Pulp Heroes

Queen of the Jungle


HEENA was one of the few characters from the comics that made the transition to the pulps, though her pulp career was nearly as brief as that of Flash Gordon. As in the case of the Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine, the Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, published by Fiction House in 1951, lasted but one issue. Unlike Flash, however, Sheena had the opportunity to make an encore appearance in the Spring 1954 issue of Jungle Stories, a pulp title that was also published by Fiction House.

Sheena was originally created as a comic book character by the Eisner-Iger, Ltd. Shop, an independent comic art studio. Which of the two partners was actually responsible for the creation of the character depends upon whose side of the story you choose to believe. There are those who say that Will Eisner created Sheena as a female counterpart to Tarzan, and that her name and character were somewhat influenced by H. Rider Haggard's character "She." Since Eisner is an accomplished artist and storyteller, and one can readily see at least superficial similarities between the imperious "She-who-must-be-obeyed" and our Queen of the Jungle, this version of the story has its attractions. On the other hand, S. M. "Jerry" Iger tells a somewhat darker story of Sheena's origins. According to Mr. Iger, he was asked by a publishing syndicate that he had a business relationship with to produce a Tarzan knock-off for sale overseas, and spontaneously came up with the idea to make the character a jungle heroine—with the name "Sheena" being no more than a minor variation on a local ethnic slur. There's little evidence to support either side of the story, but it should probably be noted that Mr. Iger has often been accused of attempting to steal credit for the work of others.

In either event, Sheena made her original comic strip appearance in 1938 in a European tabloid called Wags. Her American debut came later that year as a reprint published in the first issue of Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, so-called because of the book's tabloid size, which was necessitated by the re-use of the tabloid-size plates from Sheena's original run in Wags. Although originally but one of many characters featured in Jumbo Comics, which switched to regular comic book size after the first eight issues, Sheena soon became the featured character, and appeared in every one of the book's 167 issues published up to April of 1953. Sheena also appeared in 18 issues of her own comic book, published somewhat erratically between the Spring of 1942 and the Winter of 1952-1953. She also made brief appearances in two other Fiction House titles, Jungle Comics and Ka'anga. Her last comic book appearance in her original run was in 3-D Sheena Jungle Queen, published by Fiction House in 1953—an issue that was reprinted by Blackthorne Publishing, Inc. in 1985 with a glorious new cover drawn by top good-girl artist Dave Stevens (see the illustration taken from this cover at the top of this page).

As established in the comic book continuity, Sheena was brought to Africa as a young child by her father, an explorer named Cardwell Rivington, who became friends with a tribal witch doctor named Koba. Koba became quite attached to Rivington, who taught him to speak English. When the explorer prepared to move on, Koba concocted a magic potion that would make his friend decide to stay. Unfortunately, the witch doctor botched the potion, and Cardwell Rivington died.

Koba took the orphaned Sheena under his wing and she grew to become skilled in the ways of the jungle. Under the tutelage of the witch doctor, she became a strong, courageous, and beautiful Jungle Queen. As an adult, Sheena met Bob Reynolds, a second-rate hunter/explorer and a first-class boob, who became her mate. Along with Bob and her pet ape, "Chim," Sheena spent the majority of her time battling evil white hunters, slave traders, misguided natives, and the occasional rampaging wildlife. She also found herself called upon to frequently rescue the hapless Bob, who was often blundering into a variety of sticky situations.

rior to entering the comic book field, Fiction House was the publisher of a number of pulp magazines. Pulp titles published by Fiction House included Air Stories, Detective Book Magazine, Indian Stories, North-West Stories, and the fairly successful Jungle Stories. So perhaps it isn't too surprising that at the height of Sheena's comic book career, Fiction House decided to issue a pulp magazine devoted to Sheena's jungle adventures. Under their "Real Adventures Publishing Co., Inc.," imprint, Fiction House published the first issue of what was promised to be a quarterly series of Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle pulp magazines in the Spring of 1951.

