It’s Tarzan of the apes versus the Red Menace! Originally released under the title Tarzan, Guard of the Jungle, in the pages of The Blue Book Magazine between 1930 to 1931, this is a book that may have today’s young readers asking, “Mom, what’s a communist?” With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War such stories have become a bit dated, but when Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing these stories the threat of communism was something many feared. In several of his books, Burroughs managed to slip anti-communist sentiments into his fantasy or sci-fi stories, and in the case of The Moon Men, we got a blatant and scathing attack on communism using science fiction tropes as analogs to the current threat, much as Gene Rodenberry did with the original Star Trek. Then there are books like Tarzan the Invincible where the story is contemporary and our heroes must work against Communist agents who want to see the “evils” of Capitalism fall.
Tarzan himself is not much of a political animal, though his birth family is British he considers himself more of the ape society than that of man’s, but if a threat to the peace and stability of his beloved Africa rears its ugly head he will put an end to it, viciously and violently. When a small group of white men, leading a larger force consisting of many African natives and Arabic fighters, cross over into the part of Africa that Tarzan considers his home the Ape Man decides to find out just what these people are doing in His Africa.
The party consists of two Russians, the beautiful Zora Drinov and the crafty Comrade Zveri, an East Indian named Raghunath Jafar and Miguel Romero from Mexico, all of who have come to Africa to foment unrest between the French and the Italians, hoping this will cause a war between two of Communisms greater foes. The native and Arab contingent have joined on the promises that this will drive the whites out of Africa, but they wouldn’t have been so quick to join if they knew that Comrade Zveri actually plans to become Emperor of Africa and that his claims to be a leader of the communist revolution is just a sham to further his goal of wealth and power. Zora herself seems to be a true believer in the cause, so much so that she at first isn’t too fond of Wayne Colt, an America who is working against his own country. Even though he is on her side in the fight against the bourgeois, the fact that he is betraying his own country is something she cannot abide by. That Colt is portrayed as noble, courageous, self-serving and good-looking will have most readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs deducing that he may not be the “Traitorous American” Zora is led to believe he is.
Zveri has crossed into Tarzan’s territory because he wants to loot the treasure vaults of the fabled city of Opar. It’s at this point in the series that we must consider that “Opar, the lost outpost of Atlantis” isn’t all that lost. So many people have come and gone into this place that the priests of the Flaming God should think about putting up a tourist kiosk. Zveri only dares to trek into the domain of the Ape Man because he believes Tarzan to be away on some dirigible adventure (see Tarzan at the Earth’s Core). Though even with Tarzan “assumed out of the way” raiding the City of Opar is no easy task, especially when 90% of your party are a superstitious and cowardly lot and who flee at the first eerie cries from the lost valley.
Of course, things aren’t all that great in Opar itself, when Tarzan slips past the communists to warn the High Priestess of the coming intruders he finds that La herself has been overthrown. Tarzan is quickly seized by the new regime and then just as quickly he escapes with the beautiful La, who is still madly in love with Tarzan. Unfortunately, once again Tarzan goes off to hunt for food without telling his charge where he went or if he is ever coming back. Bit of an inconsiderate ass our Tarzan is. This results in a despondent La wandering off into the jungle, but what is truly terrible is that the dangerous animals of the jungle are the least of her worries.
Tarzan the Invincible contains two damsels in distress; Zora who is constantly on the brink of being raped or sold into slavery and then when La staggers into the camp she quickly finds herself in the same boat as Zora. Now, Zora does manage to survive most of her encounters with the vile Arab raiders that wish her harm but mostly it comes down to her being either rescued by Wayne Colt or Tarzan. What is great about this book is how badass La has become, she does not remain a damsel in distress for long as she kills several of the bastards who dare lay hands on the High Priestess of the Flaming God, gutting them with her sacrificial knife, and later she teams up with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion to kick even more ass. Sadly, this is her last appearance in the series and further adventures with her could have been amazing, maybe have her join up with the equally badass Jane “Girl Power!” When natives flee in terror at seeing this golden goddess striding through the jungle, with her fingers enmeshed in the mane of a massive golden lion, I kind of wish that she would have eventually hook up with Tarzan.
This book also has some of the greatest Tarzan moments of the series; we get Tarzan using his brains to mess with the superstitious natives, the ever-loyal Tantor stamping Tarzan’s enemies into pulp, there’s Jad-bal-ja eating anyone who would dare lay a finger on Tarzan or his friends, Nkima is his brilliant and hilariously cowardly self throughout, and once again the brave Waziri warriors (who are really Tarzan’s personal jungle SWAT team) show up at the end to help kick butt.
Note: Tarzan does get shot in the head…again. He must have the thickest skull on the planet for the number of times he’s fallen out of a tree on his head or had a bullet crease it, and yet never suffer from no brain damage.
This is one hell of a fun book, it perfectly encapsulates what makes Tarzan such a great character; he is heroic but also unpredictable, he could rush off to save the day or instead spend days lolling in the sun on the back of Tantor the elephant, and when he does arrive it’s often in the form of an avenging jungle god who meets out justice in the only way he knows how violently and finally. All the supporting characters in this book work to keep the story moving at a fast clip, the villains will fail, love will triumph, and Tarzan will prove he is the one and only true king of the jungle.
Tarzan the Invincible
Book Rank - 8/10
Tarzan the Invincible is a political adventure with an exciting jungle backdrop, great supporting characters, and a final trip to the terrifying Lost City of Opar that makes this a Burroughs book you will not want to miss.