I could do any jungle comic. After the success of the Tarzan movies they were a popular genre. Now only Tarzan and the Phantom seem to hang out in the jungles these days, probably because we know more about the jungles of Africa and South America than we did in the 1950s thanks to better communication between countries, documentaries that weren’t meant to sensationalize these regions for a good story, and magazines like National Geographic that showcased these areas and somehow got away with showing tribal women boobs when you couldn’t get away with that with women otherwise. (There’s a joke that went on for years that some guys bought the mag just to see naked breasts, so at least you know they weren’t against interracial copulation. That term scientific enough for you?) Around the 1950s however this was unknown territory except to some traders and slavers and of course diamond thieves and poachers. It was these latter two that the jungle hero would fight against.
Of course there is the problem that all of them were white but we didn’t get a black hero until the cowboy Lobo a decade or so later, and a white hero would be more appealing to the target audience. Because goodness knows they weren’t thinking of black people back then. Even good guys like Whitewash Jones and Ebony White were kind of racist in their depiction, especially Whitewash (just by the name alone). And a lot of those jungle heroes were women. I even grew up with one in the 1970s, as I’ve discussed Jana Of The Jungle in the past. (Here’s a link to the Saturday Night Showcase I did but I still can’t find a replacement for the video that was taken down as of this writing. I’m limited to YouTube and Dailymotion but none of them have anything besides the intro.) Probably the most popular, or at least one that got her own movie, is Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle, which was made into a movie in 1984 with Tanya Roberts in the title role. If any other “jungle girl” got her own movie or TV show I’m not currently aware of it. She’s also appeared in a number of TV series and was even featured in a song by The Ramones, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker“. She’s also been revived in numerous comics.
The first “jungle girl” was actually in the realm of prose that Wertham insists comics damage. Rima the Jungle Girl was introduced in the 1904 book Green Mansions and was featured in a number of books after that. But we know Wertham had zero interest in the history of comics, don’t we Superman? Speaking of which Rima actually appears in three episodes of Super Friends as DC was publishing stories based on her, which I assume is in public domain. It’s not like the Phantom joined the Super Friends at any point. Which would have been cool. Sheena first appeared in the pages of the British magazine Wags, which is interesting since we looked at the reaction to comics in the UK this week. Created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger, Sheena predates Wonder Woman in the comics, appearing the US in 1938, a year after her British debut, in the pages of Jumbo Comics. Tonight we will be looking at her first solo title, the final issue of which came out in 1953, just before Wertham would have started putting his thesis together into book form. So how dangerous is she to the minds of young Americans?
Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle #18
Fiction House (Winter, 1952-1953)
[uploaded to Comic Book Plus by WildBlueZero]
COVER PENCILER: Maurice Whitman
COVER INKER: Maurice Whitman
Click here to read along with me. Like so many comics of the time this featured more than one story, which does make it hard to world-build or create a more suspenseful story with character development and continuity. Those would come in time. We have four comic stories, a prose story, and a side story with King Of The Congo. But I want to start with this:
You can click on the comic to zoom in (or use this link if you’re on Patreon), but here’s the part I want to highlight:
“No true American wants to be a tough! But YOU and every red-blooded man and boy wants to be always ready and able to get out of any tough spot…”. By now you should know what Dr. Wertham would say about that. He thinks this would create the bullies and hoodlums rather than help you fight them. Anyway, on to the first story.
“The Skull Wearer of A’Wando Grotto”
(8 pages) [Writing credit is W. Morgan Thomas, which was apparently a shared pseudonym of Eisner and Iger to hide there were only two of them; PENCILER: Jay Disbrow?; INKER:? (Iger Studio)] They often aren’t sure about the credits because they’re rarely given in comics of the period, unlike modern comics.
Comic Book +’s Notes: Jay Disbrow relates in his book “The Iger Comics Kingdom” that he penciled “Sheena” and “Kaänga” quarterlies after having joined the studio in January 1950. Sheena’s costume altered for the original.
Apparently this story first appeared in Jumbo Comics #75 according to the Grand Comics Database, as apparently the text story is the only thing not reprinted. So I’m actually reviewing stories from the 1940s. I don’t know why the costume was changed, but it’s on to the story. Said story starts with not showing the natives running from Sheena, her hunter boyfriend Bob Reynolds (apparently replaced in later incarnations, don’t ask me why, and her chimp friend Chim (I believe his son hangs around race tracks), but by telling us they ran from her as she came over to swap war stories. Maybe they’re afraid of cooties?
