With another round of DC/Hanna-Barbara crossovers hitting stores for Halloween, Heath Corson was tasked with taking Magilla Gorilla and making him fit with DC’s beloved character Nightwing.
It was no small task for Corson, a TV writer who DC readers might remember from Bizarro. One of the least fleshed-out premises in Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon library, Magilla Gorilla was a talking gorilla who couldn’t be sold by his pet shop owner, Mr. Peebles. Each time someone bought Magilla, the resulting misadventure made the purchaser return him back to Peebles’ store, starting the cycle over again.
But under Corson’s pen, Magilla Gorilla is now a Hollywood actor who wants to make a film of the Flying Graysons. Magilla’s still “for sale,” so to speak, but his pursuit of Dick Grayson’s approval results in a more emotional and character-based story than the gorilla ever had in the cartoons.
Along the way, readers are treated to a murder mystery, a review of Nightwing’s past, and story beats that touch upon the importance of family.
Sound like too much for a one-shot about a talking monkey? Newsarama talked to Corson to find out more about his achievement in this week’s Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla.
Newsarama: Heath, were you aware of the Hanna Barbara/DC crossovers before you were tapped to do the Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla issue? Any favorites?
Heath Corson: I think they’ve all been really, really fun. They’ve done a really nice job of just assuming these characters are already all in the DCU.
I especially liked Brian Hill’s Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey. I really liked the Super-Sons/Dyno-Mutt one that I believe Peter Tomasi did too. That one sort of grabbed me by the heart as a dog owner. I was like, this is adorable!
So I think they’ve been doing a really great job.
Nrama: So when you were trying to fit Magilla Gorilla together with Nightwing, how did you find a commonality? Was that a challenge?
Corson: It was. If you look at it, Magilla Gorilla’s kind of a one-joke character. It’s basically, he was a gorilla at a pet store and Mr. Peebles couldn’t get him sold. And so to dig into it and go, OK, how do I make this a fully realized character? How do we find what his world and what his voice is?
So I watched a lot of the Magilla cartoons, and I kept going back to that one phrase: Magilla Gorilla for sale.
I thought, OK, what’s the modern-day take on Magilla Gorilla for sale? And I was like, “Oh! He’s an actor!” And what if he’s the most successful actor on the planet? And Peebles became his manager/stage dad.
And from there, the world just started to fill itself in, and it became this sort of carousing, Big Lebowski story.
Nrama: OK, set it up for us. What’s the event that gets Nightwing involved with Magilla Gorilla the actor?
Corson: The event that kicks it off is that Magilla Gorilla, who’s one of the top box-office stars in the world, wants to make a film of The Flying Graysons. And in order to do that, he needs Dick Grayson’s rights to his family’s story.
So he flies Dick out and sort of gives them this whole “shock and awe.” And he lays out what he wants to do, that Magilla wants to write and direct and play the part of Dick’s father, John Grayson.
And that’s where we start.
From there, we have a murder, and we intersect into magic, into the studio, we go to meet proteges, and there’s all sorts of twists and turns and surprises in the story.
Nrama: One of the things that’s impressive is how you incorporate Nightwing’s history into this story. I assume you’re a fan of the character?
Corson: A huge fan! You know, I’m a huge comic book guy and have been since I was probably seven years old when my dad gave me a dollar and I went to the corner drug store and bought a one dollar DC special out of the spinner rack. And I took it home and I got to the end and it said the three words that no comic book fan ever likes to see, which is “to be continued.” So I showed my dad, and my dad goes, well, go back to the store and take it back.
So I went back to the drug store, and my dad knew what he was doing. And the guy goes, yeah, no, we don’t take it back. There’s another one next month. And I was like, there is?
So I had to buy next month. And from there, I became a huge comic book guy. And I’m a huge fan.
This is my first time getting to write the character not in animation. I’ve written Nightwing before in some of the animated movies, but this is my first time writing him in comic books.
Nrama: What other Hanna Barbara characters might be showing up that people can look for in this issue?
Corson: I will tell you that we find out Magilla Gorilla’s protege is Grape Ape. And we have a lot of fun with Grape Ape and Beegle Beagle, which is not an easy name to say.
Nrama: And you’re working with a veteran artist on this.
Corson: Yeah, Tom Grummett is just amazing. His art is great. It’s beautiful.
Nrama: There’s also a theme that sort of emerges in the story, having to do with family. I don’t know if you want to spoil it before the issue comes out…
Corson: Yeah, in order to find the inter-connectedness of these two characters, it inadvertently, as I was exploring it, became about fathers and sons. It became about family. It became about responsibility and all the guilt that sort of gets wrapped up in family. And it turned out that these two characters have a lot more in common than not. So that was a really fun thing to find as I went along exploring the story.