With the return of Gorilla Grodd and the introduction of Solovar and Gorilla City on “The Flash” and the reemergence of King Kong in “Kong: Skull Island,” we thought it might be a good time to look at the most prominent primates in comics from over the decades.
Many a mad scientist has experimented on or augmented an ape or two. Then there is the monkeys possessed by human spirits or used as vessels for human brains. Regardless of how these simians are enhanced, there is no shortage of intelligent chimps and super-powered gorillas in DC and Marvel continuity, not to mention great examples outside of the Big 2 as well. Here we highlight 15 exceptional anthropoids that have either menaced or protected mankind.
15 KING SOLOVAR
With Gorilla City and Solovar showing up on “The Flash” TV series, some sentient simians other than Grodd are finally getting some much deserved attention. Solovar has been the king of Gorilla City in most DC continuity since he was introduced in “The Flash” #106 (1959). This monarch of a technologically advanced hidden city had been captured by humans and put in the Central City zoo, when we first meet him. He doesn't let on about his intellect or mind powers as to protect his home and fellow evolved apes. However, when his rival Grodd comes looking for him to obtain the secrets of his mind manipulation, The Flash must help him escape and get home.
In the New 52 universe, he is known as Lord Solovar and his powers come from the Speed Force. This version has an extremely bolstered power set. On top of his classic telepathy and mind control abilities, he is a precog, he can use the Speed Force to learn at hyper speed and he can even traverse time and space.
14 BUFKIN THE FLYING MONKEY
The genius of “Fables” is not simply the concept that sees the essential characters of folklore interacting, but how Bill Willingham further develops all of these favorites from beloved children’s stories. Bufkin is one of the Flying Monkeys from the Oz tales, but rather than continuing to be an enforcer for the Wicked Witch, he became the Fabletown librarian. He works at the Woodland’s Business Office.
While he is not always a main player in the “Fables” comic series, he has been the focus of a few storylines. In one arc, he led a small strike force (including Frankenstein’s head) against Baba Yaga and her three sons. His wings were burnt to the nubs in the battle and he lost his ability to fly. Another plot had him leading a revolution in Oz against the Nome King. Buskin also plays a key role in the “Fables” video game “The Wolf Among Us.”
13 MONSIEUR MALLAH
Mallah is yet another monkey experimented on by a scientist who pushed the limits of modern science. Through secret techniques, this gorilla gained genius-level intelligence. The identity of the man of science responsible for Mallah’s smarts remains shrouded in mystery. However, what is known is that he was an enemy of Niles Caulder (Doom Patrol) and when he was killed in an accident, his brain was transferred into a protective case. He was henceforth known as The Brain. This odd couple first appeared in “Doom Patrol” #86 (1964) and we have Arnold Drake and Bruno Permiani to thank for their existence.
Mallah’s standard look includes a red beret, bandoleer and submachine gun, but he has also been known to also sport a red headband and brandish much larger and more advanced weaponry. It's worth noting that Mallah and another primate on our list, Gorilla Grodd, have been both adversaries and allies in the comics. In the pre-New 52 miniseries “Salvation Run” (2008) Grodd used The Brain to viciously pummel Mallah to death. However, in the New 52 “Rot World” (2013) crossover, Grodd and Mallah came together to take control of Central City in a dystopian future timeline.
The story goes that The Joker stole a baby gorilla from the Gotham County Zoo and raised it in the ways of murder and mayhem. The Clown Prince of Crime named his primate henchman Jackanapes, which is an old timey way to call someone mischievous. The character was created by industry legends Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, and was introduced in the future tale told in “Batman” #666.
Jack wears a green and yellow jester costume and carries a plethora of lethal paraphernalia. He is trained in the use of firearms and various blade weapons. He even invents his own custom arms and ordnance to partake in what the Joker calls the Double Ds: death and destruction. While his intelligence isn’t enhanced like many of the monkeys on our list, the Joker has stated that Jackanapes is a quick learner. The original pre-New 52 version of this ape is thought dead, as he basically committed suicide upon feeling remorse for his heinous actions.
11 KING SOLOMON
The logic of comic book marketing back in the day was that whatever sold, would sell again. So, when a comic cover with apes helped bump sales significantly, more ape comics followed. When Alan Moore introduced his adventure hero Tom Strong in 1999, his tales were chock full of tongue-in-cheek jokes about comic books and pulp novels from the past. Being an ubermensch of the Doc Savage and John Carter variety, Tom was not simply super strong, he was also a genius as well.
