I give the comics of the 90s a lot of static, and rightfully so, as some of ’em were dreadful in ways that even the most gawdawful Golden Age book couldn’t match.

And then, there’s the time the entire Justice League turned into apes.  So, there’s that…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of JLA Annual #3 awaits!

JLAAnnual3CoverJLA ANNUAL #3
Writer: Len Kaminski
Penciler: Jason Orfalas
Inker: Jordi Ensign
Letterer: Kurt Hathaway
Colorit: Jason Wright
Editor: Dan Raspler
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in JLA:  During the Silver Age of Comics, sales figures were an odd and elusive beastie, and Superman editor Mort Weisinger (an old hand in the business) had many theories about what made books sell.  Among his theories were the hypothesis that green covers sold more; that a question asked would spur reader interest; and most interestingly, that a gorilla on the cover would boost sales just his presence.  To that end, DC Comics’ output wore gorillas like Rodrigo wears his lucky socks: As often as possible, and with not enough laundering in between.  Monsieur Mallah fought the Doom Patrol, Grodd squared off with The Flash, The Gorilla Boss of Gotham battled the Dark Knight.  And when you take that theorem to its logical extreme, you get the “JLApe” crossover of 1999.  We begin with a goodwill tour of the United States by King Solovar of Gorilla City, during which the head gorilla wins over the American people with his urbane and suave gorilla antics.  But when his limousine is blown up during the tour, things start to heat up quickly…

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The apes of Gorilla City are incensed by the terrible hate-crime that has taken their king from them (and, it would seem, rightly so), and the High Council of Gorilla City demands blood and thunder, all the while unaware that they’re being manipulated by a secret cabal of their own.  As the secret ramrod of that cabal, ape General Zolog watches with glee as Solovar is replaced by a high-picked successor, young Ulgo…

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Though the art team on this issue isn’t one that I’ve heard much from, fifteen years later, I have to say, they draw some mean primates.  Back in Gorilla City, we discover that Zolog’s sect is, of course, being manipulated from the shadows by the greatest villain Gorilla City has ever known, the ape called Dave Grodd.  Ulgo’s first act as King is to reach out to the human world, to once again establish diplomatic relations with the humans, but he asks for a very SPECIFIC group of emissaries to come to Gorilla City…

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The League (or at least 57% thereof) arrives at the Gorilla’s settlement, only to get ambushed by attacking gorillas.  Superman correctly realizes that their enemies knew such an attack wouldn’t harm these Leaguers, but before he can figure out what the aim is, the other shoe drops, in the form of a mysterious gas weapon.

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The four Leaguers rise from the bomb to find that they’re no longer superhuman, but are in fact, transformed into gorillas themselves.  Worse still, their bodies aren’t the only things transformed, as the Leaguers quickly find themselves possessed of blood lust and a hatred for humanity that even Superman’s will can’t fully overcome…

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Fortunately for our heroes, they came prepared for treachery, with an invisible Martian Manhunter traveling along as advisor, and HIS alien mind provides resistance to the psychological effects of the transformation.

Sadly, this doesn’t calm his teammates, leaving J’onn alone against a Kryptonian, an Amazon, the King of Atlantis and the Fastest Man Gorilla Alive…

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…a stalemate that lasts for barely half a page, as The Martian Manhunter is more than capable of defending himself against even his four most powerful teammates.  Quickly overriding their compulsions, J’onn teleports all of them back to the Watchtower, where the remaining two members of the Justice League await…

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Batman analyzes the “gorilla bomb”, and discovers a crystal at its core, one that The Martian Manhunter recognizes as having a vibration similar to Animal Man’s powers, and he sets off to find Buddy Baker.

