Deck Log Entry # 128 Deep in the Bug-Infested Jungle . . . .

Every so often, in order to put the subject of one of my Deck Log entries into perspective, I have to go back to before the beginning of the Silver Age.  Since I’ll be talking about that “Ninth Wonder of the World”, Congorilla, this is one of those times.  So let’s ratchet the dial of the Wayback Machine much farther back than usual, back to the dawn of the Golden Age.

 

 To More Fun Comics # 56 (Jun., 1940), to be precise.

 

 Anyone in the comics industry at the time---from the publisher down to the kid who sharpened the pencils and emptied out the dustbins---understood what the popularity of Superman meant to comics.  When comic books, in the format we recognise to-day, were introduced in 1934, publishers cast about for the type of material that would be most popular.  Funny animals.  “Bigfoot” cartoons.  Westerns.  Mysteries.   Detective stories.  Sea tales. You name it.  It wasn’t until National Comics (DC) introduced Superman in 1938, to an overwhelming response, that comics publishers knew how to set their course.

 

Super-hero series took over the four-colour pages.  Still, even after a couple of years, National wasn’t sure that “mystery-men”, as they were called, would prove to be anything more than a fad which would shortly run its course.  With the luxury of hindsight, we know better, but National was hedging its bets.  Many of its smaller, supporting series featured heroes who didn’t wear tights and capes.  For these, it drew from types that showed popularity in other media, such as the pulps and newspaper comic strips.  So, sandwiched between the super-hero headliners were plenty of stories about detectives and magicians and explorers, any genre that might prove to be the next wave.

  

That brings us to More Fun Comics # 56, which saw the debut of Congo Bill--- renowned hunter, explorer, and baldfaced swipe of Alex Raymond’s successful “Jungle Jim”.  Bill was sprung full-blown on the readers, already established as an experienced, knowledgeable, and tough-as-nails soldier of fortune.  He was never given an origin and the only detail mentioned about his background was that he had been a pilot during the first World War.  We were never even told his last name; he was “Congo Bill” to everybody.

 

As befitting a “two-fisted globetrotter”, the most remote places of the world were Congo Bill’s sandbox.  The locales ranged from that first adventure in the African interior to the Himalayan mountains to the South American tropics.  Egypt, Mexico, the East Indies, the Caribbean, the Yukon---all these and more were backdrops for a Congo Bill adventure.

 

Like many back-up series, Bill didn’t enjoy much of a supporting cast.  For about a year and a half, “noted botanist and archæologist” Professor Joe Kent accompanied Bill, who served as his guide.  Sometime later, he picked up a kinda-sorta girlfriend, Shiela Hanlen.  By this time, the series had jumped ship to Action Comics.  Apparently a lifestyle of snakes, bugs, hostile natives, and dysentery didn’t appeal to Shiela.   She was gone after Action Comics # 44 (Jan., 1942) and so was Professor Kent.

 

It really didn’t matter; Congo Bill steamed right along, leaving other second-stringers such as Pep Morgan, the Black Pirate, and Clip Carson (another Jungle Jim clone) in his wake.  The strength of series was its verisimilitude.  The premise of an adventurer with no ties opened the door to virtually any kind of plot.  In any given issue, Congo Bill could discover a lost city in Africa, encounter dinosaurs in a hidden prehistoric valley, investigate a haunted castle in Syria, battle smugglers along the Ivory Coast, get captured by a secret cult in India, or infiltrate an underwater Nazi U-boat base.  Occasionally, there would even be a fish-out-of-water tale set in New York or some other big city, showing how Bill’s wilderness skills would come in handy in modern civilisation.  The series could be moulded like clay, to fit any theme editor Whitney Ellsworth thought would sell comics.

  

In 1948, Congo Bill hit one of the benchmarks of a successful character when Colombia released the fifteen-chapter movie serial, Congo Bill, starring Don McGuire as the “famed hunter and animal trainer.”  The plot involved an infant lost in the Africa, following a plane crash, who grows up to become a fabled “white goddess” of the jungle.  Bill is hired to find her by the executors of her father’s multi-million-dollar estate and out to stop him is the fellow in line to inherit that wealth if the girl isn’t found.