Unlike the majority of "hero" pulps, which typically featured a lead "book-length" story involving the title character, Sheena consisted of three related Sheena "novelets" attributed to an author named James Anson Buck. Fiction House had a policy of using house names for their authors, so Buck was most likely a pseudonym. In any event, the three Sheena adventures, The Slave Brand of Sleman bin Ali, Sargasso of Lost Safaris, and Killer's Kraal, were rousing jungle adventures that were just a bit less than faithful to the story continuity established for Sheena in the comic books.

As related in the pulp stories, Sheena was the orphaned daughter of missionaries, raised among the Abama tribe in the Belgian Congo by N'bid Ela (later called Ebid Ela), her witch-woman mentor. Becoming the tribe's "matyenda", or wise-woman/wizard, after N'bid Ela's death, Sheena lives as a Jungle Queen among her people, along with her pet ape, "Chim" (who the author—though not the illustrator—apparently believes to be a small monkey). From the first page of the first story, in which Sheena steps naked from a jungle pool, shaking water from her golden hair, sunlight glistening on her statuesque, bronzed body, "James Anson Buck" carries his readers along as Sheena gets involved with a white trader and hunter named Rick Thorne (apparently displacing the hapless Bob) and battles an Arab freebooter and his minions, evil treasure hunters, a would-be tribal dictator, and has a brief run-in with a living dinosaur hidden away in a lost valley stockpiled with untold riches in precious ivory.

Although good fun, the first issue of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle appeared towards the end of the pulp magazine phenomenon, and there was no second issue. Fiction House continued to publish Jungle Stories, however, and Sheena made a surprise guest appearance in the back pages of the last issue of that magazine.

Published in the Spring of 1954, Sword of Gimshai was attributed to an author named Joseph W. Musgrave, presumably another Fiction House pseudonym. Although written to conform somewhat to the continuity established in the novelets published in 1951, Sword of Gimshai blithely ignored the events from the three earlier stories. Sheena's mentor was still reported to have been the witch-woman, N'bid Ela, and she was still associated with the Abama tribe, but as this story begins Sheena is living in isolation with Chim a full five-day march to the north of the Abama village. Her loneliness is soon interrupted, however, when the hostile Bambala tribe sets up camp near her jungle home.

When the Bambalas menace the safari of a white explorer and linguist(!) named Bob Reilly (at least Bob is back in the picture, though there seems to be some confusion regarding his last name), Sheena is called upon to rescue him with the help of two of her jungle friends, Sabor the lion and Tamba the elephant. But when Bob decides he must sneak into the Bambala village to rescue his captured native bearers, Sheena steps in to use her superior jungle skills to thwart the nefarious plans of Babuli, the immensely fat chieftain of the Bambalas, and Nyag-Nyag, the evil Bambala witch doctor. Once again, readers were treated to a satisfying blood-and-thunder pulp adventure—but the pulp era was coming to a close, and Sword of Gimshai was the last story in the last jungle pulp ever published.

ne of the primary developments leading to the demise of the pulps was the growing popularity of television, so perhaps it's a bit ironic that hard on the heels of Sheena's last pulp appearance came her first venture in the relatively young medium. Produced in 1955-56, with 26 half-hour episodes airing between September 16, 1956 and March 17, 1957, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, starred statuesque glamour model Irish McCalla in the title role.

Though little information was given in this series regarding Sheena's background, the show remained fairly faithful to the continuity established in Jumbo Comics. Sheena lives in the jungle with her pet chimpanzee, Chim, and is befriended by white hunter/safari guide/photographer Bob Rayburn (again the confusion over the last name), played by Christian Drake. Sheena's speech is in the "Me Shee-na, you Bob" tradition, which is a bit at odds with her linguistic ability in the comic books—where her speech may be described as a bit stilted, presumably because she had learned English second-hand from her witch doctor mentor, but was still perfectly articulate. The series was set in Kenya, Africa, but most of the filming was done in the jungles of Mexico, with stock footage of African wildlife more or less spliced in at random. The series was an independent production, and suffers somewhat from low production values and mostly talentless guest stars, but is still fun to watch—if for no other reason than to see the 5 foot, 9 1/2 inch, 39-24-38 Ms. McCalla running around in her skimpy leopard-skin outfit.

