This time out we're stepping back in time to 1961 to take a look at an odd bird hiding in my Longboxes, the first issue of "Adventures of The Jaguar". I call it an odd bird because I have very few Archie comics in my collection that don't feature, well. . .Archie.
I bought this comic quite a few years ago as part of an auction lot because the cover caught my eye. If you've been reading Longbox Junk for a while, you may notice that there's a bit of a running theme when it comes to the older comics in my collection. . .I usually just buy them for the cover.
I have a great love for the covers of older comics, but rarely ever take the time to read what's inside. This comic is no exception to the rule. I've had it up on my office wall as part of my ever-rotating comic cover display, but until now I've never actually read it, except for a quick flip through.
But that changes today. Let's do this!
ADVENTURES OF THE JAGUAR #1
Archie Comics (1961)
SCRIPT: Robert Bernstein
PENCILS: John Rosenberger
COVER: John Rosenberger
As usual with these retro reviews, if I'm going to take the time to read and review these older comics, I'm ALSO going to try and educate myself a bit and share what I learn with others who might be interested, so bear with me for a paragraph or three.
Although I can find very little information on this character. . .what's out there on the internet is basically word for word copied from site to site. . .he's had a pretty long history, with his most recent appearance being in 2011 when DC gained the license for Archie's "Red Circle" characters and tried a reboot of the superhero team "Mighty Crusaders".
A 50 year history of regular appearances (over 47 issues of various series) is pretty good for a character I've never heard of, especially considering that a bit of research shows me that Jaguar started basically as a kind of copy of another Archie superhero, The Fly, who was created 2 years earlier.
Jaguar has a magic belt, The Fly has a magic ring. Jaguar has powers over the animal kingdom, The Fly has powers over the insect world. So on and so forth. Pretty much the same character with a different paint job. They changed up both Jaguar and The Fly over the years, but essentially Jaguar started out as a "If it ain't broke, we ain't fixin' it." sort of character.
That's not much background, but like I said, for a character with 50 years worth of appearances behind him, there's remarkably little information to be found.
So that's that. Let's get into this comic!
Under that fantastic eye-catcher of a cover, we've got 3 short stories, let's take them each in turn.
MENACE OF THE INCA SERPENT!
Our story begins as "Famed Zoologist" Ralph Hardy accompanies an archaeological expedition in the Peruvian Jungle. He rescues a trapped Jaguar and his companions comment on his obvious love and connection with animals. Later that day, a white jaguar is spotted outside of camp, but as they try to pursue it, a gigantic dinosaur-like creature bursts from the ground and chases the expedition members into a strange, perfectly-preserved Incan temple.
Inside the temple, the group becomes separated as Hardy spots the pawprints of the white jaguar and decides to follow them without telling anyone else. Deep inside the temple, Hardy discovers an altar with a strange belt hanging above it. Carvings on the wall helpfully explain that by wearing the belt and saying "THE JAGUAR", the wearer will transform into a powerful being that will have supreme powers over animals everywhere in the universe!
The helpful carvings on the wall elaborate that these powers include telepathic communication and control of animals over great distances, and that the wearer will be able to use any power associated with animals, but multiplied by thousands of times! The carving ALSO inform Hardy that the belt in his hand will allow him to fly through the scientific wonder of NUCLEON ENERGY!
Why the ancients needed a Nucleon Energy-powered belt to fly if they could summon up the thousands of times magnified power of the mighty soaring condor is a question NOT answered by the ancient Incan exposition carvings. . .BUT I DIGRESS!
MEANWHILE. . .in another part of the temple. The giant creature is thrashing through the ancient passages in hot pursuit of the other members of the expedition. Hardy hears their terrified cries and decides to put the belt on and say the magic words. . .which instantly transforms him into THE JAGUAR! He quickly flies to rescue his companions with his amazing, new-found powers.
Hardy, now The Jaguar, makes his skin a thousand times tougher than a Rhinoceros and handily defeats the beast, then telepathically controls thousands of armadillos to dig a deep pit, into which he uses the strength of a million elephants to toss the monster in, burying it forever!
After the battle, he transforms back into Ralph Hardy and tries not to smirk TOO much as he hears the tale of the fantastic flying man who saved the expedition. A man that looked exactly like Hardy, but without a mustache.
This short origin story leaves me with so many questions. But chalking the answers up to "It's a Silver Age comic written for young boys" lets me move along for now. Taken on its own merits, it's a surprisingly well-illustrated and fast-paced origin story with a LOT of holes in it that (along with the other two stories) seems to be a fairly comprehensive checklist of things boys liked in the early 60's. This story provides, jungle action, dinosaurs, brightly-costumed superheroes, mysterious ruins, nuclear power and jet packs/belts. The other stories continue with the 60's kid checklist. . .