 

 

 

The moderate success of the serial propelled the comic-book series along for a few more years.  A couple of changes came along the way.  Bill was given an official reason for his varied adventures by making him a troubleshooter for the World-wide Insurance Company.  Then, in Action Comics # 191 (Apr., 1954), Bill picked up a sidekick---Janu, a young boy who been brought up in the jungle after his father had been killed by a tiger.  Janu’s style of speaking came from the Superbaby-Zook-Bizarro school of English, but at least he gave Bill someone to talk to and provide exposition.

 

The arrival of Janu, the Jungle Boy, came just in time for the next development of the series:  graduating to its own title.

 

By the early 1950’s, the Golden-Age glow of super-heroes had finally dimmed, and DC, like other comics publishers, was looking for the next Big Thing.  In a scattershot approach, it produced Western series, series about big-city newspapers, supernatural and science-fiction anthologies, titles based on pirates, mediæval knights, firemen, frogmen, and anything else it could think of.

 

Seeing as how Congo Bill had hung on gamely for well over a decade, it seemed like a natural.  So, in the summer of 1954, Congo Bill # 1 (Aug.-Sep., 1954) hit the stands.  Bill’s series in Action Comics continued to run concurrently with his own magazine.  It was a good thing, since Congo Bill didn’t have the success that DC had expected.  It ran for seven issues, ending a year after it started.

 

The cover of that first issue of Congo Bill featured a golden gorilla.   That would prove to be prescient.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, in Action Comics, Congo Bill and Janu rolled right along, rescuing lost safaris and nabbing ivory poachers.  But comics were about to experience another sea change, and this time, it would have an effect on the way Bill did business.

 

Showcase # 4 (Sep.-Oct., 1956) saw the return of an old DC super-hero---the Flash!  But this wasn’t your father’s Scarlet Speedster.  He had been revised as a new character, upgraded for the times, under the auspice of editor Julius Schwartz.  The sales of Showcase # 4 soared.  To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, the Flash appeared in three more issues of Showcase, and each time, the sale figures were impressive.  It was official:  super-heroes were back in vogue.

 

DC followed up with revised versions of other old super-heroes, such as the Green Lantern and the Atom.  And some existing, non-super-hero series were nudged in that direction.  Over at Detective Comics, the Manhunter from Mars series featured a Martian posing on Earth as a human police detective, secretly using his otherworldly abilities to solve crimes.  Now the emphasis shifted to the Manhunter performing super-feats in his natural alien form, and by 1959, he was operating openly as a super-hero.

 

Plain, old Congo Bill, in his old-style pith helmet, jodhpurs, and sidearm, just wouldn’t do, decided Action Comics editor Mort Weisinger.

 

In Action Comics # 224 (Jan., 1957), Congo Bill encountered a gorilla with a golden pelt and seeming to exhibit a higher intellect than usual for such an animal.  Bill spent the rest of the story saving it from some determined hunters looking to mount the ape’s golden head on a wall.

  

There’s no way to know for sure, but either Weisinger or writer Robert Burnstein probably remembered this story and used it as a springboard for “The Amazing Congorilla”, which appeared in Action Comics # 248 (Jan., 1959).

  

This landmark tale begins with Congo Bill rescuing an old friend, Chief Kawolo.  The tribal witch doctor had accidentally fallen into a steep ravine, and though Bill is able to pull him to safety, Kawolo is mortally wounded.  That night, while he lays dying, Kawolo gives Bill a ring bearing the carved image of a gorilla.  It is a magic talisman, the witch doctor explains, that will allow Congo Bill to exchange identities with the legendary golden gorilla, sacred to his tribe.

 

Should Bill need the strength of the golden gorilla, says Kawolo, he has only to rub the ring.  Then, his mind and that of the great ape will exchange bodies, for a period of one hour.   Congo Bill dismisses this as superstition, but dons the ring, humouring his old friend in his final moments.

 

Weeks pass (in which, remarkably, Bill apparently resists the impulse to test the ring just to see what happens), then one day, while the famed jungle adventurer is exploring a deep cave, an earthquake causes a cave-in, sealing the entrance.  Trapped, Congo Bill remembers the ring and Kawolo’s words.  Not really expecting it to work, but with nothing to lose, Bill rubs the ring.  Instantly, his head begins to spin . . . .