The next attempt to dramatize the adventures of Sheena began in the mid-1970s. Producer Paul Aratow approached Columbia Pictures with the idea of filming a big-screen version of the Jungle Queen's story, with Raquel Welch in the title role. Columbia Pictures acquired the rights to the character from T. T. Scott, the former president and publisher of the now defunct Fiction House publishing company, but since Fiction House had a habit of not renewing the copyrights of many of their publications, including their pulp stories, it isn't clear as to just what rights Mr. Scott was selling. In any event, Columbia Pictures was confident that it had the rights necessary to bring Sheena to the big screen—but unfortunately, they hadn't counted on Jerry Iger. Although the Eisner-Iger Shop had produced the original artwork and stories for the Sheena comic books, the work had been sold to Fiction House, and if anyone possessed the copyrights it would have been Mr. Scott. But that didn't stop Jerry Iger from delaying production when he claimed that the rights to the Sheena character belonged to him.

Although Mr. Iger's claim held little merit, by the time the copyright issue had been resolved, and after the usual production delays, filming of the Sheena movie didn't begin until the early 1980s. By then, Raquel Welch was no longer interested in the project, so former replacement Charlie's Angel Tanya Roberts won the role of Sheena.

Released in 1984, Sheena presented a very different version of the Jungle Queen's story than any that had gone before. In a lengthy pre-credit sequence, the movie introduces Phillip and Betsy Ames, who, with their young daughter Janet, learn of the healing powers of a kind of dirt found in the Zambuli territory of the fictional kingdom of Tigora in Africa. Seeking the origin of the healing earth in an unstable cavern, Phillip and Betsy are killed by a cave-in. At this point, the Zambuli tribe's witch-woman, Shaman (Elizabeth of Toro), picks up the newly orphaned child and proclaims that an ancient prophecy has been fulfilled. The golden god child has come and will grow in wisdom, becoming the protector of the Zambulis and all their creatures, and she will be called Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

By the time the opening credits have been completed, Sheena has grown to adulthood and has been taught the power of telepathic communication with wildlife by Shaman. Immediately after the title credits, we are introduced to the evil Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas), a former pro-football place-kicker who is the brother of King Jabalani (Clifton Jones), and the secret lover of the King's fiancee, Countess Zanda (France Zobda). Prince Otwani has learned that the Zambuli tribal territory is rich in titanium, and is plotting the death of his brother so he can assume the throne and rob the country of its riches.

Then we cut to a brief nude scene as Sheena showers in a waterfall on the outskirts of the Zambuli village, and learns that Shaman has had a vision that the King will be assassinated and that the Zambuli land will be despoiled. Leaving the now clothed Sheena behind, Shaman travels to the capital city to warn the King of his impending assassination, and is promptly arrested at the orders of Countess Zanda so that she can be made the fall guy in Prince Otwani's plot.

Meanwhile, one of Prince Otwani's former friends, TV reporter Vic Casey (Ted Wass), and his comic-relief cameraman, Fletcher (Donovan Scott), arrive at Prince Otwani's invitation to somehow unwittingly provide him with an alibi when the King is killed. While cooling her heels in jail, Shaman telepathically summons Sheena's assistance, and then is trotted out to be in just the wrong place as the King gets a Zambuli arrow in his chest—at which point she's accused of the crime and taken back to jail to be brutally beaten.

Luckily, Vic and Fletcher inadvertently capture evidence on film that Shaman is innocent, and hurry off to the jail in time to see Sheena arrive on a "zebra" (actually a horse with painted stripes) and bust Shaman out with the assistance of an elephant and a couple of chimpanzees, neither of which is named Chim. Sheena and Shaman escape into the jungle, and are followed by Vic and Fletcher.

