Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Titano, the Super-Ape

That one wins a booby prize for being one of the covers that give away the ending to the story; I talked about a Flash issue that did the same a few years back. Incidentally, this post was inspired by Silver Age Gold's "Ape-ril in January" suggestion.

The tale begins with Lois hosting a TV charity telethon. Among the acts is Toto, an intelligent chimp:

A pair of pie-throwing comedians accidentally hit Toto, and Lois wins his permanent affection by wiping off the filling from his back. His trainer alerts Lois to a real scoop; Toto is going to shot into space on a rocket as a "publicity stunt". Of course, this was at the time (1959) when manned space flight had not yet been accomplished (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first, in 1961). Several monkeys were shot into space by the US around this time, including a South American squirrel monkey named Gordo in late 1958, so the story was pretty topical.

Lois demonstrates her versatility by broadcasting over the radio news of the space flight. Two glowing meteors, one kryptonite and one uranium, collide near the rocket. Will they have any effect on Toto? You betcha:

Because of his huge size, Lois renames him Titano. He grabs Lois, making her fear for her life. She calls over the radio for help from Superman, but when he arrives they learn that Titano now has kryptonite vision.

The ape takes Lois to a coal yard, where he tries to mimic a feat he saw Superman do on the telethon; squeezing a lump of coal into a diamond. But with his curiosity, Titano is a threat to society; he destroys an unmanned blimp and plays with a freight train. The army has Lois lure him into a trap:

That's when Lois has her brainstorm. Monkey see, monkey do, right? She gets Titano to mimic several actions, and eventually tricks him into putting on the lead-shielded glasses as shown on the cover. This enables Superman to hurl him into the past, where he can live with the dinosaurs:

That last scene is something of a swipe from the movie King Kong, where Kong and the T-Rex battle it out. Note as well that this time-travel vision is one of Superman's "superpowers that time forgot" as Mark Engblom put it.

Titano returned in Superman #138, with a cover even more obviously inspired by King Kong:

I should get that one CGC'ed; looks like mint to me! ;)

We learn that Superman had already forgotten his time-travel vision:

He spots a giant ape, and is momentarily confused, until he realizes that it's his old sparring partner, Titano. Unfortunately, with his trademark carelessness in handling alien objects, Supes failed to realize that the "time-television set" was actually a time-transporter, and it brings the chimp back to 1960.

This story comes after Mort Weisinger had taken over as official editor of the Superman line (although he was the de facto editor for years before) and so we see more of the Silver Age Superman than in the prior appearance of Titano (which came in the final issue credited to Whitney Ellsworth). He's got his robots, which would help handle the situation, but:

I swear, Clark's landlord was constantly redecorating his place back in the Silver Age. This is one of the more amusing things about the robots; they almost never really helped out Superman for the obvious reason that they would make the stories too simple. Still Superman has his lead-lined suit:

Supes had invented that about a year before in Action #249. But there is a complication; Titano has kidnapped Lois and so he can't kayo the ape without risking harm to her.

He notices that Titano seems interested in large, round objects; he grabs a hot-air balloon and then a bathysphere, but then discards them in frustration. What is he looking for? Superman flies into the past and finds giant coconuts where Titano was when he first spied him on the time-transporter. He returns to the present and drops the coconuts nearby. While the ape enjoys his meal, Superman saves Lois, then knocks out Titano and returns him to the prehistoric Earth.

Titano reappeared many more times in the Silver Age and even afterward; arguably he was a part of the Superman Family. There was even a Bizarro Titano.


rogue evolent said...

An ape-erfic post Pat! Thanks for sharing your commentary on the two Titano stories.. ahh, the good old days. And, yeah, I too (like Supes) had forgotten that he had that Time-Travel-Vision, ever so briefly. :)

RAB said...

One other thing about the first Titano story -- I've never read any of the sequels, so I couldn't say if this is true for any of them -- is that it's pretty much a Lois Lane story. What's more, Lois isn't playing the victim who needs rescuing but serves as the main agent of the plot, the viewpoint character, and also the solver of the problem through empathy and compassion and cleverness. That's a Lois seen all too rarely: more often we got Lois the haughty, disdainful shrew or Lois scheming to expose Superman's secret identity and entrap him into marriage. I much preferred the quick-witted, likeable Lois we see here.

CMN said...

Another simple solution for Superman would have been to work at super-speed (with super-strength)from behind Titano's head and shoulders.

Mark said...

Ahhh! Wish I had remembered Supe's time-travel vision when I was doing that series! Thanks for the entertaining reminder...and the plug!

I wonder what the origins of the Titano story were. I'm aware that DC Comics had a long fixation with ape characters (since covers featuring apes routinely sold more copies), so I wonder if it got to the point where an edict when around the DC offices to dream up ape characters to feature on covers. In other words, did Mort Weisinger get the "gorilla memo" suggesting he (and the other editors) add a primate or two?

Flashing forward to the mid-80's Byrne reboot, was I the only one to consider it odd that Titano was one of the first Silver Age characters to be re-introduced into Byrne's modernized take on Superman?

Pat said...

Thanks Rogue!

RAB, there are quite a few stories that appeared in Superman that appear to have been more intended for Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen issues. I suspect that Weisinger was engaging in a little cross-selling by giving them more of a starring role in his top book. There's a story somewhere around Superman #153 where Lois does some solid detective work to prove that the inhabitants of a ghost town are actually a bunch of Kryptonian crooks from the Phantom Zone. There are quite a few stories where Lois acts admirably, although of course posting on her petty/pesty side is more fun for bloggers. See here:


CMN, that was always a logical problem with Superman; every time some crook held a gun to Lois, he could have zipped around behind and disarmed him if we were to believe the stories about how fast he could move.

Mark, always glad to mention your site, although I'd prefer to mention that you're back blogging! :) Haven't read much 1980s Superman; I missed most of the 1980s and 1990s in comics. One of these days, though!

Aaron Bias said...

Pat: I love how Titano looks like a giant, mutated chimp in his first appearance. It's always disappointing when he looks more Kong-like later. BTW, Thanks for joining me for Ape-ril in January!!

Blaze said...

Not wanting to get all pedantically zoological, but we have a skewed image on chimpanzees. The only chimps we see on film or performing are babies or young'uns. When chimps reach maturity, they get very hard to work with and bellligerent. If you ever get a chance to see adult chimps wild in nature, it's amazing how much they look like miniature gorillas.

So, the fact the first appearance of Titano had him appear like a giant chimp made sense. However, as he grew and aged, subsequent appearances might well be more gorilla or "Kong-like".

Aaron Bias said...

Blaze: not to be pedantically zoological in return, but, even though older chimps are generally darker, stockier and rougher-looking, they still have comparatively large ears for their head, vs. a gorilla's smaller ears. They also lack the conical cranial ridge or "crest" of the gorilla. I was just at the zoo this afternoon ;)