 

Some distance away from the cave, the sacred golden gorilla is lumbering through the tall grass when his eyes suddenly flash with intellect.  To Congo Bill’s amazement, the magic ring has worked!  His mind now occupies the body of the golden ape.   He rushes back to the site of the cave-in and with the mighty strength of the gorilla, he clears the entrance.  Inside, he discovers his human body gibbering incoherently and beating his chest.

 

 

 

Bill realises that the gorilla wears a duplicate of the magic ring on one of its fingers, and when the hour elapses, he rubs it---and finds his mind back in his own body.

 

Following super-hero tradition, Congo Bill determines to use his newfound power to battle poachers, smugglers, and other jungle evil.   It doesn’t take long for stories of a golden gorilla with a man’s intelligence to spread through the continent, and the man-ape was given the name Congorilla.

 

 

 

 

 

Once the new format was established, there seemed to be a great deal of need for a gorilla with a man’s intelligence.  Congo Bill, as himself, was pushed more and more into the background.  Lost was the idea that the rugged adventurer had been quite capable of handling jungle crimes with only his tracking skills, his revolver, and a good right cross.  The scripts would tell us what a “famed hunter and explorer” he was, but we saw little evidence of it.

 

On the other hand, Congorilla made quite a name for himself.  Whenever Bill’s mind took over the golden ape’s body, he didn’t take too many pains to hide the fact.  Friends and foes alike were constantly amazed at the gorilla’s human feats---driving a jeep, piloting an aeroplane, administering medicines, communicating by morse code, and the like.  That seemed to be the hook.  Most stories contrived to put Congorilla in a situation of ape “imitating” man.

 

Only Janu was privy to the secret of Congo Bill’s magic ring.  Good thing, too, because the biggest drawback to the mind-switching routine was the fact that, when Bill’s mind inhabited Congorilla, the ape’s mind occupied his human body.  In order to keep his body from being imperiled whenever he made the switch, Bill would resort to protective measures, such as lashing himself to a tree, or taking sleeping pills to knock himself out, whenever the gorilla’s mind entered it.  Janu’s job was to stand guard over Bill’s body while Congorilla was in action.

 

Usually it was an easy enough assignment, but every once in a while, the gorilla-brained Bill would get loose.  Then Janu faced the knotty task of controlling the antics of a gorilla-in-a-man’s-body, as well as trying to cover up for Congo Bill’s apparently bizarre behaviour.  Generally, the jungle boy wasn’t too good at either.

 

And then there a few occasions when ring on the golden gorilla’s finger would become lost, meaning Bill could not transfer his mind back to his own body after the hour had elapsed.  It was fun having a gorilla’s body every once in a while, but the prospect of spending the rest of his life in it always spooked the bejesus out of him.

  

Another problem was the existence of the golden gorilla when he was just being a gorilla.  He may have been sacred to Chief Kawolo’s tribe, but to others, he was an inviting target.  Hunters wanted to bag him for a trophy; circus owners wanted to capture him for display as a unique attraction.  Bill spent quite a few stories babysitting the big gold simian.

  

The Congorilla series finally lost its long-time home in Action Comics early in 1960, when Mort Weisinger decided to devote more pages to the Supergirl back-up.  But Congo Bill, Janu, and the golden ape were still popular enough that it was moved over to Adventure Comics, beginning with issue # 270 (Mar., 1960).

 

Another indication that Weisinger intended to keep the concept alive was when, after twenty years, Congo Bill made his first appearance in another character’s series.  In “Jimmy’s Gorilla Identity”, from Jimmy Olsen # 49 (Dec., 1960), Bill approaches Jimmy because of the cub reporter’s friendship with Superman.

 

Bill needs the Man of Steel’s help.  As the hunter explains to Jimmy, the golden gorilla had been captured in Africa and shipped to some place in the vicinity of Metropolis.  Bill has checked all the local zoos and circuses, to no avail.  He’s hoping that Superman, with his telescopic vision, can locate the golden-pelted ape.  To impress upon Jimmy the urgency of the matter, Bill reveals the secret of his magic ring and how it enables him to become Congorilla.

