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.
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:
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.
(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?