THE INVADERS FROM KORDU!
Moving beyond his origin in the Peruvian jungle, our story moves to the African jungle at a later time and begins when "Famed Zoologist" Ralph Hardy is caught in a rainstorm and takes shelter in a cave. Unfortunately, the cave is full of jaguars, and as they attack, Hardy uses his magic belt to transform into THE JAGUAR! After amusing himself by knocking the jaguars around a bit, he uses his telepathic powers to become their leader, and then leaves them alone and leaderless when the storm ends and he flies off. So much for being a friend of the animals. . .
As The Jaguar flies back home, he spots a huge radio tower he'd never noticed before. I'm assuming he wasn't using the thousand-fold eyesight power of the Falcon when he flew out previously, because the tower and the building next to it sit right in a clearing and are pretty obvious. . .BUT I DIGRESS!
As Jaguar investigates, he discovers that the tower is surrounded by a minefield, but by making his skin a thousand times stronger than the Rhino, his speed a thousand times faster than the antelope, and bashing into the building beside the tower with a thousand times the strength of the buffalo, he easily avoids harm.
Inside the building, The Jaguar discovers a man who introduces himself as Professor Hugo Van Lesk, who is in Africa studying how animals communicate with each other. Based on his having to run through a minefield moments before, Jaguar is skeptical. . .and his suspicions are proven when he sees a viewscreen with a fleet of spaceships headed to Earth and a message directed to Van Lesk to ready the landing area for an invasion!
Realizing that his cover is blown, Van Lesk tries to take down The Jaguar with a machine gun, which doesn't work well on a man with skin a thousand times stronger than a Rhino. Jaguar punches the scientist out, but one of the ships from the approaching alien invasion fleet breaks off and announces that it is coming to scout the situation since they didn't get a reply from Van Lesk.
As Jaguar ponders what to do (besides taking on the power of a thousand screaming eagles and destroying the scout ship in flight), he comes up with the plan of trying to convince the alien scouts that he is a typical earth man and it would be extremely difficult for them to conquer a planet filled with people like him.
Unfortunately, the aliens aren't interested in talking and immediately attack. Their initial attempts fail miserably against Jaguar's super-tough Rhino skin, but they have a bit more success when they zap him with a million volts of electricity from a ray gun. Jaguar calls in a bunch of gorillas for reinforcements, and he uses telepathic commands to have them fight the aliens and throw rocks at the ray gun (instead of, say. . .him flying up and using the punching power of a thousand enraged orangutans to do it himself).
But the aliens have a few more tricks up their sleeve and use a freeze ray on Jaguar and his gorilla allies. Being frozen in a block of ice doesn't really bother Jaguar that much, since he can resist cold like a thousand polar bears, but he's concerned for the gorillas, so while he melts his way free from the ice using the heat of his Nucleonic-Powered belt (instead of breaking the ice with the strength of a thousand slightly-annoyed wild boars), he summons a herd of elephants to chip the ice away from the gorillas with their tusks.
After he is free and his animal slaves. . .er. . .allies. . .are out of danger, The Jaguar threatens to destroy the scout ship and any other alien ship that lands on Earth. Van Lesk finally wakes up and comes running out, ripping off his patented Silver Age "Perfect Rubber Mask™" to reveal that he is also an alien. He tries to stop the alien scouts from retreating, but they think Van Lesk has betrayed them, and so he meets his fate at the end of a ray gun before the aliens all pack up and leave. The Jaguar smiles and nods with satisfaction at a job well done.
Well. . .
Once again, so MANY unanswered questions that if I took the time to ask them all, this review would run WAY beyond my usual long-winded nature. So I will again chalk most of the answers up to "Welcome to the Silver Age!" and try not to think about them too much. Once the questions are out of sight and out of mind, what we have here is another well-illustrated tale that moves along at a brisk pace and continues to check off entries on the "What boys in 1961 liked" checklist. This story builds on the first one by providing invading aliens, spaceships, ray guns, and monkeys (gorillas)!
Let's finish this up. . .
THE MONSTER MOUSE!
Our story begins in the Pacific ocean, where a gigantic 50 mile deep chasm opens in the sea floor after a powerful earthquake. A week later The Jaguar shows up in Honolulu to take control as the Chief of the emergency research task force that has been formed. Obviously, this story takes place sometime after The Jaguar has become a well-known superhero, because all of the government officials present seem to be very aware of his powers.
