Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #1

I hate variant covers.

Not for any moral, “they’re-ruining-comics” reasons; just because I sometimes have a hard time choosing which to buy. When I was reading Dynamite’s Red Sonja series, it was especially difficult because I’d usually like two or three of the covers every issue (but I refuse to buy more than one copy of the same book). That’s what ultimately led to my dropping the monthly Red Sonja issues in favor of picking up the eventual collections with their complete cover galleries.

That’s not why I’m not going to buy any more of Devil’s Due’s Sheena, but I’ll get to that in a second. I’m just bringing it up because I had a hard time picking between these two covers.

Jusko cover

Nicola Scott cover

I love Joe Jusko’s work in general, and the lush background in that top image is gorgeous, and exactly what a cool, jungle setting should look like. His Sheena is stunning, but not overly sexualized. Still, she’s just standing there.

Nicola Scott’s cover in the second image is sparse on setting, but Sheena is so kick-butt in it. That’s the one I ended up with.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the story turned me off enough that I won’t have to make that decision again. Rather than having cool, jungle adventures, Sheena gets to join up with some environmentalists to defeat an evil corporation that’s destroying the rainforest. Not that saving rainforests isn’t a noble effort, but “yawn.”

Sheena doesn’t even fight anyone in this issue. Her panther does, but just a corporate lackey with a handgun. Who, by the way, feels the need to offer a long explanation of why he’s justified killing Sheena before he actually does it. And she just stands there and let’s him finish.

Once Sheena does decide to take action, she’s shot with a tranquelizer dart before she can do anything. How exciting.

You’ll notice that there’s also a strong focus on Sheena’s butt. I’m not actually complaining about that. I don’t have a problem with her being sexy or scantily clad; those are requirements of the genre, whether you’re talking about Sheena or Tarzan. And dadgummit, they’re fun requirements.

Althought this picture is pushing it:

Johanna at Comics Worth Reading expresses her concerns with this panel: “I don’t think a human body can do that — isn’t there a scary amount of torso hidden behind that giant thigh? gotta make sure we don’t block the boobies — but it does present an in-your-face crotch shot.”

I’m going to argue that she might be wrong about the anatomy and that it’s an improbable, but not impossible pose. But she’s right about the purpose of the shot. It’s completely gratuitious and unsubtle, even for a jungle girl book.

Johanna’s being too harsh with her next comment though: “Speaking of face, who cares about that? Hair means not having to draw features or cheekbones.” From her comment about “idly checking out” the book, I’m guessing that she didn’t actually read it (not that I necessarily blame her), but it becomes obvious later on that keeping Sheena’s face obscured for a while is intentional. And not because Matt Merhoff can’t draw faces. When she lands after being tranquelized, there are several shots of her like this:

I’m not sure why they went that way. I think maybe they were trying to get us to think that maybe Sheena was someone we’d recognize, but she’s not, so the big “reveal” — while proving that Merhoff’s not hiding an inability to draw features and cheekbones — is a letdown. Sadly, just like the rest of the book.

Actor chosen for US Life on Mars

Jason O'MaraJason O’Mara has been chosen to play Sam in David E. Kelly’s US remake of Britain’s Life on Mars TV series.

He was tapped to play Philip Marlowe in a pilot for ABC, but all the articles I’m finding about that are from January and Marlowe doesn’t appear on a list of ABC’s shows for next season, so it looks like that must’ve fallen through. Not sure I wanted to watch a modern-day take on Marlowe anyway, even if I am craving good, private eye shows.

I know O’Mara from his role as Stuart Maxon, Anne Heche’s publisher on Men in Trees. Seems like he wants to play a detective and I bet he’ll be good at it.

Jungle Man (aka Drums of Africa)

Flash and MingThe cover of this DVD said Jungle Man, but the title card in the movie itself claimed that it was Drums of Africa. I’m not sure what the deal is, but it’s not worth trying to figure out.