  

Unfortunately, Superman is unavailable.  He’s undertaking a crucial mission at the Earth’s core.  Even Jimmy’s signal watch is of no help; heavy deposits of lead ore block the super-sonic signal from reaching the Man of Steel’s super-hearing.  Congo Bill opts to continue his search on his own, leaving his magic ring with Jimmy, to show Superman later.  Of course, Bill has no idea of what a bucket of worms he has just opened.

  

Because it's only an eleven-page story, it takes the Jimster less than a day to succeed where Bill failed.  The cub reporter finds the golden gorilla in the possession of the owner of a wild-animal farm.  Almost immediately, though, an emergency arises, and naturally, the impetuous Jimmy sees this as a job for Congorilla.  He rubs the magic ring and finds himself in control of the gorilla’s body.  Unfortunately, he does a piss-poor job of making sure his human body is safe while the ape’s mind occupies it.  Hijinx ensue.

 

It was a valiant effort, but over in Adventure Comics, Congo Bill’s series was finally running out of steam.  The last Congorilla tale appeared in issue # 283 (Apr., 1961), after which it was cancelled to make room for, of all things, “Tales of the Bizarro World”.

 

 

  

Whatever Congo Bill and Congorilla fans there were left hadn’t quite seen the last of them, yet.  Bill returned to his old Action Comics stomping grounds when Superman, Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen visited Africa in “Brainiac’s Super-Revenge”, from Action Comics # 280 (Sep., 1961).  The story begins when Brainiac is accidently freed from the ice-age prison where Superman had left him five issues previous.  Intent on revenge, the computer villain returns to the modern era and tracks down the Man of Steel and his friends while they are exploring the Congo.

  

After using a kryptonite bomb to neutralise Superman’s powers, Brainiac shrinks the lot of them down to doll size and imprisons them in a bottle.  Unfortunately for his revenge plot, a familiar golden gorilla is also shrunken with them.  When the simian begins to act intelligently, Superman and Jimmy catch on.  Still possessing his gorilla strength, Congorilla enables them to escape the bottle.  And when Brainiac is distracted by Congo Bill, growling and beating his chest like an ape, the Man of Steel is able to restore himself, his friends, and Congorilla to their normal sizes.  One tap of his super-strong hand later and Brainiac is under wraps.

 

That was it for Bill and the golden ape, until 1965, when four issues of World’s Finest Comics carried reprints of old Congorilla stories in the title’s “Surprise Feature” back-up slot.  These got enough positive reception for Mort Weisinger to test the waters for the character’s revival.   That came in “Jimmy Olsen, Ape Man”, from issue # 86 (Jul., 1965) of the cub reporter’s title.

  

Here, Jimmy receives a report from the African branch of his fan club; two strangers bound for the Kilimanjo mountains were overheard discussing something called “Project Kryptonite”.  With Superman away on one of those space missions he goes on whenever the plot needs him out of the way, Jimmy decides to check it out himself.  He heads for the Kilimanjo mountain country in Africa and seeks out Congo Bill’s help.  The famous jungle expert is laid up with a broken arm, however, so he loans Jimmy his magic ring. 

 

As it turns out, the golden gorilla is foraging in the same region, so the Jimster pulls the mind-switch.  In the body of Congorilla, it’s a snap for the cub reporter to ascend Kilimanjo.  At its snowy peak, he discovers the two men.  They’re renegade scientists who have constructed a “hyper-magnetron”, designed to draw kryptonite meteors from space, to use against Superman.  Jimmy has other ideas about that.

 

Actually, as Jimmy Olsen stories go, this one isn’t shameful at all, with little of the ludicrousness that usually makes Silver-Age fans squirm whenever the phrase “Jimmy Olsen story” is mentioned.  It’s a decent showing for Congorilla, even with Jimmy’s mind instead of Congo Bill’s.  With a little tinkering, it wouldn’t have been out of place in the original series.

 

Nevertheless, it was the last Silver-Age hurrah for Congo Bill and the great golden ape.  It would be another dozen years before fans became nostalgic enough for Congorilla to see him, again.

 

 

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Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 14, 2011 at 1:28am
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It's hard to know how much the back-up series of the 40s and 50s added to Action's appeal. The issue interests me, because Action was a top title back then, so the back-up features may have had a lot of readers. On the other hand, readers may have skipped or instantly forgotten them. 

