Sunday, February 13, 2005

Looking To The Stars: She-Devil May Care

Am I the only one who cares about the total mess Frank Cho has made out of the good name of Dr. Shanna O'Hara?

While giving myself a refresher course in the history of the original "Shanna The She Devil", I determined that out of the eighty websites that came up during one web search, only four of them yielded any information about the character outside of Frank Cho's new pet project. Of those, only one gave any suitable background information on the character whom was Marvel Comic's first attempt at creating a feminist icon. Yes, even before Ms. Marvel!

Let us go back to a different time; when there was great social unrest, the country was torn apart by a war many felt to be unjust and a president of questionable moral integrity sat in the White House.

(Well, okay. Maybe not THAT different a time.)

The year was 1972. The Women's Liberation movement was becoming a true force to be reckoned with. Helen Reddy had just released I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar. And Marvel, seeing the way the wind was blowing, decided that perhaps they should start publishing some books about empowered, modern female heroes.

And so it was that they release three titles. Night Nurse; a rather forgettable title centering around three nurses working night-shift in a hospital and their many adventures. The Cat, whose base concept would later be used to create a different "The Cat", who would eventually go on to become the heroine Tigra. And finally, "Shanna, The She-Devil, which would go on to have the greatest lasting effect upon The Marvel Universe.

Shanna O'Hara had a happy enough childhood. Raised in Africa on a nature preserve by her father, a former big-game hunter who has turned to conservation, Shanna was raised with a deep respect for nature and a love of animals. She would later go to school in the United States, where she would get a doctorate in veterinary sciences and get a job with a zoo.

It is while working at the zoo that Shanna began to develop a deep hatred of modern "civilization", particularly in regards to how badly the animals in her care are treated by her co-workers and the patrons of the zoo. It is then that she decides to do the only sensible thing a rational woman can do; she dons a leopard-skin bikini, rescues a panther and a leopard (named Ina and Biri, respectively) and goes to bless the rains down in Africa faster than you can say 'Toto'.

Okay, that is pretty crazy on the surface of it. But that is no more irrational than radiation being able to make you big, green and strong.

Shanna would then go on to a lucrative if brief career. She protected the wilds from poachers and fighting third-rate villains such as The Mandrill. She also struck a blow for women everywhere by proving that she could rescue the wannabe love-interest who kept getting in their way just as well as any Superman. In Shanna's case, she had to keep bailing out a thick slab of Irish beefcake by the name of Patrick McShane. Still, it may have been too much, too soon.

Still, one cannot fault the talent behind Shanna for the book's inability to take off. With covers by legendary artist Jim Steranko (Check out this page for a peek at the first one.), artwork by long-time Wonder Woman artist Ross Andru and scripts/plots from Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, this book had the talent to take it into the stratosphere.

But despite Wonder Woman making the cover of the newly-launched Ms. Magazine, Marvel may have overestimated the number of enlightened women reading comics. The numbers were lower than they had hoped and all three of these books were canceled with a speed unseen even today at Marvel. Night Nurse and The Cat lasted a scant four issues. Shanna did little better, lasting until issue five before getting the axe.

Still, Shanna would later move on to better things. She became a frequent partner of Spider-Man and Daredevil throughout the 70's and 80's and would have a brief relationship with the latter hero. Though the romance didn't last, they would remain close enough that Shanna would later name her son Matthew in Matt Murdock's honor.

That son, of course, came at the hands of Shanna's most famous romantic partner: the man she eventually married. Kevin Plunder, aka Ka-Zar - protector of the lost jungle known as The Savage Land. Perfect place for a woman seeking to get away from it all. Sadly, while Ka-Zar's several solo series lasted slightly longer than Shanna's, neither was able to completely escape from the feeling among some fans that in a world of flying superheroes, the adventures of a married couple and their son living in a jungle fighting monsters is pretty dull stuff. Never mind that Tarzan and The Phantom did just fine with that concept for years.

So what does any of this have to do with Frank Cho's "Shanna, The She-Devil"? Thankfully, at least from the view point of someone who has been following the adventures of Dr. Shanna O'Hara through a whole lot of cameos, not bloody much.

Cho has gleefully disavowed HIS "Shanna" from having anything to do with Ka-Zar, her son, The Savage Land or indeed any of the rich feminist or environmentalist roots of the original character. To quote Mr. Cho from a 2002 interview...

