Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
Who’s ready for a SAVAGE start to the workweek? That’s right, X-Fans, this week, we’re heading to Antarctica so we can access everybody’s favorite prehistoric preserve and dig into Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land with writer Zac Thompson!
(Zac, pictured below, ready for a dinosaur-packed, tropical adventure.)
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Zac! Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land spins out of Empyre, which wrapped some time ago and was hit by pandemic delays. So my first question is, how far back do the origins of this project go and how did it come together.
Zac: Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land has been in the works since March 2020. Basically right as the pandemic was hitting, series editor Sarah Brunstad reached out with the general idea for the book. Ka-Zar was going to die in Empyre: Avengers but he was going to be resurrected by “the land” and that was going to give him “land-based powers.” We got to talking about the natural sort of colonial history to characters like Ka-Zar and the implications of having a last name like “Plunder” but being sworn to protect what is, in essence, a giant nature reserve.
After a few chats, I went to work outlining the series and crafting the new power set. I was basically just about to start the first issue script when everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic. Originally the book was supposed to launch in September 2020. Which is insane to even think about.
AIPT: In your newsletter, you said Ka-Zar is “easily the most me thing” you’ve ever done for Marvel. Could you expand on that a bit and explain what makes this a Zac Thompson story?
Zac: I’m incredibly passionate about telling stories that have the environment at the forefront. Where plants and animals are given interiority and a sense of agency within the story. I’m also very interested in the ways using technology shapes us and the narratives we tell ourselves. Finally, I’m a horror superfan. So this book is really a blend of those three things.
It’s a story about Ka-Zar finally having to think and feel for the animals he shares the Savage Land with and perhaps accept that the Indigenous Tribes there don’t really see him as the “protector” he thinks he is. At the same time, you have this technology — living machines — Polyscions — coming into this hidden world and changing things. The environment he called home for so long is on the verge of this massive existential threat that may change life there forever. So, you know, you’ve got this big allegorical horror story about climate change. The anxiety of feeling responsible for a place, being a settler, and the naivety inherent in thinking we can “invent” our way out of the problem. I read a lot of horror and I read a lot about the erosion of our natural world. So it felt like a perfect marriage of my interests to look at the Savage Land and Ka-Zar through that lens.
AIPT: The first issue was also gorgeous. It has a lush, almost storybook-like feel. Did you approach scripting this series differently knowing artist Germán García and color artist Matheus Lopes would absolutely crush it?
Zac: Oh absolutely. When you have a team as talented as German and Mat, you try to throw absolutely everything at them. There is nothing those two cannot make gorgeous and lush. So it’s really this exercise in pure wish-fulfillment at this point. We can do both the big bombastic action/monster beats but we can juxtapose that against the pulpy world of the Savage Land or the intimacy of a family in conversation. It’s all in this attempt to create something that harkens back to the specific kind of sun-kissed adventure book that really inspired Ka-Zar’s creation in the first place. Luckily those two have crushed every single page of every issue. Each time new pages come in, I actually freak out. They always wildly exceed my expectations.
AIPT: Obviously, your take on Kevin Plunder and his family is something of a reinvention, but are there any past Ka-Zar stories you especially like or used as inspiration?
Zac: It’s interesting you say that. Honestly (despite the powers) — I see this very much as an extension of the previous character work done in Mark Waid and Andy Kubert’s Ka-Zar series from the ‘90s.
I don’t want to spoil it for folks who haven’t read it but there’s a lot of what Waid was doing with Ka-Zar that we wanted to lean into. In that run, he was this arrogant dude who was almost longing to return to the human world. He didn’t seem to realize the beauty of what he had or want the responsibility of protecting the Savage Land. So I really wanted to build off of that, who is this dude a decade (or three) later. What does his son, Matthew, think of this place? Is he flirting with the same types of arrogance?
Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson’s Ka-Zar: The Savage series was also a huge inspiration for the adventure tone.
Those issues have a rollicking boots-on-the-ground feel to them. They’re always moving around the Savage Land and showing us incredible environments and animals. They never linger for too long and I wanted to capture that spirit here. That’s why every issue of the series is set in a different biome.
AIPT: Comic characters come back from the dead all the time, and so many of them take power upgrades in stride. Seeing Ka-Zar struggle with both is refreshing. Why was it important to you to let readers know how Ka-Zar’s adapting to his resurrection and overwhelming new abilities?