 

Congo Bill's feature was easily the longest-running of the title's back-ups, even if his Congorilla period is counted separately. (I haven't looked into which of the features had the longest run if you take into account its appearances elsewhere.) I think his only cover appearances in the title while his feature was running there were on Action Comics #52 and (as Congorilla) #248.

 

The jungle genre was popular in other media during the Golden Age, and was a mainstay of Fiction House's line. However, most of the characters who held lead slots were Tarzan- or Jungle Queen-types. Exceptions are Wambi, the Jungle Boy (he appeared in a supporting slot in Jungle Comics, but won his own title for a time) and Nyoka the Jungle Girl (whose title had a long run at Fawcett).

 

My initial thought was that the jungle genre became more popular in the 50s, but I don't know I can justify that; it might be more correct to say that it remained a viable genre, particularly in other media (including newspaper strips). The most successful new jungle comics of the 50s I've been able to find were Marvel's Lorna, the Jungle Girl and Dell's Jungle Jim.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 14, 2011 at 1:30am
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It's hard to know how much the back-up series of the 40s and 50s added to Action's appeal. The issue interests me, because Action was a top title back then, so the back-up features may have had a lot of readers. On the other hand, readers may have skipped or instantly forgotten them. 

 

Congo Bill's feature was easily the longest-running of the title's back-ups, even if his Congorilla period is counted separately. (I haven't looked into which of the features had the longest run if you take into account its appearances elsewhere.) I think his only cover appearances in the title while his feature was running there were on Action Comics #52 and (as Congorilla) #248.

 

The jungle genre was popular in other media during the Golden Age, and was a mainstay of Fiction House's line. However, most of the characters who held lead slots were Tarzan- or Jungle Queen-types. Exceptions are Wambi, the Jungle Boy (he appeared in a supporting slot in Jungle Comics, but won his own title for a time) and Nyoka the Jungle Girl (whose title had a long run at Fawcett).

 

My initial thought was that the jungle genre became more popular in the 50s, but I don't know I can justify that; it might be more correct to say that it remained a viable genre, particularly in other media (including newspaper strips). The most successful new jungle comics of the 50s I've been able to find were Marvel's Lorna, Jungle Queen/Lorna the Jungle Girl and Dell's Jungle Jim.

Comment by Patrick Curley on July 14, 2011 at 12:56pm

I know it's a throwaway line, CB, but I had to comment on this:

 

Over at Detective Comics, the Manhunter from Mars series featured a Martian posing on Earth as a human police detective, secretly using his otherworldly abilities to solve crimes.  Now the emphasis shifted to the Manhunter performing super-feats in his natural alien form, and by 1959, he was operating openly as a super-hero.


If you look closer at the timing of that revelation, you'll see why MM had to start operating openly. In Detective #273, a criminal from Mars kayos him with a gas that makes it impossible for him to use his powers while invisible. Detective #273 carried a November 1959 cover date; the first JLA story in B&B #28 was a Feb-Mar 1960 issue. They had to have MM come out as an alien in order to use him in the Justice League, otherwise none of the other charter members would even know about him.
Comment by Philip Portelli on July 14, 2011 at 9:19pm

Congo Bill was apparently based on Frank Buck, the archetypal Great White Hunter. I read some of Bill's stories in DC's Tarzan 100 Page Super-Spectaculars along with Rex the Wonder Dog and Detective Chimp! They were neat little tales.Did Congo Bill leave Africa at times because you said Janu's father was killed by a tiger, a non-African animal.

I heard about Congorilla but never saw him until the "Untold Origin" of the JLA in Justice League #144 (Jl'77). My index lists a reprint in World's Finest #149 (My'65) where he has a close encounter with an alien Congorilla!

In the "Whatever Happened To..." feature in DC Comics Presents #27 (N'80), Bill, Janu and Congorilla stop a con man posing as the sacred Silver Gorilla. In Action #552-553 (F-Ma'84), he teams up with other "Forgotten Heroes" and helps Superman again. Then he does it again in DCCP #77-78 (Ja-F'85) against the Forgotten Villains.

After the Crisis, he stars in Swamp Thing Annual #3 (1987) where Bill decides to stay a gorilla, giving the ring to the now adult and educated Janu, while his human body forages for grubs! Congorilla's origin is retold in Secret Origins #40 (1989) in an "All-Ape" issue!

