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SHOWCASE 74
ANTHRO

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Review by Bill Henley

May 1968; DC Comics Joe Orlando, editor; cover, story, art, and the creation of Anthro by Howie Post (otherwise known for the newspaper comic strip "The Dropouts" and I think art for Harvey and the short lived Marvel Star Comics kids line). . On the cover, a prehistoric teenage boy holding a crudely made hammer stands in the foreground, with vignettes in the background of a shapely cave girl holding a spear; a volcano blowing up; a cave family threatened by a pack of wolves; and a hunter hurling a spear at a mammoth. The cover blurb reads, "Could It Be You?"

In the waning years of the Silver Age, with DC Comics' traditional heroes losing ground to Marvel and television, new editorial director Carmine Infantino brought in new editors, like Joe Orlando and Dick Giordano, and tried a lot of experimental new series. Some of these were offbeat superheroes, like Steve Ditko's Creeper and Hawk and Dove. Others tried out different genres, such as the Western BAT LASH, the spy saga SECRET SIX-- and ANTHRO, an attempt at the caveman-adventure genre otherwise best exemplified in comics by Joe Kubert's 1950's TOR. (But there were others, such as NAZA, a 1960's Dell series, and KONG THE UNTAMED, a 1970's DC series.) Typically, these new DC series of the late Silver Age would have a single SHOWCASE tryout (rather than the three or four issue run that was standard earlier in the decade), then go into their own titles, and then be cancelled just over a year later, after 6 or 7 bi-monthly issues. But though none of these experimental series lasted very long, they contained a lot of Neat Stuff.... and one of the most unique and entertaining series to come out of this period was ANTHRO.

Anthro's debut story is titled "It Could Be You!" (answering the cover question in the affirmative) and is credited simply "by Howie Post". On the splash page, our teenage caveman Anthro lurks behind a tree, his hunting spear fallen aside as he watches with fascination as a cave girl dives into a pool. "It does not LOOK ferocious... and yet, my father warned me that the beasts formed in my mother's image are the DEADLIEST of all!" Concluding that his father was too cautious, Anthro makes plans to capture the strange female-type beast and keep it for a pet....but his scheming is interrupted when he is clonked on the head with a bone club and dragged away by the hair. Fortunately, the clonker is Anthro's Neanderthal father; "Your luck is GOOD! It might have been one of the tribe of the EATERS OF HUMAN FLESH rather than me!" As a muzzy Anthro thanks his father for this object lesson in vigilance, the girl flees. Pointing out how snow is starting to descend from the distant mountain tops, Anthro's father warns that the "Season of White Cold" is coming soon and father and son must go on a great hunt for the "serpent nose" (mammoth) to bag meat to last through the winter. Meanwhile, there is tonight's dinner to catch; Anthro manages to spear a humongous fish, but gets only the grunting accolade, "Better than nothing!"

Back at the ranch, er, cave, Anthro and father rejoin the rest of the family which includes Anthro's mother, his younger brother , and his grandmother, an aged crone with a sharp tongue, especially for her son-in-law. (None of the other family members are named in this initial issue, but we later learn that the father's name is Ne-ahn and the brother is named Lart.) "LOOK AT WHAT YOUR MIGHTY HUNTERS BRING FOR OUR COOKFIRE, DAUGHTER? HAVE YOU EVER GAZED ON A SIGHT SO PITIFUL?" Ne-ahn is conciliatory, "Dear old woman, the SWEETNESS OF YOUR GREETING is our ONLY good luck all day!" but later grumbles, "It is the SIZE of her MOUTH that makes all other things seem SMALL! Were I not a MOST CIVILIZED MAN, I would never put up with her1"

After the family wrap themselves in their night-time skins, Ne-ahn is beset by "an old enemy-- a toothache!" and recruits Anthro to practice the latest in Stone Age dentistry-- to knock the "poison tooth" out with a stone hammer and wedge. To fortify both patient and doctor, Ne-ahn offers "the WATER of the WALKING SLEEP-- it will make me even BRAVER than I am ALREADY!" Suitably emboldened by this "drink fit only for chiefs", Anthro strikes the telling blow and is promptly knocked down by his father....who then apologizes, saying it isn't his custom to be hit without hitting back, and thanks his son for the successful operation. "You have removed the foul tooth without spoiling my HANDSOMENESS--- your mother will be grateful!" By this time, the sun is rising and Ne-ahn leads Anthro out on the mammoth hunt. First, however, Anthro must be initiated into the hunt by paying his respects to the "fetid pelt of a long-dead mammoth" found in the "ritual cave". "Phew! The ODOR is TEST ENOUGH of any hunter's strength!" "The great beast bequeaths us a powerful odor after death! He wishes to be REMEMBERED!" The initiation ritual involves making marks on a cave wall painted with mammoth images, and hurling spears at the dead mammoth.... while all this is going on, Anthro points out that the day is moving on and they may be missing a chance at a real mammoth, but Ne-ahn is stern; "SILENCE! YOUR LACK OF RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT DISGUSTS ME!"

