Monday, September 21, 2015

Lois Lane: Jungle Girl [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

The early days of superheroes were pretty simple. You created a weird character and you threw villains at him. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman; they just had to punch their way out. But by the late 1950s this had changed. What had been one title had become many. Action Comics for example had become Action Comics, Superman, Superman's Best Friend Jimmy Olson, Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane, Superboy, Supergirl, and so on. What this did was allow the writers to pen different kinds of stories. Action Comics and Superman still had the basic rough and tumble formula, but some of these other titles delved into more private aspects of the superhero's life.

Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane is a perfect example. Marketed towards the female reader, most of the plots hinge on Lois's emotional connection to Superman. Not quite a romance comic, it did explore her feelings of love (and jealousy) towards the Man of Steel. And finding a new way to do that issue after issue was quite a challenge with 137 issues from 1959 to 1974. Some sample ideas from just the first twenty-four issues include Lois becoming a witch, adopting a super-baby, getting really fat, going to prison, singing a hit song with Pat Boone, becoming a baby herself, wearing a lead box on her head to hide her face from Superman, falling for Batman, getting kryptonite vision by accident, marrying Astounding Man, getting X-Ray vision, and any number of plots involving Lana Lang's getting the upper hand on Lois for Superman's affections. And that's just the first 24 of 137.

Issue #11 (August 1959) is a my favorite of them all. "The Leopard Girl of the Jungle" was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Kurt Schaffenburger. In this story, Lana Lang wants to see Lois. Lois, being ever jealous of Superman's first girlfriend, thinks the worst. But what Lana really wants is for Lois to read her new novel. It's a jungle thriller that's been rejected because it's too far-fetched. Lois reads the book, but has an interview in Africa, so she hops a plane. Which, of course, crashes and Lois loses her memory. She thinks she is a leopard girl and takes up with pack of leopards. (We'll come back to that one.) Superman finds her and restores her memory but Lois refuses to leave the jungle. She is determined to prove that a jungle girl can do all the things that Lana wrote about. Lois goes on a dangerous jungle crusade and accomplishes all of Lana's jungle adventures (with Superman always ready to surreptitiously save her, like pulling the crocodiles down in the river so they can't attack the swimming jungle queen and her furry companions). She returns with her proof and Lana's book becomes a bestseller. Superman is impressed by Lois's kindness to Lana (which Lois only admits to herself is why she did all those crazy jungle stunts.)

Now Bill Finger could have done some research and learned that leopards don't live in packs. And he could have acquired more in-depth, African geographical and political knowledge. Except that would have ruined the whole thing. Because Finger didn't want to write a real jungle adventure. He wanted to write something that harkened back to the jungle queens of old, like Sheena, Rulah, Camilla, and Cave Girl. And this is exactly what he does. Lois wears leopard skins. She escapes stampeding elephants and raging grass fires. She swims in crocodile-infested waters. The only thing she doesn't do is use a knife. This might have been a Comics Code issue or simply because Superman is continuously acting as her security blanket.

The end result is an homage strategically placed in the jungle girl history. Most of the jungle comics and movies were done by the early '50s. The only significant one was in 1959 with Audrey Hepburn playing Rima the Jungle Girl in Green Mansions. That premiered around the same time this issue of Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane appeared. Coincidence? Probably not. DC had no jungle comics in 1959. (In 1972 Joe Kubert would take over Tarzan and would even adapt Green Mansions as a seven-part mini-series called Rima the Jungle Girl in 1974. But back in 1959? Nada.) Bill Finger's tale is a swan song to an era of liana-swinging gals in leopard bikinis. The 1960s would be the decade that gave us Ron Ely on TV, Jack Benny and Gilligan parodies, George of the Jungle, and Ray Stevens singing "Guitarzan." We had become too sophisticated for Nyoka serials or Irish McCalla as Sheena.

Good bye, jungle girls. And thank you, Metropolis, for one last swing.

If you'd like to read the entire comic you can at Benny Drinnon's Ominous Octopus Omnibus blog. I'd also like to thank Benny Drinnon for directing my attention to this story.

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 He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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