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DEVIL'S DUE WEEK: The Queen of the Jungle Lives

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This summer, the scantily-clad get a revival at Devil’s Due, when writer Robert Rodi and artist Matt Merhoff launch Sheena in a new five-issue monthly limited series. With the Queen of the Jungle about to find herself protecting the country of Val Verde from environmental, financial, and political strife, BF turned to Rodi to get the gist on the project.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Sheena was created in the early 1940s by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger. Does your interpretation of the character pay lip service to her classic incarnations?

ROBERT RODI: There are resonances. The thing is, with Sheena, there've been several reboots; we're trying to steer our own course while respecting the best of what's gone before us.

For instance, some of the names of her supporting cast (as well as her animals) will harken back to her earliest adventures. 

BF: It was clear that she was created as a female version of Tarzan, one of the most popular comic or pulp characters at the time. As her current writer, what makes Sheena more than just a female Tarzan?

RR: I don't see Sheena as "just a female Tarzan" any more than, say, Wonder Woman is "just a female Superman." In my opinion, Sheena is her own archetype. She was the very first jungle queen, the inspiration for the many others that followed (Nyoka, Jann, Shanna, etc.).

But since you've asked, I see her major difference from Tarzan as being, not gender, but nationality. Tarzan was a product of a specific culture: British, imperialist, triumphalist. Sheena is an American creation; her adventures in the jungle aren't about conquest, but discovery. 

BF: Once Devil’s Due had landed the rights to Sheena, how long did it take for you to join the project, and why where you interested in doing so?

RR: I think I was on Devil's Due's shortlist of writers, principally because I'd just done Purgatori for them, and I seem to have a history for handling female characters, what with Rogue, Elektra, and Codename: Knockout. 

BF: How familiar were you with the character growing up?

RR: It's funny; everyone seems to be familiar with her, despite her presence in the actual media marketplace being spotty at best. I attribute this, again, to her being an archetype; simply by appearing, she made an indelible impression on the culture. 

BF: Did you put a lot of cross-medial research into these stories before starting to write them? After all, Sheena’s been a star outside of comics with several movies and TV shows on her record.

RR: This is an unusual assignment for me, because Sheena's new owners—Galaxy Publishing—have done all the work of establishing a compelling backstory and a viable milieu for the character in the 21st Century. I've just been given that framework to fill with story.

So, I've spent far less time on research of that nature than I have on simply getting down to the business of writing. 

BF: In terms of atmosphere, where does this book rank next to other savage-inspired figures of today? Surely, it’s closer to Marvel’s Ka-Zar stories than it is to Conan or Red Sonja .

RR: Well, yes, of course, given that Sheena is set in the modern world. But unlike Ka-Zar, who lives in the Marvel Universe, which is choked with superheroes and monsters and alien races and so on, we're attempting to make Sheena's world as reflective of the one we live in as possible.

Val Verde, the fictional South American country where she lives, is a teeming, pan-ethnic, post-racial stew pot in which fantastic wealth and global influence rub shoulders with primeval traditions and appalling injustices. And Sheena will be in the thick of it. 

BF: Where does artist Matt Merhoff come in, in terms of establishing the atmosphere you’re shooting for on the book?

RR: He's hugely important. Let's face it, we've got a series whose principle attractions are a twenty something heroine in a loincloth, and a lush, ripe jungle setting. In other words, we need a pretty high gorgeous quotient. That's what Steve delivers. 

BF: What are some of the storylines you’ve got planned to firmly establish her again as a legitimate comic book heroine?

RR: The first five issues make up the origin arc; we've got a few surprises there. It's difficult to say too much without spoiling it. Let's just say Sheena isn't the kind of bred-in-the-trees wild child who recoils in horror at the harsh civilized world.

There's a lot there that she actually likes. This jungle girl wears Prada. How she reconciles these two sides of her heritage will make up the internal drama of the series. Her all-out war on deforesters and developers will comprise the larger picture.

And did somebody mention an ancient lost city...?

Sheena #1 (of 5) debuts next month. A 99¢ of the series is already available in stores.

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