by creating a world that's familiar to Jim yet retains its alien strangeness. The trees, cliffs, and other features feel vaguely familiar, and yet don't recall a specific part of Earth. When they have to morph and change due to Jim's powers, it feels like these are things that can and should happen, because all of the twisting branches, swarming creatures and other touches all form organically and naturally out of the backgrounds. There's no pasting over generic backgrounds.
But the best part of Jarrell's work here is his amazing panel and page construction. Jarrell is the master of making characters interact with each other, and it shows here. When Jim and Lille (the woman who needs him to save her brother from Ming) talk about why she drinks so much in issue three, the intensity of the pair's eyes shows that, jokes aside, the mission is no laughing matter, with Tobin's dialogue changing accordingly. Jarrell reveals secrets here, again being understated where others might have gone big, and leaves Lille to reflect, with only her changing facial expression driving the storytelling.
Of the King mini-series material I've read so far, Jungle Jim has been far and away my favorite. It's probably easier to grok if you've been following along from Kings Watch and the Parker-writen Flash Gordon, but even as a set piece, I think it works well. If you're fans of Tobin and Jarrell--and you should be--this is not to be missed, even if you skip the larger crossover. It's a lot of fun, with great wit and great art, which is no surprise given the team behind it. I'd be happy to see their irreverent take continue in another adventure.
*Gorilla-related puns and Jeff Parker will never grow old for me.