Friday, December 01, 2017

Lush and Lovely

Rima the Jungle Girl #2-5 (Marvel, June-July 1974 to December-January 1974/1975, 20 cents)
Writer: Robert Kanigher, Artist: Nestor Redondo, Cover and layouts: Joe Kubert.

This has got to be one of the most perfect, under-appreciated comic books in the history of DC. Published in the mid-'70s and based on W.H. Hudson's 1904 novel Green Mansions, which was made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn in 1959, the comic features jungle heroine Rima, who even later appeared in the cartoon The All-New Super Friends Hour. Green Mansions was also adapted by Classics Illustrated in 1951 (#90).

The heroine and storyline have more in common with weird fiction and writing by authors such as H. Rider Haggard, at least in the initial issues, than with other jungle adventure regulars such as Tarzan.

#2: "Flight from Eden" In Venezuela, John Abel, injured by a snake bite, muses over the "beautiful apparition" of Rima. Brought into the forest by her grandfather Nuflo after her mother died, Rima is able to communicate with animals. Clothed in spiderweb, she is angered by her grandfather's eating of meat, After Abel returns to an Indian village, she welcomes him back to her grandfather's hut, indicating she wants to return to her mother's home.

Redondo's art is lithe and nimble, and some pages—4, 8, and 12-13 in particular—are breathtaking. The issue also includes a one-page Li'l Brontosaurus gag by Henry Boltinoff, as well as a five-page Space Voyagers backup story. Written by Kanigher and drawn by Alex Nino, "The Delta Brain" is science fiction comics at their finest: sense shattering, inventive, and threatening. Editorial Assistant Allan Asherman contributes a one-page text piece, "The Riddle of the Didi," which contextualizes Rima.

#3: "Riolama" Continuing the narrative with the same creative team, the trio walk to the foothills of Riolama, where Rima was born. Nuflo recalls his rebel past and the guilt he felt about looting and pillaging. In a cave, he and his comrades meet "the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," who somehow kills his companions but falls injured herself. She soon gives birth to a daughter, Rima. The identify of the father is not specified.

Nuflo raises Rima as his own, avoiding towns for the forest, where they make their home by an old tree. Considered by area natives as the "daughter of the Didi," or evil one, Rima is shunned, which offers some safety.

As in the previous issue, Kubert's layouts and Redondo's art shine, especially pages 2-3, 5, 6-9—much of the issue. The Space Voyagers sf backup by Kanigher and Alex Nino is also stunning. Nino's artwork—pages 2-3 and 6—is something else, something out of this world. A one-page letter column lavishes praise on #1.

#4: "The Flaming Forest" Abel is captured by the native Malagar, "blood enemy of the Indians with whom I lived!" Her grandfather dead and the big tree, "monarch of the forest," burned, Rima returns after Abel and his friend rout the Malagar.

This issue excels beyond the previous issues: Pages 2-3, 4, 8, the borderless pages 9 and 10 (p. 10 is a Big Wow), and 11—even more of the issue! The one-page Shorty gag by Boltinoff features a native attack all its own. And the Space Voyagers backup, "The Four Faces of Death," offers additional fantastic Nino art. Pages 1 and 5 of that story astound. A one-page letter column caps the issue, piling on the accolades for #2.

#5: "Jungle Vengeance" The first issue to publish credit for Kanigher and Redondo (also crediting Erick for lettering!) for the Rima story, this edition moves beyond the Green Mansions adaptation. Rima finds a native encased in ice. He is no longer alive. She and Abel find another native "steamed alive," and Ria traces the deaths to Dr. Zullio's secret training camp. There, he punishes natives and trespassers, conducting the scientific experiments that had led to his imprisonment in a Caracas insane asylum. Zullio falls.

A one-page Peter Puptent Explorer gag by Boltinoff suggests that wives don't like to wash dishes. And a Space Voyagers backup, "The Queen Ant," provides more impressive Nino art. Oh, that pages 3 and 4!

I consider this comic to be perfect for several reasons. One, the main Rima material is very well done. Kanigher and Redondo—with Kubert layouts—work very well together creatively, and the result is lush and lovely. Secondly, the composition of each issue—main story, one-page gag, and backup story—is almost the ideal recipe for editorial mix. Like the old double-feature movie days of yore, the serious main feature is leavened with something light (akin to the cartoons in a double feature), and the backup story can be a little more experimental (similar to a serial). Each issue as a whole balances very well. And finally, the Nino backup pieces are stellar—worth seeking out for themselves alone. Even if all you saw were the Space Voyagers shorts, you'd be reading quality comics.

Just perfect.

Availability: This Rima material has not been collected. Her 2010 appearance in First Wave has been collected.

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