Thursday, February 18, 2010

On the trail of the Ape Men

The meeting with Lee Granger, the Jungle King, didn’t go as well as he hoped but not a total loss. Granger said he was too busy building a thoroughly modern city and converting the area’s native tribes into a thoroughly modern people. He had used his money to attract a few daring doctors, nurses and teachers to his new city. While he had a small one-room hospital building as well as a matching school, he had plans for expansion. Already people from further tribes were being drawn by the promise of modern medicine and education. He hoped through his works, he’d be able to show the world that Africa and its people were more than resources and labor just to be exploited. He hoped to equip them with the ability to deal with Europeans on a more equitable basis. But, his goal wasn’t one of conversion like some naive missionary. He wanted to retain as much of their culture, their identity as possible while choosing from the best that the modern world had to offer. He saw his role as a parent. His job was to raise them to the point that he would be out of a job, not to become some dictator or chief himself. And like a parent’s job, it would be one that should take the rest of his life.

The White Panther argued that if his visions came to pass, the rest of his life and his grand experiment would prove to be very short. Granger compromised in the end. Through his contacts with the rather specialized community that he and the Panther belonged to as well as his own considerable resources, here could be the base and launching point for whatever forces could be gathered. A landing strip outside of the village was already built and Granger could arrange for whatever transport was needed. Otherwise, there was too much for him to do to go soldiering. The White Panther had his visions and missions, and Lee Granger had his.

To both of their surprise though, Eric the lion agreed to accompany the White Panther on his mission. While Lee said he would contact as many as he could through radio and his contacts, the heroes of Africa were often a nomadic lot and many were in nigh inaccessible places for contact by radio or telegraph. With the lion by his side, the White Panther left the next morning for the next closest territory for word on others that might join him in his upcoming battle.
A week later and after two more days of crossing grassy plains they came across the corpse and the site of a battle.

The body was tied to two cross-beams. He had been tied up while still alive, none of his bruises or cuts were life threatening and the great scavenger birds had not done much damage yet so he had not been dead for long. The crucified man proved to be the entrance to a village where some battle took place. There were only a few bodies, too few for a village this size. Mostly of old men and women past child bearing age though a seemed to be of younger men killed in defense of their homes. Two bodies of gorillas were found. One was clutching a club in his hand and the other had a spear, heavier and larger than those used by any tribes that the White Panther was aware of. He didn’t like the direction that took his thoughts. He was shocked out of his silent contemplating by Eric’s growling voice.

“Something wicked this way comes.”

Eric turned a few times in a circle with his nose in the air and his ears pricked. He nodded towards one direction and lowered himself into a crouched position. His tail began to flick from one side to the other and a low growl came from his throat. The White Panther thought about how it was the same with humans. Intelligent and reasoning beings, but it takes so little to get past that veneer of civilization and culture and call forth that primal animal self.

“Hail White Panther,” came a voice from the tall grasses. “We are friends, rein in your pet.”“I am nobody’s pet,” roared Eric. He stood and walked over to the White Panther, obviously more relaxed though.Chuckling, out of the grasses walked a notable group. One of the white men wore a green costume and alongside him walked a native in a matching red one. Both sported bows slung over shoulders. One man, a little shorter than the others wore brown slacks, shirt and the ubiquitous pith helmet. He carried a rifle and pistol in way of weapons as well as a pack on his back. Another white man was blond with tanned skin and wore nothing more than a loin cloth and leather moccasins. Accompanying them was a dark-haired woman in form-hugging dark skins in the style of a European one-piece bathing suit.

The White Panther said to the man in green, “the voice is familiar, but I don’t recognize the outfit, friend.”

“Because when we last shared a meal together I wore a different uniform and bore a different name. I called myself the Red Panther then, but now I am called the Congo Raider by those that would seek to mercilessly exploit those I protect. The man in red is the hero Red Panther now. I fear that the change in identity is what helped cause this and other massacres. My other comrades are the famous hunter and zoologist Buck Burke, the jungle lord Kalthar and the lady Marga, the Panther Woman. Let’s bury the bodies and I will give you the tale as we make camp.”