Prince (or is it now King?) Otwani then orders the ruthless Colonel Jorgensen (John Forgeham) to track them down and kill Shaman and Vic, but save Sheena for his own personal attention—which angers Countess Zanda, who makes it clear that she wants Sheena dead. Apparently in an effort to make sure that Colonel Jorgensen carries out his mission, Otwani and the Countess accompany him and his heavily armed men in the pursuit. In the jungle, Shaman dies from her beating at about the same time that Vic and Fletcher catch up with Sheena. Vic sends Fletcher back for help, at which point the movie degenerates into a lengthy and tedious chase—though it's enlivened a bit at one point when Sheena stops to take another bath in an extended nude scene.

Overall, Sheena is a disappointment, and I've probably given it more space than it deserves. The movie was filmed in Kenya, and the authentic jungle and veldt scenery is gorgeous and impressive. Tanya Roberts is breathtakingly lovely in the role of Sheena, but fails to make the portrayal very convincing—though to be fair, she's hampered by a weak script and ludicrous dialogue. But I'm always willing to award a film an extra star for a good nude scene, so with the bonus star I'd rate this movie ** 1/2 out of *****. It's worth a look, especially if you keep your thumb on the fast forward button.

The latest incarnation of Sheena is the syndicated TV series Sheena, which had its debut in the first week of October, 2000. To her performance as Sheena, the sultry Gena Lee Nolin brings enthusiasm, a sexy overbite, and a truly magnificent set of (surgically enhanced) hooters—though she still has a bit of growing to do as an actress.

Departing, for the most part, from the continuity established in any of the prior Sheena stories, here we have Kali (Margo Moorer), a wise shamaness and the last of the shape-shifting Kaya tribe now living in a village in the La Mistas region of the fictional African country of Maltaka, who has taught Sheena the art of morphing (clothes and all) into the shapes of animals. Sheena's parents had been killed when she was quite young, and before she met Kali she wandered the jungle, living with the animals, learning to communicate with them, becoming one with them—savage, kind, knowing, and innocent. When called upon to fight in defense of her world, Sheena strips down, smears herself with greasy muck, straps on a set of fighting claws, and takes on a somewhat leopard-like visage before blending into the jungle and attacking her enemies as the Darak'na, a legendary creature of the La Mistas. There's no sign of Bob, and the closest the show has gotten to Chim was a brief appearance by a chimpanzee, described by Sheena as a "friend" in the first episode, and a couple of guys in not very convincing gorilla suits.

In the pilot episode, we meet Matt Cutter (John Allen Nelson), a roguish former CIA assassin who became a tour guide and bush pilot in deepest Africa after having accidently killed an innocent bystander during one of his missions. Cutter, who with his acerbic partner Mendlesohn (Kevin Quigley) owns Cutter Enterprises, takes on a job to fly some shady characters looking for diamonds into the La Mistas, an uncharted part of Africa. When the villains attempt to kill him, he runs off into the jungle and is chased into quicksand, where he's rescued by a gorilla who morphs back into Sheena before knocking him out and dragging him off to Kali's village. Teaming up with Sheena to thwart the plans of the diamond-hunting villains, Cutter is taken to her home, which is part of a vast network of remarkably well-lit caverns stretching throughout the La Mistas mountains, where they track down the bad guys who have found what they're looking for in another part of the caverns.

