CCI: Comic Character Investigation #351 juillet 2013
[ENGLISH] This month: Rulah. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.
Stunning, Sexy and Brutal…Rulah’s Jungle
Comics are known for a lot of things: heroic displays, cool villains and yes, gorgeous femme fatales from both sides of the tracks. Not many were distinct for their brutality. This was Rulah’s world, fighting onward in an African jungle in which she found herself and where many women suffered cruel torturous fates within its punishing storylines.
The character appeared in All Top Comics in issues #8 through #18. These unusual comics came out between 1947 and 1949, somewhat before the American sensibilities of the 1950’s came into play which would become too conservative to be accepting of such material. (One could still get their brutality and shrieks of violence in William Gaines’s brilliant EC Comics if one wanted later on but of course even those stories were safely housed within the horror genre where such things are expected.
Comics were another, er…story….Fox Feature Publication was responsible for cutting her loose in her jungle and did not limit her to the one title. She also appeared in Zoot Comics #7 through #16 and had her own comic, Rulah, Jungle Goddess which ran from issues #17 to #27.
It is questionable who wrote the stories but Ruth Roche is a candidate. Jack Kamen drew some great covers but only worked on covers. The interior artist is unknown and this may have shed some light on the dark interior of sadism that splashed across these stories on a regular basis, generally against women.
The tales have one Jane Dodge flying over an African jungle. She is there undoubtedly to seek some new adventure which is what spurns her spirit but her plane crashes and as it does do, kills an unsuspecting giraffe. This provides readers with a handy reason why she is wearing a giraffe fur bikini throughout the stories. Naturally, in deference to comic lore and “good girl” propriety, we must allow that this was necessary despite the fact that Jane was surely clothed while flying the plane. But Fox Feature Publications could not well have their number one female star running around an African jungle in anything less sexy than a giraffe fir bikini. In an era where pinup art was popular, a more conservative outfit would not have done proper service to her fans.
In any case, sporting her sensual attire, she proves her courage and abilities to a powerful African tribe, their chief decides she is a goddess and calls her by her new name of “Rulah.” Zoot Comics #7 is where she first appeared and it was that title that changed to her own title, a practice occurring often in the Golden Age when a character proved popular enough. In All Top Comics she was basically among all-star characters like Phantom Lady, The Blue Beetle.
The strangeness that set Rulah apart from these other characters, other than the sexy busty appearance she provided similar to Phantom Lady was that other women in the comics, equally beautiful and voluptuous were constantly being tortured and otherwise cruelly treated and most bizarre of all, these beautiful powerless damsels would be killed off in each issue.
Because of this, Rulah did not make much of a superheroine, at least not an effective one. Victims kept dying. The nature of the jungle was not particularly well-drawn but the women featured were very well displayed. It seems strange that the writer and artist would create and destroy in each issue but that was the pattern. Rulah played her part through it, basically as a beauty that survived the rigors of the jungle while fairer maidens fell.
Some of her stories were reprinted in Jungle Thrills, Terrors of the Jungle, and Jungle Adventures. AC Comics gave us reprints in their Jungle Girls and Gag.
Brutality did not distill popularity apparently and Rulah’s beauty and that of the jungle girl victims have recurred to entertain fans who perhaps are not so set on predictable happy endings. Were it not so numerous in its habit, the originality of these unsaved victims might have made Rulah a significant predecessor in the coming of the Silver Age (see Gwen Stacy article) but as it as it was these comics were sexy and violent fodder for the masses, appealing to those who liked eye candy and those who favor bleakness.
Its unusual nature makes it hard to place these stories in the usually classic category of fun comic book reads but for certain they get points for good girl art and originality. We can’t give Rulah too many points as a heroine but we can give her credit for escaping the fate of so many other beautiful babes.
And maybe that was the point of the creators in the end, to show that looks might get you somewhere in life but if trouble shows up you will need something more than that to survive. Maybe Jane Dodge knew that as soon as she crash landed and maybe she had that something more. Or maybe, the chief was right when he soon recognized her…as a goddess.
James Parducci (www.jparducci.blogspot.com) is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.