The jungle girl archetype dates back to H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha, but when superheroes started to wane, animal-print bikinis popped up on every corner newsstand. Your Major Spoilers Retro Review of Lorna The Jungle Queen #1 awaits!
Writer: Don RicoPenciler: Werner Roth/John Buscema/Carl BurgosInker: Werner Roth/John Buscema/Carl BurgosColorist: Stan Goldberg Letterer: Uncredited Editor: Stan Lee Publisher: Atlas Comics (Marvel Comics) Cover Price: 10 Cents Current Near-Mint Pricing: $600.00 Release Date: March 13, 1953
Previously in Lorna The Jungle Queen: Though several notable examples pre-date her, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is a prototype of the stock character known as the jungle girl. Created by comics legends Will Eisner and Jerry Iger, Sheena’s leopard-skin clothing and lack of footwear were the template for an army of girl Tarzans, with names like Lola, Laura, Lula, Judy, Rulah, Nyoka, Geesha, and more. By 1953, Sheena’s Xeroxes were an army, wearing enough animal skin to cause multiple extinctions, and as we’ve learned in previous Retro Reviews, where there’s a successful concept, Atlas Comics would arrive to capitalize on it.
Our story begins with young Lorna and her father discussing why he has made his life in the jungles of the Congo, unaware that a dangerous wild animal is lurking nearby. With her father severely wounded, Lorna called upon M’Tuba, a local guide, to help them, as the nearest doctor was hours away. Papa Queen-Of-The-Jungle (their last name is never revealed, so I presume it’s right there in the title) loses his leg, but survives, forcing his daughter to become a hunter to keep them both fed. A chance encounter with a rhinoceros nearly costs her life, but things get even worse when M’Tuba arrives with the news that her father has died from his injuries. The art here is by Werner Roth, probably best known for his extended run on X-Men, and I’m honestly really impressed. The foreshortening in the spear-throwing panel above is remarkable, and most importantly, Roth’s drawing of Lorna’s friends in Africa aren’t horrifying caricatures. M’Tuba is actually quite handsome, and his capuchin companion Mikki actually looks like a real monkey. After her father’s death, Lorna learns as much as she can from M’Tuba about the knife, the spear, and other tools of jungle survival, since a jammed gun nearly killed her. Some undetermined amount of time later, she has learned all she can, adventuring through the jungle with her guide pal, when they are captured by an angry local tribe. It’s hard to avoid these kinds of cliché moments in any “jungle person” story, but once again, Roth’s deft hand keeps in check the usual stereotypes, allowing the battle between the angry chieftain and the Jungle Queen to play out deftly and quickly.Having defeated the magician, Lorna declares herself their new leader, but selects M’Tuba to stand in her place, to keep them out of trouble, then sets off for parts unknown. It’s really hard to get away from the White Savior trope in stories of this type, but this one stays pretty neutral about it, especially for 1953. The issue contains three Lorna stories by Rico and Roth, but something that stands out to me is a tale of M’Tuba’s youth, drawn by a 23-year-old John Romita, Sr. Lorna’s adventures continued for 26 issues (though the series became Lorna The Jungle Girl with issue six), with M’Tuba revealing that he trained her because of a prophecy that she would face an evil being, and Lorna roving the countryside. It’s very much like Atlas/Marvel’s then-plentiful Westerns, making Lorna The Jungle Queen #1 an example of a comic that actually bridges two separate comic book trends, with very attractive art throughout and a better-than-average story for the era, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Unlike some of her ’50s Atlas compatriots, Lorna has never been revived in the Marvel Universe, but doubtless, someone like Hickman or Ewing has her on their radar to pop up where we least expect it.