Friday, March 28, 2014


Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray | Pencils: Khari Evans | Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Paul Mounts with Christina Strain
Letters: Artmonkey's Dave Lanphear & Natalie Lanphear
Assistant Editor: Alejandro Arbona | Editor: Warren Simons
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley

Storywise, "Survival of the Fittest" is a vast, vast, vast improvement over Frank Cho's first SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL. Palmiotti and Gray squeeze more material into the first issue than Cho covered in his seven. The story begins with a group of pirates boarding the yacht of a crime lord called the Axe-Man and stealing his diamonds. But the ship is attacked by a monstrous leviathan. The pirates escape as the yacht goes down with all hands and passengers aboard.

The pirates, their boat damaged by the sea creatures, arrive at nearby "Monster Island". They run around, chased by dinosaurs and giant bees, and meet up with Shanna, who takes them to her "Swiss Family Robinson" style treehouse, where she now lives with Doc. But the pirates are pursued to the island by Axe-Man and his minions.

The ensuing story covers Shanna's and the Pirates' attempt to get to Axe-Man's seaplane, and their misadventures as they run afoul of a group of savage neanderthals living in a city of Nazi gold, and hordes of veliciraptors out to eat them. After lots of violence and running around the city, our heroes are whittled down to Shanna and two pirates, Dirk, and Ivan. Axe-Man is killed, and his surviving henchmen agree to help the pirates leave the island in exchange for some diamonds.

Shanna shares a kiss with the pirate leader, Dirk, and then he departs with the rest of his people.

So in Cho's story, we were introduced to the island and shown a Nazi lab, and then spent six issues watching people and dinosaurs die in painfully graphic ways. The artwork was beautiful, but the story, if it can be even loosely defined as one, could've been told in a single issue. Here, Palmiotti and Gray give us a bit more to work with. The island is known to the world' general populace, for example. And there are more than just dinosaurs inhabiting it. We also have gigantic insects and normal-sized neanderthals.

But more importantly, there is an actual story here. Granted, the premise is very similar to Cho's series -- characters need to get from Point A to Point B on the island. But their journey is much more fun and exciting here. From Cho, the trek across the island and back was slow-paced, and the multiple dinosaur attacks got old and boring, really fast. Palmiotti and Gray wisely change things up. We still have hordes of velociraptors, but we also get the neanderthals and Axe-Man's people. It becomes a four-way conflict in the end, which is much more interesting than the straight "man vs. nature" approach Cho took.

The four-issue length certainly helps as well. Cho seemed to be stretching to fill up seven issues. Palmiotti and Gray manage to fit their story into four installments perfectly. There's probably a bit of fat that could've been trimmed here and there, but overall this series feels just about the right length.

I will criticize the scripting once more, though. It's not awful. Most of it is fine. But just as in AME-COMI GIRLS, there are some awkwardly phrased sentences. But at the same time, I have to say that I really enjoyed the very first scene, with the pirates speaking to each other the rapid, clipped style that I associate with one of my favorite comic book runs, Larry Hama's G.I. JOE.

The artwork is quite nice, as well. Style-wise, Evans is about as far from Cho as you can get. Where Cho's work is very photorealistic, Evans's is super exaggerated and cartoony. I'm not sure I'd say that Evans is on the same level technically as Cho, but I found his work much more fun to look at. I like Frank Cho as a pin-up artist, and like I said in my review of SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL, I was surprised to learn that he's a decent storyteller. But his work is very static. Even his heavy action looks like still, posed photos and not snippets of movement.

Evans, on the other hand, has a terrific energy in his pictures. The characters have odd-looking faces sometimes, and some of the work looks rough, but I think his style fits this type of story much better. Plus, he is just as adept as Cho when it comes to illustrating massive bouncing jugs. And when drawing the adventures of Shanna, isn't that what really counts?

My only minor issue with Evans's artwork is his illustration of the character of Doc. Doc lost a leg in the first SHANNA series. He's still clearly missing it here, as indicated by the fact that he always has crutches under his arms -- but I don't believe Evans ever, in either of Doc's brief appearances in these issues, shows us a waist-down shot of the guy! So someone reading the issue without having seen Cho's series would never realize why he's walking on crutches. This has to be an oversight, because it would be a really weird choice if made consciously.

Four issues, energetic and cartoony artwork, and an actual plot with a real conflict, make SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST a superior sequel to the original SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL. But I haven't given up on Frank Cho yet! Next week we'll see if his handling of the "real" Shanna, in the Marvel Universe proper, is any better than his first try.

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