Tales featuring apes abound throughout the history of all cultures and societies. Aesop was rumored to be a baboon. Shakespeare modeled Caliban after an ape. Simians frolicked through the eighteenth and nineteenth century fictional landscapes of literary heavyweights such as Jonathan Swift, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Flaubert, and H. Rider Haggard. With the 1912 introduction of Tarzan in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, and the subsequent 1918 silent film version, apes emerged from a curious footnote to a major pop cultural force. By the time of the 1933 release of King Kong, the popularity of apes had evolved into a cottage industry that continues to this day.
Comic books eagerly embraced the gorilla. Following the publication of Strange Adventures #8 (May, 1951), DC Comics discovered that comics with simians on the cover—often engaging in some kind of human activity -- sold more than twice as many issues than those without. Throughout the Gorilla Age of Comics (the fifties and sixties) these covers became so prevalent, that DC actually felt the need to limit the number of ape covers for fear of flooding the market.
DC Goes Ape! collects many of the publisher's finest simian-featuring, super-hero tales from 1959-1999. The book begins with an insightful introductory essay by award-winning writer and acknowledged ape fan Mark Waid. Waid explores the origins behind and the content of many, but not all, the stories. Perhaps he meant to discuss all the stories but an apparent printing glitch deleted a chunk of the text between pages 1-2.
"The Super-Monkey from Krypton!" (Superboy #76, October 1959 written by Otto Binder, art by George Papp) starts the reprints. The cute short, starring Superbaby, introduced Beppo the Super-Monkey into the Superman mythos. An odd choice to begin this collection, mostly due to it brevity and inferiority to the follow up tale, the editors obviously chose to produce the stories in order of publication rather than concentrate on quality or flow.
The second and most famous Titano tale, “Titano the Super-Ape!" (Superman #138, July 1960, written by Binder, art by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), returns the giant ape with Kryptonite vision from his prehistoric exile. Titano, originally a chimpanzee astronaut, became a Superman nemesis after being exposed to a “double dose of powerful rays" following the collision of a uranium and Kryptonite meteors. As with all Titano tales, the simian's love for Lois Lane proves his undoing.
The next two tales offer a double dose from the legendary ape artist, Carmine Infantino. The first, "The Reign of the Super-Gorilla!" (The Flash #127 March 1962 written by John Broome, inks by Joe Giella), presents one of the most entertaining Gorilla Grodd appearances. Using his extensive mind powers, Grodd, the only evil inhabitant of the peace-loving Gorilla City, coerces the residents of Central City, Flash's home, to see him as a good guy. The scheme succeeds so well that Grodd even runs for governor. As expected, Flash foils his plans. The insidious Gorilla Grodd stars in another story later in the collection.
The oft-reprinted "Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!" (Detective Comics #339, May 1965, written by Gardner Fox, inks by Giella) introduced the Infantino-designed “new look" Batman, which essentially placed the oval around the bat symbol and moved the Caped Crusader from the goofiness epitomized in the popular Adam West show to a grittier, no nonsense style. Using the “new science of bionics," the meek Walter Hewitt absorbs some of the physical abilities of a gorilla. Unbeknowst to him, the procedure gave the ape some of Hewitt's intelligence and cunning spawning the villainous Karmak.
One of the inspirations for my story "I Was the Bride of Rothro, King of the Giant Flying Vampire Gorillas From the Earth's Core" (Negative Burn #47, drawn by John Lucas), "Lord of the Flying Gorillas!" (Hawkman #16 October-November 1966, written by Fox, art by Murphy Anderson) dully relates Hawkman's second encounter with the flying apes. Thankfully, Anderson renders some might fine flying simians.
In “Wonder Woman – Gorilla"
#170 May 1967, written by Robert Kanigher, art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito), the king of “the gorillas from outer space" chooses Wonder Woman to be his queen. The simian royal transforms the unwitting Amazon into an ape. Mercifully short, this clunker contains Kanigher's usually stiff super-heroic scripting and Andru's typically ugly, blocklike women.
An odd cross-pollination of apes, mobsters, and sixties mod, “The Mod Gorilla Boss!" (Strange Adventures #201 June 1967, writer unknown, art by Jack Sparling) typifies DC's poor understanding of the era's pop culture. Surprisingly, this collection offers the first ever reprinting of this strange Animal Man tale. Luckily, I own a copy of the original kooky comic, complete with the goofy Infantino cover, which sadly like all the covers to the stories in this tome is not reproduced.
