A lone warrior roaming the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, Cave Girl distills the jungle girl genre down to its base ingredients: a scantily-clad blonde in the hot sun, solving the tribes’/nations’/continent’s problems. Even the name Cave Girl rings like more of concept title (or slur) when compared to her jungle girl contemporaries with, you know, actual names. It’s not a great place for those curious to start into the genre, but for jungle girl veterans, its ludicrousness makes it impossible not to recommend.
Cave Girl’s adventures thrive on good pacing and wild setups, but lack any overall plot… or point. She is a female Tarzan in the most literal sense, being the orphan of native attack and escaping harm via the assistance of local wildlife. Raised under the care of wolves, she somehow learned to speak and write English. Now a kind(ish) nomadic warrior, friendly(ish) to all parties of the jungle, Cave Girl drifts from country to country, jungle to jungle, and savannah to lost city in her never-ending migration of drive-by justice. Stopping to help with tribal affairs, wounded animals, or lost explorers before resuming her sprint to nowhere in particular, she holds no permanent alliances, no mortal enemies, and no lovers. She simply fights for righteousness as she sees fit, disappearing into the jungle as quickly as she emerged.
We first meet Cave Girl battling alongside hunky (Caucasian) jungle-man Thun’Da, King of the Congo, though her preferred stomping ground is a place called Dawn World. Dawn World is somewhere in Africa – Kenya-ish, to be exact. It is a largely unexplored landmass filled with pulp and fantasy tropes, like cults of ape-men with an affinity for Mayan architecture. Basically, if something particularly crazy is going down, Dawn World hosts the adventure. If it’s just regular-level crazy, Africa is Cave Girl’s oyster.
Though mostly cool-headed, Cave Girl takes no pause in acting, nor does she even blink when ditching a friend at the conclusion of an adventure. There are some recurring characters, but most obstacles are dealt with in a single story, two at most.
One of the series’ first major arcs comes after Cave Girl is identified by explorer Luke Hardin to be the heiress of a substantial fortune. He urges her to come back to civilization with him, claim her estate, and lay down some of that feral pussy. Luke eventually gets Cave Girl to Nairobi, hoping that maybe she’ll like being around other white people and settle down with him.
Not five minutes in, Cave Girl mistakes a car for a buffalo, attacking it with a spear (a crime I have a feeling any native Kenyan would have been quickly prosecuted for). Though an interesting attempt at character development, the arc finishes as quickly as it started, transferring Cave Girl back to her jungle foot patrol, and leaving her suitor in the dust.
Later in the series, another friendly explorer attempts to domesticate Cave Girl. This trip proves just as fruitless, though rings slightly different in its sexual undertone, as this time it is a young woman named Leona Carter who coaxes Cave Girl to try out city life. It’s subtle, but one gets the feeling Carter wants to be more than friends, having been captivated by Cave Girl’s… direct approach to problem solving (and shapely gams). Alas, Leona finds out that you can take the girl out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the girl. The story ends with Cave Girl leaving the city, throwing her hands up in frustration of trying to understand civilized life, and completely missing Leona’s bi-curious signals.
In a typical 1950s lighthearted attempt at diversity/comic relief, Cave Girl is assigned a “local” sidekick named Bobo. Bobo hails from the Pygmy tribe. He’s about as stupid as they come, and has sworn to protect Cave Girl in her adventures. Luckily, this commitment fails to materialize for several issues, and Bobo’s appearances are about as fleeting as any other aspect of Cave Girl’s story. He shows up for silly wrench-in-the-gears antics on a handful of occasions, though like everything in this warped version of Africa, he is hardly a mainstay.
With the exception of Luke and Leona, most white people in the jungle are up to no good. They steal from tribes, playing off their seemingly innate gullibility and superstition. That, or explorers fall victim to one of ruthless headhunting/cavemen/Amazonian tribes, inadvertently needing Cave’s Girl’s assistance. Cave Girl often mediates these conflicts, working with her African counterparts to restore peace. However, the noble savage is often the helpless savage, and Caucasian intervention, wild as it may be, is always needed to find a solution.
A multi-story arc about a tribe of Amazonian women harassing the Bonto tribe sees Cave Girl venture into a lost city filled with women warriors, treating them with the same warped sense of justice with which she treats everyone else. The Bonto prove helpless in fighting the horde of fascist women, forcing Cave Girl to take matters into her own hands. One particularly funny scene has Cave Girl knocking a scout unconscious and writing a note on her back. This isn’t the only time Cave Girl leaves a written warning, and her attempts at threats and body graffiti are hilarious as they are inappropriate. The fact Cave Girl knows how to write at all is one thing, but that fact she’s using other women’s bodies as a notepads feels incredibly violating.
In spite of her strong(ish) moral compass, Cave Girl regularly displays that she is, for lack of a better term, unhinged. Despite her kinship with animals, she’ll murder one just for being hungry, or scared, or doing what animals naturally do. In one scene, Cave Girl stabs a boa constrictor to death because it had attempted to eat her monkey friend, Chico (Chico is revived later on thanks to a mad-scientist in a cave with a time machine. Moving on…) Conversely, she’ll turn around and ask for favors from the most ferocious creatures, like when she asks Lakl and Simba (a leopard and lion, respectively) to watch over a baby while she goes out (Surprisingly, the cats end up dead, but the baby just gets kidnapped. Whodathunk?)
