Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why Gorillas are in Comic Books

Why are there so many gorillas in comics books?

There're probably no more than, say, 130,000 gorillas worldwide. In the U.S., there's only about 350. By comparison, there are over 51,000 dachshunds in the U.S. Gorillas are in the comics all the time; but how many times do you see a dachshund? Almost never, even though any fool knows dachshunds are more dangerous than gorillas.

This is kind of info I have to keep from my dog, because, while a ticked gorilla is still throwing leaves around and having an ostentatious hissy fit, the wily dachshund will have already tripped you, crushed your trachea, and, as you suffocate, be sitting on your chest chewing on your ribs while farting in your face. And wagging his tail.

That first face? A gentle giant of a vegetarian, our simple minded cousin who wants only to live in peace and indolence with Jane Goodall and her Everything Bag by his side. The second? Pure Evil with a Kung Fu Mouthgrip. There was no serpent in the Garden of Eden, folks; they just couldn't see the dachshund's legs. Forget that movie everyone's hyped about; when they come out with the sequel, "Dachshunds on a Plane", then I will be scared.

Yet gorillas, not dachshunds (or any other dog, for that matter), are the big threats in so many stories. Scores of gorillas, many of them bent on world domination. How many gorillas do you know in real life interested in world domination? Zero. Again, gorillas pale as a threat when compared to dachshunds, all of which are bent on world domination. Charles Heston would've lasted about 3 seconds on the Planet of the Dachshunds, people.

Yet in the comics, no animal guest star comes even close to the gorilla. Even perennial favorites like horsies, birds, and sharks. Gorillas have them all beat, and can turn up anywhere, except, you know, in an Aquaman story.

I think only dinosaurs come close to the gorilla in their comic book Q Rating. And dinosaurs aren't a threat to anybody. Not like dachshunds, which are a threat to everybody.


Smart money's on Schatzie, folks. I know what really killed the dinosaurs.


So why are gorillas everywhere in the comic books? Okay, I will tell you.

First, though, I need to qualify; when I say "everywhere in the comic books", I mean, "everywhere in DC comics" (and most of the older comics put out by other companies that DC later bought out or sued into submission for violating their copyright on the word "gorilla"). Marvel doesn't have gorillas; Marvel has zombies instead.

As our simian cousins, gorillas symbolize for us our baser, animal selves, our impulses toward violence and aggression. Everytime a hero faces a gunwielding thug, a pavement-cracking monster, a domineering supervillain, he's facing a manifestation of the antisocial human urge, the impetus toward violence for personal advancement at the expense of others. In short, as a rule, the antagonist in a most comic book stories is "the Evil Ape Within Us All". The hero represents our "better and wiser" selves, struggling to conquer the part of us that would shortsightedly harm society for personal gain.

Thus, the comic book battle between Good and Evil is a symbolization of the inner struggle between the Angel and the Ape in our souls. Small wonder, then, that one of the most common tropes in comics is an initial meeting between two heroes where a misunderstanding leads them to fight, usually ending when both parties think better of it, check their natural aggression, and work out their situation intellectually, through talking together.

Similarly, it is understandably axiomatic that heroes (who represent the cooperative spirit of society) work well together and villains (who embody selfish individualism) do not. The inversion of this pattern, therefore, often packs a punch in comic book lore. Conflict and crosspurposes among the member of a hero team or cooperation by the members of a Rogue's Gallery stab at our innate fears that the society that sustains us is potential unstable. DC's made good currency of this lately with the Secret Society of Supervillains versus the dissolution of the JLA. In Alex Ross's Justice, the Legion of Doom takes the threat one step further by not only banding together, but pretending to adopt humanity's best interests as its own.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle... . When a hero confronts a gorilla as his antagonist, he's facing the purest symbol of amoral, antisocial, animalistic selfishness. Mind you, I'm not saying that's really what gorillas are like; as previously mentioned, gorillas aren't really nasty at all (not like the you-know-what, which I can't type now because the dog just walked in the room and, trust me, it knows when it's being dissed and I have no intention of ticking off something that lives in my house and can eat bones). That's just what gorillas symbolize in our culture.

So when a comic book gorilla evinces intelligence, talks, plans, and uses higher abilities to plot its antisocial agenda, it becomes the personification of our fear that the Forces of Evil will finally get their act together, curbing their own animal natures just enough to advance their own agenda and become serious threats to our society. This is why writing Gorilla Grodd as a rabid savage is stupid and boring.

