Sheena, from Jumbo Comics #82


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Fiction House Magazines
First Appeared: 1937
Creator: Eisner-Iger Studio
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Considering she founded an entire genre — sexy white jungle goddesses — Sheena's origins were inauspicious. Created by New York's Eisner-Iger Studio (source of …

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Doll Man, Blackhawk and many other characters), Sheena originally appeared in a British tabloid called Wags, in 1937. The artist of the first few episodes was Mort Meskin (Vigilante, Black Terror). When the studio got the contract to package a monthly comic book for Fiction House, an American publisher of pulp magazines, they imported Sheena back to her country of origin — but her first few reprinted adventures were done in black and white.

Sheena was conceived as a female version of Tarzan, with overtones of H. Rider Haggard's "She Who Must Be Obeyed" (hence the name). She wasn't born in the jungle and raised by apes, like Tarzan, but arrived as a child with her father, explorer Cardwell Rivington. A native witch doctor named Koba unintentionally killed Rivington, and to help atone, raised Sheena as his own. She grew into the gorgeous jungle queen we all know her as, and chose a white hunter named Bob Reynolds (sort of a male Lois Lane, always needing to be rescued) as her mate.

At least, that's how it was originally. Later on, her parents metamorphosed into a pair of deceased missionaries (usually unnamed), Bob into a less inept character sometimes named Rick Thorne and sometimes not, and Koba into a witch woman named N'bid Ela. Also, she usually had an ape companion named Chim. None of this matters very much, tho, as Sheena herself was, from the beginning, the only part of the feature anybody cared about.

Jumbo Comics #1, where Sheena made her American debut, was dated September, 1938 — just three months after Superman had, as yet unsuspected, founded a genre of his own. In 1942, she graduated to her own title, the first female comic book character to do so — and what's more, Fiction House published a pulp magazine devoted to her adventures, tho it lasted only one issue. Over the next several years, her success spawned a host of imitators, including Tiger Girl; Tegra the Jungle Queen; Rulah, Jungle Goddess; and Jann of the Jungle. The last Sheena comic Fiction House did was a 3-D version in 1953.

The company left the comics business in 1954, undoubtedly driven out by public reaction to its sex-charged fare (which included heroes such as Sky Girl and Firehair) — the same public reaction that did away with horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and crime comics like Crime Does Not Pay. But by that time, Sheena was making the transition to other media — her first TV series, with Irish McCalla in the title role, ran 1955-56.

In 1984, she was the subject of a European-made feature film, which was adapted back into comic book form by Marvel. Her 3-D comic book was reprinted by Eclipse Enterprises in 1985. Another comic book series came out from a small publisher called London Night a decade later, but that one was scarcely noticed. She returned to television in 2000, as a minor syndicated offering, with Gena Lee Nolin as Sheena. Rumors fly about another movie, but that's been the case for quite some time. In all these incarnations, her supporting characters were present in very different form, when they were present at all.

Despite these sporadic outbreaks in the media, there are today no lunch boxes, T-shirts and coffee mugs bearing Sheena's image. But the familiar chord struck by the name "Sheena, Queen-a the Jungle" shows that she continues to occupy a small but very real niche in our cultural background.


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