Being a) a wishy-washy liberal, b) British and c) made of flesh and blood, I’ve never really had much truck with guns in my fantasy fiction—I even used to get a bit twitchy whenever Batman picked up a firearm, and the Punisher just made me downright queasy.
But monkeys with guns, that’s a different matter altogether. Who doesn’t like a shooter-sporting simian? There’s something reassuringly fantastical about an ape with a weapon, yet something horribly possible. And fans of gun-toting gorillas have never been more spoiled for choice.
I think my favourite monkey-with-a-gun from the current crop is Gareth L Powell’s Ack-Ack Macaque, who debuted earlier this year in the book of the same name. Ack-Ack not only knows his way around a pistol, he also pilots a Spitfire during a weird little version of World War Two, which, naturally, is not all it seems. Ack-Ack gets extra points for wearing an eyepatch and chomping on a cigar.
In fact, it was Gareth who suggested to me the idea of a piece on monkeys with guns. Obviously he has a dog—or at least an ape—in this fight, being the creator of Ack-Ack, who appears in his second adventure, Hive Monkey, out from Solaris books next January. But as soon as he said it, I thought, yeah. Everybody loves a monkey with a gun.
Comics writer Si Spurrier certainly does. In June Boom Studios brings out the Spurrier-penned Six Gun Gorilla, publicity for which reads thusly:
Welcome to “the Blister”—a bizarre other-world colonized by humans sometime in the 22nd century, which quickly became a hotly-contested source of fertile land and natural resources long ago exhausted on Earth. In this new frontier, a rogue gunslinger and his companion wander across a wilderness in the grips of a civil war, encountering lawlessness, natives, and perversions of civilization in a world at the crossroads between the past and the future. The fact that said gunslinger is a bio-surgically modified silverback gorilla toting a pair of enormous revolvers is neither here nor there.
Six Gun Gorilla is a reboot of a character which appeared in the British weekly comic the Wizard back in the 1930s, surely making Six Gun the granddaddy of all monkeys with guns. Back then his origins were more earthbound, yet no more prosaic—he was the only survivor of a wrecked circus train, found and raised by a Wild West prospector.
Back in the air, and the third of our latest line-up of monkeys with guns shares some airspace with Ack-Ack Macaque—Rhys Hughes’ The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange, out now from Meteor House Press. Stringent Strange is another simian pilot. The blurb trumpets: “The world has never seen an aviator quite like Stringent Strange...” (oh yes we have! But great minds do think alike, after all). “Half man, half ape, half badly added fraction, he can fly anything with wings and many things without. Under the mentorship of the unorthodox genius Professor Tobias Crinkle, our hairy hero soon gets much more than he bargains for when he finds himself up against a fiendish Nazi plot to invade and conquer America before the war has even begun!”
As this feature was really Gareth Powell’s idea, let’s find out what he thinks about monkeys with guns:
“I have no idea where the character of Ack-Ack Macaque came from. One day, the phrase just popped into my head, and refused to leave. I guess that’s what happens sometimes, when you play with words for a living. Later, when I needed an anime character for a short story I was writing, I took those two words and built a monkey around them. “Ack-Ack” implied a fighter pilot of some sort, and a macaque was obviously a type of monkey… and so a character was born.
“There’s something strangely compelling about primates in human clothes. Crowds used to gather at London Zoo to watch the chimpanzees having a tea party. The PG Tips ads became instant classics. When creating Ack-Ack Macaque, I felt as if I’d tapped into some sort of archetype. I made him surly and rude, and unconscionably violent, and people responded. They seemed to connect with him on a primal level. I don’t know what it is about him. He has his own Twitter account and people love talking to him. Ladies flirt with him. Men tell jokes and post links to funny monkey pictures. He seems to have struck a chord - and I think it’s because he represents a certain freedom that we, as supposedly civilised human beings, have lost. He can smoke and drink and blow shit up, and not care. The normal rules don’t apply to him. He doesn’t have to bite his lip or bide his time. He’s a wild animal. Put him in clothes and he looks comical, but also dangerous. He’s us, but not us. The Hyde to our Jekyll. Our inner child.”
As the original Six Gun Gorilla proves, monkeys with guns seem to be an established trope, especially in comics. DC seem to have a particular fondness for them... witness the oft-reinvented, from pop art bonkersness to gritty private eye partnership, Angel and the Ape; the wonderfully Gallic Monsieur Mallah; and Mallah’s sometimes ally, sometimes nemesis Gorilla Grodd, one of the Flash’s rogues gallery. Ack-Ack Macaque even made it into his own comic tale in 2000AD.
It’s probably the Planet of the Apes franchise—the original movies, the spin-off TV series and the rebooted sequence—which has most vividly set the image of apes and firearms in the public consciousness. And with the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes due for release next year, detailing the war between humans and apes, we can probably guarantee monkeys with guns for quite a while to come.
David Barnett is a journalist and author whose first novel in a steampunk/alternate-history series for Tor Books, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, is released in September 2013. There is a monkey in book three of the series, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a gun. You can find him at his website or on Twitter @davidmbarnett