The first thing he did upon being married to his love Dhalua was to suggest bringing more intelligent life into the world. She thought he meant children, but he was actually referring to “performing innovative brain experiments on a monkey.” Shortly thereafter, Dhalua bore a daughter and Tom was successful in imbuing an ape with intelligence. Not only can King Solomon speak, but he also has an English accent...even though none of the rest of the Strong family does.
10 ANGEL & THE APE
Sam Simeon is the Ape in Angel & The Ape, which was a detective duo introduced in “DC Showcase” #77 (1968). The Angel in question was Angel O’Day, a white-haired bombshell who was a capable hand-to-hand combatant and good with a whip to boot. This beauty and the beast type team-up ran their own agency called O’Day and Simeon Private Investigators. Sam regularly wears suits, which seemingly plays on the expression “monkey in a suit.”
Angel & The Ape's first self-titled series started in 1968 and was heavily comedic in tone. The pair didn't get another series for more than 20 years, but in 1991 they were back for four issues. The last time they had a title was a miniseries written by Howard Chaykin with covers by Arthur Adams that was published by Vertigo in 2001-2002. Fun fact: Paul Dini (“Gotham City Sirens”) has stated that he and Bruce Timm (“Batman: The Animated Series”) tried to get an animated “Angel & The Ape” show going at one point.
9 GORILLA-MAN (FRANZ RADZIK)
If you are a Marvel True Believer, you likely know the Kenneth Hale version of Gorilla-Man. However, there is another Gorilla-Man that is part of standard 616 continuity and this one was created by the incomparable combo of Stan Lee and Jack “King” Kirby!
Franz Radzik was a mad-scientist type who had been exiled from his own country and was now using Transylvania as a base of operations for his twisted experiments. He created a device to swap the consciousnesses of two living things. And what would a man of science trade minds with if given the choice of any other animal? A kitten, of course! After his initial attempt, Franz steals an ape from the zoo and utilizes it’s size and strength to commit various crimes before running into a wee problem. The gorillas’ mind, being only slightly less evolved than a man’s, is able to control the human body and sends Franz to the zoo at gun-point. This all happens in “Tales To Astonish” #28 (1962). Gorilla-Man returns just one issue later and, by the end of this story, he has been shot into space.
This villain's history is hazy at best. What is definite is that Ultra was a scientist with an enhanced intellect who first menaced Superman in “Action Comics” #13 (1939). He was created by Supe's progenitors Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
When the rogue is apparently killed by his own misfiring weapon, his brain is transplanted into the body of an abducted actress named Dolores Winters. He continued to battle Golden Age Superman in this body and he is responsible for giving super powers to Amazing Man, Cyclotron and Deathbolt during this era. He next inhabits the body of a giant ant for a short time. However, his most recognizable look is that of a white gorilla, as seen above. He first appeared in this mammoth form in “Justice League of America” #195 (1981). It’s speculated that he has used more than one white ape over the years and that they are genetically enhanced to be even stronger and faster than normal.
7 MARVIN A.K.A. GRAMPS
If you watch “iZombie,” you know and love the curmudgeonly chimp known as Gramps. Just kidding, the CW series adapts very little of the source material it is apparently based on and therefore you probably have no idea who Gramps is if you've only seen the show. In the “iZombie” comic series, Gwen (known as Liv in the show) is good friends with Scott, an I.T. guy that works at a retirement home. Like many of Gwen’s pals, Scott turns out to be a creature of myth. However, instead of being your standard werewolf, he is a much-less-threatening variety of shapeshifter: a wereterrier.
When Scott’s parents passed away when he was just a boy, his grandfather Marvin became his guardian. Gramps was an actor who had found his greatest success voicing a live monkey named Mr. Chimp. When old age eventually took Marvin, his soul (called an oversoul in the iZombie-verse) took over a chimpanzee body at the local zoo and started living his life with new found verve.
6 DETECTIVE CHIMP
Detective Chimp’s given name is Bobo T. Chimpanzee and he debuted in “The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog” #4 (1952). This monkey was captured in Africa in the ‘50s by carnie Fred Thorpe. Bobo was taught to imitate a detective for Thorpe’s carnival act but when his trainer died, he went his own way. He teamed-up with Rex the Wonder Dog and happened upon the Fountain of Youth in “DC Comics Presents” #35 (1981). The waters gave him high-than-average human intelligence, the ability to talk to any animal and eternal life.
Sherlock Holmes is Bobo’s idol and in tribute he regularly wears a deerstalker cap and uses a magnifying glass to find clues. He ran his own detective agency for a time, but has also been part of various DC organizations and teams, including Shadowpact and Croatoans. Chimp is a known alcoholic and is a regular at the infamous Oblivion Bar.