To be quite honest, I've never read any Ka-Zar or Shanna stories in my life until couple of months ago. To prep me for Shanna, Marvel sent me a bunch of 1970's Shanna comics and couple of 1980's Shanna comics... Those Shanna comics were some of the worst comics that I've ever read in my life. So, I called up {senior editor} Axel Alonso at Marvel and told him that I'm completely reinventing her and build her up from scratch. No more B.S. animal rights or environmental message or stupid-ass stories about her being a daughter of a big game hunter or her being married to that Tarzan-lite, Ka-Zar. And Axel Alonso, bless that man, gave me his full support to radically redo Shanna.

To be honest, I was rather relieved to read those above words. Suddenly, it all made sense... why the book that Frank Cho has released has absolutely nothing to do with the original character; the one who I fell in love with reading Mark Waid's run on Ka-Zar.

Okay. So we aren't going to have any of the original plot or characterization behind Shanna. What CAN we expect to see in this series, Mr. Cho?

She's literally a brand new character with no ties to other books and stories. No Plunder clan. No stupid animal rights or environmental message. Nothing. It's strictly Shanna. You have to read it to see what I'm taking about."

Hmmm... so we're going to write the character by completely discarding everything that makes her unique and turn her into a general generic jungle bimbo, akin to what we've seen in Avatar Press' Jungle Fantasy? Interesting. But what will this new Shanna be about?

...action, suspense, humor, violence, nudity, and a whole lot of jiggling...

Well, not so much nudity now that Marvel has gone and Nerfed what was meant to be an adults-only book and thus removed the only worthwhile element of this revamp. I have said it before and I'll say it again; the only people buying Frank Cho books are adolescent boys in men's bodies, who are too scared to go out and buy a Playboy Magazine to satisfy their natural urges.

And having read the first issue of Frank Cho's Shanna (which you can read for free at Mile High Comics) I can tell you that the only serviceable use it has is as pornography for teenage boys. You can get the same basic effect of reading this book by watching Jurassic Park with the sound muted and a nude-picture of Gena Nolin taped to one side of the screen.

The story is trite stuff. Generic army grunts find a secret Nazi base (we know it's a Nazi base because they have Nazi flags all over it: nice way to keep it secret) and discover a naked woman grown inside a tank. They let her out, explore around and find a woman hiding inside a closet. Faster than you can say "dummkopf", the raptors are loose and ready to eat everyone. Bullets seem to have limited effect, but the mysterious naked (now covered under a blanket, John Ashcroft style) woman is able to snap their necks easy as pie.

Honestly, I couldn't care less about this series anymore. For once, Marvel's lassie faire editorial policy will work to our benefit. If this story no longer has to be part of a set continuity, then it doesn't matter how poorly written it is. It doesn't matter that one of the first feminist characters of Old Marvel has been turned into a screaming example of why most women avoid comic shops like the plague. It doesn't even matter that Shanna is a blonde when she's supposed to be a redhead.

Why? Because you boys can have your fun for the next seven months. We real men will enjoy ourselves reading about a real woman.

Still, don't take my word for it. Here is a list of every comic in my collection featuring the original Shanna, The She-Devil. I encourage you all to track these issues down and judge for yourselves which is better; the feminist crusader or the wordless wild-woman.

Shanna, The She-Devil #1-5
Rampaging Hulk : Vol. 2, #9
Ka-Zar : Vol. 2, #1-2
Daredevil : Vol. 1, #109, 111-113, 117
Marvel Two-In-One #3
Savage Tales #8-10
Marvel Fanfare : Vol. 1, #56-59
Contest of Champions #1
Ka-Zar : Vol. 3, #1-32, 34
Uncanny X-Men Annual #7 and #12
Avengers : Vol. 1, #257
Iron Man : Vol. 1, #202
Fantastic Four : Vol. 2, #316-317
West Coast Avengers Annual #3
Marvel Comics Presents #13, 16, 68-77
Uncanny X-Men #250, 274-275, 354
Ka-Zar: Graphic Novel
Namor : Vol. 1, 16-19, 21
Tales of the Marvel Universe #1
Sensational Spider-Man #13-15
Ka-Zar Annual '97
Ka-Zar : Vol. 4, #1-20
Captain America : Vol. 3, #29, 31

One last thought, before I close out. For the real woman in my unreal life.

Sierra, baby? Happy Valentine's Day!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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