Friday, November 2, 2012

The Secret World Of Super Monkeys: Another Pointless Top List Of Pop Culture-y Things

Okay guys, this is going to be a long slog.

I tend to go overboard sometimes when I get an idea in my head. Here's an example. I have a weekly podcast called the Dirty Sons of Pitches, where my friends and I throw out often silly or crazy ideas for movies and tv shows. In episode 11 of the cast, I was trying to think of a way to revive the Star Trek television franchise. Long story short, what started out as a two sentence description for use on a podcast that is otherwise mostly about my penis quickly became a show bible, a seven season arc plan of Straczynskian proportions, and the first ten pages of a pilot script. Now keep in mind, this is a thing that will never, in a million years be produced, and probably won't be read by anyone other than me, and perhaps all of you if I decide to post it here at some point, if only out of a sadomasochistic impulse. Fuck, I've even cast the thing. Michael Ironside plays the captain, a Commadore Decker-esque ticking time bomb, Eliza Dushku plays his sexy archaeologist daughter, and cult actor Doug Jones plays the odd ball break out character ala Data and Odo. The point is, I will often expand completely unnecessary amounts of effort on creative endeavors, knowing full well that they will have no realistic pay off.

I bring all of this up because recently, while perusing Youtube for old TV theme songs from forgotten 70's and 80's shows, I was reminded of another similarly fruitless project I started a few years ago, and wasted far too much time on before ultimately abandoning it. It was my idea for a 90's style superhero show like Street Sharks, Sky Surfers, Mummies Alive, or the Extreme Dinosaurs, which, as if I even need to point this out, was planned despite my having absolutely no access to an animation studio or a network willing to distribute my genius. It was called Agents of C.H.I.M.P., and it followed a group of super hero monkeys (or apes, I've never understood the distinction) who protect the Earth from a group of evil monkeys bent on enslaving mankind. C.H.I.M.P. stood for the Crimefighting Highly Intelligent Monkey Project, though a running gag would have had one of their human allies constantly question whether P.C.H.I.M would be a better name. They are at first led by the Flinger, who uses his natural ability to fling small solid objects as an expert marksman with a backpack full of ceramic bombs, though he is soon captured in battle by their enemies and brainwashed into a villain, replaced as leader by Monkey See, a chimpanzee with the power of adaptive muscle memory, and his tiny transforming robot Capuchin sidekick Helper, who can turn into any weapon on the fly.

The rest of the team was rounded out by the mysterious Silver Surfer-esque Space Ape, the elastic comic relief character Sokmunkey, a mute with super sonic cymbals named Klang, and a super intelligent Orangutan detective named Dupin. There would also have been a nominal member in the Seamian, a hydrokinetic superhero who, like his comic book inspirations Aquaman and Prince Namor would have a chip on his shoulder, in this case because of the constant teasing brought on by his supposedly "useless" superpower. It was meant as my redemption for water based superheroes, who I've always thought get a bad rap, considering 70% of the planet and the human body are made of water and being able to control it with your mind would essentially make a dude the most powerful being in the world. It's in a similar vein to my comic project Wetworx about an entire team of water based superheroes working for the government, which once again, was never and will never be released anywhere. Each of the super monkeys gain their abilities after encountering the A.P.E. or Advanced Primate Equation, a mathematical formula that occurs randomly in nature like the Fibonacci sequence or the Numbers from Lost and has been responsible for massive leaps in the evolution of primates throughout history, including the human race.

The main antagonist of the series was to be the super intelligent criminal mastermind known as Dickens, created by an experiment that placed a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters to see how long it would take one to write the first line of A Tale of Two Cities, unaware that the next sentence he would write would be a plan for world domination. Dickens leads the group M.O.N.K.E., the Maniacal Organization of the Nefariously, Kriminally Evil, which would have its own running gag in which people mistakenly pronounce it like "Monk" and Dickens has to explain that despite his genius, he couldn't think of an acronym that used "Y." Like Darksied with the Anti-Life Equation, Dickens seeks to master the secrets of the A.P.E. with his team of evil monkeys, including the brainwashed Flinger, the seemingly infinite army of cannon fodder henchmen contained inside Barrel, the winged monkey Chiropmanzee, the six armed venomous Spider Monkey, and the heavily armed dictator Guerilla Gorilla. A few non-monkey villains would show up from time to time, including Singerie the witch who turns humans into her monkey slaves, Monking, with a high tech crown that lets him practice monkey mind control. and a mysterious alien Obelisk that is revealed to be the source of the A.P.E., manipulating life on Earth for centuries for some nefarious purpose.

