Thursday, April 07, 2005

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Ladies and gents, I give you the jungle dame with the fabulous frame- no, not Shanna the She Devil, but RIMA, THE JUNGLE GIRL, as lovingly rendered by the late great Nestor Redondo. Rima was an extrapolation of the W.H. Hudson book Green Mansions, about a mysterious, exotic "Bird-Girl of the Amazon" and her young explorer/lover Abel, and how they dealt with threats from within and without the jungle. DC released this in April of 1974, at roughly about the same time they had had some success with the Edgar Rice Burroughs franchise of characters such as John Carter, Carson of Venus, and of course, the jungle lord Tarzan. Unfortunately, Rima apparently wasn't a big seller, or the paper shortage was causing DC to cut back on the number of titles it put out, because it only lasted seven issues, coming out bi-monthly for approximately a year.

All seven issues featured scripts by longtime DC editor/writer/legend Robert Kanigher, best known for his war comics and wiggy stints on Wonder Woman and the Metal Men. No writer credit appears in the first four issues, but they read very much like Kanigher's style, somewhat florid, but also quite stilted in its diction, and episodic as all get out. The art, though, more than made up for it- Redondo did some of the best work of his career on this most obscure of stages, and did so despite dealing with the unenviable task of taking over art chores on Swamp Thing from Berni Wrightson during the book's first incarnation, plus doing several mystery/horror stories for DC's supernatural anthology titles as well. Each issue is consistently excellent artwise- full of nicely done detail and Redondo's outstanding renditions of not only the title character, but many animals and natives as well.

Problem was, the events he was assigned to draw didn't always lend themselves to such lavish attention. Issues 1-4 essentially introduce the principal players; Rima, Abel, Rima's elderly stepfather Nuflo, and two feuding native tribes, one a tribe of headhunters. After escaping from some mercenary jungle skirmish, Abel staggers into the village of a native tribe. They nurse him back to health, and he is warned to avoid a certain part of the jungle, in which they tell him a witch lives. Overcome by curiosity, Abel sets out to investigate, and encounters Rima for the first time. As she runs into the jungle, he is bitten by a poisonous snake after which he passes out and comes to in Nuflo's hut, and is informed by the old man that his daughter Rima has saved him. This kinda establishes a pattern for the next seven issues: Abel gets into some sort of scrape, and Rima comes and pulls his ass out of the fire. I fully expect that issue 8 would have had her buying him a passport and placing his tuckus on the next flight back to civilization. The next three kinda go on like this- Abel is caught between his infatuation for Rima and the tribe which has befriended him, as well as the headhunter tribe which threatens them all, and Rima decides that she should journey to where her mother, who died giving her birth, is from so she can find out about her people. We get a full account of how Nuflo and Rima's mother met, and how he came to care for her and how her abilities, which mirrored those of her mother, grew. Rima and Abel also fall in love. Inexplicably, and I SPOIL...Rima decides at the last minute not to take the trip to locate her mother's people after all, which really didn't make a whole lot of sense after the three issue buildup. Maybe Kanigher didn't think he'd have time to do a big multi-issue epic story, who knows. Anyway, in the next three issues, Rima encounters a Boys From Brazil-type mad doctor (they stop just short of establishing that he is a Nazi, for some reason), a group of evil big-game hunters who wish to kill her white leopard friend, and in the final issue, a safari with a horny rich married lady and her brat kid, who has a penchant for torturing the animals in the jungle. Of course, in each one of these stories Abel gets in some sort of scrape and Rima comes to his rescue, which more often than not is depicted on the Joe Kubert covers for each issue. The sum experience of reading these books is quite frustrating- Kanigher gets in a routine early on, and all he does is give us variations on that one theme. His dialogue is embarrassing in places, especially when he tries to get all mushy and romantic. It just wasn't his strength. The main reason for getting these, in my opinion anyway, is for the excellent Redondo art. It would be nice to see DC collect these simply to see it reproduced on quality paper, perhaps recolored. I'd buy one, anyway...

No overview of Rima would be complete without mentioning the back features (a standard practice at DC back in those days; guess they got away with paying less money that way)- mostly a Sci-Fi opus called "Space Voyagers", about, well, voyagers in space encountering various menaces, by Jack Oleck, Kanigher, and Alex Nino. Nino was at his absolute peak then, and the first five issues sported some prime examples of his gnarly, detailed work. Oleck wrote the first one, then Kanigher did the other four. These were solid, if unspectacular stories, nicely drawn, but it's a jarring transition from the Amazon to the Andromeda Galaxy- two great tastes that don't necessarily taste great together. Issue #6 saw a back feature story about a sadistic Nazi doctor who gets his just desserts, written by Kanigher with the ubituquous-in-those-days-at-DC Ric Estrada and most likely a leftover inventory tale from House of Mystery or somesuch, and #7 saw a new feature, "Space Marshall, again by Kanigher with art by another of Redondo's Filipino art peers, Noly Zamora. Not especially memorable either.

There's an ad in #7 advertising the first issue of Claw The Unconquered, which was set to come out later that year. And I'm fairly certain Rima got the axe to make room on the schedule for many of DC's soon-to-be-released line of sword & sorcery/adventure books, designed to ride the coattails of Marvel's Conan success. Unfortunately, none of those books (Beowulf, Claw, Stalker) some of which were very good, caught on. The one exception to this was Mike Grell's Warlord, which went on for what seemed like a hundred years. Anyway, to my knowledge, the lovely Witch of the Amazon, the Daughter of the Didi, our very own Rima the Jungle Girl has never made another appearance in a DC comic book to this very day. I may be wrong about that, but I can't think of one. What a shame- it would be nice to see someone like Frank Cho or Darwyn Cooke take a stab at illustrating her. I won't hold my breath.

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