*****Warning. Infodump ahead.*****
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle was the first female comic character to have a comic named after her. She appeared in 1937, Wonder Woman appeared in 1941, in England, and then in America through the entire run of "Jumbo Comics", and still later in her own comic, both of which would expire in the great comic witch hunt of the early fifties. She also appeared in the 1955-56 half hour tv series, the 2000-02 tv series, and the 1984 movie. Never to be forgotten she's had several brief spurts of popularity as various comic companies have put out limited runs of new material starring her. She even had an issue or two of a hero pulp showcasing her jungle adventures during the forties.
Anyway, all fodder for a book I'm sure, but this ain't the forum for it. She was originally created, written, and drawn by S. M. "Jerry" Iger and Will Eisner, and published under the soon-to-be-house name of W. Morgan Thomas from the Fiction House chain of magazines and comics.
She was a female version of Tarzan, the first continuing jungle girl character in pulps and comics, and she was named after "She" of H. Rider Haggard fame.
Now, I've never read a Tarzan novel, but I have read some of the Tarzan comics, and I prefer the Sheena comics more. This is, I'm sure, because the Sheena stories were informative about the lifecycles of Africa's native flora and fauna, the relationships between the African natives and the colonizing Europeans, the, often, internecine relationships between the native villages, and how such natives coped with the creeping modernization of their timeless world. All as moderated by the protective Sheena, who dispensed fair and equal justice to Africans and Europeans alike.
Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Anyway, be prepared. These are stories from a different time and place in American history, written and drawn for a white audience, and issued by a major magazine publishing house, and were meant to be cheap entertainment for young boys of all ages. As one breezes through these well drawn stories of adventure and fantasy, you can quite clearly see why Sheena, with her killer bikini wax, remained such a popular and iconistic comic character.
The collection of stories, "The Best Of The Golden Age Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle, Volume 1" starts off with a black-and-white reprint of a story that was issued in a special issue of "Jumbo Comics" celebrating the 1939 World's Fair, a story which will introduce the modern reader to Sheena and her hapless boyfriend Bob.
From this story we move on to the next story, the first of nine, or ten, depending on how you look at it, full-color reprints of some of her best adventures. Each of these stories is preceded by the full color reprinting of the cover of the issue of the comic that the story is reprinted from. Unlike so many of the comic and pulp covers of these long gone times they rarely seem to show Sheena in trouble. For all women readers, these show Sheena's boyfriend being bound to SOMETHING, being menaced, and with the feisty rampaging Sheena swooping in to fight to the death to save her man.
The stories are all pretty much the same. Sure, Sheena might get smacked around some, and sometimes she gets, ah, tied up in her job, but she always outthinks and outfights her foes, and she always rescues the helpless, and she always wins her battles 'cuz she's one tuff cookie.
And unlike some superhero comics, Sheena wasn't afraid to off a bad guy or two in her journey to meet out some jungle justice.
In the first story the villainous, arrogant, and French, Gaston, intends to take a village's, and Sheena's, tobacco crop, only to get the spuds kicked out of him by Sheena. Swearing vengeance, Gaston tries to kill Sheena by fire, by lion, and by cannibal tribe (?!?). Foiled, he will die horribly, but justly, for his actions. Long live Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
The stories will continue in this vein as we will be barraged by stories filled with were-women, giant spiders, a giant prehistoric serposquid (yeah, I don't know what they are either, but they look pretty nasty), lost cities, lost races, animals running amok, natives running amok, Europeans running amok, pigeon English, and Bob being continuously beaned and captured. It's quite clear after reading these stories that Bob shouldn't be allowed to go to the bathroom by himself, much less wander through the jungle without supervision. But there you go, some men are always looking for a strong woman to continuously save them from themselves.
Another stand-out story included here is a Sheena story that was published in its prime in "Jumbo Comics" and the doctored reprint that was published in her namesake comic during the great comic purge. These two stories make for interesting reading, and feature a panther-woman trying to beat Sheena senseless with a spiked mace while trying to feed her to her giant pet bugs. You can quite clearly see where the second story has been bowdlerized. However it should be pointed out that once again sexism runs rampant in both as the panther girl wears nothing but fur, a bikini top, and daisy maes; she is sure to make many a furry's shorts feel tighter.
There is also a great story featuring a bullish woman ship captain and slaver, called Lizzie, who constantly wears her hat cockeyed, with a bullwhip that enjoys whipping younger and more willowy women. Nah, no subtext there. This story is also supposedly drawn by Matt Baker so there's a lot of bondage here, it's all tastefully done of course.
But if that isn't enough, and how could it not be?, we also get two, two-page, prose stories that were used as filler for the comics. The first story is 'Sheena And The Flaming Pyre Of Doom' from 1945 and written by Tom Alexander. No, I don't know who he is either, so stop asking me already. So here three government men disappear in Sheena's jungle, and then their skeletons are found, picked clean, and maybe the local Diamond Goddess is responsible. Packs a novelette's worth of storytellin' and thrills into a measly two pages. Maybe this was no more than a filler story, but it was more fun than most monster movies on the SCY FY channel.
Next up, was 'Sheena And The Howling Horror' by W. Morgan Thomas. As Sheena and Bob enter their jungle, they hear a most ghastly howling coming from the jungle. Then when the dawn breaks, a native elder comes to them for help. Sheena investigates, natives are horribly mutilated; told in an overwrought and breathless manner, this is a story that, again, contains enough "story" for a novelette, even if the story seems rushed. This is a story that has sentences like "Higher and higher the sound climbed, until Bob's teeth were on edge and agonizing shivers crawled along his spine." YEAH!!! Why read Shakespeare when stuff like this is available?
These are stories that are full of blatant racism, stereotypes, colonialism, sexism, sensuality, violence, bondage, animal abuse, people abuse, monster abuse, exploitation, and if all that still ain't enough, Sheena is constantly, and flagrantly, doing a lot of provocative posing, and acrobatic fighting. Honestly, I just don't know why any of these stories didn't win a Pulitzer.
And there's still more, more, more. Screenwriter Steven de Souza gives us a page to tell us why his teen-aged self liked Sheena. Three guesses as to why, and the last two don't count. Editor Stephen Christy gives a short article about Sheena and censorship, and there's also a quote from the bluenosed Dr. Frederic Wertham on the back cover. It sounds like he damn near had a coronary while reading Sheena's adventures, and if THAT alone ain't enuff to read this book, then nothing else will. Amazon America doesn't allow customer images for their books anymore so I can't show you any of the art, but I did download some samples on the UK Amazon site.
This review is for my Dad, who probably enjoyed these during the forties and fifties. His comics taught me to read.
For this site I have reviewed these comic books and comic book based books:
Batman: Scarecrow Tales (Batman Beyond (DC Comics)) edited by Anonymous.
Catwoman #25 The Crooked House.
The Complete Saga of the Victims by Alan Hewetson & Jesus Manuel (Suso) Rego.
DC/Marvel Crossover Classics, Vol. II by Dennis O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, George Pérez & John Byrne.
Goosebumps: Creepy Creatures by R. L. Stine, Gabriel Hernandez, Greg Ruth & Scott Morse.
Kolchak The Night Stalker Volume 1 edited by Joe Gentile.
Night of the Living Dead Volume 1 by John Russo & Mike Wolfer.
Ragman Suit Of Souls #1 (One Shot) by Christos N. Gage & Stephen Segovia.
The Secret of the Swamp Thing by Len Wein & Berni Wrightson
Superman/Aliens by Dan Jurgens & Kevin Nowlan.
X Isle by Andrew Cosby