America's Number One Jungle Hero
by Dave Goode
As a kid, I loved the Jungle Jim movies and television series that were loosely based on the Alex Raymond comic strip. They starred Olympic swimming champion and former screen Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. I actually knew Weissmuller as Jungle Jim before I saw him as Tarzan. And though he remains my favorite movie Tarzan, I actually prefer the low budget Jungle Jim flicks produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia Pictures. A couple of years back, I happened to catch the end of the Johnny Weissmuller movie Jungle Moon Men.
When I tuned into Jungle Moon Men, Johnny and the heroine, played by Jean Byron, are brought before the throne of Oma, a jungle queen modeled after H. Rider Haggard's Ayesha. Oma, played by Helen Stanton, asks the adventures who they are and Byran replies with her character's name. But when the stereotypical blond jungle goddess asks our hero who he is, he replies, “Johnny Weissmuller.” I blinked twice. I had forgotten that in the last three films of the series, the Jungle Jim name was dropped because Katzman let the copyright lapse, and Johnny Weissmuller portrayed Johnny Weismuller. This brought back to my mind something that I wondered about for years. Why wasn't here a Johnny Weissmuller comic book?
During the 40's and 50's, quite a few action/adventure movie stars had a their own comic books. Alan Ladd, Dick Powell, and John Wayne to name a few. I t almost seemed that if you were a b-western hero, you were required to have your own comic book. Both Lash LaRue and Whip Wilson had their own titles. Johnny Mack Brown and Tex Ritter had their own comic books. So did Gene Autry, Rex Allen, and Jimmy Wakely. Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans each had their own comics. Even sidekicks Gabby Hayes and Smiley Burnette had their own titles. As did Johnny Weissmuller's old swimming rival Buster Crabbe.
I figured the reason nobody put Johnny in his own comic book was because most of his movie career was spent playing two characters...Tarzan and Jungle Jim. And those characters already had their own comics. But then again, buster Crabbe was famous for playing various comic book/strip heroes himself. Weissmuller at least portrayed a fictionalized version of himself in three movies, Cannibal Attack (1954), Jungle Moon Men (1955), and Devil Goddess (1955). It actually seemed quite natural that after playing Tarzan in a dozen movies and Jungle Jim in another thirteen that Johnny Weissmuller, could turn up on the big screen portraying Johnny Weissmuller, the jungle adventurer.
I just think it's a shame that no comic book company thought to put out a Johnny Weissmuller jungle adventure comic with art by the likes of Russ Heath, Matt Baker, Wally Wood, of the tage team of Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta. It would have been a natural.
Retro art by Vance Capley