I'm not sure why I ever thought this would work as a 90's cartoon in particular, other than the fact that it was my favorite era for television animation and probably the only decade where one could get away with this unique blend of action and comedy. I envisioned it as a satire of 90's cartoon tropes as well as an homage to them, with characters questioning the seemingly well rehearsed group catch phrases, radical or otherwise extreme personalities, and the very idea that the fate of the world might hinge on the outcome of monkey on monkey super violence. I had a general plot line for a first season, which is what most shows like this got in the 90's via syndication, as well as loose ideas for character and story arcs throughout, leading to a cliffhanger climax where the Obelisk teams up with Dickens using Singerie's magic and Monking's mind control crown to try and replace Homosapians with Homosimians, an army under their control. The Obelisk is finally revealed to be from a parallel reality inhabited by many different kinds of anthropomorphic creatures, setting up a second season and possibly many spin-offs (including Danger Dog and his Canine Commandos, which I also wrote) that presumably would have been made shortly after the first season, which is to say fucking never.

But why bring all of this out into the open now? Why reveal my secret shame of fictional monkey obsession? Well, because 1: fuck you, it's my column, and 2: it gives me an excuse to talk about some of my other favorite super monkeys across pop culture history. Or maybe I'm writing an article about other fictional monkeys as an excuse to talk about my failed aspirations as a television writer, or maybe it's a little of both. Either way, strap in, as your about to take an ape-tastic trip down memory lane and get a full load of hot monkey love all over your face, as I countdown my Top Ten Favorite Super Monkeys! I'm trying to avoid the obvious ones here like Planet of the Apes and King Kong, so technically this is the Top Ten Favorite Less Obvious, Though Not Necessarily Obscure Super Monkeys, but the point is, don't think the absence of your favorite one means I think less of them. This is a personal list, made purely for my own intellectual (and actual) masturbation, and I simply invite you to join in if you would like. I'm also not doing this list in order of what I like best, but rather in reverse chronological order, chosen as an arbitrary ordering system to avoid having to take a stand on which I like better. It certainly is not as part of an insidious plan to build a time machine powered by monkey references. If that's what you were thinking, I just want to assure you that this is definitely not the case.

Oh, and I don't want to hear any shit about monkeys vs. apes. I don't care what the difference is. They're all monkeys as far as I'm concerned. Fuck anyone who says different, is what I say.

1: Joop from Lost (2006)

Remember Lost everybody? That show that we all loved for six years until the last episode wasn't exactly the way you envisioned it in your minds and was thus terrible and the worst thing ever and ruined the show for ever and ever? Yeah, that thing. I love Lost. I loved it when it was on, I loved it when I re-watched it after it was over, and I will no doubt still love Lost when I re-watch it again, whenever the mood strikes me. I might write another column at some point about why the fans who criticized the ending can suck on the Man in Black's big black smokey dick, but in the meantime, I'll just say that there's not a lot about the series I don't ultimately like. It gave the audience so much room to build the story as it unfolded with puzzles, Easter eggs, and alternate reality games between seasons to keep us involved until the end. My only real problem is that a lot of the best stuff from this ancillary material could have been integrated into the actual show more, like the clues on the hidden Dharma station map or the Valenzetti Equation, or the super intelligent immortal Orangutan.

Wait, did you forget about the super intelligent immortal Orangutan? Well then clearly you weren't paying attention. Okay, to be fair, my old friend Joop didn't actually appear in the show, and only showed up in one of the alternate reality games I mentioned, specifically The Lost Experience. Given an unnaturally long life by the Hanso Foundation's Life Extension Project, Joop would become a sort of living mascot of the company, and be the subject of much speculation about the island and its various mysteries. Okay, maybe not so much. I actually don't think anyone really thought the fucking monkey had anything to do with it, but the creators did say that if the show was ever cancelled, the last scene would simply be Joop turning around in a chair and smoking a pipe, calmly explaining all the secrets to the show with a British accent. You can say this may have been a joke on their part, but they were dead serious about Nikki and Paulo, so you never know. Personally I think the ending could have worked, as long they had him wrestle Ezra Q Sharkington in The Looking Glass station. God I love this show.