Drawn by Captain Marvel's creator C. C. Beck (and scripted by Elliot S! Maggin), “The Day Captain Marvel Went Ape!" (Shazam #9 January 1974) presents an amusing story where a chimpanzee acquires the powers of Shazam. Though fun, this tales finishes a distant second to the finest Captain Marvel simian story. “The Marvel Family Battles the Primate Plot" (Marvel Family #85 July 1953), reprinted in both Limited Collector's Edition #C-21 and The Greatest Shazam Stories Ever Told, relates an excellent tale that saw all the Marvels transformed into monkeys! Perhaps the inclusion of this comic in a recent Greatest collection prevent it from appearing here.
“Night of the Body Snatcher" (Detective Comics #482 February/March 1979, written and penciled by Jim Starlin, inked by P. Craig Russell) opens with Batman strapped to an operating table and large white ape menacing him. This too-brief, beautifully rendered story explodes off the page with some fantastic Batman/ape action and a superior script. The Starlin-Russell team produced one of the collection's best stories.
The second Grodd inclusion and the only story in the book illustrated by a woman -- the legendary Metamorpho and Aquaman artist Ramona Fradon -- , “Gorilla Warfare Against the Humans" (Super Friends #30 March 1980, written by E. Nelson Bridwell, inks by Bob Smith) presents the perfect light hearted follow up to “Night of the Body Snatcher." Giganta, formerly a female gorilla trapped in the loathsome form of a beautiful redheaded woman, and the devious Grodd hatch a plot to gain control of Gorilla City by transforming the city's denizens into humans. Amid bad Robin puns, the Justice League and the Wonder Twins stop the nefarious scheme.
Jumping ahead 19 years, August 1999's “Territorealis" (Flash #151, written by Joe Casey, art Duncan Rouleau and Aaron Sawd) finishes off the collection. The story showcases the high school-age Kid Flash's first encounter with a non-Grodd Gorilla city resident, Montague, and their cross-country adventure. While entertaining, far better DC simian tales were produced during those twentysome years.
In the excellent “The Soul of a New Machine"
#34 May 1990, written by Grant Morrison, art by Richard Case and John Nyberg), Cliff Steele (Robotman) encounters Monsieur Mallah, a gun-toting, beret-wearing intelligent ape, and The Brain, a criminal mastermind who is literally a brain in a jar and founder of the Brotherhood of Evil. During the course of the battle, the villains announce their undying love for each other in one of the most unusual proclamations in the history of comics. The groundbreaking story garnered more than its far share of negative mail, but stands as one of the finest simian tales of decade and should have been included in this collection.
Secret Origins #40 (May 1989) featured a trifecta of ape origin stories: Gorilla Grodd, Congorilla, and most memorably Detective Chimp. Writer Andrew Helfer and artist Mark Badger explore the beginnings of the high IQ crime-solving chimpanzee in the memorable, weird little tale “'If u cn rd ths' by Rusty Wells*."
Perhaps the best and certainly the most intriguing ape story of the eighties, the 41 page “Distant Cousins" (Swamp Thing Annual #3 1987, written by Rick Veitch, art by Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, Jim Fern, Stan Woch, and Tom Yeates) established a relationship (however dysfunctional) between the various disparate DC simians. Gorilla Grodd, Titano, Monsieur Mallah, Sam Simeon (of Angel and the Ape fame), B'wana Beast, Congo Bill/Congorilla, and The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City all played a role within in this unusual story.
Another surprising exclusion, Showcase #77 (September 1968, written by E. Nelson Bridwell, art by Bob Osker) introduced the unusual crime fighting duo of Angel and the Ape. Sam Simeon, literally an ape, and the gorgeous Angel, an expertise with all kinds of weapons and a variety of martial arts, comprise the O'Day and Simeon, a detective agency. Sam also moonlights as a cartoonist. The humorous send up satirized many aspects of the comics industry and the detective genre.
Beyond lacking the previously mentioned pieces, the biggest of failing of this collection is that a vast majority of DC's best simian tales occur without super-heroes. The inclusion of such stories could have only improved the book. Even with these faults, DC Goes Ape! offers an excellent and entertaining romp through forty years of simian stories.