Information and images on Leopard Girl can be found on the net (here, here and here), but despite her full-body costume, Marvel-style secret identity and fun cast of characters, she has never been incorporated into the Marvel Universe.
It’s time for some jungle love.
(Wait, that came out wrong… sorry.)
Leopard Girl was part of a long tradition of Tarzan rip-offs published in the pre-Marvel days. Every comic book company had one or two, Marvel had a dozen. What makes Leopard Girl stand out is her look and modus operandi – she wasn’t a jungle super-hero, she was a super-hero who happened to be in the jungle.
Unlike other queens of the jungle, Leopard Girl wears more than just a loin cloth, and while that might seem like a strike against her, her skin-tight uniform would make her right at home among other Marvel heroes.
She also had a secret identity. Not just an occasionally used birth name like Tarzan, but an honest-to-goodness, glasses-wearing, mild-mannered secret identity. Few other jungle heroes had that (though changing into a loin cloth would make for an odd phone booth sighting).
There was even a full supporting cast. Gwen (Leopard Girl) had a love interest named Peter (who often needed rescued instead of the other way around) and Uncle Ben … er … Dr. Hans Kreitzer, the kindly old man who offers advice and wisdom.
Most striking are the attempts to counter the racist attitudes of previous jungle comics. Yes, she fights black natives fairly often, but they are always presented as just as intelligent and well-spoken as she is, and it is usually an individual that is the problem (white or black), never a group of “savages.”
In Jungle Action #3, ominous drums disrupt Peter and Kreitzer’s chess game. The mild mannered and spectacled Gwen knows they are the Drums of Doom and decides to investigate so her two companions don’t have to worry about it. Little does she know, they are each thinking the same thing.
Unlike Spider-Man or Superman, who wear their costumes under street clothes, Gwen runs inside the jungle cabin to take off her dress and put on her leopard skin.
The dread drums are obeying the beat of Robo, an evil tribesman previously sent to prison by our hero. Despite the atheistic claims of the villain, his drums cause a totem pole (yes, the kind found in the American Northwest) to awaken and release the tribe’s ancestor spirits.
Leopard Girl suspects her friend, High Priest Giboga, used the drums, but is shocked to learn Robo has slain him as part of a ploy to get her attention. The spirit of Giboga, freed by the angry gods, gains revenge on Robo and promises Leopard Girl he will come to her aid any time she plays the Drums of Doom.
Returning to her jungle home, Leopard Girl discovers a hunters trap her friends have fallen into. She takes off her leopard skin and puts a dress on to rescue them as the timid and feminine Gwen.
She’s strong, fast and agile, able to swing from vine to vine and take out any opponent. Most importantly, she looks great in fur.
Why hasn’t the character shown up again?
This one’s a mystery. Sure, jungle heroes are passé in modern comics, but a contemporary hero named Jann of the Jungle has been confirmed as part of the Marvel Universe, and the first jungle lord of Marvel, Ka-Zar, has become a major part of super-hero stories, but Leopard Girl has yet to appear in a modern comic.
How could the character be brought back?
Even if a 1950s hero might be a bit old by now (though there are any number of ways to reach immortality in comics), Marvel’s version of Africa has a long tradition of passing down heroic titles, just ask Jann and the Black Panther (heck, even outside of Marvel with one of the first costumed super-heroes).
Who knows, maybe there’s a Leopard Girl stalking the jungles of Marvel today.