Action Comics #248, January 1959

“The Amazing Congorilla!”

Congo Bill was a standard jungle adventure hero from the early days of DC. He first appeared in More Fun in 1940, then bounced around a variety of titles as a backup feature. By the late 1950s he’d washed up in Action Comics, by which time his sub-Jungle Jim/Tarzan adventures looked rather dated. Then, in Action #248, someone decided to have a little fun with the character and it was all change…

As the story begins, Kawolo, best friend of Congo Bill, has fallen from a clifftop. Bill climbs down to aid him, but his injuries are too severe and he soon dies. Not, however, before rewarding Bill with a magic ring. Apprently, if Bill rubs his ring (steady at the back there!), his mind will be transferred into the body of a great golden gorilla, and, conversely, the gorilla’s mind into his own body. Naturally Bill is a little sceptical.

Well, wouldn’t you be?

A week later, Bill is exploring a cave system when he gets trapped in a rock slide. Clearly sharp as a tack, Bill suddenly remembers the ring he still has on his finger. He surmises that if it did all that Kawolo said it would, then he can transfer his mind into the gorilla and use the beast’s great strength to free himself. He rubs his ring (okay, okay…) and lo and behold finds himself on the inside of a monkey skull looking out!  What’s more, back in the cave, Congo Bill is beating his chest wildly!

Seriously, they don’t make comics like this any more, let me tell you!

He comes across a movie crew shooting a sci-fi epic. In the jungle. Return of the Jedi, perhaps? Moreover, he spots an actress being menaced by a leopard. He grabs a nearby disco ball (don’t ask), and scares away the leopard. The crew is so amazed by the actions of this magnificent gorilla that they decide to reward its bravery by trapping it and putting it on exhibition! “Fetch the gas bombs!” cries the director.

“Now I know how a hunted animal feels!” thinks Congo Bill — why, it’s almost a dry run for the political “relevance” movement of a decade later…

Bill pretends to pass out from the gas fumes, and then tries to escape his would-be captors. Sadly, he misjudges his new body’s weight and falls to the ground when a branch he attempts to swing from snaps. He’s quickly caged, but manages to set it rolling right into the path of some flamethrowers that happen to be part of the movie set-dressing. The bars melt and Bill is free!

Next, the movie makers spot the gorilla frantically spinning the propellor of a nearby plane. “The gorilla’s smart — but he ain’t smart enough to fly a plane!” opines the director’s assistant.

Oh yeah?

Performing a perfect take-off, Bill escapes to the sky. In the next panel, much to the dismay of the film crew, we see the plane falling and the gorilla safely floating to earth on three parachutes.

Bill goes to the cave, quickly moves the rocks and free his Congo Bill body. He rubs the ring once more to exchange minds. The director and party show up, guns in hand. “Say, Congo Bill, did you see a golden gorilla around here? You won’t believe it, but that beat is half-human!”

“Anything is possible in the Congo, Mister!” chuckles Bill.

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Now, this is a wildly entertaining slice of nonsense. Robert Bernstein wrote it, and Howard Sherman provided the art, though I daresay uncle Mort Weisinger had a fair amount to say in the character’s creation. The bizarre transformation of a venerable star into a gorilla clearly didn’t have the desired effect in sales, as Congorilla limped on for only a couple of years. Following his stint in Action he moved over to Adventure Comics, where he was eventually ousted by Bizarro. Thereafter he became all but forgotten until the 1990s when he became something of an ironic guest star in various comics. He even got his own mini-series.

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