Whatever it’s called, it’s about an hour long, but half of that is filled with randomly insterted stock footage of animals. The other half-hour is about a party of rich folks who go to Africa to photograph some “lost” ruins called the City of the Dead. The group is made up of a young cad named Bruce, his best friend Andy, Bruce’s fiancé Betty, and Betty’s dad. Betty and her dad aren’t invited at first, but Betty whines about her boring life until Bruce and her dad cave. Her dad’s a pitiful, spineless guy who not only gives in to Betty constantly; he also lets himself get dragged along on her “adventure.”

Dad’s got a brother though who’s a missionary in Africa not far from where the City is supposed to be, so the group hires a worse-than-useless guide (he’s supposed to be funny, but he’s actually stupid, annoying, and dangerous) and goes to find Betty’s uncle. When they get there, they also meet a handsome doctor who’s using the mission as a lab from which he’s trying to cure a local, but deadly plague. And the reverend missionary has a pet tiger that he’s named Satan for some reason. I’m thinking that maybe he’s not as pious as he appears. Either that or he really hates that cat.

The Reverend and Doctor warn Bruce and Andy against trying to find the City. No one’s ever returned alive, etc., etc. Oh, but you need to know how to get there? Here, even though I’ve never been to the City myself, I’ll draw you a very detailed map.

I’d like to tell you that I won’t spoil the ending as a matter of courtesy, but honestly it’s because I’m already bored just thinking about the rest of the movie. There’s no way I’m going to take the time to type it out.

The only notable thing about the film is that it stars Buster “Flash Gordon” Crabbe and Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton as Doc Hammond and Reverend Graham. They’re not bad actors and Crabbe is even more charismatic here than he is in the Flash Gordon movies. It’s just too bad that Jungle Man/Drums of Africa is mostly about Betty and Bruce, so neither Crabbe nor Middleton has anything interesting to do.

Links: Comic book cliffhangers, a Lordi movie, and paying your dues

One of the coolest recent comics cliffhangersHorror

There are a couple of Lady Bathory movies in the works.

Heavy metal monster-costume band Lordi is doing a horror movie. And did you know that there are Lordi comics in Finland, written and drawn by Mr. Lordi himself? Me either.

John Rozum and Kody Chamberlain’s The Foundation comic, about a group who’s trying to stop the prophecies of Nostradamus from coming to pass, has been optioned for a film by Paramount.

Comics

Kill All Monsters! editor Jason Rodriguez has a fantastic post up at Blogarama about comic book cliffhangers and that crazy desire comics nerds get for next month’s issue right now.

Women in Fiction

A while back, I was invited to share one of my posts at the POWER in Comics Community. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access the site at the time, but it looks like I can now. The group’s mission statement is to Promote Ownership of stores and publishing houses, Writing & drawing of comics, Editing of comics & Reading of comics and graphic novels for women and minorities. I’m having trouble signing up for it, but once I can I’ll be sure to take them up on their invitation.

Writing (and making comics) is Hard

The Beat has a great summary of the recent MoCCa (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) Festival. I especially like her thoughts on alleged “classism” in the indie comics community and the need to pay one’s dues.

Alas, even in a world as egalitarian as indie comics, where almost everyone wants the kids to do alright, the reality is that not everything is created equal … But it takes a while to become a Paul Pope or Adrian Tomine, let alone a Kim Deitch. Maybe you have to pay your dues by sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by. Maybe being more selective and having to pay your dues is part of the process.

As someone who’s done a fair share of “sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by,” I certainly think so.

Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me

I could smooch Steve Jobs right now.

Jungle Jim

Jungle Jim, Joan, and Malay MikeI thought I’d take a break from Tarzan movies for a while and explore some other jungle adventures. Jungle Jim is based on a comic strip by Alex Raymond (who also created Flash Gordon). The version I watched stars Grant Withers as “Jungle” Jim Bradley, but there are also some later movies and a TV series that starred Johnny Weissmuller (with a pre-Superman George Reeves as the villain in the initial movie). The Weissmuller versions don’t appear to be available on DVD yet, but you bet I’ll be keeping my eyes open for them.