Even though this DC Silver Age Classics reprint of Action Comics #252 is because of the first appearance of our Kara/Supergirl, there's a Congorilla tale, too.

Surprisingly, there was an under-rated Congorilla four-issue mini-series from November 1992 to February 1993 where Janu, corrupted and in with criminals, betrayed Bill by switching bodies just as he's about to get hit by a car. Bill in Janu's broken body learns that Janu, now Congorilla has become a drug dealer! Eventually Bill returns to his aged human body and hunts down his former charge, ending his menace. I actually wrote a LOC saying to get the true scope of the betrayal, switch "Congo Bill & Janu the Jungle Boy" with "Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder"!

 

Comment by Commander Benson on July 14, 2011 at 9:36pm

"If you look closer at the timing of that revelation, you'll see why MM had to start operating openly. In Detective #273, a criminal from Mars kayos him with a gas that makes it impossible for him to use his powers while invisible. Detective #273 carried a November 1959 cover date; the first JLA story in B&B #28 was a Feb-Mar 1960 issue. They had to have MM come out as an alien in order to use him in the Justice League, otherwise none of the other charter members would even know about him."

 

Quite right, Pat.  And it's always good to bring that up, again.

 

I didn't specifically reference it in the article because (1) I had already addressed it in one of my previous Deck Log entries on J'onn J'onzz (unfortuately, one of the entries that was posted in the old, now extinct Captain Comics site; but I'll get around to reprinting here as an archive).  And (2) I didn't want to veer off from the point of mentioning the Manhunter by getting too much in the weeds.

 

To be sure, MM was "outed" in order to clear the decks for him to be a Justice League member.  But for a good year or more before that, the nature of his series had shifted from the focus being on Detective John Jones, using his Martian powers to aid his sleuthing (with his alien form seen for only a few panels, if at all) to it being more of a standard super-hero derring-do strip, albeit with J'onn J'onzz acting while invisible.

 

And that was the point---to illustrate that DC was shifting the emphasis on MM, turning him more into a super-hero, as a sop to the new wave of super-hero popularity created by the Silver-Age Flash.

 

Comment by Commander Benson on July 15, 2011 at 6:46am

"Did Congo Bill leave Africa at times because you said Janu's father was killed by a tiger, a non-African animal."

 

Well, as I mentioned in the early part of the article, Philip, the 1940's Congo Bill ranged all over the globe.  Any given story might find him in any rugged, challenging locale on any continent.  Even in the Yukon of North America.

 

By the 1950's, though, and certainly by the '60's, Bill was pretty much rooted in Africa.  But I don't know how much wiggle room the writers gave him, and I've never read the origin of Janu in Action Comics # 191.  So I don't know if Bill found Janu somewhere on the Asian continent, where one would find tigers; or if that story was set in Africa and the inclusion of a tiger was a writer's error.

 

 

"My index lists a reprint in World's Finest #149 (My'65) where he has a close encounter with an alien Congorilla!"

 

 Ah, yes, the "Congorilla of Space" story that originally appeared in Adventure Comics # 276 (Sep., 1960).  That's a unique tale because it is Congo Bill/Congorilla's one foray into science fiction.   The plot, for those of you who haven't read it, involves the alien abduction of the golden gorilla.  Bill and Janu arrive just in time to see the simian teleported away, and Bill exchanges minds with the beast in order to find out what is happening to him.

 

As it develops, alien beings have brought Congorilla to their world in order to use him as a test animal for a trial space flight.  This particular group of aliens is working without the consent or knowledge of their planet's authorities, because using animals as guinea pigs is illegal there. 

 

In trying to avoid being rocketted on a one-way trip into space, Congorilla receives some help from an unexpected source.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 15, 2011 at 7:11am

Many of us will have heard about or read issues of the 70s Marvel series Jungle Action. It's remembered today for the Black Panther stories that appeared in it from the fifth issue, but it started as a reprint comic. Its name was recycled from a Marvel series from 1954-55. The first four issues carried a mix of reprints and cover-featured Tharn, a Tarzan-type (Lorna, the Jungle Girl, appeared in the woman-in-distress role on the first one). The GCD tells me the Tharn stories were Lo-Zar reprints from the earlier volume with the character renamed.

