Friday, May 27, 2016

Steve Ditko's Titans: Destructive and Lovable

I think children are attracted to giant monsters for the same reason they are attracted to superheroes — because small people find it easy to imagine how nice it would be to be much bigger, more colorful and more powerful than all those bossy grown-ups who surround them, eternally barking their strange orders.
But although superheroes essentially founded and sustained the comic book industry, ongoing giant monster characters are pretty much a movie genre. Two of the exceptions were created for Charlton Comics by the great Steve Ditko  — the giant ape Konga (1960-1965) and the amphibious dinosaur Gorgo (1961-1965).
Each ran 23 issues, plus specials — a relatively long run, considering. Loving them both as a child, I didn’t consider how difficult it must have been to write stories for characters who cannot talk and, because of their Brobdingnagian stature, virtually cannot even interact with human beings. Writing tales for Rex the Wonder Dog or the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver must have been a breeze by comparison.
Konga was based on a relatively bad film of the same name, notable for starring Batman butler Michael Gough (it wasn’t his fault). The murderous Konga of the movies was killed off in the first issue, replaced in the rest of the run by a namesake sweet monkey amplified into a sweet but nevertheless formidable giant ape.
Gorgo was based on a relatively good film of the same name, with a plot that lent itself to a sustained comic book series. Gorgo was a giant aquatic reptile captured, like King Kong, for exhibition. What his captors didn’t know was that he was only a child, and that his truly titanic mommy — as big as Big Ben, and therefore 300 feet high — would let nothing stop her in her attempt to rescue him. This was one of those rare giant monsters movies with a happy ending in which the monsters won.
Gorgo was a touching tale of mother love, like Stella Dallas, and Konga was the poignant saga of a lost boy, like Pinocchio. No wonder they worked so well.

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