Writer’s Commentary – Steven E. De Souza Discusses ‘Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle’ #9 From Dynamite
by Olly MacNamee
Screenwriter, producer, and director Steven E. De Souza returns to discuss his most recent comic book Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #9 from Dynamite Comics. A Writer’s Commentary that includes a behind the scenes look at De Souza’s writing process, as well as a good few sources and inspirations that guided his hand in the writing of this particular issue.
[+++ WARNING: Possible spoilers for Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #9. So, buy and read the book, then come back here for some informative commentary! +++]
Pages 1 -6:
If when you open up Sheena #9 your reaction is, WTF, did I purchase the wrong book, then I’ve done my job — I like nothing better in a movie, TV show or comic than to knock the audience off-balance with an entirely unexpected scene. Yes, it’s 1945, the Axis is on its heels, and Hitler himself has — literally — launched a last-ditch attempt to change the course of the war, via a Type XXI super-sub U-boat loaded with Nazi Wunderwaffe — “wonder weapons” — prototype jet planes, V-3 missiles and heavy water for nuclear bombs — all en route to Japan, to turn the tide of war in the Pacific and force the Allies to divert resources from the German front.
Some comic book history: The first page here takes its inspiration from Sheena creator Will Eisner’s other famous title, The Spirit, when, facing a changing marketplace and demographic, Eisner tried to take that strip into a science fiction direction in an adventure penciled by the legendary Jules Feiffer and inked by the equally legendary Wally Wood. As originally planned, this story depicted Hitler himself fleeing the collapsing Reich not in a super-sub, but a spaceship (!)
By the time the story saw print, both the war and the rumors Hitler had survived it had passed, so Hitler was replaced by a generic Latin American dictator — so, here, at least, we have retconned the Eisner/Feiffer/Wood retcon to its original intention!
Some historical trivia: The XXI subs were in fact real and designed for exactly this purpose, and one rumored to carry a cargo like this was discovered only a few years ago (and you can read more about this here – Editor, Olly MacNamee).
While the U-3523, above, didn’t survive its encounter with allied forces, Captain Visser’s sister ship is luckier, and after a close call with Australian destroyers, it’s able to limp its way to an uncharted pacific island… but (spoiler alert — pay special attention to the damage to its precious cargo of a jet plane.)
Visser’s plan to use the island’s inhabitants as slave labor to repair his ship goes quickly awry, first when his scouting party tries to cross a mysterious barrier that bisects the island, and then — as the Captain’s log tells us — when “Seaman Wilhelm’s scream” (see what I did there?) exposes the Nazis’ true colors.
As Visser finishes bragging to his captives how he tricked them into helping him, his suspicion that Sheena, Bob and Ransome are an American O.S.S. team isn’t entirely unfounded: The precursor of the C.I.A., a typical O.S.S. team, often included a well-educated spy, a solider and a local guide.
Sheena’s gift for languages and mimicry is well-established and she frequently puts it to good use — as here, to knock Visser off-message as the sun rises… and the tribe’s women return from grazing their livestock.
Visser’s wisecracks about the Ivy League, the U.S. Army and “the savage woman” get literally thrown back in his face as all three of our heroes enter the fray with battle cries appropriate to their backgrounds (“Geronimo!” “Veritas!” And of course, Sheena’s Golden Age cri de guerre, “Dhakka!”)
The local chief, already bristling at the decisions of the tribe’s Shaman and truth teller (his own aunt, as it happens) concludes that all the recent arrivals to his island, whether Nazis or Sheena’s group, are cut from the same cloth, and lashes out. Sheena is rarely overpowered but when she is, here, it’s a callback pose to classic Golden Age Fiction House Matt Baker depictions of the jungle queen momentarily out of action.
I had a lot of fun with Bob and Ransome trying to convince Visser that they are indeed from the future, and the roots of this sequence lie in my past: Back in the 1960’s, I read a stand-alone story in one of the Marvel mystery books titled something like “The Man who was Merlin!” If memory serves (and, if there is a dedicated Marvel historian out there, please confirm) it was illustrated by Steve Ditko, and depicted a scientist who had invented a time travel machine and was determined to go back in time and meet his hero, Merlin the Magician. Transporting himself to Camelot, he is surprised no one there seems to have even ever HEARD of Merlin, and when he tries to prove he is from the future, he fails utterly, as all the amazing 1962 tech he has brought with him doesn’t work – there’s no electricity, no radio or TV signals, even his time machine has crashed. The classic Stan Lee twist/payoff is, stuck in the past, his anachronistic sophistication plus his obsessive quest for Merlin ends up making King Arthur decide the time traveler HIMSELF is Merlin!
As should be obvious, this was my inspiration for Bob and Ransome’s futile attempts here… but (spoiler alert #2) pay very, very VERY close attention to their last apparent fail to make their case: As Stan would say… ‘nuff said!
When Sheena regains consciousness, she learns there has been a coup on the island, and she’s been locked up with everyone in the tribe who didn’t go along with it. Worse, the tribe’s priestess is at death’s door after a beating, but before she expires, she warns Sheena that her nephew is about to bring back “the old ways” – whatever THAT means — and that the ongoing cacophony of drums and conch calls in the night are designed to call…”It”!
Before she expires, she gifts Sheena something that true Sheena devotees will immediately recognize — a hunting horn — first made famous in the hands of the first live-action Sheena, 1950’s TV’s Irish McCalla:
Now I have no idea if the producers of that show had any inkling of the ramification of that imagery of a protector of the forest with a horn that was so iconic it was featured every week in the opening credits, but as a college student I was gobsmacked in Anthropology 101 when the instructor projected a 25,000-year-old image of the earliest know representation of an earth mother figure, the Venus of Laussel, and realized it reminded me of the TV show I was devoted to as an 8-year-old:
Is it any surprise, then, that the dying priestess tells Sheena she is the heir to a timeless, ancient calling to protect nature?
Speaking of timeless, ancient callings, mine as a storyteller is to craft cliffhangers, and in all due modesty, #9 ends with a doozy: Pete the parrot, knocked out of the sky in #8 by Visser before Pete could deliver Sheena’s warning that the “helpless shipwreck victim” was actually a Nazi U-boat captain, is about to be devoured by a pair of Velociraptors, while — absent that warning — Bob and Ransome are Visser’s prisoners, about to be tortured to confess they are indeed the Allied spies the U-boat captain is convinced they are… and, as for Sheena, though it takes half a dozen warriors and some debilitating drugs to bring her down, she is bound and tied to a sacrificial altar, destined to be a meal for the island’s as-yet unseen apex predator — “the great Maw!”
Whew! I know I typed it, but even I can’t wait to see how Ediano Silva, Dinei Ribeiro and Taylor Esposito bring it to life in Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #10, later this month!
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #9 is out now from Dynamite Comics