5 GORILLA-MAN (KENNETH HALE)
While we covered Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Gorilla-Man at #9, the original and much more famous namesake is Kenneth Hale. This hunter/explorer was also created by Lee, with the help of artist Robert Q. Sale. He first appeared in “Men’s Adventures” #26 (1954), where we learn of how he took on the curse of the Gorilla-Man. Hale had been haunted by nightmares of a gorilla that stands like a man in the deep jungle in Africa. When the night terrors become too much, he actually travels to Africa to hunt this ape that stalks his dreams. He manages to find and best this Gorilla-Man, but upon its death, the curse is passed to Hale and he becomes trapped in a gorilla’s body. The upside? Immortality came with the deal.
An updated and more “accurate” account of his origin is detailed in “Agents of Atlas” #2 (2006). Which brings us to his team affiliations. Hale has been part of many notable agencies and super groups, including Jimmy Woo's G-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Howling Commandos, and his longest running tenure was with the Agents of Atlas.
4 MARVEL APES
The reality designated Earth-8101, also known as the Monkeyverse, first appeared in “Amazing Spider-Man Family” #1 (2008). This parallel Earth is home to a world much like 616, except the dominant species are a wide variety of monkeys. This planet of simians spawned two miniseries, "Marvel Apes" and "Marvel Apes: Prime Eight," as well as a handful of oneshots, which were all published between 2008 and 2009.
The alternate reality was concocted by writer Karl Kessel (“Fantastic Four”) and artist Ramon Bachs (“Frontline”). This world includes the Ape-Vengers instead of the Avengers, X-Simians instead of X-Men and many more. Our favorite renamings from this reality are Thorangutan, Iron Mandrill and the monkey version of Hank Pym, known as Gro-Rilla. The Spider-Man character Marty Blank a.k.a. Gibbon was also introduced in this series. While Monkeyverse seems to have all the same heroes as 616, its dark secret is that the Ape-Vengers execute criminals they deem "beyond rehabilitation."
This macaque was just minding his own business with his tribe in the Northern mountains of Japan when a gravely injured mercenary collapsed on their doorstep, if you will. The tribe took him in and nursed him back to health. However, this was done against the wishes of Hit-Monkey, who is sure this man of violence will be the downfall of his troop. When the assassin recovers, he starts training once again. By closely observing their uninvited guest, our suspicious simian becomes a lethal killer himself. When he tries to force his hand about getting rid of their guest, his tribe exile him. Just as he suspected though, he runs into the men sent to eliminate the healed killer. When he gets back, his family has been slain along with their visitor and at this juncture, Hit swears vengeance and becomes the killer of killers.
Hit was drummed up by Daniel Way (“Deadpool”) and artist Dalibor Talajic ("Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe") and first appeared in his own miniseries “Hit Monkey,” which began in 2010. This heavily armed ape has had run-ins with everyone from Deadpool to Bullseye and he's even been part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Howling Commandos.
In “The Origin of Congorilla” (2009) veteran writer Len Wein documents that a famed adventurer by the name of Congo Bill had adopted Africa as his home and felt obliged to protect it. Before his long-time friend Chief Kawolo passes away, he bequeaths Bill a mystical ring. He explains that rubbing the ring will let him exchange his consciousness with that of the Golden Gorilla. This is basically a summation of the simian hero’s first appearance in "Action Comics" #248 (1959). “The Amazing Congorilla” was a back-up story to the main Superman tale in that issue. We should note that Congo Bill was an already established DC character before becoming Congorilla. There was even a “Congo Bill” title in the ‘50s.
As Congorilla, Bill’s adventures continued to be a regular feature in “Action Comics." He then had two different miniseries in the ‘90s. However, it was James Robinson’s “Justice League: Cry For Justice” mini that really developed the Amazing Man-Ape and made him a Leaguer. In the intro to the collected “Cry For Justice,” Robinson says Congorilla and Mikaal Tomas are his “blue & the gold,” referring to the camaraderie of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.
1 GORILLA GRODD
How could we not put Gorilla Grodd at #1? He is the most well known primate in comics. In fact, we would go as far as to say that he is second only to King Kong in terms of name recognition in pop culture. The evil ape was created by Carmine Infantino and John Broome and made his debut in “The Flash” #106 (1959).
Grodd is a renegade of Gorilla City who developed exceptional mind-control powers. This mean monkey is also a genius-level inventor who regularly wears an apparatus of his own design that amplifies his powers. Grodd has a mate in Gorilla City named Boka who sired his son, Gorbul Mammit. He has menaced The Flash time and again, but he has also taken it to the whole Justice League. In the “JLApe” (1999) crossover, Grodd’s forces manage to turn DC’s preeminent superhero team into a troop of primal gorillas with a “gorilla-bomb.”