February 9, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #129: Congorilla

A big game hunter finds he can switch minds with a powerful golden gorilla. Now that's some Silver Age silliness.

Times change.  What was once socially acceptable isn’t so much anymore, and that may be why a white man working as an African big game hunter might make for an acceptable hero in 1940, but not so much in 2017.

But the Silver Age of comics brought out all kinds of crazy, and that brings us to Congorilla.

Congo Bill, with a promise of a guest appearance by Superman.

The character originally went by the name of Congo Bill.  He was a back-up strip in the pages of various DC books.  He was a standard, run-of-the-mill jungle adventure character, wearing a pith helmet and fighting off anything the juvenile audience automatically assumed was a hostile creature that just lives to kill humans.  He even had a sidekick named Janu the Jungle Boy.  This sort of character would be altogether forgetful if it weren’t for what came next.

In a January, 1959 issue of Action Comics, Bill gained superpowers.

See, Bill had befriended a witch doctor, and when that man suffered a bad fall, he summoned Bill to his deathbed and gave Bill a magic ring that, according to the witch doctor, would allow Bill to put his mind into that of a powerful golden gorilla.  At first, Bill laughed that off.  He was a big game hunter.  You’d think he would have seen a golden gorilla at some point.  But then after he got trapped in a cave-in, Bill rubbed the ring in panic and…found his mind inside that of a powerful golden gorilla.  After digging through the rubble, he found his human body with the golden gorilla’s mind inside of it.  He just switched bodies with the ape.  Renaming himself “Congorilla,” Bill decided to use his newfound abilities to fight crime throughout the jungle.

Jungle crime is the worst crime.

What sort of powers did Congorilla have?  Well, he was pretty darn strong, probably much stronger than a normal ape.  He also could increase his size and had some regenerative abilities.

After a period, though, Bill’s human body died.  He had been around to fight in World War I after all, so I guess the ape really died because Bill was in the gorilla’s body at the time.  He settled down with a family of apes in the jungle and made friends with African superhero Freedom Beast.  More or less retired from crimefighting, Congorilla would have been completely forgotten had he not found himself a member of the Justice League.

Yes, when the villain Prometheus killed both Freedom Beast and the other apes in Congorilla’s family, Bill found himself teaming up with one of the more obscure Starmen to find the guy, and that somehow led to Justice League membership, where Bill would be spending time with a weird interim team put together by writer James Robinson while the Big Three were all missing, causing Mon-El and later Supergirl to sub for Superman, Dick Grayson to be Batman, and Donna Troy to hold Wonder Woman’s place.

Somehow, they thought they needed a giant gorilla. Granted, you don’t really say “no” to a giant gorilla…

As a Leaguer, Congorilla got along fairly well with teammates Starman, Supergirl, and Animal Man, but when the original Batman returned from the time stream (it’s confusing), the creation of Batman Inc led to one Batwing being chosen by as the Batman of Africa.  Bill realized that Africa is actually a pretty big place and may need at least a second superhero and resigned his League commission to go back there.

He decided to become Africa’s second hero, that’s what happened to him.

You know,  the idea that continents are big places and maybe being a bit more specific could maybe have been something Robinson might have remembered at other times during his run…

Maybe Congorilla was listening a bit better than that…

At any rate, Congorilla is just one of those really, really weird characters that pops up at DC from time to time.  And besides, there is something inherently cool about a giant talking ape.

And he fights crime naked.

 

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