Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
The recap: “You’re looking at a daily, yearlong look at what makes comics great. Some reasons are obvious, some are totally obscure; all of them, however, are reasons to love comics. The archive can be found here. It’s a little behind, but not as much as it used to be.”
So this is it. Triple digits! And during the month of Ape-ril! Readers, if you thought yesterday’s ape had a great choice of headgear, then you’ll love today’s! Presenting comics’ greatest ape character…
100. Monsieur Mallah
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Come ’round, children. Let me tell you a story. A love story. A story about a brain, named… The Brain. And a talking, paramilitary French gorilla, who went by the lovely name of Monsieur Mallah.
The Brain used to be a scientist, you see, who captured a gorilla one day, and performed experiments on it. Don’t worry, though, kids, he was perfectly humane. Using a mind-expanding ray, he made the gorilla a genius, raising his IQ to 178 points. He named him Monsieur Mallah. Because all monkeys are French. Didn’t you know that? (In the future, children, your science teachers will tell you that gorillas are apes, not monkeys. Those teachers are dirty liars and you should never ever trust them.)
Then, one day, the poor scientist was caught in an explosion and his body was destroyed. Luckily, his gorilla friend took his brain and put it in a jar hooked up to a computer. The scientist’s brain named himself The Brain and the two founded the Brotherhood of Evil, an organization seeking to destroy their enemies (specifically Niles Caulder and his Doom Patrol) and conquer the globe.
They first appeared in Doom Patrol #86 and were created by the esteemed and brilliant writer Arnold Drake and absolute genius artist Bruno Premiani. Scott Tipton, in his Comics 101 column, tells us how Premiani made Mallah so effective as a villain: it’s because he was drawn so realistically! Mallah looked like a real gorilla, not a cartoon of a gorilla. Because of the photorealism, it was really wild and scary when the French gorilla picked up some automatic weapons.
All through the years, Monsieur Mallah and his best friend, the Brain, menaced and challenged that dreadful Doom Patrol until, finally, the Doom Patrol blew up and died one day. That didn’t stop most of them from returning, however, and Mallah and the Brain found themselves back in the game.
In this story, writer Grant Morrison and artist Richard Case detail the return of Mallah and the Brain, who spend most of the issue discussing personal philosophy (it turns out the wonderful beret Mallah wears used to belong to Che Guevara) and breaking into the Doom Patrol’s headquarters. Meanwhile, Cliff Steele, a.k.a. Robotman, is spending the issue with his brain in a jar as his own robot body gains sentience and declares it wants to live a free life, with no brain inside of it.
Naturally, Mallah and the Brain bust in and take down the robot body. Mallah (because he’s actually a gifted surgeon–seriously) then implants The Brain inside of the robot body (after The Brain and Cliff’s brain have a braino-a-braino “slugfest”). This is the moment when they truly discover their feelings for one another:
They do kiss. And then they explode, because the robot body was rigged to explode if a brain was placed in it. So they were dead, but happy, because they finally accepted their beautiful love. It’s the best brain/ape romance ever.
I know, children; it’s a sad ending. However, that was not the end of Mallah and the Brain! Because Superboy punched a wall, they’re back, in charge of a new Brotherhood of Evil, and sworn enemies of the Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans (you could argue that the return of Mallah and the Brain is the other only good thing to come out of Infinite Crisis, I suppose). The Brain even had a human body for a while, and, presumably, he and Mallah were able to finally consummate their relationship (ask your parents what that means).
Also, fairly recently, he even appeared on the Teen Titans cartoon! Voiced by Otho from Beetlejuice! That’s classy. The Mallah resurgence is on at full force! Huzzah!
On the surface, Monsieur Mallah is cool because he’s a talking French gorilla who wears a beret, packs heat, and straps ammo belts to his chest; deep down, Monsieur Mallah is cool because he’s a mad idea taken to brilliantly surreal and mildly emotionally effective levels. He is certainly my favorite comics gorilla.
Would anyone care to join my Merry Monsieur Mallah Marching Society (M.M.M.M.S.)?
Join me tomorrow, children, for comics’ greatest monkey. That is, assuming monkeys and apes aren’t the same thing. Which they totally are, damn the science!
In the meantime, you can view a ton of brilliant moments from the original Drake-penned Doom Patrol run at comic writer Matt Fraction’s website. They include some magnificent Mallah moments. Count with me: vun! two! tree! four! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!
Thanks for reading. Here’s to 265 more. Cheers.
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