Sunday, February 16, 2014
There was of course no resemblance between the real-life sharpshooter Annie Oakley and this early television heroine, played by frequent Gene Autry leading lady Gail Davis.
I've only seen a couple of episodes of this now-obscure western series. From these few, I can still tell that though Davis's pigtailed Annie character wasn't stridently feminist, she made no bones about being a better shot than any man in her small town of Diablo, Arizona.
Though the show isn't of easy access today, it had a definite impact on the female audience of the 1950s. Ms. Davis is quoted as saying:
"Back then I knew the show was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way."
Prior to Atlas Comics' debut of JANN OF THE JUNGLE, writer Don Rico and artist Werner Roth conceived one of the better jungle girls of the comics-medium: Lorna, usually known as "the Jungle Girl" though technically her earliest tagline was "Jungle Queen."
In contrast to Jann, who was pretty much a cookie-cutter imitation of every other Sheena-imitation that had come down the pike, Rico's scripts for LORNA were usually literate. That's not to say that they were sophisticated: Lorna still ran into the usual menaces every other jungle-hero did: evil witch-doctors, prehistoric beasts, foreign spies and treasure-hunters. But though at this time the feminist movement was still far from influential on the body politic, Lorna did prefigure the feminist desire to puncture masculinist priorities.
I've mentioned that Sheena was one of the toughest representatives of the genre she founded in the comics-medium. Lorna could be tough, but as seen in the excerpt above, she was equally adept at skewering the male ego of her beloved, jungle-guide Greg Knight. Whereas Sheena's mate Bob was just a marginal figure, whom Sheena generally overshadowed, Knight actively preached to Lorna that the jungle was no place for a woman-- despite the fact that she was much better at slaying wild beasts than he ever was.
That said, she loved him, and frequently tried to please him, up to a point. She would mock him by calling him "my lord and master," but in the 26 issues of the LORNA comic, she never managed to convince him that she was his equal, much less his superior. Nevertheless, Knight was clearly the butt of the series' humor, for all that he was your typical "man's man." While LORNA was not precisely a satire of the jungle-adventure genre in comics, its light-hearted approach marks it as a superior example of same.