CONGORILLAMedium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1959
Creators: Robert Bernstein (writer) and Howard Sherman (artist)
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By the late 1950s, DC Comics was able to evaluate reader response to The Flash and The Legion of Super Heroes, and see that superheroes, the genre that had dominated comic books back in the early '40s, were on the way back. At the same time, with rain forests disappearing
all over the world, the jungle hero genre was starting to look like an anachronism. Put those trends together, and that was their cue to convert Congo Bill, who had been running in the back pages of Action Comics (where Superman was the star) since 1941, into something resembling a superhero.
In Action Comics #248 (January, 1959), Congo Bill's old friend, Chief Kawolo, was killed in a fall from a cliff, despite Bill's best effort to save him. As he lay dying, Kawolo, who also functioned as his tribe's witch doctor, gave Bill his most precious possession — a ring with an image of a gorilla carved on it. By rubbing the ring, Kawolo told Bill, the wearer could switch minds with a gorilla who lived in the neighborhood, and who wore a similar ring, for one hour. The gorilla was distinguishable from others of his species by a unique gold-colored pelt. (Bill had encountered the Golden Gorilla once before, in Action #228.)
Naturally, Bill thought this mere superstition, as would anyone of European descent in a story like this. But to humor his dying friend, he put the ring on anyway. Later, when trapped in a cave by falling rocks, he tested it — after all, it wasn't like there was any other way he could save himself. To his amazement, he instantly found himself looking through the gorilla's eyes, and in control of its huge, powerful body. He set to work clearing the cave entrance, and sure enough, found his own body screaming incoherently and pounding its chest, just like a gorilla. Thereafter, when he wanted to combat evil as Congorilla, Bill would enlist the aid of his sidekick, Janu the Jungle Boy, to secure his body while the ape was in control of it.
The origin story was written by Robert Bernstein (a DC regular who later did both The Fly and The Jaguar for Archie Comics) and drawn by Howard Sherman (who had earlier co-created Doctor Fate, Chris KL-99 and several other DC series). Bernstein and Sherman had been Congo Bill's creative team for some time before Bill's transformation into Congorilla, and continued to write and draw the series as long as it lasted — which wasn't all that long.
In Action #262 (February, 1960), Congorilla was squeezed out by an expansion of Supergirl's stories. He was transferred to Adventure Comics (where Superboy was the star), squeezing Green Arrow out of the back pages. The following year, he began alternating issues with Aquaman, then both were replaced with Tales of the Bizarro World. Aquaman moved to Batman's Detective Comics (replacing Roy Raymond, TV Detective), but Congorilla simply disappeared. His final appearance was in Adventure Comics #283 (April, 1961).
Congorilla had a few reprints in the mid-1960s, and made one last guest appearance with Jimmy Olsen in '65. After that, he wasn't seen until Justice League of America #144 (July, 1977), which guest-starred practically every DC-owned heroic character who had a series during the 1950s and early '60s, including Robotman, Rip Hunter, The Challengers of the Unknown and others even less likely to team up together. Later, he and an even more disparate bunch — Cave Carson, Immortal Man and more — formed a team appropriately called "The Forgotten Heroes". It was very quickly forgotten.
Congorilla has since turned up occasionally in a variety of DC comics, from Swamp Thing to a mini-series of his own in 1992. He'd no doubt have been consigned to oblivion years ago, if not for the fact that oblivion simply doesn't happen to a DC character.