Sunday, July 29, 2012

SurVILEvor Island: Gorilla Grodd

Professor Arnold Hugo smirked as he strutted past all the also-rans and pretenders. For the first time ever on SurVILEvor Island, Hugo received 100% support from 19 voters. Not only was he among the great Martian Manhunter foes, but he could claim the likes of Batman, Superman, Aquaman and Robin as "lesser foes." It was a good day to be the Wizard of 1,000 Menaces...

The first and most obvious problem with Gorilla Grodd being a Martian Manhunter villain is that he's already, inarguably a Flash rogue. After Barry Allen took up the classic mantle and started the Silver Age of Comics in 1956, he headlined four issues of Showcase before graduating to his own ongoing series. The book picked up the numbering of the Golden Age series where it left off years earlier, beginning with #105. The menace of Super-Gorilla Grodd began with #106, spanning three consecutive issues, and resurfacing in more than a dozen issues thereafter. It took more than three years for Grodd to confront Allen's successor Wally West, but that encounter spanned three issues, and resulted in several dozen more. Since Barry's return, another half dozen comics have chronicled their enmity. Grodd even went after Allen's grandson Bart quite a few times.

During a fallow period in the 1970s, Grodd helped form and lead the Secret Society of Super-Villains, which initially included fellow Flash rogues Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, and Captain Cold. Several other key DC nemeses were also part of the original group, and this line-up likely informed the 1978 creation of The Legion of Doom for the Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon show. The Legion were all devoted villains of the Super Friends Aquaman (Black Manta,) Green Lantern (Sinestro,) Wonder Woman (Cheetah & Giganta) Batman (Riddler & Scarecrow) and Superman (four foes.) Captain Cold joined Grodd in representing the Flash rogues, plus there was the random inclusion of Solomon Grundy. Typical for the Bronze Age, there were no Martian Manhunter villains to be seen, as the hero himself was not a concern.

Looking over Gorilla Grodd's half century of publishing, these two courses tie into the vast majority of his appearances. Grodd is either a Flash fiend, or part of a team like the Secret Society. His string of appearances in Titans-related comics were tied into his membership to the short-lived group Tartarus, which in turn played into Birds of Prey and Nightwing guest spots. His three turns in Green Lantern were part of a team-up with Hector Hammond against the Emerald Gladiator and Scarlet Speedster. Grodd's "Gorilla Fighters" mixed up with the Outsiders as part of a plot that also involved Dr. Sivana, the Joker, and Lex Luthor. Extreme Justice closed out their series with a four issue battle against a comic book version of the Legion of Doom that included Grodd. A new Society have been active and involved Grodd prominently since 2005's run up to Infinite Crisis.

The concept of Gorilla Grodd as a Martian Manhunter villain relies on a small handful of comics dating back to just 1999. In the "JLApe" annual event, Grodd turned the team into simians. The plot launched in the JLA Annual, continued into those of each of the "Magnificent Seven" Leaguers' and concluded with Grodd's defeat by Martian Manhunter in his second annual. The Alien Atlas retroactively overwhelmed the Super-Gorilla in 2001's JLA: Incarnations #2, meant to take place in roughly the second year of the League's existence. Both times, J'Onn J'Onzz used his extraterrestrial telepathy to overwhelm the gorilla's psychic prowess. J'Onzz was part of the team countering Grodd in JLA: Classified #1-3 from 2005, but there was no significant one-on-one action. Perhaps their most memorable encounter was in the painted mini-series Justice, in which Alex Ross played out his childhood love of the Super Friends with fanfic writ large incorporating the Legion of Doom. Since Ross had respect for the Silver Age and appreciation of the '80s, Ross made use of the Martian Manhunter, and repurposed Grodd as his specialty enemy (while Flash tangled with Captain Cold.) That book came out bimonthly for two years, concluding in 2007. Grodd was also among the crooks in the bar where J'Onzz was murdered the following year to launch the Final Crisis.

I've played devil's advocate on many of these SurVILEvors; prosecuting characters I like, hard selling characters I'm not particularly concerned about, and so forth. Of the lot, I'm most ambivalent about Gorilla Grodd. He's one of my favorite villains, and there's solid material for the characters to play off. Both characters are non-human telepaths from hidden societies far more advanced than science would ever believe. Both were born early in the Silver Age, and went on to help found and sustain large teams of exalted super-associates. They've had some strong interactions in the past thirteen years, and I look forward to reading more. On the other hand, Grodd will always be a Flash foe foremost, and he managed to go through forty years of relatively regular appearances without having anything to do with J'Onn J'Onzz. I'm glad this goes up for popular vote, because I don't particularly want to wrestle with the decision on this one.

1 comment:

will_in_chicago said...

Frank, this is going to be a hard one for me as I automatically associate Gorilla Grodd with the Flash. Yet, Grodd has many qualities that make him a good foe for the Alien Atlas. He is strong, is somewhat alien to humanity and has some telepathic abilities (only comparable to J'Onn with some technological assistance.) Yet a key difference is how they relate to humanity. J'Onn believes in humanity and its potential. Grodd lacks not only faith in humanity, but he is a narcissist who despises his own kind as weak. In many respects, Grodd is not just a villain but someone whose failure to embrace those different than himself is ultimately tragic. I will have think about my vote and would ask others to chime in.