All they find is a string of beads Sheena says is summoning her to the Swali lands. No, I don’t know how either. They also see tracks of a safari and find natives attacking said safari. It’s only two people, Jane Lebaire and her companion, Frank. They’re here because Jane’s father has died and she’s sure his mining partner, Duncan, did it to have sole custody of the mine since he ran off. Sheena immediately knows Jane has no proof. Then some creepy old white guy pops up, yells basically “you’re all gonna die, you’re all gonna die”, and runs off. I think he wandered into the wrong comic. No, wait, that’s Duncan. He runs off and Sheena gives chase while the others make camp. She saves him from becoming leopard munchies and takes him to his cave, where he has supplies. He claims he left the beads to call Sheena to protect the safari and that the real murder is the Swali chief, Natou.
Speaking of whom, Natou sends some big men to attack the safari, which now includes other jungle natives that weren’t drawn in before. However they only want “the whites”. They bring him to Natou, who blames Jane’s father for a mine cave-in that killed his sons. He killed the man as revenge, but also wants to kill his daughter. Sheena and Duncan have a plan, however. She sneaks into the village and frees Bob and Frank. As they fight through the tribe, Duncan unleashes a few illusions to scare the tribesman and in the fight Sheena learns that the “tall” men are just using stilts. The warrior flee and Jane makes amends with Duncan.
So our first story: there’s talk about Sheena slashing her way through but the only death is off-screen (except for the leopard), there’s no bloodshed, even when the leopard takes a spear to the throat (the only graphic thing in this story), and outside of Sheena kicking butt and saving everybody there’s nothing here that would corrupt a kid. Sexy girl in a leopard skin outfit? It’s not even as revealing as some more modern takes, which for some reason takes her out of Africa and into the Amazon. I don’t know, we’re here to find the imagery that was corrupting the youth of the 1950s. Let’s try story two:
“The Ivory Smugglers” (6 pages, originally published in Jumbo Comics #70)
[PENCILER: Jay Disbrow?; INKER:? (Iger Studio)]
Comic Book + Notes: Jay Disbrow relates in his book “The Iger Comics Kingdom” that he penciled “Sheena” and “Kaänga” quarterlies after having joined the studio in January 1950. The original story has been edited to cut down the page count. Sheena’s costume altered for the original.
Sheena and Bob meet the Commissioner (whoever he is, but I assume he’s a recurring character), who asks them to investigate ivory trader Bwana Sharpe. An odd name for a white man leading a bunch of African criminals. After dealing with a crazed elephant, Bwana’s men attack our heroes, and Sheena and one of the assailants find themselves headed to the crocks, not that the man leading the charge cares about even his own man. The baddie is croc chow, but all we see are his legs as the crocodile drags him under. Again, no graphic death. Sheena fights another one, although we’re only told that in the captions. We see her stab the animal in the neck (is this the start of a trend? was stabbing killer beasts in the neck Sheena’s usual action?) without blood, and she takes off to save her boyfriend. And he helped take down the elephant (nothing more graphic than a spear in the elephant’s head), so I don’t see any emasculation either. I’m starting to get disappointed.
Meanwhile, Bob is tied to a crazed elephant Bwana had captured as a warning to anyone else. I’m sure that works out somehow as a good plan but I’m not evil and hopefully not stupid. Sheena jumps Bwana and his henchman and then frees Bob. Bwana’s men try to lock them in with the crazed elephant, who like the one from earlier is burned from a fire trap used to catch the animals. However, the elephant misses the pair and breaks the cage, killing Bwana I guess by stomping on him but we just see the crook between his feet. The elephant goes on to ungraphically kill some of the other men before leaving. The survivors apologize and Sheena sends them away.
So no bloody death, the male damsel in distress actually gets to kill an elephant, a man is said to know the area better than the woman (not that we see much proof of that mind you)…what are kids going to learn here? That it’s fun to trap elephants? Geez, Crime Does Not Pay had more objectionable material and it still wasn’t the nightmare fuel Wertham portrayed it. Even the ads on the next pages have magic tricks, a make your own radio kit, a bunch of stuff about stamps, an athletic supporter, a water heater that connect to the cold water faucet (did that actually work?), but no weapons? Come on, comic. How are you going to corrupt little Billy and Susy with this stuff? Let’s try again.
King of the Congo (there’s no story title for this 5 page story from Wings Comics #502)
[WRITER: Nils Van Dufen; ARTIST: Lena Buffalente]
Comic Book + Notes: 1st caption rewritten. 1 page edited out.