The plot of the Withers version is that a young girl named Joan is shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and several years later becomes an heiress when a rich relative dies. Two men go looking for her: one a close friend of her family who wants the inheritance to go to the right place; the other an unscrupulous uncle who wants to make sure she never leaves the jungle alive. When the uncle’s party kills the friend and his guide, Jungle Jim, a buddy of the murdered guide, goes after them to bring them to justice.

It turns out that Joan has been raised in the jungle by a couple of white fugitives who call themselves the Cobra and Shanghai Lil. The local natives believe that Joan is a goddess of some kind, a myth perpetuated by the Cobra as a way of controling the natives into protecting him. It’s his way of discouraging any representatives of Western justice from coming to bring him in. Naturally he grows a little paranoid when all these white folks start showing up in his part of the jungle, some of them wanting to take Joan away.

It’s disturbing to see that pretty much every native tribe in the serial is controlled or employed by a white person, but this was 1936. That doesn’t excuse it though. It’s wrong and it’s sad.

Other than that, it’s an enjoyable story. Like Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars it employs a neat comic strip method of recapping previous episodes, but Jungle Jim is even cooler. Each episode opens with a person opening up a newspaper to the comics section. The camera zooms in on the “Jungle Jim” strip and then slowly pans across the page to present the recap.

Joan is a cool character. She’s befriended a pride of lions who protect her and handles herself just fine with a little help from her native friend Kolu. I love that Joan and Kolu are presented as an alternate group of heroes. They (and their lions) rescue Jungle Jim and his pal Malay Mike as much as they need rescuing themselves. And Joan has plenty to do throughout the story as she keeps learning new things about her past and shifts her allegiances accordingly.

Jim’s a fine hero too and even Mike — whom I expected to be nothing but comic relief — is good in a fight. Both end up fighting a lot of jungle animals and the battles are well-executed and fun to watch. Even the animal footage is used well. The more of these old jungle adventures I watch, the more I see directors splicing in stock animal footage just to fill time and its boring. Jungle Jim doesn’t do that. (It does, however, have a lot of tigers roaming around Africa, which is silly.)

There are also some nice plot twists that caught me off guard. I won’t say more than that, but it was good to be surprised several times in what looked to be a straightforward story. All in all, a fine serial. Jungle Jim isn’t replacing Tarzan in my heart anytime soon, but I really enjoyed this one.

Links: I was on TV, Omega Flight continues, and Something About Mary (Marvel)

Not enough links today to really categorize, so I’ll just do this willy nilly.

Kill All Monsters! was on TV! Sort of. G4TV’s Attack of the Show did a segment on comics blogs and featured Blog@Newsarama. One of the posts they showed was the one about KAM! from a few days ago.

Over at the Alpha Waves message board, Omega Flight artist Scott Kolins hints that there’s more Omega Flight coming once the initial five-issue mini-series is done. I’ve been moaning (mostly to myself) about how long it’s taking them to tell this initial story, but if there’s more coming up behind it, I’ll be patient and shut up.

Forces of Good has a nice summary of Mary Marvel’s career to date. I’d forgotten that the “H” in her version of SHAZAM stands for Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, from whom she gets her supernatural strength. Since Hippolyta is also Wonder Woman’s mom in the DCU, I’m wondering if any of DC’s writers have ever exploited that connection in a story. Seems like a natural.

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars

Flash and Queen AzuraI really enjoyed the first Flash Gordon serial, so I expected to like the second one too. Unfortunately, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars was disappointing.