 

From Toonopedia I learned that the earlier volume alternated with another jungle title called Jungle Tales. Both titles carried four features, and showcased all four on their covers. The interesting thing here is that Marvel tried to make each of these eight features different.

 

The Jungle Action features were "Lo-Zar, Lord of of the Jungle", "Leopard Girl", "Jungle Boy", and "Man-oo the Mighty". Lo-Zar was a Tarzan type; Leopard Girl a kind of jungle queen/superhero cross (this isn't clear from the covers, but Toonopedia explains); Jungle Boy a jungle boy.(1) "Man-oo the Mighty" was about a gorilla, which strikes me as a cute idea for a jungle series. (The features in Fiction House's Jungle Comics had included a series about a lion called "Simba, King of Beasts".)

 

The Jungle Tales features were "Jann of the Jungle", "Waku Prince of the Bantu", "Cliff Mason, White Hunter" and "The Unknown Jungle". Jann was a jungle queen; Waku a black African (according to Wikipedia's page on Jungle Tales he was a chieftan, and the series had "no regularly featured Caucasian characters"); Cliff Mason a white hunter type (like Jungle Jim and Congo Bill[2]). On the basis of the covers I think "The Unknown Jungle" was an anthology series. It may have told its stories from the point of view of the animals in them.

 

Lorna the Jungle Queen/Lorna the Jungle Girl predated the two titles. Jungle Action was cancelled after its sixth issue, but Jungle Tales was retitled Jann of the Jungle (on the covers, Jann of the Jungle and Other Jungle Tales!) with #8 and continued under that name to #17. From #9 the Waku stories were dropped in favour of a second Jann story in each issue.

 

(1) Other jungle boy heroes are Janu and Wambi, Kipling's Mowgli, Korak - who I don't think had had his own feature at this point - and Bomba, who had appeared in juvenile novels and movies and was given a title at DC in the later 60s after the movies were repackaged for TV.

(2) Eventually Bill was portrayed as trapping animals without harming them. I don't know how how he was portrayed in this respect early on.

Comment by Philip Portelli on July 15, 2011 at 9:34am

A couple of years back, I got Action #280 at a convention and loved it. Superman, Jimmy, Lois and Perry shrunk in a bottle with a tree and a golden gorilla! You could hear Jimmy say, "That gorilla climbed the tree with a rope and is now constructing an intricate and complex pulley system! Since I've been reduced in size by an alien android, I'll buy that!"

If his last Jimmy Olsen appearance was in July of 1965 and his WF reprint was in May'65, perhaps the reprints were to familarize newer readers to Congorilla so they could follow the Jimmy story instead of inspiring it.

Amazing that Congorilla could have join the Justice League as he met the solo feature criteria when they debuted!

Jann of the Jungle made a cameo in What If #9 as she led the 1950s Avengers to the Gorilla-Man, apropos to this discussion!

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 15, 2011 at 10:15am

I see from Amazon that Marvel has recently published a second Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Jungle Adventures volume. The first contained stories from the Lorna series. The new one contains issues of Lorna, the Jungle Girl, Jungle Tales and Jungle Action.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 15, 2011 at 11:59am

I suppose one might compare the jungle adventure features in early Golden Age comics to the western features. In the first half of the 40s the genres were there, but not in lead slots. In the second half western comics became popular; but the publishers also moved away from miscellaneous-genre anthologies (partly, presumably, because comics got smaller), so there are comparatively few examples of a western feature fronting a slate of non-western features.

 

I can think of three. "Firehair" took over the lead slot in Rangers of Freedom, by that point Rangers Comics on the covers. "Johnny Thunder" fronted All-American Comics for a few issues before it became All-American Western. "Tomahawk", a frontier series rather than a western, became the cover feature of Star Spangled Comics. Whereas "Johnny Thunder" debuted as a cover-feature, the other two started in supporting slots.

 

Jungle features which won cover slots in multiple-genre titles include "Sheena", which became the regular cover-feature of Jumbo Comics in 1940 and lost the position to a horror feature called "Ghost Gallery" in 1952, and "Tiger Girl", which took over the covers of Fight Comics in 1947 and lost them to a Korean War feature in 1952.

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