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Consider the character of the Jungle Princess. Do not call her “a female Tarzan” as the archetype predates the King Of The Jungle by nearly a decade. The first recorded instance of a Jungle Princess came in the 1904 novel Green Mansions, with the character of Rima. While never a comic-book heroine, Rima would nevertheless be adapted into a character for one incarnation of the Superfriends cartoon!
Ignoring the issue of who came first, it should be noted that most Jungle Princess characters do share a common trait with Tarzan – being born of a wealthy family before becoming the sole survivor of a jungle expedition. Others Princesses, such as Rima, are the last member of a lost tribe. In either case, the Princess is subsequently raised by the beasts of the wild as one of their own and devotes herself towards protecting her territory from poachers, slavers and the cannibalistic tribes who prey upon the friendly natives that regard her as an ally, if not a literal goddess.
The Jungle Princess, it should be noted, is an entirely different character type than the Jungle Girl. The chief difference between the two is one of intent. While the Jungle Princess is a heroic figure, the Jungle Girl is a love interest at best and a damsel-in-distress at worst.
The Jungle Girl is usually trapped in the wilds as an adult and manages to survive but learns little of the ways of the jungle. The Jungle Girl lacks the confidence of the Princess and is usually more concerned with winning the heart of the hero than in saving the day herself. Jungle Girls are also more frequently the targets of fan-service, particularly gratuitous bondage scenes.
Like many concepts born of pulp fiction, the Jungle Princess has not fared well in recent years. Part of this is due to the unfortunate implications in a white-skinned character (usually Aryan in appearance) acting as a savior to a group of oppressed minorities. There’s also the inherent lack of realism in any genre where the fierce, feral heroine appears to be a supermodel-level beauty, who – despite living away from civilization – somehow benefits from the latest advances in modern cosmetology, traipsing about the wild with a perfectly waxed bikini line.
Despite this, the archetype has soldiered on. Indeed, there was something of a boom in Jungle Princess and Jungle Girl comics in the mid-2000s. The most prominent of these was Frank Cho’s Shanna The She-Devil – a series which promised to change everything you knew about the classic Marvel heroine and promptly did so.
Cho eliminated everything that made the character of Shanna O’Hara unique, from her background as a doctor of veterinary medicine to her crimson hair. The new Shanna was blonde, buff and the product of a Nazi experiment to breed the perfect woman. Cho also intended for his Shanna to forgo the standard leopard-skin bikini in favor of nothing at all, but saner heads at Marvel forced him to draw clothes onto her at the last moment.
Cho would later move on to write a series called Jungle Girl for Dynamite Entertainment. This series was primarily notable for Cho’s fan-service driven covers and for the titular Jungle Girl coincidentally sharing a name with the star of the 1978 Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Jana of The Jungle. There was also an Avatar Press series, Jungle Fantasy, which was likewise notable for its fan-service driven artwork, but otherwise unremarkable.
It was out of this boom that a queen arose once more. Many had imitated her over the years. Yet while there were many Jungle Girls and a few Jungle Princesses, there was only one Queen of the Jungle – Sheena!
Created by Will Eisner, Sheena was the first superheroine to get her own monthly comic book in 1938. She was also the first superheroine to get her own weekly television series. Actress Irish McCalla brought Sheena to life over 20 years before Lynda Carter became Wonder Woman!
Devil’s Due Publishing brought Sheena back in 2007 with a new concept from the mind of Die Hard screenwriter Stephen E. De Souza and a script by writer Robert Rodi. Their concept neatly modernized Sheena for the today’s audiences, shifting The Queen of The Jungle from the Congo to the Amazon. This Sheena fought loggers instead of poachers, but the spirit was the same. This Sheena was even given a secret identity as a rich heiress, explaining away her perfect grooming as she played at being the Paris Hilton of Val Verde City when she was not saving the rainforest.
Sadly, while this series was critically acclaimed, it failed to draw an audience. Devil’s Due Publishing put forth another Sheena mini-series and a one-shot before throwing in the towel in 2009. That was the last anyone had seen of the Queen of the Jungle until this week, when Moonstone Books released their Sheena #1.
While unavailable at the time of this writing, Moonstone’s page for the new series confirms that this series is set in De Souza’s modern continuity. Indeed, De Souza once again is credited with the story of the new book. With any luck, this time the Jungle Queen will get the attention she deserves and the one true Queen of The Jungle will continue to rule well into the 21st century.