It started out okay. After the adventures from the first serial, Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov have turned into a sort of super team, going out in Zarkov’s space ship to defend Earth whenever trouble threatens. They’re returning from some mission or other when a ray from Mars strikes Earth and causes a bunch of earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Flash, Dale, and Zarkov get back in their ship and zoom to Mars where they learn that the Martian Queen Azura is siphoning off gas from Earth’s atmosphere. She needs the gas to develop weapons for her war against the Martian Clay Men and doesn’t care that she’s destroying Earth to get it. Flash and the gang quickly learn that Ming is on Mars and is the real mastermind behind the Earth’s peril. He’s out for revenge after Flash Gordon and is manipulating Azura to get it.

Which is all good, but unlike Flash Gordon, Trip to Mars tends to drag. Maybe the newness has worn off, or maybe the new characters aren’t as intriguing as the earlier ones, but I got bored watching Flash race back and forth between Azura’s city, the kingdom of the Clay Men, and the spooky forest of the Tree People. The first serial was full of whacked out monsters and man-animal hybrid races, but Trip to Mars sticks with just three and doesn’t get enough mileage out of them.

There’s some political intrigue as Ming works behind Azura’s back to achieve his goals, but Azura’s a nasty enough character herself that we never feel bad for her and the intrigue is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter which bad guy comes out on top, because Flash is going to have to take down both of them eventually.

Dale’s not as interesting a character here as she was in Flash Gordon. Not that she had a lot to do there, but we could see her and Flash starting to fall for each other and that was fun. Here, they’re such an old couple that any affection they show for each other is more buddy-like than romantic. For most of Trip to Mars I was convinced that at some point they’d decided to be “just friends” and we’d just never seen the conversation. But then someone (not either one of them, by the way) mentions matter-of-factly that Flash and Dale are in love, so I guess they’re still together. They’ve just lost the spark.

I might be a pig for saying this, but I wonder if there’s a connection between the easiness of their relationship and the fact that Dale’s quit dying her hair. It may have more to do with trying to get Jean Rogers to look more like the brunette Dale from the comics, but it amuses me to think that she no longer feels the need to go for the bombshell look she sported in the first serial. She also dresses a lot more conservatively this time around. I guess Mars is more modest than Mongo. This might raise an interesting discussion, but when a character is basically nothing more than eye candy, it’s too bad when she doesn’t even succeed very well at that.

Zarkov, on the other hand, has a lot more to do this time around. In the first serial he pretty much stayed in the lab, but here he’s a bona fide partner to Flash and spends as much time throwing punches as he does throwing switches. I’d much rather have seen Dale in that role, but that might be a lot to expect from 1938. Even Happy Hapgood, a goofy reporter who stows away on the adventure (he’d be played by Steve Buscemi if someone decided to remake it), gets in on the action. He’s played for laughs, but he’s still a bigger part of the story than Dale, who’s major contributions are to bomb the Tree People from the air and to be hypnotized into stabbing Flash. Not to dismiss her bombing the Tree People. That was pretty cool actually.

There’s some other cool stuff in Trip to Mars. The Clay People generate a lot of pathos, there’s a bridge in Azura’s city that’s made out of hard light, and Azura’s soldiers have personal “bat-wings” built into their uniforms that they use as parachutes. The recap of previous episodes at the beginning of each chapter is also cool. They have a Martian soldier standing at a computer screen and turning a knob as comic strip panels scroll by and summarize what’s come before. It’s a nice homage to the source material.

But then there’s the crappy music. It’s obviously culled from a lot of different sources (I recognized Bride of Frankenstein, also produced by Universal) that seem to have been mixed into a single track and then looped over and over again. I can’t tell that any thought was given to how the music might affect the mood of the scene it accompanies. There’s light, ballet music over fight scenes and dramatic, “dangerous” music over simple exposition scenes. It’s a mess.

By the end, there was enough cool stuff and enough frustrating stuff that I’m divided about my opinion of it. It didn’t turn me off of the serials, but it did make me want to take a break before watching the last one, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. I liked it, but it was a disappointment after Flash Gordon, which I loved.