I’m not sure I found the actual character, since he’s only referred to as King Of The Jungle Patrol or Congo Patrol, so he may not be the same character as King Of The Congo that I came across. In this story King gets some idol statue and runs off, telling his young companion Jingo (did anybody actually name their kid Jingo?) to stay with the plane. Then monkeys attack Jingo and the plane takes off when he falls into the controls. Next time take the key out of the ignition, King! Where’s King headed? Well, some guy named Bwana Carlson…wait, another villain names Bwana? What country names people Bwana? Suddenly the DC hero Bwana Beast isn’t so special. Except that he isn’t a villain. At any rate, Carlson is trying to trick the natives out of their land and King steps in. Using ventriloquism (or a radio hidden in the idol), King tries to use the chief’s superstitions to stop him from selling his land away. Then Jingo shows up in the plane, which gives Carlson and his lady friend Lil a chance to jump him just as Jingo wakes up to stop the plane from crashing.
Lil uses the idol radio to have Jingo land the plane and the two villains plan to expose King’s little trick…but the monkeys jump out of the plane and Carlson is willing to confess to everything just to get the darn things off of him. Oh, and here’s my commentary ruined. Apparently Bwana isn’t his name, since the chief refers to King as Bwana King. Maybe it means something else? I guess this villain’s name is Buck Carlson, so what about the trader Sheena fought? At any rate this one doesn’t have any deaths at all. Nobody dies, there is hardly any fighting. We’re really not living up to our evil reputation, are we? And next is the prose story and supposedly kids don’t read the comics so surely they didn’t read this. Maybe it still corrupts kids?
“An Ironic Turnabout” (2 pages prose…not listed as reprint)
[WRITER: Barry Stevens]
I’m not quite following the ending, like a paragraph was missing. Curio-hunter Peter Scarlet goes to visit a missionary friend who has stolen an axe from some Asian tribe maybe? I don’t think we’re in Africa with this one. The padre attacks Peter and prepares to sacrifice him trying to hear God’s voice like Abraham did with Issac, a snake lands on the padre and snaps him out of his madness, some guy named Bradshaw shows up…I’m not sure what happened but I’m sure it corrupted kids somehow. That’s what everybody says, right? Oh wait, kids are illiterate because they only look at the pictures and don’t read comics, so that can’t be it. Sheena, you have one last chance to be a bad influence.
“Secret of the Snake Queen” (7 pages, originally in Jumbo Comics #71)
[WRITER: W. Morgan Thomas; PENCILER: Jay Disbrow?; INKER: (Iger Studio)]
Comic Book + Notes: Next appearance in JUMBO COMICS #166. Jay Disbrow relates in his book “The Iger Comics Kingdom” that he penciled “Sheena” and “Kaänga” quarterlies after having joined the studio in January 1950. New title treatment from the original story. Sheena’s costume has been altered from the original version.
Again we start during the story, as Sheena and crew are looking for a group of raiders. Chim finds a spear that Sheena recognizes belongs to the T’Kani tribe. After stopping them from committing another raid (on what appears to be poachers or at least collecting animals for a zoo, which animal rights groups tell me is just as bad and it’s not like PETA to lie about the treatment of…yeah, I can’t joke about that even in this gag, they’re terrible people), Sheena learns that a woman named Nairu has been using voodoo to force the tribes to attack caravans for tribute. Sheena and Bob go to deal with the supposed Snake Goddess but of course they get overwhelmed with her worshipers (the Power Rangers could give them lessons in dealing with an army of opponents and Sheena and Bob could use it) and Sheena escapes while Nairu plans to sacrifice Bob in front of her followers. Certainly this is the emasculation Wertham goes on about and not Sheena having to save the day because she’s the title character.
Bob is taken to the underground altar where Nairu admits it’s all a trick, so now kids in New York will be scarring superstitious natives into stealing candy bars for them. Sheena has a fight with a panther because apparently we can’t go one Sheena story without Sheena stabbing some animal…although this time the caption says she stabbed him in the belly rather than the neck, so…variety? At the sacrificing, Nairu asks her idol who is now queen of the jungle, but the idol tells her that her rule is over, because out of the smoke comes Sheena with her mighty war cry “aaaa-aaaaguh”. Look how it strikes fear. Somehow. Nairu orders Bob killed but Sheena shoves him into the would-be killer and according to Sheena (because we don’t see it) Nairu is the one who meets the blade. Threat over, natives apologize again. End of story.
The last bit of ads includes a spot removing device and an ad for women to make money the way I’m sure Wertham would agree women should make money, but sewing dresses.
Yeah, I’ve been kidding a lot about how this comic isn’t going to corrupt kids and I don’t think it will. Yes, the hero is a hot blonde in a leopardskin jumpsuit (more modern versions put her in a leopard bikini that is way more revealing that this) but of course she’s going to have a good figure. She kills her own meal and clothing, fights bad people, probably swims alot…it’s like complaining a gymnast has a good figure. This is tame by TODAY’S standards, never mind whatever these people are complaining about. In two weeks more Wertham nonsense but I have other things to discuss.