A Matter of Evolution: Monkeys vs. Robots

skunk ape 80.JPGThey’ve been brought together before in James Kolchalka’s Monkey vs. Robot books, by Mecha Kong in King Kong Escapes and Mojo Jojo’s mech-suited machinations in The Powerpuff Girls. Primates and robots each imitate and mock humanity in their own way. When the postapocalyptic future finally overtakes us, will we be replaced by the robots we designed to serve us or live in a world reclaimed by nature and ruled from Gorilla City?

Though it pains me to classify apes as monkeys, it’s monkeys vs. robots with ten of my favorite primates and robots.*

Gorilla Grodd (DC)

More than the rest of us, Gorilla Grodd knows it’s a matter of evolution. A misunderstood scientific genius with mind control powers, Grodd schemes just like any other supervillain bent on world domination, but I love that in Justice League Unlimited he forms the Legion of Doom / Secret Society with the ultimate goal of turning every human in the world into a gorilla. Then the world will be worth domination and those fools in Gorilla City will be sorry.

Bufkin (Bill Willingham, The Fables, Vertigo)

Bufkin lives in Fabletown, a refuge for fictional characters in our world, where he works in the business office shelving books and is a little out of his depth. Best of all he is one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying blue monkeys. Blue’s a good color for any monkey.

Detective Chimp (Bill Willingham, Shadowpact, DC)

I didn’t pay much attention to Bobo the Detective Chimp until recently. It’s true that a chimpanzee who solves crime is pretty neat, but somehow I lack that special love for chimps in clothes. Maybe it’s genetic, I don’t know. But a curmudgeonly, furry-chasing chimp solving supernatural mysteries as part of Shadowpact, of a group of paranormal and magical misfits? That’s entirely different.

Tolifhar (Gail Simone, Wonder Woman, DC)

DC is bound to be overrepresented in this list, after all former DC editor, Julius Schwartz famously/apocryphally declared that a gorilla on the cover equaled sales. And I’d be lying if I said the superintelligent, telepathic supersoldiers on the cover weren’t a draw when I picked up Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman #14.
Tolifhar and his squad were specially trained and outfitted by Gorilla Grodd to take revenge on humans. He’s got one eye, a facial scar and from his focus on eating people, I’d say Tolifhar was especially angry about people eating gorillas. He’s past that now. Really.

skunk ape 250 2.JPG

The Skunk-Ape
(Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz, The Goon, Dark Horse)

It’s a cryptid–a cryptid that loves pie! I love cryptids and pie. Foul-smelling and lethargic to the point of sprouting mushrooms, the Skunk-Ape is prone to pie-rage. He escapes his freakshow after smelling a fresh-baked blueberry pie, then disrupts a pie eating contest, steals the Goon’s winnings and escapes. Is that elementary school teacher who smells horrible and appears to be a shaved ape the fugitive Skunk-Ape? Or is it an elaborate ruse? The Goon’s sidekick Franky says, “It’s a matter of E-volution.”

Cliff Steele (Doom Patrol, DC)

Cliff Steele is the reason for it all. Robotman is the robot for me. A race car driver in a devastating accident, Cliff Steele survives as a brain transplanted into a mechanical body lacking sensation. Robotman has an origin that would turn any other comics character into a supervillain. But Cliff walks away a superhero, using his ability to be crushed, deconstructed, spooled and flattened to fight crime, stop supervillains and save Paris from a city-eating painting.

Atlas (Osamu Tezuka, Astroboy 23, Dark Horse)

Built from the same blueprints, Astroboy’s nemesis Atlas has all Astroboy’s
powers—the flying, the machine gun butt, the headlight eyes—plus an Eighth Power: If he pees on you, you will explode. Given how angry he is, he probably will pee on you, which might make him closest robot equivalent on this list to the Skunk Ape.

Human Torch (Marvel)

No, not Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four. The Golden Age Human Torch is not only an android, but an android on fire. Misunderstood by the people he was created to help, the Human Torch was buried underground and educated via radio. Ah, science–it can make an angry robot boy with explosive pee and an android on fire. Despite human prejudice, he became a hero and, in Marvel continuity, killed Hitler.

H.E.L.P.E.R. (Doc Hammer and Jason Publick, The Venture Bros.)

You might not have encountered the horror of 7 Zark 7. I hope you haven’t encountered the horror of 7 Zark 7 showering. He was a dollar store R2-D2 add-on to Battle of the Planets / G-Force providing exposition and humorous bumpers. He’s also probably the most noxious cute robot in an era of cute robots. I mention him because H.E.L.P.E.R. hearkens back to the time when every animated family team and boy adventurer had a faithful robot. While robots in cartoons and comics are rarely remote-controlled or assemblers from the line, H.E.L.P.E.R.’s awful close to an assembler robot, but so much more
sensitive. Plus, he can be used as a dialysis machine.

Voltron (Beast King GoLion / Lion Force Voltron / Voltron: Defender of the Universe)

He’s a giant robot made of robot-lions. I’m not sure I’d even like a robot made of robot-gorillas better. Voltron doesn’t even need to do anything. He can just stand there, being made of robot lions.

*As a terrible geek I’m not listing these primates or robots in order.  In fact, I’m leaving out a few i love because I’ve discussed them before.


Carol Borden is currently serving her robot monkey overlords , Eric and Colin, at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness blog.  She’ll be back with a non-list article next month.

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