Superboy #172, March 1971

You read Silver Age Superman comics for long enough and it soon becomes clear that practically everyone and everything survived the destruction of Krypton. You might think that having your whole planet explode underneath their very feet would probably means curtains for the entire population. But no…

“The World of the Super-Ape!”

The story opens with a brief recap of Superboy’s origin: Krypton goes boom, the rocketship crashes in smallville, and young Kal-El is adopted by Ma and Pa Kent. However, unbeknownst to anyone before now, a second rocketship crashed that day — this one in Kenya.

Fifteen years later some animal poachers go missing. Investigating, Superboy decides to dress up in a handy gorilla costume (yes, really – he flies from Kenya to Smallville to go get it), so as to infiltrate a family of gorillas. The family soon come to trust the newcomer, and they take him to a secret underground lair. Inside is a huge statue of a mighty gorilla, crowned by a red “sun” crown. Another effigy is of a gorilla clad in a costume with a big “Y” on the chest.

The kidnapped poachers make a bid for freedom, and Superboy hears a shout in what he recognises as the Kryptonian tongue! The poachers fire guns, and in the panic, Superboy’s mask is torn off and a fight ensues. Suddenly a flying gorilla appears, wearing the costume seen earlier on the statue. The other gorillas cry out: “Yango! Yango!”

Superboy attempts to get the better of Yango, but is matched power for power every step of the way. Yango is confused by this human with powers like his own. He picks up the Boy of Steel by the ankle and hurls him through the rock walls and up into space. Wanting to know where Yango came from, Superboy cracks the time barrier and goes back to witness the arrival of the second rocketship from Krypton. He goes back further, to before the destruction of his home planet.

There, he sees the “noted anthropologist” Professor An-Kal place the “intensive conditioned-cybernetic brain-programmed” Yango into the rocket. As the craft takes off, and the planet crumbles, An-Kal literally shakes his fist at the sky: “Scientists — Pah! They would not accept my revolutionary ‘genetic alterance’ theory — those idiots on the scientists council!” With his dying breath, he hopes that young Yango will be accepted and respected on Earth. With that, Superboy returns to present day Kenya.

He rounds up the poachers, and hands them to Yango. Boy and gorilla converse in Kryptonian, and Superboy explains that their cause is the same: “the fight against the inhumanity of man — to man or beast!” Yango accepts this, and Superboy flies off home, leaving the super-powered gorilla to protect the animal world, “While I spread your message throughout the so-called civilised world!”

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See. Relevance. Tackling the issues of the day, taking note of Denny O’Neil’s work on Green Lantern, writer Frank Robbins makes a rather ham-fisted attempt to rail against the evils of poaching and the ivory trade. Still, his heart was doubtless in the right place — and you can’t say that the story isn’t entertaining. Bob Brown and Murphy Anderson provide the workmanlike art. Just a year later, Leo Dorfman and Brown would tell another tale of an alternate Superboy in Africa: Karkan the Conqueror.

Also, it should be noted that this issue of Superboy saw the start of a semi-regular back-up feature starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. After 18 months in the wilderness, the Legion were being given another chance. They eventually proved so popular they’d squeeze Superboy out of his own book!

I’m not sure whether Yango ever appeared again, but it’s nice to think he might still be out there in Kenya, battling to save the elephant.

Cover art by Neal Adams.

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