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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #102

It’s “the man who would be King Kong” today on the column. Yes, yes, more gorillas and monkeys and everything in-between. Ape-ril rolls on. Today’s star is a highly underrated gorilla character.

4/12/07

102. Congorilla

Congorilla 2.jpg

Congorilla’s story starts not with a gorilla, but with a man named Congo Bill. Created by Whitney Ellsworth and George Papp, Bill was from the old-timey “jungle hero” genre. These days, he’d have a show on Discovery or Animal Planet, as he encountered mad apes, gators, elephants, orphaned jungle boys, and indigenous peoples. Back in the day, he even had his own movie serial! In his own short-lived title, it also looks like he was the first to discover Gorilla City:

Congo Bill 1.jpgCongo Bill 2.jpgCongo Bill 3.jpg

Pay close attention to that golden gorilla. He will be important shortly. You don’t need to pay attention to that third image; I just think it’s hilarious.

The editors must not have thought Congo Bill was all too interesting a few years later. By this point, he was acting as a back-up in Action Comics, where he’d lived comfortably for years (before that, he was in More Fun). But, of course, superheroes were becoming popular by the late 50′s, and so, in Action Comics #248 (rare cover appearance!), Congo Bill was transformed into Congorilla!

Here’s where the golden gorilla comes in. Congo Bill’s witch doctor friend was dying, but before passing away, he gave Bill a magic ring which would let the wearer switch bodies with a certain previously-appearing golden gorilla for upwards of an hour. Bill thought it was all bullcrap until he became trapped in a cave-in and gave it a whirl for lack of other options. And it worked! This changed the status quo of Congo Bill drastically and led to some weird consequences. After all, he was switching minds with the ape; so while Bill went into action as Congorilla, the gorilla’s mind was inhabiting Bill’s body! He was constantly drugging himself, tying himself up, or somehow imprisoning or incapacitating himself before using the ring.

Eventually, Congorilla’s popularity dwindled, and he was transferred to Adventure Comics before his strip was finally killed and he sunk into obscurity. He did pop up in Jimmy Olsen’s comic in 1965 (drawn again by George Papp!) in which Jimmy borrowed the ring and became Congorilla to save the day. It’s hilarious, and eerily similar to the exact story I was planning to put into my own potential Jimmy Olsen ongoing series! Heh. Chris Sims of the Invincible Super-Blog tells us about it. And just last week, too. Talk about synchronicity.

Later, Congo Bill/Congorilla appeared as a member of the Forgotten Heroes along with a ton of other obscure characters. After that, it wasn’t until a Swamp Thing Annual that Congorilla reappeared. This led to a mini-series a few years later. The most recent major Congorilla project was a Congo Bill mini for Vertigo from the late 90′s.

Congorilla 3.jpgCongorilla 1.jpgCongo Bill 4.jpg

(Fun fact: there was a “Congorilla” arcade game made in 1981, but it’s apparently super-rare and nothing but a rip-off of Donkey Kong or Crazy Kong or whatnot. Impress your friends and acquaintances with your command of useless trivia!)

Congorilla is one of those funny, weird ideas that has loads of unrealized potential. The concept is a little bit Hourman, a little bit Aladdin’s ape-lamp, a little bit total wish fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want to become a giant gorilla? What? Is it just me? Dang.

There’s no need for a revamp, no reason to change anything drastically– they nailed it the first time. A death-defying jungle adventurer with a wicked pitch helmet (man, the cool hats we’ve been getting this week) who turns into a big ol’ golden gorilla? How is there not an ongoing series?

Links:
Congorilla biography
Toonopedia entries for Bill and ‘rilla

13 Comments

I seem to remember Congo Bill being mentioned recently in one of the DC titles. Dang it, I can’t remember which one.

And for some reason my mind keeps telling me it was written by Mark Waid, but I know that’s not true. Anyone have this answer?

Only time I’ve ever seen Congo Bill was in an old issue of Justice League of America. It was the one where Green Arrow found out about a pre-JLA mission that brought together a bunch of heroes to fight some white Martians. Aside from the future Leaguers, a bunch of other early Silver Age heroes showed up to help out. Congo Bill was there alongside the Blackhawks, Plastic Man, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, and a few others. I think Englehart wrote that issue, and of course Dick Dillin did the art.

Alan Moore’s famed “Twilight” crossover pitch depicted a bleak future in which Congo Bill, now permanently Congorilla, became a new Gorilla Boss of Gotham City.

Damn, how cool would that have been?

So far I am enjoying your ape feature. I have noticed, however, that you are only focusing on the great apes and I am curious: will you be including any lesser apes this month sir?

I am also wondering if you’ll be including any humans this month as they are, in fact, apes.

Thank you for your time.

The Ape-ril thing was fun for a while, and each entry is still fun on it’s own, but I can’t help thinking that there are so, so many reasons to love comics that using almost 10% of the days just for apes is going to sell other stuff short.

Great fun, and another vote for Solomon from Tom Strong, a recent invention who has outstripped my affection for the Red Ghost’s Super Apes and Monsieur Mallah…

Dmitri 9 and The Weeping Gorilla. Especially the Weeping Gorilla.

M Bloom: that was Justice League of America #144, and one of the best comics *ever*!

Damn, I read “the man who would be King Kong” and thought for sure you’d be doing Titano.

Have you done the Ultra-Humanite yet?

Damn, how nice would the Congorilla mini have been if Brian Bolland had done more than just the covers…?

The idea of Congo Bill incapacitating himself so he doesn’t run rampant when switching minds with the ape is one of the greatest ideas I’ve read in quite some time.

ANdrew Collins: Damn, how nice would the Congorilla mini have been if Brian Bolland had done more than just the covers…?

There’s more than one series you can say that about.

What about Axis Ape from Buzzboy? How can you go wrong with a Nazi ape. And that is just a damned cool name for a character.

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