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At this juncture, we have to take a quick side-trip for some context.  When the Vertigo titles took off in the mid-1990s, the decision was made to shift them into a semi-separate continuity (including Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Hellblazer, all books with strong ties to the greater DC Universe.  This issue marks one of the first times that Animal Man returned to the DC Universe, and it seems to treat his classic Grant Morrison adventures as dreams, which is what all of Buddy’s ramblings about reality are about.  J’Onn even seems to get the flash that they all exist in a comic book written by sadists for an audience of blood-thirsty vultures in that final panel, grasping the truth about their world, but choosing to deal with it in his own way.  Returning to the Watchtower, he finds Superman and Aquaman battling for Wonder Woman’s affections, and uses his telepathy to stabilize his apey partners…

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Unfortunately, this delay gives King Ulgo time to take his delegation to the United Nations, with a surprise up his sleeve…

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That last panel is actually pretty cool, even with Superman’s shirt not quite meeting his trunks and all, proving that the heroes of the Justice League are still heroes, even if they’ve been knocked down a peg or two in the roster of higher primates.  (Lower primates?  Heck, I don’t know, I’m a liberal arts major.)  The League arrives at the U.N., but Ulgo’s bomb detonates, transforming Green Lantern (but notably NOT Batman) into a gorilla as well.  With only one reverse-engineered antidote bomb, the Leaguers decide to save the leaders of the world’s nations at the cost of their own humanity…

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The United Nations is returned to human form, but J’onn telepathically gleans that Ulgo’s secret sect has plans for worldwide domination, targeting Atlantis, Central City, Bludhaven, Paradise Island, Metropolis and a low orbit around the Earth, and the League is forced to split up and deal with the menaces in their own backyards, literally.  As our heroes set off to save the day in gorilla form, Batman has one last concern…

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Heh.  Batman got ‘Batmanned’.  This is why I love the Martian Manhunter.  Each hero then went off to their own annual, with the League each having to overcome their ape natures in order to save the day.  And, of course, they were trapped in those ape-forms forever, since Batman used the last anti-gorilla bomb to fix the United Nations, which is why they’re all gorillas even today.  As summer annual gimmicks go, this is one of the less successful for me as a story, with this issue serving mostly as justification for the hows and wherefores of an in-joke reference to the many gorillas of the Silver Age, and the surprise ending that it’s all Grodd’s doing being revealed way too early in the arc.  Still, it’s memorable in its goofiness, and this issue has some pretty decent art, even with DC’s reticence to let cash-cow Batman join in the monkey-shines, and thus JLA Annual #3 earns a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  If they’d gorillified Batman, I’d have given it an additional half-star…

I give the comics of the 90s a lot of static, and rightfully so, as some of 'em were dreadful in ways that even the most gawdawful Golden Age book couldn't match. And then, there's the time the entire Justice League turned into apes.  So, there's that...  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of JLA Annual #3 awaits! JLA ANNUAL #3 Writer: Len Kaminski Penciler: Jason Orfalas Inker: Jordi Ensign Letterer: Kurt Hathaway Colorit: Jason Wright Editor: Dan Raspler Publisher: DC Comics Cover Price: $2.95 Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00 Previously in JLA:  During the Silver Age of Comics, sales figures were an…
The grand tradition of gorillas at DC Comics, with a weird sour 90s flavor...

JLA ANNUAL #3

Writing
Art
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The grand tradition of gorillas at DC Comics, with a weird sour 90s flavor...

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. Alisha
    November 17, 2014 at 10:02 am — Reply

    Heh, I remember this annual. I thought it was a good fun concept with a pretty sub-par execution. Shame, since it had a lot of potential to be a really fun idea.

    I was pretty sad that the annuals that year were pretty so-so when just a few years before they had some really great annuals ideas, like 1997’s “Pulp Heroes” annuals or 1994’s “Elseworlds” themed annuals.

  2. Luis Dantas
    December 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm — Reply

    Even today, seeing Kyle Rayner in the JLA is weirder than seeing Wolverine with the Avengers.

    I don’t think there was any way of masking Grodd’s role on this. I mean, who else could possibly be behind these events? Monsieur Mallah?

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