The older I get, the more it seems that the guilty pleasures of childhood grow increasingly remote. Sneaking potato chips and soft drinks into my room, and hiding them in a secret recess hidden behind rows of books. Flipping baseball cards against the concrete walls of the local school with your friends to see who can get the closest. Reading the likes of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia', and Asimov's 'Foundation' series in the blue cast of the hallway nightlight. Getting up really early on a Sunday morning to crib the icing off my brother's birthday cake (yes, my folks busted me). You get the idea.
And then there were the gorillas.
I don't know what it was about those super-hero battling super-gorilla stories, but if reading comics was a guilty pleasure in itself, then those simian stories were guilty pleasures squared. Maybe it's an age thing; I was probably around eight years old when I found a copy of the aptly named 'Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas'. (No running afoul of the truth-in-advertising police here, folks.) I don't remember the exact line-up of stories - I've long-since traded it to a cousin, probably for a battered copy of an old Batman or Adventure - but it had the likes of Superman, Batman, and the Flash going mano-à-mano with villainous apes such as Gorilla Grodd and Titano.
The stories were all reprints, by the way, of earlier silver age material. As it happens, DC has recently announced plans to start up a new line of reprints in the months ahead, getting more of these great stories back into circulation. This is a Good Thing. As nice as the Archive Edition reprints are, they're sufficiently high-end to keep them out of reach of a lot of casual readers, particularly the younger ones who have never been exposed to the older material. The trick is to find the packaging concept that will attract people to the reprinted material.
They missed one solid bet this summer, though. This year's big crossover event was a little thing they called 'JLApe', with DC's assorted annuals featuring heroes transformed into gorilla versions of their normal serves. As a neat tie-in, DC could have packaged up an 80-page giant or other special reprinting some of the classic gorilla stories of yesteryear. Oh, well.
I suppose that leaves it to your not-so-humble writer to provide a handy Gorilla Guide to the DC Universe. Read on, Magilla….
Congorilla, or 'Congo Bill', is a character that's been around as long as Superman, debuting in 1938 alongside the Man of Steel in Action Comics numero uno. As part of his back story, Congo Bill had been an adventurer, a soldier of fortune, and finally an insurance investigator, when a dying tribal witch doctor gave him a magic ring. By rubbing the ring, Bill would be able to transfer his mind for one hour into the body of a rare golden gorilla, and the gorilla's mind would be transposed into Bill's body. They don't put rings like this in boxes of Cracker Jack, do they?
Congo Bill/Congorilla didn't have quite the same long-term appeal as Action Comics' other tenant, but he's shown up over the years in various supporting roles, and even had his own four-issue mini-series a few years ago, complete with Brian Bolland covers. Tragically, we're probably never going to see the story in which the residents of Gorilla City (see below) take it upon themselves to bring Congo Bill to justice for his long-term abuse of the aforementioned golden gorilla.
Think about it - you're a gorilla, you live in the jungle, you have your niche in the food chain, life is pretty darn funky, except that you keep finding yourself in this wimpy, pink-colored, virtually hairless body that only kind of works the way you're used to. Talk about your cruelty to animals; this is enough to give even an ape a breakdown. Where's PETA when you need about them? (Probably off making a fuss about supermodels, but that's a whole other beef….)
Here's what the crew at DC wrote in their 'Who's Who' series about Gorilla City: "Gorilla City is a civilization of highly evolved and extraordinary intelligent gorillas that exists in equatorial Africa between the Congo and the Sudan." Okay. Let's stop to think about this. A vibrant, peaceful city. Extremely intelligent citizens, with advanced scientific achievements. Practices population control. Lives in harmony with its environment. With only a single exception, no criminal element to speak of. I don't know about 'highly evolved', but they sound more evolved than we are.
…of the aforementioned Gorilla City. He met The Flash (the Barry Allen version) after Gorilla Grodd - the aforementioned criminal element of the aforementioned Gorilla City - when Grodd tried to dominate the other gorillas mentally in the first of many attempts to take over the world. (New this season from Spielberg and Co.: it's 'Pinky and the Grodd'!) Solovar enlisted Flash's help in defeating the Groddster, and has been an occasional guest in Flash stories ever since. Solovar is also apparently recognized as a Head of State by the United Nations, which lends a whole new meaning to the term 'gorilla mission'.
This is too funny to leave out - Grodd's 'Who's Who' entry lists his occupation as 'Would-be World Conqueror'. Imagine putting that on your income tax forms, or using it to file for unemployment benefits; it might be interesting to see if the IRS and Postal Service have a sense of humor about things like this.