At this point the story breaks for a house ad for the SUPERBOY 80 PAGE GIANT featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes (which was reprinted in a replica edition a while back) and a text page, "The World of Anthro!" After a somewhat fanciful biography of artist Howie Post (in which he takes the place of the Neanderthal effigy in a prehistoric man museum exhibit), editor Orlando writes, "We at DC hope. along with Howie, that ANTHRO will entertain you, sometimes, inform you, and perhaps once in a while leave you with a thought or two! Mainly, that man has not changed much, even with all of the advanced technology at his disposal....We still love and kill, the young will still lead the old in breaking out into new frontiers....So come back with us, five hundred, a thousand centuries, to meet the last surviving tribes of Ape-Like Pre-Men.... Come meet Anthro, a lusty young man of pre-history.... Anthro might have been you. In fact, ANTHRO IS YOU... for you still carry his genetic cargo...seeking still that BETTER WAY as he did then." The page concludes, "We welcome your comments. But please don't send any engraved stone tablets. Just scribble your graffiti on paper...we'll get the message."

Back with our story, Anthro and Ne-ahn have finally completed their religious observance and are out on the actual hunt. Tracking a mammoth by scent, the hunters spot their prey and Anthro circles around to startle the beast and drive it into the path of Ne-ahn's spear. But the mammoth charges Anthro instead, and the startled cave boy throws his spear too late, catching the mammorth only in the trunk and not in a vital spot. Then the mammoth knocks down Ne-ahn in its flight, and Anthro seeks to redeem himself by seizing his father's spear and using his greater speed to pursue the mammoth. As the mammoth stops to try to dislodge the spear stuck in its trunk, Anthro catches up to it, and this time his spear-throw is on target to the heart and the mammoth falls. Slicing off the tail for a trophy, Anthro rejoices, "There will be meat for the long winter and bone and hair for weapons and tools!"-- and rushes back to the cave to tell of his triumph. But he does not get the hero's welcome he expects, for in seizing and running away with his father's spear, he has unwittingly broken a law of his father's tribe and "challenged his rule in the family". Now, father and son must battle to the death for possession of the "baton of command". Anthro protests against having to battle his own father, but Ne-ahn insists it is a matter of tribal law; "Men make laws! We are not bears that speak!"

Anthro's mother begs for her son's life, pointing out that Ne-ahn went into exile from his tribe and their laws in order to mate with her, and Ne-ahn's mother-in-law denounces him; "The animal! He would kill his own son for a length of wood and bone!" But Ne-ahn is adamant, and Anthro also refuses to flee; "I must HONOR my father by obeying his laws! I cannot DISGRACE him by flight!" The battle begins, but as father and son wrestle and tumble, Ne-ahn accidentally falls into "the Swamp of the Hungry Mud". Anthro extends a branch to pull his father to safety, but Ne-ahn will not relent; "You are a FOOL-- The law leaves no place for your gesture! It is a fight to the DEATH!" As Anthro backs away from his father's new onslaught, he trips over a boulder, and then the charging Ne-ahn bashes his head against that same rock. The blow to the head leaves the older man unable to fight further; "You battled poorly, my son-- struck not a single blow-- and yet you defeat me! The Baton of Command is yours! Now you must END MY SHAME with it-- strike the BLOW OF GRACE!" Watching from the sidelines, the mother-in-law thinks this is a great idea; "IT IS THE LAW! The law is JUST!" But the grieving mother points out, "That man has risked his life for your food and skins! And he has given me two sons!"

But Anthro refuses to carry out his obligation under tribal law. "You say I am master now--then I make a NEW LAW! A law of LOVE--a law that does not ask me to kill YOU--who taught me to hunt and fish and saved me from the tiger! Here-- I return the baton!" Ne-ahn sees the light and smashes the baton against the rock, saying, "Then the OLD LAW IS DEAD! We begin to live by your law--my son!" And though the mother-in-law is disgruntled-- "It is a sacrilege!", the mother is delighted; "They have risen above the half-bears of the father's tribe...they learn to love others as a mother loves her child...ANTHRO WILL TEACH US ALL!" As Ne-ahn recuperates from his injuries, he sends Anthro back out to cut and gather the meat of the slain mammoth before scavengers get it all. Younger brother Lart begs for permission to accompany Anthro and receives it. But the older hunter warns of dangers on the trail, and indeed, as Anthro and Lart set out, "they are watched....by the most DANGEROUS of all beasts".... the cave girl!

So ended Anthro's SHOWCASE tryout. DC must have had strong hopes for the new feature, for ANTHRO #1 appeared only a few months later, dated July-August 1968. In succeeding issues, Anthro contended with the "battle of the sexes", a near-tragedy involving brother Lart, the hunger and cold of the long Ice Age winter, and a visit to a semi-civilized city with high-tech items such as bows and arrows and wheels. But the cave boy's greatest foe was disappointing sales, and the series ended with issue #6, July-Aug. 1969. Since then, the only Anthro appearance I can think of is a brief appearance in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. But ANTHRO was a lost gem, a delightful combination of mildly anachronistic humor and a believable view of what prehistoric life might have been like (note that ANTHRO, alone of all comic-book caveman series, does not have the cavemen co-existing with dinosaurs that died out ages before). The series really deserves to be collected in book form, but it's not likely to happen, at least unless some film or TV show with a caveman theme hits it big and DC tries to ride on its coattails. (TOR is appearing in Archive editions, but in my opinion ANTHRO deserves just as much to be preserved as Joe Kubert's series.