It's all pretty silly stuff, but fun to watch, at least in the opinion of this forty-something viewer who has the heart (and emotional maturity) of an eight-year-old. And the fact that the show's flirtation with nudity pushes the envelope for broadcast TV doesen't hurt, either (though there appears to be a disappointing over-reliance on strategically placed pasties). Sheena is filmed in Florida, and is distributed by Sony Columbia TriStar Television, which is reportedly engaged in dueling lawsuits with Paul Aratow, who signed over his film and TV rights for the Sheena character to Columbia, but claims he should have been given first crack at being the show's producer. Update: Unfortunately, this show has been cancelled since the time that I had originally posted this page, due to low ratings—possibly as a result of the fact that it was run in late-night slots-of-death in most markets.

efore concluding this essay, I suppose I should mention that Sheena made a come-back, of sorts, to the comic book universe in the late 1990s. In issue #0 (I hate it when they do that) of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, published by London Night Studios in February of 1998, we learn that Sheena, originally named Sheila, was in a plane crash with her parents in the jungles of South America(!) in the 1970s. Her parents didn't survive the crash, but "Sheila" was found in the wreckage and taken in by a tribe of Indians, who raised her to be their strong-willed queen. Her name apparently being corrupted into Sheena by the tribe, the statuesque redhead took to wearing a skin-tight black leather cat-suit with a leopard-skin (in South America?) vest. Having faced death "at least a hundred times," our heroine becomes part of a crack team of adventurers who set out to rescue some villagers threatened by the impending eruption of Mt. Hansha in the fictional country of Philop, South America.

In a follow-up four-issue mini-series, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle: Bound, published from the Summer of 1998 through early 1999, Sheena and her team discover that Mt. Hansha is being artificially induced to erupt by the evil Deborah Trevor, of Trevor Enterprises, who wants to force the eruption in order to expose a hidden lode of uranium ore, which she is planning to auction off to the highest bidding fringe terrorist group or third world nation for use in constructing nuclear weapons.

It's all pretty dismal, and after issue #0, it's all in black and white. Besides being on the wrong continent, this Sheena has absolutely nothing in common with any of the Sheenas that have gone before, and the mini-series has little to recommend it. Perhaps not too surprisingly, given his disappointing Sheena movie of 1984, the "story consultant" for this series is listed as Paul Aratow.

The 1990s also brought the reprinting of a number of Sheena's original adventures by AC Comics. If I've managed to whet your appetite for more of Sheena's adventures, you'd be better advised to hunt up these reprints than to waste your time and money on the London Night Studios series. And, finally, click on the Killer's Kraal link for an online reprint of one of the original short stories published in the Spring 1951 issue of Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

Stories of
Queen of the JUNGLE

Rain had forsaken the Congo. Hunger stalked the land. And lean, ravenous Abama warriors, led by the Golden Goddess of all the Jungles—Sheena—doggedly marched against the walls of the ancient Arab fortress to bury the curse of Sleman bin Ali.

Savage drums sent Sheena's warning rolling through the forest to the ears of the white invaders: Wise men don't flaunt tribal taboos...and all fools die quickly on the forbidden trails of the Congo.

KILLER'S KRAAL   (Now online!)
Fierce and unswerving was the natives' allegiance to the wing-footed white goddess, Sheena. All but Yamo Galagi, famed earthshaker of the ancient Kalundas, who bowed to no law but his own insidious ju ju.

For more information on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, visit the Sheena, Queen of the Jungle Fan Page. For information on other pulp heroes, please visit my main Pulp Hero web page.

The Holloway Pages Pulp Heroes

© 2000 by Clark J. Holloway.

Picture Credits (from the top, left to right):
From the cover of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle 3-D, Blackthorne Publishing, Inc., 1985.
From the cover of Jumbo Comics #131, Fiction House.
Cover of Jumbo Comics #158, Fiction House.
Panel from a reprint published in TV's Original Sheena: Irish McCalla, by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications/AC Comics, 1992.
Black & White interior illustration from Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Fiction House, Spring 1951.
Black & White interior illustration from Jungle Stories, Fiction House Spring, 1954.
Autographed photo of Irish McCalla as Sheena, author's collection.
Tanya Roberts as Sheena, from the 1984 film. Columbia Pictures.
Gena Lee Nolin as Sheena, from the 2000 TV series. Sony Columbia TriStar Television.
Panel from Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0, London Night Studios, 1998.
Cover of Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Fiction House, Spring 1951.

Sheena image copyrights held by their owners, where applicable.