DC’s Super-Apes of the 1950s: The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd

Gorilla Grodd
“Remember, George, grab people from their apartments and eat them to regain health.”

As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson travels the globe promoting The People’s monster-movie Rampage, it’s easy to dismiss the action-packed flick as another King Kong vs. Godzilla ripoff. Of course, fans of the Rampage video game franchise will know better. The 1986 video game of the same name, which the film is based on, provided young Gen X-ers and even younger Millennials with a pastiche of, and in many cases an introduction to, the monster-movie genre.

Gorilla Grodd
“They’re frighteningly addictive!”

In fact, it was on a family vacation back in the ’90s during a pizza-flavoured Combos bender that I first played Rampage and understood the cinematic brilliance of showing two or more monsters duking it out while terrorizing a city.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – The Super-Ape Phenomenon of the 1950s

Gorilla Grodd
“Hey humanity, can’t we all just get along?”

King Kong tried to take New York way back in ’33, and several sequels and imitations followed. Just nine months after King Kong’s release, Son of Kong premiered. The original Mighty Joe Young took up the torch in 1949, but in the late ’50s, a new kind of super-ape made the scene.


In early ’59, DC introduced Gorilla Grodd. But rather than being a gigantic and instinct-driven simian like King Kong or Superman’s derivative foe Titano the Super Ape, Grodd is a criminal mastermind bent on overthrowing human society. He just happens to be a talking gorilla.

Gorilla Grodd
“Wait, maybe I shouldn’t mention that he’s the only one who can stop me…”

This interesting ape has appeared in comics, cartoons, live-action TV shows, and a video game. He is a continual nuisance to the second incarnation of the Flash, Barry Allen, and every subsequent appearance of the villainous gorilla tends to portray him as increasingly intelligent, maniacal, and devious.

The aforementioned Titano first appeared in Superman #127 (cover date, February 1959), and Grodd first appeared in The Flash #106 (cover date, May 1959). It’s tough to say precisely why these two super-apes debuted just three months apart from each other, but it definitely provides ammo for an intriguing bit of headcanon. Before I get into all that, though, let’s take a look at the DC party line on Grodd’s origin.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – Alien Intervention Or Temporal Paradox? You Pick.

After some ret-conning, the DC powers that be decided that Grodd and his fellow Gorilla City-ans developed super-intelligence after an alien spacecraft crashed in their midst. The ship’s pilot developed the gorillas’ unique mental powers and helped them construct their city. Then, Grodd killed the alien and took control.

This origin, though just as good as any other, leaves me with some questions. Chiefly, why did this alien screw with these gorillas’ brains? Having not read the ret-conned origin story, I can’t rightly say, but the whole thing sure seems odd.

Instead, I prefer the explanation that Gorilla City sprang up as an indirect result of some creative problem solving employed by Superman during his first meeting with Titano in Superman #127.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – Temporal Anomalies 101

I’m not usually one to pick on octogenarians, but for all his strength and moral uprightness Superman doesn’t always make the best decisions, at least he didn’t back in the ’50s. He may have had the power of super-hypnosis, but that sure didn’t improve his logical reasoning faculties. This lack of super-judgement is on full display in Superman #127.

While grappling with Titano, Supes decides that the best way to stop the monster-ape from destroying everything around him is to hurl him with such force and speed that he travels back through time to a prehistoric era. Setting aside the fact that this would almost certainly be impossible, Superman doesn’t appear to have considered the, quite probably, negative effects his actions would have on his own timeline.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – “This is ground control to Major Toto…”

For those unfamiliar with Titano the Super-Ape — the pre-Crisis version — he started out as a trained chimpanzee named “Toto.” As part of an ill-conceived publicity stunt, the chimp’s trainer allows the US Army to launch Toto into space. But, during orbit, radiation assaults poor Toto’s craft, and the onlookers, who just happen to include Lois Lane and Superman, fear the worst.

The craft returns to Earth, and when Toto exits the pod he seems alright until he grows to incredible size and starts shooting kryptonite rays out of his eyes — oh, crap.

A typically unhelpful Lois renames the mega-chimp “Titano,” while Superman struggles to install a humongous pair of thick lead goggles over Titano’s eyes. Superman finally succeeds in getting the shades on Titano, and, the huge ape’s kryptonite-vision dealt with, Supes picks Titano up and tosses him back through time.

Gorilla Grodd
“Superman, you have such a vivid super-imagination!”

Using his powers of “super-imagination” — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — Superman ensures Lois that Titano is having a grand ol’ time among similarly sized prehistoric creatures. All’s well that ends well, right? Right?!

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd –  “Wait, was that Gorilla City there before I chucked that huge ape backwards through time?”

Alright, now it’s time for my bit of headcanon. Like I said earlier, Grodd and his fellow Gorilla City-ans first appeared three months after Titano’s trip back through time, so I’m inclined to believe that Superman’s actions altered the timeline and caused a chain reaction that led to the evolution of super-intelligent apes who eventually founded Gorilla City. After all, wouldn’t a gigantic trained chimp who shoots kryptonite rays out of his eyes be a bit disruptive to the timeline?

So there you have it: no radioactive meteorite, alien crash-landing, or genetic modification required. As we Marvel fans say, ’nuff said.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – “This is Major Gordo to ground control…”

My bit of headcanon addressed, one wonders why DC’s staff had apes on the brain back in 1959. Well, strange as they may seem now, monkey-flights were a well-known occurrence in ’59. In fact, in December of ’58, which was likely the actual publication month for Superman #127 — that or November — a brave squirrel monkey named Gordo took the ride of his life.

Gorilla Grodd
“Guys, I’m really not into this…”

The hairy adventurer survived his 600-mile trip up into the atmosphere, but Gordo’s craft’s flotation mechanism failed during splashdown, and the simian astronaut was lost at sea.

Although the little guy’s journey ended up sending him to Davy Jones’s locker, data gathered about Gordo’s trip provided US Navy doctors with proof that a human would likely survive a similar flight, so long as the problems with the flotation device were addressed.

The Great Grandad of Gorilla Grodd – “I got my mind on my monkey, and my monkey on my mind.”

With simian space travel likely in the news quite a bit leading up to poor Gordo’s flight — followed in May of ’59 by the slightly more successful flight of the monkey-nauts Able and Baker — the reasons for people’s fixations on apes gets a bit clearer. As with most pop-culture phenomena, super-apes make a lot more sense after some investigation into the zeitgeist that produced them.

Actually, Gordo was just one in a long line of animal astronauts. Including Gordo, seven monkeys, plus a number of dogs, rabbits, and mice had been launched into space by 1959. Some fared better than others, but none came back with kryptonite vision or super-intelligence…that we know of.

Michael Bedford
Michael Bedford
Under intense scrutiny by the Temporal Authorities, I was coerced into actualizing my capsule in this causality loop. Through no fault of my own, I am marooned on this dangerous yet lovely level-four civilization. Stranded here, I have spent most of my time learning what I can of the social norms and oddities of the Terran species, including how to properly use the term "Hipster" and how to perform a "perfect pour." Under the assumed name of "Michael Bedford," I have completed BA's with specialized honours in both theatre studies and philosophy, and am currently saving up for enough galactic credits to buy a new--or suitably used--temporal contextualizer ... for a friend.