2: Captain Simian And The Space Monkeys (1996)

Until I started assembling this list, I didn't realize how spoiled I was growing up in the 80's and 90's when it came to kick ass monkey fun. The fact that I can think back on ten of my favorites and still have so many left off the list says something about our pop culture love affair with our evolutionary offshoots. Case in point, at least for one season when I was a kid, I could get up in the morning and watch an entire half hour sci fi comedy epic about a full team of monkey space adventurers. I decided to count the entire team in one entry rather than try to pick my favorite crew member, both because it's been a long time since I've seen the show, and all the characters had their strengths and weaknesses from what I remember.

Okay, those are both lies, I own this show and watch it often, and my favorite character is Dr. Splitz, the split personality Orangutan mad scientist. There, I'm that much of a nerd. Happy? Coincidentally, that's two Orangutans right off the bat. I'm not biased towards them or anything, though it suddenly occurs to me that four of the ten are the same breed, more than any other on the list. It might owe something to the fact that my love of monkeys probably stems from one of my favorite short stories, Murders In The Rue Morgue, which regrettably could not be included on this list, because the monkey in question is not technically "super" in any way. I may be a nerd, but at least I have standards to uphold.

3: Monkey from Dexter's Laboratory (1996)

Premiering a few months before Captain Simian in the same year, the character simply known as Monkey was a mute super heroic chimp created by the juvenile genius Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory, appearing in the spin-off back up feature, Dial M For Monkey. Given super powers by one of Dexter's experiments, he would secretly leave the lab unbeknownst to his owner whenever the world needed him, which is to say, whenever his sexy crime fighting partner Agent Honeydew called him. The draw of Monkey for me was less to do with the character as much as the setting. As a young boy growing up with Marvel and (to a lesser extent) DC comics, seeing the stuff I was just growing to love parodied on my favorite show was a very gratifying experience for me, to show me that the thing I was obsessing over that others around me weren't wasn't as weird as I may have thought it was. Kids growing up today with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Nolan Batman franchise where comic books are taken seriously as a medium will never know just how ostracizing it could be back then. Even though it was technically a boom at the time (and later a bust), it had not attained the legitimacy it now has. Nods to shared geekery were few and far between, and shows like Dial M For Monkey were things to be cherished.

4: Ella from Monkey Shines (1988)

This is one of two monkeys taken from horror movies on this list, out of a total four that can be described as villainous generally, and I have to wonder why anyone would think a monkey could be scary. I don't know if its an uncanny valley thing, staring into a face so much like our own, or what. Maybe the idea of monkeys with human level intelligence is just a threat on a basic instinctual level, a new challenger for dominant species of the planet, sort of the integral fear that makes the Planet of the Apes series work so well. I don't know for sure, but for me, I was never scared by George Romero's Monkey Shines. Though I did think the helper monkey in it kicked fucking ass!

Ella is a Capuchin monkey trained to help a paraplegic, but due to a sinister experiment that led to her gaining super intelligence, she develops an unhealthy attachment to her owner that almost borders on romance, leading her to viciously attack anyone that comes between them. I guess the monkey is the monster of this movie, and the ending is brutally unsentimental concerning the creature's fate, but this always made me sad. All Ella was doing was protecting her master, most often against assholes who exploited or abused him, and he just turns on her. Yes it got out of hand, but the intentions were good, and she's a fucking monkey, it's not like she has the ability to understand when she's taking her commitment to protection too seriously. You give her enough intelligence to kill, but not enough to know when not to kill, and then you bite her to death for her trouble. Shame.