In the center of the village, the fire cackled and sparks rose into the night sky. Most of the group sat around it.

Kalthar was the only one absent, hidden in the grasses somewhere standing watch in case there was a return of the enemy. Marga sat next to the reclined Eric, scratching him behind his ears and running her fingers through his mane. His eyes were closed and he let out a rumbling purr. Buck absentmindedly poked and prodded the fire with a stick, stirring up the embers and sending sparks skyward. The man now called the Red Panther stared at the stars and moon high in the sky.

“The role of the Red Panther traditionally belonged to one of the region’s native tribes. A champion that bound them together, oversaw the various laws and disputes. He was supposed to be the mightiest fighter, the cleverest hunter. Every five years, a new Red Panther was chosen. I became the Red Panther through a fluke. I was serving as guide and hunter for an English zoologist and botanist and all round scoundrel. When I realized he was up to no good, I confronted him and started the expedition back to civilization. Only, he was more of a scoundrel than I thought and luring me away from the group on a pretense, he waylaid me and left me for dead.”

“I was found by the then Red Panther who nursed me back to health. Over the days that followed, he taught me of the lore of that area and of the legend of the Red Panther. I hanged out with him as we sought out clues to the location of the man that killed me and the secrets he was after. Through a bad turn of luck, we ran afoul of smugglers and slavers. My friend was killed and I took up his mantle to bring them to justice. I continued as the Red Panther for some time until it came time for the next competition."

“The man you see before you actually came in second. But, while the other man was physically the champion, he was judged to be unfit to serve as a judge over all tribes, in the employ of evil white men. This sparked a war between the tribe that championed him and the other tribes for the role of the Red Panther brings a tribe wealth, power, choicest hunting grounds, and many wives.”

“Since then, he has managed to set himself up as the embodiment of some ape-god the natives call the White Ape. He’s killed a white gorilla and wears its skin as a totem to his power and authority. Through some means, he has increased his strength and speed to equal and possibly pass a great ape’s. You saw the dead gorilla bodies. He has taken command of one of the tribes of intelligent gorillas and is uniting them under his rule. They are taking humans as slaves, the prettiest women his wives to serve as testament of his power and god-given authority.”

“Our first warning was the attack on Blanda’s kingdom and the nearby tribe of friendly gorillas. He managed to entice them to rebel against her and her people. Blanda’s people were wiped out, but her consort managed to get her out. She’s recovering under the care of a white doctor but her lover died from the wounds he sustained. But, not before he told his story to his friend Buck. He put together an expedition and headed into the wilderness. Each of us were investigating other rumored attacks and uprisings and found our paths converging, just as it has now joined up with yours.”

“We think he’s amassed his army and now seeks to set up his capital and solidify his control over the area. Somewhere in those mountains on the horizon, we’ll find the White Ape’s lair.”

The GA Red Panther and Congo Raider seemed to be the same character judging from the costume similarities, the major change being in coloring. He originally had no origin story, so this doesn't contradict any known info and giving an in-story explanation for their similarity. I am not normally a fan of changing the race of characters. But, there is such a plethora of white jungle heroes and heroines and most virtually interchangeable, a few more native ones seemed to be in order. Originally, I thought that the Red Panther in his red costume could easily have been a native character that just got "colored incorrectly" in our comics... until I discovered he had another costume earlier which made that a little harder to pull off. As he had no origin, I hoped to come up with a way to transition the character that made sense. Especially as the original isn't really replaced, he just takes on a different identity. Lee Granger and Eric the talking Lion are from Fawcett Comics, Red Panther and White Panther Fiction House, Congo Raider Howard, Marga Fox, Kalthar MLJ, Buck Burke Tem/Holyoke