Zac: This type of stuff is usually more fun if you’re working things out with the protagonist. I really didn’t want to do this giant information dump that basically spelled everything he’s capable of outright from the get-go. So it was important that these powers felt like a mantel he had to earn.
So what appears chaotic and unrestrained in the opening issue can slowly blossom into something more controlled and powerful. Ka-Zar’s also been human for his entire publishing run and I figured much of what makes Marvel so special is seeing regular people struggle with newfound awesome power. It was also a cheeky way to lean into the “wait, what did I miss quality?” that the book was going to have. I knew a lot of folks reading this would be new to Ka-Zar or at the very least (probably) were not aware he even died. So it made sense for Ka-Zar to be sorting through as they do too.
AIPT: The Summers-Grey family, the Richards-Storm family — the Marvel Universe is home to a lot of great family dynamics. As a writer, what do you find appealing about the Plunder family dynamic?
Zac: I find it endlessly fascinating that you’ve got these two settlers in the Savage Land basically taking stewardship (and some degree of ownership) of a place that’s older than time itself. There’s something Sisyphean about that but it’s also kinda noble. It walks that strange colonial line in this interesting way and I think it’s time to address that.
Both Ka-Zar and Shanna choose to live in the Savage Land. They have basically given themselves their roles and I can’t help but feel like there’s a massive generational divide there. An acknowledgment of privilege if you will. There’s something brilliant about that sort of family dynamic because everyone essentially holds the same values but has different ideas of how to protect the Savage Land. Ka-Zar is bold and brash. Shanna is measured and empathetic. Matthew is passionate but indignant. That interplay is basically the perfect story engine.
AIPT: Like many, many people, I was big into dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures growing up. So it was fun seeing mentions of the ankylosaurus and troodon. Are you currently or were you ever big into dinosaurs yourself? Did you find yourself doing a lot of research to flesh out Ka-Zar’s world?
Zac: Oh man, I love dinosaurs. They were my life as a kid and honestly getting the opportunity to be paid and research them was a dream come true. Most every dinosaur you see in the series was scripted specifically (or at least those that fit into the narrative). I had a blast researching what species would live in each biome and what powers Ka-Zar would need to draw upon given the situation. I wanted to write a book that used the specific species names and likenesses without ever giving into generic interpretations.
AIPT: That’s awesome. A semi-related and very important question: Were you a Dino-Riders fan? (I was — and had to ask after seeing that Singing Grasslands scene in Ka-Zar #1!)
Zac: YES. I had the pilot episode on VHS as a kid. My younger brother and I watched it so many times that the tape wore out. I had no idea it was a cheap advertising vehicle for a toyline until much later in life. Haha.
AIPT: As we wrap up, what can you tease about “Polyscion” and what awaits Ka-Zar and his family in the issues to come?
Zac: Well, I’ll say two things. Polyscions are a race of creatures and that was their creator we saw at the end of issue #1. Their creator, The Flesh Weaver, is the villain at the heart of the series and we’re going to be seeing more of both going forward.
Finally, expect Ka-Zar’s transformations to get more intense and erratic before they get better. 😀
AIPT: You’ve been warned, Ka-Zar fans! Finally, an actual X-Men question for this edition of X-Men Monday. In superhero storytelling, events can almost seem disposable as universe-shattering changes are swept under the rug in favor of the next big thing. But all these years later, it’s cool to see elements of Age of X-Man continue to be a part of X-Men continuity. For instance, Blob’s still rocking his AOXM mustache and several of the background characters introduced in Prisoner X are getting developed in New Mutants. Not to mention AOXM writers Leah Williams and Vita Ayala are regular players in the X-Office. How does it feel knowing the impact of the Age of X-Man is still being felt to this day?
Zac: I LOVE it. I’m currently living for what Leah and Vita are doing in the X-Office. It’s so damn cool to leave a tiny thumbprint on the X-World and see other incredibly talented creators run with it in ways I never could have imagined.
AIPT: On that note — Zac, thanks for taking the time to talk Ka-Zar: Lord of The Savage Land #1 and what comes neXt! X-Fans, remember to pick up this mini-series’ second issue October 13! Want a taste of what’ll be inside? Take a look at these eXclusive preview images courtesy of Marvel!
Freaky-faced fish? Sign me up!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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