5: Tracy the Gorilla from Ghostbusters (1986)

What? You don't remember the Ghostbuster Gorilla? Yeah, Filmation's other Ghostbuster show often gets the short end of the stick, and even I'm not enough of a contrarian to argue that it holds a candle to the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, or its far superior sequel Extreme Ghostbusters (contrarianism, ho!). Still, it had its charm and is worth a re-look if you ignored it when it originally came out, thinking there could be only one crew of Ghostbusting fools. It could have taken the material a little more seriously than it did, even for a kids show at the time, but at least it had a recurring villain and a sizable rogues gallery. Oh, and one of them was a fucking Gorilla.

Tracy wasn't just a Gorilla, he was a ghost fighting, super genius, high tech inventor Gorilla. He was the Egon of the group, and that comparison counts for both Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters, because just as Egon would later form a new team of young heroes to take up the mantle of Ghostbuster, Tracy was doing just that with the Filmation series, forming a new team to take up the mantle from his old team of bumbling paranormal investigators from the live action 70's series. Yes, there was a live action 70's show with a ghost hunting gorilla. That happened, and later they made a cartoon of it that was somehow even more awesome! I went with the cartoon for the date only because that was the one I watched fresh and I never saw the classic show until years later.

6: Link (1986)

Yet another Orangutan, and the second straight up horror movie on the list, though technically he's always referred to as a chimpanzee, and his fur is obviously painted black. Not sure if Orangs are easier to train, or looked better on film, or what, but I remember calling bullshit on this movie even as a foul mouthed little kid when I first saw it, so I don't know if it was worth it. Haven't seen it in years and from what I can tell it seems to be pretty obscure, but once again we get another monkey tormented by science into a super intelligent freak, only to be hunted down by the very humans who made it what it never wanted to be. Fuck mankind, man. You guys suck. I liked it when I was ten, but I imagine this might be one of those that I'd re-evaluate if I saw it again.

7: Mr. Smith (1983)

Okay, this one is kind of cheating, because I haven't actually seen a full episode of this show, only clips, but fuck me are those some hilarious clips. Here's the premise. An Orangutan (naturally), gets super intelligent some how (naturally), and instead of murdering people or traveling through space, he decides to enter politics, becoming a high powered political adviser. Cue really hokey oversimplified bipartisan political criticisms about how we'd rather have monkeys in office instead of those crum bums, etc. How did this show get cancelled after one season? How is this show not still on today? If life were fair, we'd be on like our eighth Mr. Smith right now (or just one if they used Joop). This show should be our Doctor Who. Think of the potential, a Mr. Ed style talking monkey making plans about war and peace and national infrastructure. According to Wikipedia, two consecutive episodes have the titles "Mr. Smith Falls In Love" and "Mr. Smith Gets Physical." There's no indication if this was a two part episode, but god I hope it was. Somebody has to remake this show and make it the creepy awesome insane epic tale I've concocted in my head.

8: Lancelot Link (1970)

What's better than a monkey political adviser? How about a mother fucking monkey super spy? That's right, Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. The Chimp James Bond, Double O Banana, and so forth. I almost neglected to put this one on the list, because technically, Lancelot Link is only super out of context. Yes, he can talk, and foil the plans of terrorist with his spy training, but the fact is, he lives in a world of monkeys with human level intelligence. The thing that makes him super to us is shared by all of his kind, and he is no more unique to them than James Bond would be to us. Still, if James Bond is a super spy, than Lancelot Link is a super monkey spy, and that counts in my book. I found this show again recently and it is amazing how easily the concept of a world of talking monkeys in human clothes spouting nonsense can just crush any cynicism you might have and turn you into a giggling child. The improv comics who did the voices would often have to work on the fly to match what they were saying to the lip movements of the monkeys, so half the shit they're saying makes no sense, and that makes it even better. Again, I marvel at the fact that there is no modern equivalent of this show. In a post 9-11 world, how awesome would it be to have a chimpanzee in a tux punching Al Qaida in the face. And then after that happens, they could make a show based on it. It's win win!

