In the first three parts of this look at the character of Princess Monja in her comics incarnations, we saw her as beautiful, courageous and dutiful in Rare Orchid (her Marvel Comics appearance)…strong and doomed in Courage and Tragedy (her DC comics story)…and modernized but cold in Paris and Pistols (in her Dynamite Entertainment persona).
But perhaps her most intense comics incarnation of all came in the Millennium Comics revival of Doc Savage in the 1990’s, in a story called The Monarch of Armageddon.
That story, written by Mark Ellis and drawn by Darryl Banks, worked to create a balance between an appreciation of the long pulp history of Doc Savage and a more in-depth exploration of the Savage mythos. The story had very ambitious scope, incorporating a host of key elements from Doc Savage canon in a new story that was intellectually complex and emotionally engaging.
One of those elements was Monja, who was depicted in a way completely consistent with her pulp history, and yet in a light never seen before.
While preparing this article, I reached out to Mark Ellis himself, to ask if he might share his thoughts on the Millennium presentation of Monja. He graciously agreed to do so, and so is here to share those thoughts. Here is Mark, describing his creative process in characterizing Monja.
When I sat down to craft the “Monarch of Armageddon” storyline for Millennium Publications, I determined to go in different directions than either DC or Marvel had with Doc Savage and his milieu.
I didn’t want to do a straightforward story along the lines of Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, nor did I feel comfortable creating elements out of whole cloth as DC had done.
I went back to the original stories and found plenty of potential ideas that had never been explored.
The first was my characterization of Doc himself, focusing more on his repressed emotional nature, very much on display in the first year’s worth of pulp novels and touched upon in later stories, such as “The Devil Genghis”.
That led me to think about the character of Princess Monja, a beautiful noblewoman who acted as Doc’s de facto lady-in-waiting in the Valley of the Vanished.
After a few years, particularly following the events of “The Golden Peril”, it struck me that she would get tired of that thankless role and quite possibly become embittered…she’s stuck there in the hind-end of nowhere while Doc is running around the world using Mayan gold to finance his life-style. I postulated that she spent a lot of time fuming.
When John Sunlight found his way into the Valley and used his smarm, snake-oil and hypnotic abilities to charm her, Monja was already primed to be turned against Doc.
Mark’s addition of psychological realism to Monja’s character led to some very memorable scenes. They begin with Doc needing to step away from the constant struggle and near-death stresses of the lifestyle he has been living. Significantly, he chooses to sojourn for a bit in the Valley of the Vanished. His aides, knowing his awkwardness around social situations but astutely perceiving that his main motivation in going was to see Monja, see him off.
Doc proceeds to the Valley, but does not receive the reception he had expected.
He is promptly attacked, and after getting the upper hand against the Mayans who have ambushed him…it is revealed that the person orchestrating that assault is actually Monja. It is a memorable last panel to the first issue of the four issue series, with a breathtaking (and intensely angry) Monja standing over a fallen Doc.
Doc is imprisoned and fed hallucinogenics, which expose many of his fears and traumas. He comes back to consciousness to discover Monja is bitter and vengeful. Their confrontation is emotionally wrenching.
Shortly afterward, Doc appears to die from the mental and physical torture he has undergone. And Monja, though outwardly hard and dismissive, is visibly, deeply upset as she departs.
A little later, we see Monja and her father, Chaac. She has restored her hard demeanor, but is shaken for a moment upon discovering Doc is still alive…then her anger clamps down again. Doc, learning that John Sunlight had preceded him to the Valley of the Vanished, believes Monja has been hypnotized. Author Mark Ellis, to his credit, does not take this easy narrative route, and instead deepens the psychological complexity of her rage.
They part, and Doc displays some rage of his own, but to the reader who has been paying attention, his own anger is not just at John Sunlight, but fueled by his own errors in his inability to deal with a strong and complex woman that he cares for.
The story continues, shifting away from the Valley of the Vanished, and it is a complex, well-crafted tale, with really superb portrayals of Doc’s canonical circle, including the five aides and Pat.
At the end though, it is clear where Doc’s thoughts are. He realizes his own behavior has been unfair and even dismissive toward Monja, and (good hearted guy that he really is), determines to set it right.
Here again, is Mark Ellis:
At the end of the “Monarch” storyline, I suggested that Doc would be returning to Hidalgo to try and make peace with Monja. Whether he did or not is an open question. My guess is…he did.
I wish that we had seen that story, that conversation and perhaps reconciliation between an inherently noble (but flawed and intimately awkward) man, and a truly magnificent woman.
My heartfelt thanks to Mark Ellis for joining me in the Forbidden Pulp blog! Mark’s career as an author continues to this day…please explore his many creations!