John Broome wrote the first story that featured Grodd, Solovar, and Gorilla City (which I just read in my brand spankin' new copy of DC's Flash Archive Edition book!), and I'd sure like to know what he and Big Julie were smoking in the editorial suite that day. Their throwaway concept of super-intelligent gorillas has provided fodder for loads of stories ever since. Say…you don't suppose that the people behind 'The Planet of the Apes' were inspired by the Flash's exploits, do you? "Those damn dirty apes…"
('Angel and the Ape')
Like, groovy, man! Private investigators Angel O'Day and Sam Simeon (Sam's the one with the guitar) made the scene in 1968 in Showcase #77, and their own series debuted barely two months later. Sam has a day job as a comic strip artist and - get this - the fact that he's an ape is played completely straight.
The tone of the stories is borrowed from the sixties' Batman television series, with evil villains enacting fiendish plots to accomplish foul deeds. Case in point: the first issue of the regular series, titled "The Case of the Going, Going, Gone Go-Go Girls!", revolved around the villainy of Professor Klutz as he tried to take over the world by brainwashing go-go dancers into doing his bidding. Don't you just love the sixties?
In his 1991 mini-series, brilliant cartoonist (and proud new papa - way to go, big guy!) Phil Foglio retconned Angel's and Sam's back story, integrating Sam into the rich Gorilla City history. He made Sam out to be Grodd's grandson, and established that Sam had inherited Grodd's telepathic abilities. This retroactively accounted for why no one ever noticed that Sam was a gorilla. Another element of the mini-series was Grodd's plan to transform everyone on Earth into a gorilla - shades of JLApe!
And the apes just keep on coming! What do you get when you expose a chimp to uranium and kryptonite radiation simultaneously? You get a whoppin' big King Kong-sized ape, that's what. He's caused a ruckus or three in downtown Metropolis over the years, more out of clumsiness and playfulness than malice, so Superman eventually kicked him back through the time barrier to pre-historic times. Yeah, I know, he's a chimp, not an ape, but in the words of ol' Chuck Darwin (or maybe Sister Sledge), "We're all family!"
Beppo, the Super-Monkey
Heh - you thought that cosmetic companies were cruel to animals, but they've got nothing on rocket scientists! Scientists from Krypton had shot Beppo into space as a test animal just before the planet exploded. His capsule eventually landed on Earth and he gained the usual Kryptonian range of powers. He also got to be a founding member of the Legion of Super-Pets. Don't ask.
Please please please let this be the last ape/gorilla/chimp in the DC archives….
Doom Patrol nemesis 'The Brain' experimented on an ape to boost its intelligence level. Voila - Monsieur Mallah! Not only extremely smart and highly cunning, but also very, very, homicidal. In other words, he's an ape with an attitude.
I think that about wraps it about for today's simian survey of the DC Universe. If anybody remembers one I've missed, fire off an email and remind me. I'll even give you credit for it.
[As for the Hembeck strip above that started me off on gorillas and apes, Enemy Ace first appeared in 'Our Army at War' #151 in 1965, with art by Joe Kubert. His real name was Hans Von Hammer, and he flew for Germany during The War That Should Have Ended All Wars But Didn't. There's no real gorilla connection here, beyond the obvious pun on the name.]
Challenge time: in the spirit of 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon', see if you can link Enemy Ace to Gorilla Grodd using as few super-heroes as possible. Let me know what you come up with.
I'll take one final question from the audience…yes, you… ah. No, that's not a banana in my pocket, and yes, I am happy to see you.
Update - June 23, 2000
I knew I missed one.
Bobo, The Detective Chimp, first appeared as a back-up strip in Rex, The Wonder Dog back in 1952, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. Hey, c'mon, not every character by the greats can be a Flash or a Green Lantern. Bobo was a highly intelligent trained chimpanzee who hooked up with a Florida sheriff when his trainer was killed (Bobo's trainer, not...never mind). Starting with the investigation into his trainer's murder, Bobo stayed with the sheriff, helping him with his cases.
Sounds simple enough, right? But, no!
In 1989, in the pages of Secret Origins, Andy Helfer, Rusty Wells, and Mark Badger retconned Bobo's origin into something a little more substantial. They revealed that a pair of microscopic explorers from outer space had entered Bobo's body, made their way to Bobo's brain, and artificially enhanced his intelligence to near - or quite possibily beyond - human levels. Why did they do this? Ego, apparently. To show that they could. That and the fact that they were highly evolved chimps themselves.
Well, there's only so much motivation you can squeeze into nine pages.