Hidden in the icy reaches of the Antarctic, a semi-tropical paradise flourishes: Pangea, a rest resort built a long time ago by the ancient Atlanteans, eons after Atlantis’ fall. Its virtually indestructible machinery still holds the cold at bay.
Though they still cannot quite believe it, Ka-Zar and Shanna with Ka-Zar’s cat Zabu have recently discovered Pangea and all its myriad wonders. They now number among their friends the green winged Avian, Buth and the four explorers find themselves on a private pilgrimage through what seems to be Dante’s Inferno, standing before the portal to Dis, city of the damned!
Suddenly, tentacles from a pit grab Shanna’s legs and she shouts for help.
At first, they were five. Dherk, the android from ancient Atlantis, was with them when they discovered the Inferno’s dark entry way and read the cryptic inscription above the yawning black hole… Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Ka-Zar and Shanna had argued. He, backed up by Dherk, was convinced that this “Inferno” was built long ago as part of Pangea’s amusement park. Shanna, however, was inclined to trust her intuition that the tunnel’s resemblance to Dante’s “hell” was too close for comfort.
And they had met Dante’s horrors at every turn – Charon, the mechanical ferryman, Minos, guardian of the second city… and finally Cerberus, the three-headed dog, who had flung the powerful Dherk into a bottomless abyss.
Finally, Zabu’s slashing fangs has ensured victory for Ka-Zar’s intrepid little band and they had set out to rescue Dherk. They traveled ever deeper, coming eventually to Dis, city of all evil; gateway to the Damned.
Buth had suggested that he fly ahead and check the palace out before they sailed into any more trouble. But Ka-Zar held him back. They’d already lost Dherk, the strongest among them, so they shouldn’t separate. They are going to need all they have to get in there, find Dherk and get out in one piece.
Ka-Zar turned to Shanna, their resident Dante expert, asking what they could expect once they got in there. She thought he was convinced that it was all just Atlantean fun and games, she needled. He turned away laughing. She never gives up! Jus for the sake of argument then… However, before she could answer, tentacles grabbed her.
The foul waters at the shore of Dis erupt as the demons surrounding Shanna drag her toward madness and oblivion. Buth quickly grabs her and flies up high. Ka-Zar orders him to fly her inside the city gate while he’ll try to keep these monsters from following.
Oh no, you don’t! Shanna announces and gets out of Buth’s grip. Either they all make it or none of them does! Besides, she’s getting stiff from lack of exercise. Nothing tried to kill them for at least ten minutes!
She lands on a demonhead and she and Buth join the fight. They all run toward the gate and Ka-Zar embeds his flint knife (which Shanna never liked anyway) in a demon’s chest.
Ka-Zar orders Buth to fly inside the city and get the gate open for them. A moment later, laser fire from the city almost hits him. Ka-Zar tells Buth to get down. He must have triggered an automatic defense by trying to go over the wall.
Shanna suggests they don’t knock it as the laser rays chased away the demons. Ka-Zar figures though if what’s in there is mean enough to scare those monsters he’s not that keen on tackling it himself. Except they have to go through Dis if they want to rescue Dherk, Shanna reminds him. So how did Dante get inside? Ka-Zar asks. With the help of an angel, Shanna replies and pointedly remarks that Buth sure has pretty wings…
Yeah, he does look like an angel, Ka-Zar agrees, in a devilish sort of way. After you, pal, he states and bows with a flourish. Buth shows his strength and manages to lift up the metal gate long enough for the four of them to pass through.
Inside, Ka-Zar asks Shanna that she never said what was supposed to be inside Dis. Burning tombs as she remembers. Where the heretics were punished. Swell, Buth remarks joylessly.
They enter the city of Dis, and all around them are circular openings in the stone floor, from which dancing waves of hot air emerge. Could these be the tombs of heretic? Ka-Zar asks. He looks down one. Ore merely steam vents connected to the main power source that runs this funhouse? Hear that distant pounding of machinery?
Shanna agrees, then gives a startled yelp a moment later, as from one of the openings a pale humanoid being slithers toward her. Ka-Zar tells her to hold her ground. It doesn’t look hostile. Easy for him to say, she retorts.
The being touches Shanna’s face. Clearly, it is blind. Yeah but not stupid, Kevin replies sourly as it begin to examine Shanna’s form. The creature turns to the jungle lord, skinny pallid arms extended; it touches his face. He realizes, of course, it’s not the greatest nose in the world but it served him well, Ka-Zar jokes.
Suddenly, the creature freezes, mouth agape… It teeters a moment uncertainly, then bows down to Ka-Zar. Obviously a fellow of impeccable taste, Ka-Zar decides. Lets encourage that trend, shall they?
She hopes his friends agree, Shanna remarks as they are joined by more of the creatures. They all bow. She feels like Deborah Harry, Shanna remarks. While she’s basking in the limelight, take a look at the local art gallery, Ka-Zar suggests and points at several huge stone statues. Crude but showing some talents, Shanna decides. She wonders who made them. The demons? No way, Ka-Zar decides, Those things had neither the brains or the compassion for this kind of work. He bets it was done by their frog-eyed friends here.
