Damn dirty apes are all over our movie theaters thanks to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But simian culture has had a long, proud and insane tradition in superhero comics. I’m not just talking about the many times that human superheroes have been temporarily transformed into apes. I’m talking about apes who are themselves heroes and villains.
Our list begins after the break!
Kenneth Hale went hunting for a gorilla that apparently made you immortal if you killed it. Having never watched an episode of The Twilight Zone or learned the word “irony,” Hale found out too late that doing this would transform him into an immortal, talking gorilla. As Gorilla-Man, he’s helped out super-heroes and got the nickname “X-Ape” from the X-Men. So I guess it worked out.
THE RED GHOST’S SUPER APES
Thinking the Fantastic Four were pretty impressive, Russian scientist Ivan Kragoff replicated the circumstances that gave the group its powers. He used himself and three apes as the test subjects, because apparently he has no friends. Against all logic, his plans worked and the four became the Red Ghost (intangibility and awful fashion) and his trio of intellectually-enhanced Super Apes: Piotr the orangutan (magnetic abilities), Mikhlo the gorilla (super-strength) and Igor the baboon (shape-shifting). Seriously, these guys need to stop doing crime and just become a rock band.
Ever read Angel and the Ape? It was fun! She was Angel O’Day, a cool private detective. He was Sam Simeon, a comic book artist and talking gorilla. They solved crimes and got into hijinks. I’m still waiting for this to be a TV series.
Superman’s first recurring enemy was a crazy, bald scientist who enhanced his intelligence and called himself the Ultra-Humanite. Not satisfied with a ridiculous name, the villain decided to make a habit of putting his brain into new bodies. First he was a lovely woman. Then he became a gorilla decked out in spiked armor and with an enlarged head. Because comics!
A French is granted intelligence by a mad scientist, becomes fond of firearms and berets, and takes a name that translates to “Mr. Bad.” The scientist who made him later became a brain in a skull-shaped jar with wheels and took the new name of “the Brain.” Later still, Mallah and the Brain fell in love. It’s a tale as old as time.
He’s a cyborg gorilla. Get it?! This character was the result of a super-soldier project that decided attaching robot limbs and weapons to gorilla was a good idea. Amazingly, this character is NOT the most ridiculous thing to be seen in the pages of Spawn.
Many of you know about Superman’s fearsome enemies Lex Luthor, Brainiac and Dru-Zod. But did anyone tell you about Titano? First named Toto, he was just a simple ape who was sent into space for science. Some wacky radiation mutated him into a much larger ape with a bad temper and kryptonite radiation shooting out of his eyes. Because creators Otto Binder and Curt Swan thought “King Kong would be better with kryptonite powers.” And they were right!
So Flash discovered one day that there is a hidden city in Africa inhabited by intelligent, speaking gorillas. Amazingly, none of them are named Caesar. The apes there were friendly, led by wise Solovar. But the gorilla named Grodd was vicious, nasty, and bent on world domination. Oh, and he was telepathic. Fighting a homicidal gorilla? Terrifying. Fighting a homicidal gorilla who’s intelligent and can hit you with a blast your brain just by thinking? We better see Grodd on the new live-action Flash TV show is all I’m saying.
There was a hunter character name Congo Bill. But no one was very interested in him after a while, so the solution was to alter his story. Now Congo Bill could, through magic, transfer his mind into the body of a super-strong golden gorilla. Hence the brilliant name of Congorilla. Because that’s a name sure to strike terror into criminal hearts.
BEPPO THE SUPER-MONKEY
What is it with Superman’s world and freaking apes? Anyway,you know how Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van put their only child Kal-El into a starship so he would survive the destruction of planet Krypton and become Superman? Funny story: a Kryptonian monkey named Beppo snuck on board before the tiny ship launched. Arriving on Earth, Beppo developed powers identical to Superman. He stopped gorillas from stealing food from smaller apes and then joined the Legion of Super-Pets. I love comics!
Thanks to an encounter with the mystical Fountain of Youth, a chimpanzee was granted intelligence, speech and a seriously long lifespan. So he got himself a deerstalker cap and became Detective Chimp. Fantastic! And did you know that there’s another Detective Chimp in the 853rd century? He dresses like Batman and works with the Primate Legion, a group of super-powered simians who model themselves after Earth’s greatest heroes and OH MY GOD THAT IS AMAZING!
THE PRIMATE PLATOON
Nazi apes. The Nazis found a bunch of mutant apes who were intelligent and could speak and so they recruited them and forced them to act as Nazi ape soldiers. Whoa! Seriously, is there anything scarier than a Nazi ape? Well, actually . . .
HITLER A.K.A. BRAINIAPE
No one makes a fuss when you preserve Hitler’s brain and somehow keep the monster alive. But put his brain into the head of a super-ape and suddenly you’ve gone too far! That’s right, the Savage Dragon fought a powerful ape inhabited by freaking Adolf Hitler. Why is there not a movie about this already?!
This is by no means a complete list, so feel free to explore comics and discover yet more super simians!
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is a writer and actor who moonlights as a comic book historian and geek consultant. He loves comic book apes. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.