Some jungle girls are merely city girls who chose the jungle life, bringing with them contemporary urban luxuries and post-secondary educations. Cave Girl is 100% feral, and the consistency to her character and abilities are… fluid. Not only can she read and write English, but her stunted spoken English seems to improve over the course of the comic. While she initially stammers bluntly with sentences like, “You are a bad man! Always you hurt or kill!” she later adopts words like ‘cul de sac’ into her vocabulary, seemingly having tightened her grip on linguistics during the course of her jungle jogs. Furthermore, while she mistakes machines for animals in her trips to the city, she seemingly knows the finer points of steam power during a crisis involving a train engine model late in the series.
While one could attribute these to character development, Cave Girl’s learning is never overtly communicated. Furthermore, neither the setting nor her relationships progress. It’s the same set of eternal problems, refreshing every issue. Like Dawn World, stuck in prehistoric limbo, Cave Girl is stagnant, gifted new abilities in order to up the ante, but not to progress her character.
The book adheres to a three-by-three layout in its busiest sections, though pages are rarely a full nine frames, with landscape vistas leading a page or characters bleeding over boarders commonplace. Great as it is to see the action take up more real-estate, Cave Girl packs an astounding amount of action into as a few frames as possible. Stories typically wrap up in six pages or so, and Powell and Fox were highly adept at squeezing as much onto the page as possible without having it look crowded. Lines of action flow gracefully between panels, which is an especially impressive achievement considering Cave Girl’s acrobatics, and the subsequent myriad of angles Powell captures them with.
Cave Girl just as often finds herself at the right end of a spear as she does the wrong one, though never is she displayed as weak; Bound and squirming, sure, but never a willing or docile victim. Even in chains, Cave Girl is never helpless. I don’t want to label this empowerment so much as I do kink, but Powell occasionally gets to show off the strong muscle hiding under Cave Girl’s deceptively feminine build.
While she isn’t exactly wearing makeup, I wouldn’t call Cave Girl unkempt (her wolf parents evidently taught her a thing or two about grooming). The epitome of Golden Age dame deign, Cave Girl’s full set (or rather block) of white teeth are framed by full red lips. Her flowing blonde hair accentuates her movement, and her thin build jumps between panels, toes pointed, looking graceful as she does capable.
Powell animates his cast, both human and animal, with incredible consistency. As any longtime reader of the genre knows, convincing animal designs weren’t commonplace in jungle books. Animals play a big part in Cave Girl. Whether some sort of monstrous yeti or a run of the mill monkey, Powell frequently gets to showcase his artistic range while adhering to genre norms, with bits of cartoon action or even the rapid aging of our heroine. Sadly, many of the more radical character designs are saved for the African cast, like Bobo, adhering to stereotype.
Cave Girl is a fantastic example of Golden Age newsprint colouring at its finest. There is a heat to the atmosphere; every jungle, camp, and dungeon in Dawn World feeling sunbaked and humid. The flat colouring is smartly used to add depth to the panels, with tiered layers of shadow, overhanging vegetation, or architecture touring one’s eye about the scenery, simple as it may be.
Cave Girl’s outfit changes throughout the series. Her one-piece skirt occasionally switches to shorts, and sometimes incorporates an open side. On both the back of the Dark Horse collection (reviewed here) and in Mark Schultz’s introduction, Cave Girl’s attire is defined as leopard print later evolving to tiger striped. However, she sometimes appears to be wearing zebra print, with her outfit coloured white instead of tan. Whether this highlights the fact Cave Girl does in fact have a full wardrobe or whether the skin of her costume simply depended on whatever ink colors were available is up for interpretation.
Cave Girl is unimaginative, inconsistent, and cliché; and that’s exactly what makes it so entertaining. Character development is null, and every time the comic inches towards something of a staying arc, it drops the idea entirely, rewriting itself anew. Though Cave Girl spends less time in Dawn World as the story progresses, the spirit of ancient mystery and anything-goes adventure remains. Cave Girl is a page turner not because it demands investment from the reader, but rather because it so blatantly disregards consistency, one is inclined to keep reading just to see what comes next – like, it could be literally anything (see Chico the monkey resurrected by a time machine, Exciting Jungle Adventures of Cave Girl, No. 14). It’s got its problems, as this whole concept did, which are bluntly and honestly explored in the Dark Horse collection by Mark Schultz, James Vance, and John Wooley. But humor can be healing, and there’s no more direct, blatant example of the jungle girl genre’s achievements and failings than Cave Girl, and that’s why some seven decades later, she’s still worth the pulp she’s printed on.
Powell, Bob., Fox, Gardner., Schultz, Mark., Vance, James., Wooley, John., Dahlk, Randall., Richardson, Mike. 2015. Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl. Milwaukie: Kitchen Sink Books.