From Beyond the Unknown #5 cover

From Beyond the Unknown #5, June-July 1970

With Strange Adventures reprinting the prime SF series of the 1960s—Adam Strange, Atomic Knights—editor Julie Schwartz launched From Beyond the Unknown to mop up some of the stand alone short stories. The issue under the spotlight here is interesting in that it reprints a gorilla story, and its sequel.

“The Gorilla Who Challenged the World” concerns one Dr Mills, who discovers a potion called Mutaton that can give evolution a boost in anyone that quaffs it. He feeds it to a gorilla, and soon the beast is chatting away happily. Satisfied with this result, Mills takes a swig himself and becomes super intelligent. Unfortunately, Mills is unaware that the gorilla too has become super intelligent, and it plots revenge against mankind! Crumbs!

The gorilla tricks Mills into drinking the antidote, so the scientist’s mind regresses to ape-level, while the gorilla escapes and dons a handy human face mask (no, don’t ask me…). Cunningly disguised as a man—in a natty suit—the gorilla embarks on a campaign of rare chemical theft. One day he is unmasked when cops capture him following a bungled raid. He offers to restore Dr Mills to normal, and the cops acquiesce, only to be overcome by the gorilla treacherously turning a steam pipe on them. He escapes on a tramp steamer bound for Africa, plotting to evolve the indigenous apes.

The story ends with Dr Mills concerned for the future of mankind.

At the start of “The Jungle Emperor”, the self-proclaimed King Gorilla breaks into a television broadcast and declares himself “the sole sovereign of this planet!” Dr Mills curses himself for a novice—or he would if this were written by Chris Claremont—and ponders the Mutaton antidote potion he has on his desk in case of emergencies.

The next morning “strange, super-scientific planes” land in capital cities around the globe. Gorillas emerge and demand surrender. All seems doomed. Then, Dr Mills studies a newsreel of these events and realises that the gorillas can’t be real—they must be androids! Yowza! He uses a thermocouple to confirm this theory, and, yep, the gorillas are indeed synthetic beings: they give off no body heat. When he talks to Mills, King Gorilla explains this odd turn of events. Clearly paranoid, he decided not to evolve any gorillas lest they turn upon him. The androids are under his complete command—and that’s just the way he likes it.

Placed in a cell, Mills wastes little time in setting a fire. In the next room, King Gorilla is disturbed by the sound of the Mutaton antidote bottle smashing. As he battles the flames he breathes in the rapidly evaporating Mutaton antidote and regresses to normal intelligence. Luckily, the fire has weakened the bars of his cell, and Mills escapes.

Around the world, the android gorilla army grinds to a halt. They’re stuffed and mounted in museums to remind mankind of the day its supremacy was threatened. For his part, Mills destroys the Mutaton formula: it’s far too dangerous!

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Completely bonkers, and yet strangely compelling. This is a classic 1950s DC SF story. It originally appeared in Strange Adventures #55 and 56 (April and May 1955), and fits in well with the generally paranoid tone of much 1950’s sci-fi–especially the movies of the time, where it was clear that if mankind needed saving from one thing, it was meddling scientists.

Written by Ed Hamilton and drawn by the excellent Sy Barry, this is a lot of fun. And From Beyond the Unknown can usually be picked up pretty cheaply–certainly a lot more cheaply than the Strange Adventures originals.

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