Natongo and Dan-El, in full cooperation mode. Artist: Russ Manning.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Dell Comics
First Appeared: 1951
Creators: Gaylord DuBois (writer) and Jesse Marsh (artist)
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These days, stories in which black and white adventurers treat each other as equals are such a familiar sight, they're scarcely even noticed. But a half-century ago, they were quite rare. The first such series in American …

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… comic books, however, was as little commented-on at the time as it would be today. That's probably because it ran unobtrusively in the rear of another hero's comic. But it was a very well circulated comic, and the feature ran there for a long time.

The Dell comic book based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan began in 1948. Postal regulations made it necessary that at least a few pages be devoted to features other than the one on the cover, so the back pages of Tarzan ran series such as "Mabu", "Two Against the Jungle" and "Boy" (the movie name of Tarzan's son, Korak). In the 25th issue (October, 1951), they hit on a winner with "Brothers of the Spear", which ran more than a quarter of a century, all told, and featured the first professional work of cartoonist Russ Manning.

The series was created by writer Gaylord DuBois, one of the most prolific scripters in the history of comic books, and artist Jesse Marsh, whose highly stylized work was seen throughout the Dell line. They'd been the creative team on the Tarzan title almost since it began. The first episode occupied a mere six pages, but it launched a serialized story that eventually grew to epic proportions.

Dan-El and Natongo, who took an oath of brotherhood at the very beginning, were both kings by right, whose thrones had been usurped. Restoring Dan-El in the kingdom of Aba-Zulu and Natongo in Tungelu occupied the first couple of years of the series. By the time it was done, both were married, Dan-El to the beautiful Tavane and Natongo to the equally beautiful Zulena. But neither affairs of state nor family duties had any effect on their love of adventure, and they had many more, one running smoothly into the next, over a period of years.

It was in the 39th issue (December, 1952) that Russ Manning, then a newcomer to the field, took over the art. His graceful, open linework made him a favorite among readers and editors alike, and his work appeared in dozens of Dell comics during the next several years — not just in TV and movie adaptations such as 77 Sunset Strip and Disney's Pollyana, but also (after most Dell titles were transferred to Gold Key Comics) his own Magnus, Robot Fighter. Manning stayed with "Brothers of the Spear" for the rest of its continuous run in the back pages of Tarzan, which lasted until 1966.

The apparent reason for its end was Jesse Marsh's retirement, when Manning took over the art on the rest of the Tarzan title (which, by that time, Gold Key was publishing). A new back-up feature, Dan Spiegle's "Bantu, Dog of the Arande", took its place as of #157 (April, 1966). Dan-El and Natongo were back a few months later for another pair of very short adventures, and several years after that, in a brief series of reprints. A final original story appeared in #202 (August, 1971), written by DuBois (who had scripted the series all those years) and drawn by Manning's assistant, Mike Royer. Another Manning Assistant, Bill Stout, tried to develop it as a newspaper comic strip, but that effort was unsuccessful.

The Tarzan title was taken over by DC Comics in 1972, but "Brothers of the Spear", which was not a property of the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, didn't go with it. Instead, Gold Key brought them out in their own title, with artwork by Jesse Santos (Dagar the Invincible, Tragg & the Sky Gods). Brothers of the Spear continued to headline its own comic until #17 (February, 1976), then one final issue came out in 1982. When, in the late 1980s, Valiant Comics acquired Doctor Solar, Turok and other properties of Western Publishing (which owned or licensed most of those published by Dell and all of those published by Gold Key), "Brothers of the Spear" didn't appear to be part of the deal.

It's gone now, but its high adventure isn't likely to be forgotten, despite the fact that it never was a very prominent series during its decades in print. And as an early harbinger of a modern approach to race relations, it has a secure place in comic book history.


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