There's nothing quite like a talking ape.
And in the Marvel Universe, the genius behind the immortal hero known as Gorilla Man is one of the more visually entertaining elements of the Agents of Atlas team, the quirky band of covert agents with Golden Age roots.
Now Marvel has announced that Gorilla Man will get his own three-issue mini-series starting in July, by Atlas writer Jeff Parker with art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. In the Gorilla Man series, readers will see the how Ken Hale's life as Gorilla Man began, and how the Avengers and Howling Commandos are involved.
Newsarama talked to Parker about the new mini-series and how it ties into his new Atlas series that launches in May.
Nrama: Jeff, just to start, for those who are new to the Atlas legends, who is Gorilla Man?
Jeff Parker: Ken Hale was a world-traveling soldier of fortune who went anywhere the action was back in the 40's and 50's. He seemed to be fearless, yet he was very afraid of his own mortality. Then he heard a legend about a beast in the jungles that granted a successful hunter the gift of immortality. Ken didn't know the rest of the story of this magic, that the immortal hunter would take the beast's place as a gorilla!
Nrama: I'm going to guess that Ken is people's favorite character in the Atlas team? Why do you think he's so popular?
Parker: You know, based on what I hear at signings, readers identify with or enjoy various members of Atlas, and I'm glad it splits up that way. But Ken is in many ways the heart of the team, as well as the strongest visual. People who haven't read the book yet tend to identify it as "that team with the gorilla."
But he is in many ways the readers' surrogate, who says what they're thinking. He's completely irreverent to everyone, and I think they like that. Also he's very capable and tends to do what he says he's going to do.
Nrama: Was the story of this mini-series something you thought up and pitched to Marvel? Or did they approach you about doing a spin-off?
Parker: They came to me! I know everybody assumes I push for these things, but really, they often ask me. I wonder if it's because we keep picking up some of DC's previously anti-Marvel readership with Atlas. I hope so.
Nrama: What's the premise of these three issues? What's the set-up for the story you'll be telling?
Parker: We're going into detail on Ken's past and how he became Gorilla-Man, and what a profound thing that was for him. And we'll understand more about Ken Hale the man.
Nrama: Will we see a nemesis for Ken Hale?
Parker: We will meet some influential people from his past, yes. We open with a threat he's apparently fought every decade since becoming hairy, a freakish European villain named Borgia Omega.
Nrama: What are you hoping to do for Ken Hale's character in this mini-series? Or at least to readers' perception of him?
Parker: Casual observers may assume Ken is around for laughs, but he's in many ways a tragic figure and the kind of guy who can make hard choices. I want them to come away with that.
Nrama: You have a new Atlas series launching in May. How does the Gorilla Man series tie into that?
Parker: The mini makes clear some of the dynamics in the modern version of the team – particularly the tension that exists with Ken and Mr. Lao, the enormous dragon advisor to the Atlas empire.
Nrama: How has it been working with Giancarlo Caracuzzo again? What does this artist in particular bring to the story of Gorilla-Man?
Parker: He's very excited and has a huge capacity to draw... everything. It was nice that we got to warm up by working on the Heroic Age Atlas story that's coming out soon. Giancarlo drew the 1950's part of that with regular artist Gabe Hardman drawing the pages in the modern day. I'm glad it worked out to set the opening scene in Giancarlo's home of Rome. I like when there's room to do that.
Nrama: I remember when the first Agents of Atlas mini-series launched. It really had an uphill battle, yet now you've got a spin-off mini. What were the odds you had to overcome with the Atlas concept, and why do you think these stories were able to break through and resonate with people?
Parker: It is very, very hard to get the current readership to embrace something they didn't grow up reading, no matter how much you know they're going to like it. But I think Marvel SVP David Gabriel and Senior Editor Mark Paniccia have made some great choices to bring them onboard in a way that doesn't feel like they've been shoehorned into the universe. In many ways, it's happened like the way characters were brought in in the '60's, where they guest-starred around in various books to give readers a sense of what they're like. And I've tried to present all encounters that Marvel heroes have with Atlas with as much story logic as possible. I don't have, say, Wolverine or Spider-Man validating them for the reader : "Hey, there's Atlas, that awesome new team I respect!" to ingratiate them. We just turn the characters lose and let them do what they do, and it's helped us find an audience.
Which is necessary for the big two publishers. The more you can expand the cast and the types of stories you can tell, the more options you have for good fiction. Fiction that prominently features gorillas!