Monday, January 04, 2016

Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

The 1960s get a lot of press for being a time of civil unrest, counter culture, and music. Another thing it was, was a time of experimentation with alternative ideas, such as yoga, meditation, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Beatles meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and adopting Asian beliefs (or in some cases, just the clothes). It was a time of astral projection and pyramid power. It was also the age of ESP.

Let's forget that science fiction had driven that bandwagon over a decade earlier. It took ten years for everyone else to catch up. And the comic books were no different. Jack Kirby at Marvel created Professor X for X-Men #1 (September 1963). Psychics came two years earlier to the Superman franchise, specifically Supergirl, with the telepathic character of Lena Thorul, who was secretly Lex Luthor's sister. Beginning February 1961 in "The Curse of Lena Thorul," she was brought to life by Superman's original creator, Jerry Siegel.

Lena helped Supergirl with her powers until the cat got out of the bag in Action Comics #313 (June 1964), written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Jim Mooney. What could possibly happen to the lovely Lena if she found out? Amnesia, of course. Followed by life in the jungle and some zebra underwear. If it worked for Lois Lane in 1959, why not Lena Luthor five years later?

What chance did Lena have, being telepathic and having to interview Lex as part of her FBI application? The truth slips from Lex's mind and snap. Off Lena runs to anywhere - Africa - where she acquires a movie starlet's costume for a film that is being made. Without memory, she adopts the clothing and with her amazing abilities she tames the jungle animals around her. She becomes a legend of the jungle, the Jungle Princess! When a stray bullet creases Lena's head, giving her back her memory, she goes back to Metropolis to perform with her lions and elephants. There she also cuts into Supergirl's business, rescuing some people from a collapsing balcony with the help of her savage friends.

During Lena's premiere she is once again tortured by the idea of being ridiculed as Lex Luthor's sister. She can't perform, so Supergirl takes her place. Since she can't control the animals with her mind, it is Supergirl's strength that saves her from the lion's mouth and the elephant's foot. As Superman saved Lois Lane from harm in "Lois Lane, Jungle Princess," Supergirl does the same for her friend this time.

Meanwhile back in prison, Lex Luthor has become the "Plant of Metropolois Prison." With Supergirl's innocent help, he gets quantities of "Vitagron" and "Energite" (nothing suspicious there!) and grows a vine down the walls of the prison. He comes to the theater, expecting Lena, but is captured by Supergirl. The green flowers he has brought for his sibling are special, having the power to erase Lena's bad memories, which they do. (Lex wisely guards himself from the fumes with a handkerchief, pretending to have a cold.) Heading back to prison, Lex is happy he has been able to help his sister forget his terrible legacy.

This second trip to the jungle doesn't have as much "jungle-ness" to it, but it still gets in some minor Tarzania. Lena, when she speaks to her animal friends (more for effect than need, as she can control them silently) she speaks the "jungle language," which the animals can understand, including "Urtah! Itay! Kabray! Despite sounding like Pig Latin, it is descended from Tarzan's "Bundalo" and "Kreegah!" that is familiar to fans of both the comics and original stories. Typical to most jungle queen stories, Lena uses her amazing powers to stop poachers who are stealing from the Elephant's Graveyard. She also directs one of her apes to rescue a man from quicksand.

Once again DC Comics showed a lasting interest in the heritage of the jungle. Or were they simply catching the rising tide? Ballantine Books was selling millions of copies with their new Tarzan editions in 1963-64. This new wave of Tarzan fever would see Ron Ely play the ape man on TV in 1966. DC would have loved some of that jungle action, but Western Comics would keep the Burroughs' properties until the early 1970s. Still, a good, generic jungle princess now and then couldn't hurt.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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