Before some prankster dumped berry juice over the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walked situated the Skull Cave at Moonstone where Mike Bullock wrote the lion's share of his adventures. A group of those exploits pitted the Phantom against villains based on real world monster Joseph Kony. This reprehensible individual is a child rapist and abductor. He furthermore forces his victims to join his so-called Lord's Resistance Army. Though the Phantom has been pried from his hands, Bullock isn't yet finished with Kony.
Savage Beauty is the brainchild of Joe Ahearn, Bullock and Captain Actionís Ed Cato. The book's premise takes a dram of the Phantom and mixes it with the jungle girl archetype.
Many jungle girls arose in prose fiction and comic books. Rima, from the novel Green Mansions, was the first. Sheena was the most popular. The creators of Savage Beauty posit that there just might be an organization of them.
Normally, the jungle woman motif doesn't stray far from Sheena's origins: an orphaned child raised in the jungle becomes defender of the savage land. Our heroines, Liv and Lacy depart from tradition by being civilized, adult women working for a wildlife magazine. They support the pretense of Anaya, possibly an allusion to H. Rider Haggard's Ayesha from the novel She.
While using the Phantom as his source, Bullock distinguishes Anaya. The Phantom is a legacy. Only the sons and daughters of the Phantom wear the rings and don the uniform. Liv and Lacy, who take the guise of Anaya, are not related. I suspect this might be where Ed Cato stepped in; Captain Action, like the doll, has the ability to take the form of other heroes. Two women become Anaya. Perhaps more will follow. Also, Bullock anticipates accusations of racism, however ill conceived. One of our heroines happens to be black. Anaya, being a goddess, can be any color she wishes.
Anaya, like the Phantom, is a jungle legend. She is a goddess who protects the people of Africa, but unlike the Phantom, few believe in her existence. Anaya's mark is the tears of the cheetah, also the warpaint the ladies use to disguise themselves. Some may argue that this is a blatant rip-off of the Phantom's skull ring brand. If so, the Phantom then swiped from the Spider, and he from Zorro. It's all good.
Bullock weaves the introduction to Anaya within a tale that splits Joseph Kony into two villains: one an outright child rapist wearing the skin of civilization and the other a military coup type that steals UN supplies and enslaves an army. Bullock also seconds a female lieutenant for Lumus Okoye. She is a reminder that women sometimes betray their own gender. They cannot all be as noble as The Phantom's Sala, the former Sky-Pirate.
As any reader of my reviews will note, I'm not especially keen on depicting rape in a comic book. That's usually a direct path to one bullet especially in a super-hero comic book. However, the non-explicit depiction of rape in Savage Beauty means to enlighten the reader to the real life horrors committed by Joseph Kony and his cult, and here again is where Savage Beauty differs from the Phantom.
When writing the Phantom, certain constraints must be followed. Obviously the depiction of rape would be completely inappropriate in The Phantom. When Bullock wrote his Kony-based stories for The Phantom, he concentrated on the abduction of children and their swelling the ranks of his army. With Savage Beauty, he can address Kony's more heinous crimes against humanity. The Phantom does not kill, at least not outright. Anaya does kill. This too is apropos for the tone of the book, which is decidedly more serious in nature.
Savage Beauty consists of twenty-four pages. As a bonus, the people at Moonstone include a reprint of Fiction House's Camilla. Now, this is ballsy. Generally, speaking the mediocre artists of today can't compete with the mediocre artists of yesterday.
The fact is Camilla's Ralph Mayo was no Matt Baker. Nobody could be, but Ralph Mayo illustrates far more beautifully than I'd say about eighty percent of contemporary comic book artists. Yeah, you can argue that the world has changed, etcetera, etcetera. Bull. Mayo demonstrates superb mastery of the female form against a judiciously detailed jungle backdrop while relating an easily understood visual narrative. This is why it's such a waste of time reviewing classical material. The art's almost always going to make one weep for long gone days. The story by Victor Ibsen, while a little simplistic, wasn't too bad either.
So how does Jose Massorli measure up to Ralph Mayo? Actually, quite well. While his style is more modern, Massorli pays just as much attention to proportion. He never forgets the environment for which he's writing. So, there's a sweltering atmosphere representative of Africa. While preferring a "hipper" panel layout, the story's still very easily understood, and the emotions seethe from the pages. The little girl raped by Richaud stares out in realistically portrayed rage. The action in Camilla is more overt. In Savage Beauty Liv and Lacy act more stealthily. However, they get their licks in, and Massorli makes them count.
The color rendering techniques of modern comic books surpass those seen in older comic books. Bob Pedroza of The Phantom merges hues and shading with Massorli's dark shadows and crosshatching to complete a superior package. I suspect he also provided the vibrancy to the Camilla reprint, making it look more lovely than ever.
Savage Beauty is a welcome addition to the jungle girls category of books. The writers and artists direct their talents to raise awareness about real world vermin while creating satisfying escapism in a twist on legacy heroism.
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