9: Mechani-Kong (1967)

Yes, technically I did say I would be avoiding King Kong, but I didn't say anything about his robotic Japanese equivalent. Also, I said I only had two horror movies on this list and I've already been over them, but to me, I never considered any of the Godzilla style giant monster tokusatsu fair to be strictly horror. Outside of the original Godzilla, most center around monsters fighting each other rather than terrorizing mankind, placing them more on a fantasy/action axis in my eyes. And in case you're wondering (I'd guess not), it is Mechani-Kong, and not Mecha Kong, not to be confused with Mecha Godzilla, the robotic equivalent of Godzilla inspired by this character, the robotic equivalent of King Kong. Got all that settled? Good. Point is: Giant Gorilla, made of metal, awesomeness is pretty much self evident. He's only appeared in one movie, King Kong Escapes, and has apparently languished in obscurity due to licensing issues. Even I didn't know until recently that he and the entire movie in which he appears was actually based on the old King Kong cartoon.

All of this is of course irrelevant to the main point, which is that whoever owns the rights to this character really needs to get off their asses and make another movie with this guy. Peter Jackson, you want to do a sequel to your underwhelming King Kong remake and actually make it interesting? Boom, Mechani-Kong. Andy Serkis would jump on that shit in a minute. Want to bring back the shitty American Godzilla from the late 90's and actually make it an interesting sequel? Boom, Mechani-Kong. Adding him to any movie makes it like, ten times better. He's the Christopher Walken of giant monsters. Want to adapt Fifty Shades Of Grey into a movie? Boom, add a little Mechani-Kong. Talk about sexy. The guy who directed the very underrated film Monsters a few years back is heading up the latest Godzilla reboot, and a lot of fans will no doubt have different standards by which to judge its creative success. Mine? You guessed it - Mechani-Kong. Boom.

10: Monsieur Mallah (1964)

And finally, because it feels like I've been writing for a long time now about fucking monkeys, we come to the last entry, Monsieur Mallah. There were a lot of comic book monkeys to choose from, and I knew I wanted to limit it to one for this list, and let me tell you, it was hard. You have Detective Chimp, Congorilla, The Ape from Angel and the Ape, Gorilla Boss, Cy Gor from Spawn, Hit Monkey, the monkey hitman, and of course Gorilla Grodd, the gorilla mad scientist from an entire city of super gorillas aptly named Gorilla city. I settled on Monsieur Mallah because I thought that as a character, he was the only one I could really point to that had an interesting enough personality and backstory independent of his being a monkey. As a member of The Brotherhood Of Evil, he fought alongside his creator The Brain, chiefly against The Doom Patrol, using a combination of his genius level intellect and brute animal strength to become one of their deadliest and longest running enemies. Also, he's one of the few openly gay characters in the DC universe, along with his lover, who just happens to be a brain in a jar.

I'm not always the biggest Grant Morrison fan. I often find his writing to be a little pretentious and needlessly esoteric (which I say knowing full well that I just wrote a ridiculously long blog article about super monkeys that like five people will read). Still, I can't deny the quality of his work on the Doom Patrol, basically single handedly making what was at the time a long forgotten footnote in comic book history relevant and interesting again by taking the story and characters in a new direction that embraced the inherent strangeness of the concept. The choice to have Mallah and the Brain confess their love to one another was probably just a gag to twist the classic characters a bit, considering they would often take a backseat to Morrison's own villains in that series, but it added a new dimension to both of them that was carried on throughout their further appearances, culminating in a very bitter sweet ending for the two. Well, if you consider being beaten to death by your lover, with said lover being unwillingly used as the club, and then dying in each other's arms even though one of you doesn't have any arms to be a bittersweet conclusion. Oh, spoilers, by the way.

So, there you have it, my Top Ten Favorite Super Monkeys. Hope you enjoyed yourselves and maybe learned a thing or two about life and love and the human condition. And monkeys I guess. It was a thing. It happened. Now let us never speak of it again.

Oh, fuck, I forgot about videogame monkeys! Shit, let's see here. Donkey Kong's probably too obvious. I guess if I need one, I'd either go with George the giant gorilla from Rampage, or Toki. Does anybody remember Toki? He was a chimp that spit his way through the Amazon to save his woman. Okay, let's replace Link with George, cause that was probably the weakest entry, and let's give Toki an honorable mention. Rampage came out the same year as Link so it won't screw up the numbering. Was Karnov a monkey, or was he just a big fat guy?

You know what, fuck it, just forget everything I just said. I don't want to do this anymore. I'm sick of monkeys. Goodbye everybody!
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