Marvel Has Wasted Shanna The She-Devil – But the MCU Doesn’t Have To

Marvel Comics has wasted Shanna the She-Devil, but hopefully the MCU won’t make the same mistake. The story of Shanna the She-Devil begins back in 1972, during a time when Marvel was beginning to expand away from traditional superhero fare. The character of Shanna, visually something of a jungle queen, was clearly inspired by a classic Golden Age hero named Sheena (even the names are far too similar to be a coincidence). But Shanna was created in Shanna the She-Devil #1 by writer Carole Seuling and penciler George Tuska to be someone much better fleshed-out.

Reading early comics featuring Shanna the She-Devil, it’s striking that she is no mere jungle queen. She dresses in loin-cloths, but does so because it suits her to navigate a jungle environment, and – as she notes on occasion – she finds doing so exciting. Shanna is something of an action junkie who travels the world in adventures that feel vaguely evocative of Indiana Jones or Jungle Cruise, and she’s a smart and driven environmentalist who understands the natural world. Unlike characters like Sheena, her knowledge isn’t intuitive; it’s the result of study. She’s an accomplished vet, an ecologist who had studied for years.

Unfortunately, Marvel Comics made a mistake with the hero. Shanna married Ka-Zar the Lord of the Savage Land in 1983’s Kazar the Savage #29 – and from pretty much that moment on, she lost all semblance of character, falling into the trope of “Ka-Zar’s dutiful wife.” Matters weren’t helped by the changing fashions of comic book art, where women became increasingly sexualized; a jungle warrior wearing skins was naturally a victim of this sexualization. The modern Shanna has essentially lost everything that made her unique, even getting caught up in a supernatural story that means she’s now bonded to the Savage Land on an instinctive level. Marvel could still potentially redeem Shanna, if their writers simply remembered her complexity and depth; but that sadly seems unlikely at this point.

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How The Marvel Cinematic Universe Can Handle Shanna Right

Shanna’s best hope lies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU is diversifying into other genres, and the Werewolf By Night Special Presentation – essentially a Halloween special – confirms such an approach could reap dividends. Werewolf By Night was one of Marvel’s best releases in 2022, leaving viewers eager for more deviations from the typical formula. It’s easy to imagine Marvel choosing to make a Shanna the She-Devil Special Presentation, one that used Shanna as an action heroine in some sort of jungle adventure.

This would give the MCU an opportunity to reinvent Shanna for the 21st century. This would surely involve a costume change, because most modern actresses would likely wince at the idea of being treated as eye candy in skins. That would be a far better approach, though, because it would lead viewers to take Shanna seriously, to respect her as both a force of nature and a well-developed character. Hopefully the MCU would then set a new approach for Shanna the She-Devil in the Marvel Comics too.

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