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Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire

Entry updated 13 June 2022. Tagged: Character, Comics.

US Comic strip, probably created by Charles A Winter (the first story says "by CAW"). Though Camilla eventually became a female Tarzan (see Edgar Rice Burroughs) in the Sheena, Queen of the Jungle mould, her character was initially inspired by Ayesha or She from H Rider Haggard's She: A History of Adventure (2 October 1886-8 January 1887 The Graphic), first appearing in Jungle Comics #1 (June 1940) as Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire. That issue tells of Scientist Jon Dale discovering "a lost civilization in Africa, composed of the same Norsemen who went there during the Crusades": its Queen, Camilla, shows him the sulphur springs that, "mixed with my secret formula ... gives us our eternal life" (see Immortality). The civilization also makes human sacrifices to Thor (see Gods and Demons), electrocuting the victims. Defeated by our hero, Camilla dies of old age declaring, "Eternal life is folly." Later Dale sanctimoniously declares, "We should be satisfied with the life God has given us, and not try to improve on his wisdom." (see Religion).

In Jungle Comics #2 the strip is retitled Camilla, Queen of the Lost City: here ivory trader Captain John Stanley is fired upon by a small radio controlled Rocket ship, then captured by strangely uniformed men after being paralysed by an "electric radio beam" (see Rays). He meets a different looking Camilla, who explains her city was founded by "Radekis Khan, descended from Ghengis Khan" and is "rich in ... Flexodium, a radium ray unknown to the outside world" (see Elements). Stanley rejects Camilla's advances, so she declares he will die in "one of our flexodium torpedoes, hurled into space". He escapes and destroys the city but asks Camilla to leave with him – she rejects him and walks back into her now blazing settlement.

Jungle Comics #3 reverts to the Norse-descended Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire, alive and young again, but with her empire still in ruins. However, after sacrificing herself on a pyre, her empire is restored – as is she, once again. Now a better person, a series of adventures follow, including a Fountain of Youth (see Rejuvenation), "subterranean monkey men" (see Underground) and a scientist who Miniaturizes a tribe. The most memorable stories are in Jungle Comics #11, with its pool that, on the full moon, is a door to another Dimension, a place of "strange shapes and sinister, alien shadows" – where lies the land of the banished magician (see Magic) Thoth, who plans to rule the Earth (see Invasion). In Jungle Comics #7, Camilla bests Satan: she first meets the amiable "Mephistopheles, Satan's messenger", who explains: "I'm really not a bad sort, but 30 million years ago [see Time Abyss], when the world was still uncooled, I was his first victim." – referring to a two-headed ogre living in a cave, with whom he bickers; this is Satan, who wants to conquer the outside world. With her sword Camilla hacks a cross out of rock and Satan is forced back into the cave's depths. An angel then arrives, congratulates Camilla and grants her wish – that her hunchback friend Cardodo become upright and handsome: she immediately renames him Sir Champion and makes him her Prime Minister.

Camilla's city is eventually burnt down, so she and her people cross an inland sea to build a new empire, though it quickly fades into the background, to be forgotten as she ends up in a zebra bathing suit and have Sheena-like adventures in the jungle. Her origin story also alters: in Jungle Comics #38 and #39 it is hinted that she is an heiress, lost as a child. From Jungle Comics #25 the title would change, variously using Camilla, Jungle Queen; Camilla, Queen of the Jungle Empire and Camilla, Queen of the Jungle until settling for Camilla from #68, until her final story in #151 (July 1952) – though the magazine's final issue, #163, used a reprint. As the years passed, the tales became duller and repetitive, and despite some exceptions – meeting an all-woman tribe; Dinosaurs and cavemen; a Lost Race with more Prehistoric SF creatures such as mammoths; and a tribe that flies with artificial wings (see Flying) – genre elements became increasingly rare.

Unfortunately, like most series set in Africa during this era, the Camilla strips reflect contemporary attitudes (see Race in SF). The series' most enjoyable stories are from the Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire era, particularly those credited to Jad/Ted Carter (Jungle Comics #5-#15), which are generally more colourful. The publisher also created an occasional series called Jungle Girl: these were reprinted Camilla stories with the protagonist's name changed. In Kaänga Comics #7 (Spring 1951) she was renamed Jessie; in Kaänga Comics #10 (Winter 1951-1952), she was called Fantomah (presumably referencing Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle). The latter story was also reprinted in this form in Kaänga #8 (1958). [SP]


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