This is why it is very cool, on the other hand, that the well-written Gorilla Grodd ran the original Secret Society of Supervillains in the 1970s comic, on the JLU animated series, and (I'm betting) the new Society now that Alexander Luthor isn't in charge.

Anyway, that is why there are so many gorillas in comic books.

Or maybe they're just cool and pump up sales; who can say?

28 comments:

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

I love the way you end all your theory posts with either that or [insert obvious here].

I swear I once a had a dream where a gorilla tried to break in to my house through the toilot and when he finally did he stole my bicycle helmet. If you know who I am in real life (and there's a 99.9% chance you don't) you'd know how much that warped my mind. Gorillas who want bike helmets are savage creatures!

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

And what's with all the interest on comic blogs about making fun of the Snakes movie? Before this afternoon I'd never heard of it.

Sleestak said...

I'm not surprised murderous weiner-dogs live in Maryland. Maryland sucks.

Hoosier X said...

Oh, God, Absorbascon! You printed the covers to TWO of the greatest comics EVER!

SUPER-HEROES BATTLE SUPER-GORILLAS!

and

SSOV #1

SSOV especially so rocked!

(Did they ever explain the non-Carol Ferris Star Sapphire?)

Scipio said...

Nope. Now she's dead. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Well,yes...for the moment,at least..and yet,sometime when you least expect it...SHE SHALL RETURN!!!

CalvinPitt said...

Forget dachshunds, penguins are the greatest evil the universe (and yes, the once proud Multiverse) have ever known.

Don't let their well-dressed appearence and goofy waddling fool you.

And remember. . .

Only the pandas can protect you. And only if you ask them nicely.

totaltoyz said...

Wait a minute...that's a big monkey in the first picture?

Looks like a big planet to me. But then, I can't tell the difference...

carla said...

Genius.

Anonymous said...

All this talk about how heroes embody our civilized society makes you wonder where the Creeper fits in the grand scheme of things

David J Oakes said...

Gorillas as our own hidden beastial nature? A metaphor for Evil working together in direct contradiction of Natural Law?

Pishaw, Scipio! I say again, pishaw!

Isn't it obvious? There you are, an innocent comic book writer, trying to come up with the most terrifying threat conceivable, the greatest foe mankind has or ever could face. Do you:

a) Tell the truth, and out this great Evil, even though it happens to be living right under your own roof, "sharing" your very food? Or,

b) Choose an easy fall-beast, one so completely devoid of any aggressive tendancies that it makes even cats look stalwart and brave? Not to mention that even if it did take offense, it's looked up behind bars in some zoo far away.

What would you choose, Mr. Garling? I think we all well know...

(BKNYEP - Dacshund for "Quisling". Or Bacon. Dogs can't tell the difference anyway.)

joncormier said...

True story:

When I started a baseball team for my Master's English class (brilliantly named The Oxymorons by yours truly) we had a constant run in with "The Wild Datschunds of Ontario" at the backlot field the games were held at. It was very strange.

We'd be playing one of the other teams behind the biology building, then BAM out of the woods would come two datschunds. Very strange and yet very creepy. One of them ran off with a well hit ball once.

I'll tell you about the rabbits and the groundhogs some other time. The weird thing is, this all took place in the middle of the city.

naladahc said...

I am regularly abused by my Hoont master on a regular basis.

People don't understand the threat we so-called "dachshund owners" live under ever day of our lives.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Scipio, I think you've summed it up well.

When we look at gorillas, we see a funhouse mirror of ourselves, our darker, more animal nature.

When we look at dachshunds, we see nothing but ferocious engines of death and pain. Great White Sharks with stubby legs, they are.

My cousin Eddie lost both hands and one leg to a weiner dog attack for he did not take the threat seriously. Poor fool tried to pet one with hands that smelled of ground beef. That he survived can only be considered a miracle.

Scipio said...

" BAM out of the woods would come two datschunds. Very strange and yet very creepy."

My current dog was born feral. Had never been in any house before they bought him, aged 2, to me. Wolfthing. Hellhound. Turok, Dog of Stone.

"Poor fool tried to pet one with hands that smelled of ground beef. "

Which I'm sure they were, by the time it was over.

LtFlux said...

great post. however, Marvel does have Red Ghost's Super-Apes, however lame they may be.

Hoosier X said...

The Super-Apes are not lame!

Damn you! Damn you to Hell! How can you say such a thing?

The Super-Apes are Silver Age gold! Silver Age gold, I tell you! Read Fantastic Four #13 if you don't believe me! Do it! I dare you!

(First appearance of the Watcher. Kirby inked by Ditko. Silver Age gold!)

totaltoyz said...