The research team sets up a floating laboratory, from which they plan on sending a diving bell full of scientific instruments 250,000 feet down into the chasm. Along with the instruments, a white mouse will be in the bell in order to test the effects of such great depth on a living being.
This begs the question of why The Jaguar couldn't just summon up the undersea abilities and pressure resistance of a thousand blue whales to investigate the chasm himself instead of running the operation in his super-suit on the surface. . .BUT I DIGRESS!
The next day, the diving bell and mouse are lowered into the ocean. The Jaguar DOES use the swimming ability of a thousand otters to accompany the bell most of the way down, but eventually he heads back to the surface. Deep inside the chasm, "mysterious radiations" penetrate the capsule and the white mouse begins to grow to tremendous size!
The gigantic mouse swims to the surface and attacks the floating laboratory. The Jaguar attempts to defend the scientists, but quickly discovers that the "mysterious radiations" are affecting his power to punch the giant mouse with the fury of a thousand hungry wolverines. Worse, the "radiations" are affecting his "Nucleonic-Powered" belt for some reason, making it so he can't fly!
Robbed of his powers and abilities, The Jaguar somehow avoids the giant mouse long enough to swim to a nearby island. Unfortunately, the mouse is in hot pursuit and quickly corners The Jaguar. Thinking quickly, Jaguar uses his telepathic abilities to summon a small stray cat. The mouse is terrified of the cat and retreats. Moments later, as Jaguar regains his powers, the giant mouse begins to shrink back to regular size as the "radiations" wear off.
That night, another earthquake closes up the mysterious chasm and, after The Jaguar dives down to investigate, he declares it all to be just another mystery of the sea that will probably never be solved.
Of the three stories in this comic, this final one is the weak link. It definitely looks like the least effort was put into it. It's still illustrated nicely, and it checks off a couple more boxes on the "What 60's boys like" list (deep sea adventure, giant radioactive monsters), but overall it just seems like this story was thrown in to pad out the page count.
When reviewing these older comics, I've learned that I sort of need to separate my reading experience into two categories. . .the first being a consideration of the audience that the comic was originally written for, the second being that of a modern comic reader.
With an honest reading, it's extremely obvious that this was for young boys in the post-atomic pop culture age. It's a blatant checklist of things boys liked in 1961. In 3 stories we have: Jungle adventure, brightly-costumed superheroes, mysterious ruins, nuclear power, jet packs/belts, space ships, ray guns, monkeys, deep sea adventure AND that holy trinity of late 50's/early 60's sci-fi. . .Dinosaurs, Alien Invaders, and Giant Radioactive Monsters!
The "checklist" is so obvious that it's pretty easy to see what's missing: Cowboys. I'm not sure if they rectified this error in later issues, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they did. Something else I'm REALLY surprised they left out was a bit of good old fashioned Commie bashing. But I'm fairly certain that no comic from the early 60's could possibly go long without a fist meeting a Commie face, so I'd take a blind bet that the filthy Reds eventually made an appearance at some point during the 15 issue run of this series.
SO. . .
To the ORIGINAL audience, this comic has just about everything a kid in 1961 could possibly want packed into a single issue for just one lousy dime! If I was a kid back then, I'm pretty sure this comic book would be one of my favorites. Heck. . .I like dinosaurs! I like spaceships! Even now I like those things. For the original audience, this comic has it all.
BUT. . .
To a MODERN reader, this comic is pretty bad. Sure, it has some surprisingly good art and that cover is absolutely great, but the hero is ridiculously overpowered and because of poor plotting, doesn't make good use of his powers. The stories are rushed, with weak situations and dialogue, and the whole thing is just so utterly forgettable that the fact this character somehow lasted 50 years is actually pretty amazing to me. Beyond being a marketing checklist, there is VERY little effort to be seen in the writing of this comic.
Overall, this is a comic book with a LOT of questions in it for the modern reader. But every single one of those questions can be answered with "You ask too many questions, kid. Just read the damn comic book." because for the original audience it was written for, this comic is great! But because it's a relic of the comic industry of the time marketing for a very specific audience and otherwise not putting much effort into it, there's not much here to like for a modern reader.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm glad this comic is preserved in my collection from a historic or collector point of view, but I'm not going to be diligently searching for more issues in order to feed a growing hunger to learn more about The Jaguar.
Up Next. . .
Back to Longbox Junk business as usual as we head to 1994 and take a look at one of Image's "We REALLY want to be Marvel!" superhero comics that were glutting the 90's comic market, but are pretty much forgotten now. . .the 3 issue "Black and White" mini.
Be there or be square!