Around the next corner, they find a painting of a young woman in a medieval dress. Whoever painted this could definitely see, Ka-Zar remarks. Who does she thinks she was? Beatrice, Shanna replies and takes the medallion she found in Charon’s boat out of her fur leotard. Beatrice Portinari, she explains and shows him the gold medallion on which the crucifixion at Golgotha is depicted. Dante’s great love. She died young and her spirit was supposed to have led him to paradise. Shanna found the medallion in the bottom of the boat that brought them here. Inside the locket is a picture of the same woman.
Shanna explains that this is the kind of locket that men of the thirteenth century used to wear around their necks to carry miniatures of their loved ones. There can be only one explanation: it belonged to Dante. This is his Inferno.
Ka-Zar admits he is beginning to agree with her. He opens an ancient tome lying on the table before the portrait. She is the Latin scholar, Can she read it? Shanna begins and identifies it as the ship’s log of Captain Dante Alighieri.
In the log, Dante Alighieri at the age of twenty-four relates how he lived all his life in his native Florence. Until the false sorcerer-priest Belasco was accused of heresy and tried for attempting to summon from the outer world beings whom he called the “Elder Gods” in an effort to attain immortality.
Belasco had long harbored a secret passion for Dante’s beloved Beatrice. When he was freed from his prison by his sorcerous familiars, he kidnapped her and fled Italy by ship. For months, Dante pursued Belasco’s vessel to the nether regions of the Earth. The chase ended in a place of terrible cold and whiteness, a nightmarish region where no one was meant to go.
Most of Dante’s crew froze, yet he continued to chase Belasco through the snow and ice. Finally, Dante and his crew came upon a strange, invisible force, like a translucent wall. Desperately in need of heat, they passed through it and found a land within of twisted jungles and verdant forests.
He met the strange creatures inhabiting this place called Pangea, none more curious that the Aerians, winged men who proved to be friendly. One of them, Ver-Jeel, helped Dante’s people track Belasco to a dark cavern. Inside were myriad of marvels… magical rivers, caverns in which men could fly, truly an enchanted place, but Dante was too frantic to enjoy it.
Belasco had tunneled deep into the caverns. Dante’s remaining crew and some volunteer Pangean men and women set up camp in an abandoned city and they separated, each of them trying a different passageway, hoping one would lead them to Belasco.
Dante was the one to find Beatrice – too late! She lay upon an evil looking altars, screaming in fear and pain, about to birth the monster’s progeny. Belasco’s children were hideous demons, the “Elder Gods’” gift to him, along with the promise of immortality. It was with these gibbering horrors that Belasco planned to hold dominion over Earth.
Even as Beatrice died, the hated alchemist leapt at Dante from behind a crimson curtain. Dante fought like a fury, driving Belasco before him into the cavern’s deepest depth, but his immortality spell was real – Dante could not slay him. Eventually, Dante tired and it was then Belasco disarmed him. As Belasco lifted his sword for the fatal blow, Dante whispered a prayer to Heaven and it was answered! For as Belasco brought the sword down upon Dante, he inadvertently slashed a pipe overhead which spewed a freezing liquid, encasing Belasco in a mound of ice.
With his beloved Beatrice dead, Dante staggered back toward the city and the rest of his crew. The earth began to shudder beneath his feet and tons of rock and dirt fell down before him. The earthquake sealed Dante off from his men… but it also opened a wide fissure in the mountain’s side through which he could escape. He left this record here, hoping his men would find it and the others who might follow may know of that devil Belasco… and of this hell on Earth…
Shanna explains that Belasco aka Lucifer was encased in a block of ice. Canto 34, the last round of the ninth ring of Dante’s hell. It all fits. So Dante returned to Florence and set down his fantastic tale years later in his poem the Inferno, Ka-Zar summarizes. And those monsters outside are the descendants from Belasco’s original demon-children.
How does he explain the strange blind beings? Buth asks. Surely they are not related to the monsters outside. This is what six hundred years of de-evolution has done to the children of the trapped Pangaeans and the crew members, Ka-Zar replies. Left behind to carve those statues then worship them, Shanna adds, their minds reverting to primitive? No wonder they though them gods. Down here in the secret depth a war between the sacred and the profane has raged for almost seven centuries. She guesses their friends here see them as some kind of saviors since they are so much like the statues their forefathers carved.
That’s still not all, Shanna insists. Why was Cerberus real? Why have the thrill rides been systematically trying to destroy them? It can’t be the work of the monsters, they are not clever enough.
Surely she has guessed, Ka-Zar ventures as he takes a dagger from the altar. The one who reigns over the amusement park is the one who reigned over Dante’s Inferno… Belasco!
