OK, Zenescope, Second Chance

JungleBook3_001aAfter my initial article on Zenescope, I was contacted by their P.R. Director and sent two collections, Jungle Book and Jungle Book:Last of the Species. While an improvement over the other Zenescope books I read, they still suffer from similar problems.

I’m not extremely well-versed in the original Jungle Book, so I looked it up so I could see where writer Mark L. Miller strayed from the source and what he retained. I was impressed to see a very complex relationship between the various animal species. However, the first departure is that Mowgli, in grand Zenescope tradition now a girl, is one of four infant children abducted for nefarious reasons but the survivors of a shipwreck on the jungle island of Kipling, where the various animal species are at war. As a truce, the children are split up to be raised by different species. Miller incorporates the various Jungle Book tales into his story, with a girl raised by mongooses, and two boys raised by tigers and apes, respectively. Naturally, in time this leads to conflict.

The first mini-series has nice little bit of romantic tension implied between Mowgli and the boy raised by tigers. Unfortunately, it seems forgotten by the second mini-series. The boy raised by monkeys is portrayed as either an imbecile or insane. He also gets to wear the most clothes. Both Mowgli and the girl raised by mongooses wear traditional “Jungle Queen” attire, although the other girl wears a hood and cape which makes her look like a jungle super-hero. Their attire leads to lots of crotch shots and gratuitous poses, which is disturbing to me, given that these characters are portrayed as late teens. The various covers for these two mini-series accentuate this aspect of the female characters, in the grand tradition of Zenescope books, but aside from making it seem like the lead character might be the blonde girl raised by mongooses, they bear some relevance to the story within.

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In the first mini-series, the artist makes a concentrated effort to get the animals looking correct, but unfortunately that doesn’t carry over to the humans, or into the second mini-series, where many of the animals resemble tubes of fur, especially the mongooses. Human anatomy is ignored in the second mini-series, to the point of making characters look inconsistent from page to page and panel to panel. The story seems to jump around and has little focus, which could have been handled by devoting an issue or two to each subplot and bringing them together in the end. As it is, when the end does come together, it is jumbled and I, as a reader lost interest.

As with all jungle stories, issues come up that are no fault of the writer, the artist, or the publisher. Where do humans raised by animals learn to shave? Jungle Queens apparently have alopecia from the neck down, as underarm hair is missing and they have a bikini line to kill for. Animals exist side by side and interact in ways that are inconsistent with their real life counterparts, but we forgive all that for the sake of the story, and even with the Zenescope books, I’ll let that go.

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Did Zenescope redeem themselves over my previous review? Not by much, for while the art was nowhere near as cheesecake as in other books and Mowgli is a strong female character in the first book, by the second book so much focus is put on the boys, that the girls become secondary and only memorable by how little clothing that they wear and the poses they strike jumping through the jungle. The art in the second mini-series is so bad at times that it hurts for me to look at it. The first one is tolerable, and I’m given pretty animal drawing in between the bad human poses. Overall, the Jungle Book mini-series are not the offensive comics I had covered in my previous article, but they exist as bad comic books, and in an era where new readers are desperately needed, I simply can’t forgive bad comics.

I will rescind my previous remarks that Zenescope needs to stop. Instead, I think that they just need to get better. Give me a really strong female protagonist that doesn’t flash thighs, belly or cleavage and doesn’t strike impossible poses that serve only to simulate pornography. The source material these books are being adapted from have strong characters, and in converting them to women shouldn’t strip them of that, and it certainly shouldn’t strip them of clothing.

So Zenescope, just focus on getting better and we’ll be okay.