Marvel doesn't have gorillas; Marvel has zombies instead.

As one poster already pointed out, Marvel does have the Super-Apes. Also the Beasts of Berlin, at least two Gorilla-Men (one a man's mind trapped in a gorilla's body, the other a man's head surgically grafted onto a gorilla's body), and probably a couple others I can't recall right now.

Jer said...

"Marvel doesn't have gorillas; Marvel has zombies instead."

As totaltoyz points out, Marvel has a few gorillas, but really, nowhere near the level that DC has.

I wouldn't say that the Marvel equivalent of DC's gorillas are zombies, though. I'd say it was Ninjas - there was a time when I swear that every single Marvel book had to have a passle of ninjas in it. Ninjas on the cover. Wolverine surrounded by ninjas. Ninja cutlets in a savory ninja gravy - you get the idea.

And I'm still waiting for the ultimate comic-book superhero/villain - a Gorilla Ninja Pirate. When such a thing happens, the world will tremble at its awesomeness - especially if it includes a talking dinosuar as his trusty sidekick...

totaltoyz said...

OK, I found some more Marvel gorillas.

The Ape, a trained gorilla who fought the Rawhide Kid. (Insert "Brokeback Mountain" joke here.)

Ape X, member of the Institute of Evil, enemies of the Squadron Supreme.

The Monster Ape, mutated human scientist, enemy of Captain America.

Gorilla Girl, one of the Freaks who battled Spider-Man and Ghost Rider while under the control of Moondark.

Yet another Gorilla-Man, this one a man in a gorilla costume with strength-boosting exo-skeleton, member of the team alternately called the Ani-Men and Unholy Three.

Hoosier X said...

"Ninja cutlets in a savory ninja gravy."

I am so hungry now. Never blog right before lunch.

Jake said...

You, Chris, and I are on a similar wavelength. He'd just written about one of the Superheroes vs. Super Gorillas yesterday and I just posted a review of Superman vs. King Krypton about half an hour ago.

The Thing That Walks Like A Man said...

As a self-appointed Doctor of Funnybook Gorillogy, I must correct Mr. Toyz.

The villain with the exosuit wasn't named Gorilla-Man; instead, he went by the handle of...Ape-Man. He, along with Bird-Man, Cat-Man, and Frog-Man, formed the original Ani-Men, before they dumped ol' Froggy and became the Unholy Three.

(And to derail this thread even further into Marveldom, Frog-Man wasn't the only flippered furious felon to face the fearless Daredevil--there was also a larcenous lawbreaker named Leap-Frog.)

totaltoyz said...

The villain with the exosuit wasn't named Gorilla-Man; instead, he went by the handle of...Ape-Man.

True, true. I sit corrected.

Between Frog-Man, Leap-Frog, and the Toad, Marvel has nearly as many amphibian villains as simian, don't they?

gene phillips said...

Damn! I can't believe someone else-- nay, two someones-- actually noticed the Marvellian penchant for frog-named villains. I commented on it elsewhere months ago, adding such stellar types as "Amphibius," "the Black Toad" (from Cap's Golden Age), "Garko the Man-Frog," and even some big toad-thingie Conan fights (then again, he fought nearly every subject of the Animal Kingdom, didn't he?)

By contrast, DC has only "Colonel Frog," who doesn't even look like a frog. Oh,and "the Frogman," but he was only in the Batman coloring book.

Anonymous said...

"Frog-Man wasn't the only flippered furious felon to face the fearless Daredevil--there was also a larcenous lawbreaker named Leap-Frog.)"

Wait wait ... Wasn't that just the same guy in a new suit, with, like better springs and stuff?

Anonymous said...

"Wait wait ... Wasn't that just the same guy in a new suit, with, like better springs and stuff?"

I hate to (yet again) dredge up a years-old comments thread just to pursue a minor point; yes, I'm "that guy"; but when Comics Geekitude calls, I must answer. There were actually TWO marvel Frog-Men (-Mans?) one was a member of the Ani-Men, third-tier villains in animal suits who were later mutated into real beastmen, then just as suddenly and arbitrarily, not. the second was the son of a last-tier comic-relief vilalin called Leap-Frog, who used his dad's spring-shoe'd costume to accidentally fall on some crooks to become a hero by default. All part of the hallucenogenic madness that was Marvel in the 70's.

verification word "qdsmmex", imp from the Sixty-Fifth Dimension.

Anonymous said...

...Oh, and I know I misspelled "villain" in the above post. Geek = me.




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