Kalthar with Butah the monkey. Artist: Lin Streeter.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Harry Shorten (writer) and Lin Streeter (artist)
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Superheroes dominated American comic books om the early 1940s, but they weren't the only genre to be found there. Most anthology comics had a superhero on the cover, but the back pages were …

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… full of spies, soldiers, private eyes and every other kind of adventurer. Jungle heroes were common. Kalthar was a jungle guy, but with a slight twist — he was also a cross-genre guy, because he was a jungle guy with a super power.

In this, he wasn't unique. The same month he debuted (February, 1940), Fiction House launched Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle, who was not only a super-powered jungle adventurer — she has a valid claim to the title of first female superhero. Fiction House was also running The White Panther, a superhero with a regular costume, who was also jungle-based (and in fact, ran in the back pages of Jungle Comics itself, alongside Wambi and Camilla).

Kalthar's February, 1940 debut occurred in Zip Comics #1, published by MLJ Comics, whose stars include The Black Hood, The Shield and later, Archie. Zip had more traditional superheroes as well, such as The Scarlet Avenger and Zambini the Miracle Man. Its cover-featured star was Steel Sterling. Kalthar was created by writer Harry Shorten (Bob Phantom) and artist Lin Streeter (Captain Flag).

Despite originally having been an interloper to the African jungle (he arrived there as an infant, but wasn't a native or even of the same race), Kalthar had a valid claim to his second subtitle, "King of the Jungle" because he was chief of the Urganas tribe (later sometimes spelled "Ugarnas"). This resulted from the esteem in which the Urganas held his father, who died defending the tribe from Arab slavers. The name "Kalthar" meant "God-son" in the Urganas' language. Aside from that language, Kalthar was also fluent in that of the beasts, and could communicate easily with Mano the elephant and Burkah the monkey. In this, as well as his amazing fighting prowess, he resembled the template of most loincloth-wearing jungle heroes, Tarzan.

Where he departed from the mold was in his very useful super power, the ability to enlarge himself by ingesting substances, like Marvel's much later Ant Man modification, Giant Man. Ta-Lo, the village witch doctor, gave him red and green grains. When he swallowed a red one, he'd suddenly grow to a height of 15 feet. A green one would return him to normal. It wasn't stated, but he was apparently invulnerable in his enlarged state — neither bullets nor crocodile teeth bothered him, tho one would think they could at least pierce the skin of even a 15-foot man. Tho his loincloth lacked pockets, he kept the grains handy by hiding them in his hair, tied to his ear by nearly-invisible panther hairs.

The fact that panthers have short hair, and what they do have is anything but invisible against his own blond, seems not to have bothered him. How he got the hair wasn't mentioned. Did he shave one? Pluck one? Seems unnecessarily dangerous when, say, an alpaca hair would work better anyway. The fact that alpacas aren't found in Africa doesn't make them any more improbable a hair source than panthers.

Kalthar met his true love, Kate Goodwill, in the third issue. They parted sadly after an adventure together, but she returned in #6. Unfortunately, a tribal council ruled she wasn't fit to marry their "God-son" chief.

This type of setback doesn't usually create too much suspense in readers of jungle-genre stories, because they know the hero always gets the girl in the end, and they're usually married in the last chapter. That's how it was here. A couple of issues later, Kalthar stated in no uncertain terms that he intended to take Kate as his mate, and if the tribe didn't like it he was outta there. They wanted to keep him more than they wanted not to have her, so Ta-Lo performed the marriage ceremony in Zip Comics #9 (November, 1940).

True to the pattern, that was the last chapter of Kalthar's story. Both he and the minor back-pages superhero Mr. Satan ended in that issue, and were replaced in #10 by Red Reagan and Dicky in the Magic Forest. Presumably, Kalthar and Kate lived happily ever after.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.