SHEENA: QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE #6/ Script by STEVEN E. DE SOUZA/ Art by WILL RIO & JETHRO MORALES/ Colors by DINEI RIBEIRO/ Letters by TAYLOR ESPOSITO/ Covers by LUCIO PARRILLO/ARTHUR SUYDAM, JOSEPH MICHAEL LINSNER & ROSE BESCH/ Published by DYNAMITE COMICS
I’ve always had a soft spot for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, despite fully acknowledging the problematic aspects of the nubile savage trope. While there are countless pale-skinned amazons who talk to the animals and patrol the jungle with flawless hair and incongruously waxed bodies in the world of comics, Sheena has endured because of her pedigree as the co-creation of Will Eisner. She was the first female superhero to get her own monthly comic book, television series and feature-length film, beating Wonder Woman and Supergirl to the punch in all categories. Despite this, Sheena largely languished in obscurity in the medium which gave her birth well into the 21st century.
Hither came Steven E. de Souza, the screenwriter responsible for Die Hard, Commando and 48 Hours. In 2007, de Souza was charged with updating Sheena: Queen of the Jungle for the modern day by Devil’s Due Publishing. He did this with style, transplanting Sheena from the heart of the Congo to the Amazon rainforest, and reworking her into a child of prophecy, defending the jungles of the fictional nation of Val Verde from colonizers and industrialists. Unfortunately, most of this new background was abandoned, apart from a few character names, when Dynamite Entertainment picked up the Sheena license, and most of the stories they published were generic pulp peril stories.
Thankfully, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #6 restores most of what was lost from the Devil’s Due and Moonstone Sheena series, while still utilizing the changes brought about in the more recent Sheena comics. Chief among these restorations is the idea of Sheena having a secret identity, posing as spoiled socialite Rachel Cardwell and sneaking away from her grandfather’s handlers to defend the jungles as Sheena. This idea separated Sheena from her many imitators and the rote plot stories favored by Frank Cho in earlier Dynamite Comics.
de Souza goes out of its way to showcase Sheena’s intelligence and cunning, rather than her ability to fill out a leopard-skin bikini. Yet for all that he restores from his earlier comics, de Souza also acknowledges the contributions of later writers, such as Marguerite Bennett’s idea that Sheena’s mother was the victim of a government assimilation school. (The script for this issue says Sheena’s grandmother was taken as a child, which may be a retcon of Bennett’s story or an editorial oversight.) In either case, de Souza reestablishes Sheena as an indigenous hero in defiance of the usual white savior narrative implicit in most jungle fantasy comics.
The artwork for this issue is handled by two different but skilled artists, but the divide is made less obvious by the comic being effectively split into two acts. The first 10 pages drawn by Will Rio reestablish most of the new status quo, showing Sheena acting more Bruce Wayne than Bruce Wayne as she seemingly sleeps through board meetings while planning heists on her own company. The second act by Jethro Morales is more action packed, showing Sheena and her ally Bob as they travel off in search of a legendary lost city, with frienemy mercenary Martin Ransome following after. I must confess a slight preference for Rio’s style, enjoying his heavy inks and more dynamic poses. Yet I also enjoy Morales’ eye for detail and the many humorous things he sneaks into the background, such as the antics of Sheena’s monkey and parrot pets. The colors of Dinei Ribeiro are good apart from Sheena looking more orange than tan in some pages and Taylor Esposito remains one of the best letterers in the business.
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #6 is a welcome return to form. Beyond de Souza restoring his own unique history and supporting cast for Sheena, the story is a well-paced ripping yarn backed by fantastic art. I’m wild about Sheena again for the first time in a long while and I can’t wait to see the next issue!