Still alive? Shanna asks doubtful. Why not? Ka-Zar asks, he was supposed to be immortal, wasn’t he? He’s been here for centuries, building his armies of demons for the final confrontation with mankind. And from the size of that army outside, he’d say Belasco is getting pretty close.
Buth reminds him that according to the log Belasco was frozen. Well, somehow he got himself un-frozen, Ka-Zar retorts, gesturing with the golden dagger They’ll need some back up troops to fight him and his force, like a few thousands of Buth’s “Aerian” angels. But before that they’ve still got to locate Dherk, only then will it be time to dance with the devil…
After a hearty meal of rat meat and mushrooms provided by their hosts, Ka-Zar, Shanna, Buth and Zabu continue their descent, smeared with the garlic-like fungus the underground people use to keep the demons at bay. Though this proves to be only a transitory measure. Soon, they are picking their way down a steep cliff at the bottom of which runs a vast crimson river and the entrance to the seventh circle of hell. Something is wrong! Shanna suddenly announces. She feels something coming. Something big, Ka.Zar agrees.
They hear a thumping noise coming closer and stand ready, weapons drawn. An animal bellowing fills the dark, stygian air… the trio takes a step backward… another terrifying bellow and then from around a bend in the rocky corridor comes the night mare form of half-man, half-bull, red eyes fixed on them, horns dripping gore, massive arms outstretched. The Minotaur! Shanna cries. But as soon as the bellowing behemoth appears – it vanishes… reappears… vanishes again.
Holding his hand over a piece of rock, a grinning Buth remarks, “now you see it, now you don’t.” The others realize it’s a hologram, projected from that rock. Just another Pangaean amusement device.
A moment later, things turn serious as Ka-Zar is almost hit by an arrow. They hide behind the rocks, the snipers being centaur like creatures. Shanna identifies them as Pholus and Nessus, the centaurs who fire arrows at anyone attempting to cross the river of blood.
How did Dante get around that one? Ka-Zar asks. He persuaded one of them to take him across on his back. Somehow he doesn’t think that’s going to work, Ka-Zar remarks wryly. Buth solves their problem by carrying them over the river flying. What about Zabu, Ka-Zar protests. He’ll come back for him, Buth promises.
Below them strangely they see a cloud which turns out to be actually a swarm of harpies that attacks them. Shanna unnecessarily informs the others that they are over the forest of living trees.
Buth is forced to land. As he plummets awkwardly downward, Ka-Zar is struck from behind and the world goes dark…
He wakes up moments later, on the ground and alone. As he bumps against the tree behind him with his shoulder, the tree protests claiming it bruises easily.
Nice knife, it mocks. Did he get it at the concession stand? Another tree calls him an idiot. At the concession stand, you get rubber knives. That one’s real.
Ka-Zar breaks up their argument, asking about his friends. However, the two trees instead continue arguing and are not much use regarding information. Ka-Zar decides to leave.
He sees a cave and a grating blocking the entrance… From within, he hears the steady beat of machinery. With a single kick, he gets rid of the grating and enters. Inside he finds a sign, learning he is at level 8. Just like the underground maintenance levels at Disneyland, he figures.
Below him, the sound of machinery gets louder He enters level 9, according to the sign a main engine room only for authorized personnel. The heart of the matter, at last, he figures. Is Belasco waiting behind this gate? He has the sneaky suspicion, he is…
He kicks in the grate and enters the maintenance room. In the doorway opposite, he sees a figure hidden by the shadows. Come on out, Belasco! he orders. Come out and meet someone he might find a wee bit tougher than the children of Dante’s crew. And while he’s at it, he can tell Ka-Zar what he has done with Dherk and…
He stammers as the figure steps from the shadows. “Beatrice?” he exclaims. But then he realizes that the beautiful woman in the medieval dress and headdress is Shanna, acting in a strangely demure manner. He begins to ask what she is doing, but then a hand grabs his shoulder. He shoves it away to see it belongs to his android friend Dherk. He is pleased for a moment until Dherk throws him into the wall.
A voice orders Dherk to treat him gently. Mr. Plunder is their honored guest.
Ka-Zar whirls around, knife in hand as before him a demon-like man with red skin and horns bids him welcome to his home. How delightfully convenient to find him already kneeling. His name is Belasco.
A time of past in the Savage Land. Zabu was still a kitten. For him and his siblings, it was the first time out of the nest. Old Mara had kept the cubs well hidden until they were of an age to forage for themselves. And even now, she would not let them wander far from her circle of protection.
Little Zabu chases a butterfly which is eaten by a frog a moment later. As he tries to climb up a slope, he falls down again and lands in the water, quickly finding out one can’t breathe it.
As he tries to figure out which way is home, he hears a scream, sounding like his mother. He hides from armed magenta monkey like beings, then runs home to find his mother dead, a spear in her side. He runs off, chased away by carrion birds.
Orphaned, alone and hungry, he watches from a distance as they devour his mother’s corpse.