is unusual about the 1 June 1941 Spirit
story? (Answer at bottom of the page)
For many comics fans, the idea of talking apes first came to fame in National Periodicals science fiction comic books of the 1950s. However, Eisner had used this idea a decade before...
Although Will Eisner's early Spirit stories used a supporting cast and some plot lines were developed over a number of weeks, the syndicate asked for more continuity. Thus, the tale of Orang was developed, and the 1 September 1940 section appeared with the following splash page:
As Eisner tells Tom Heintjes in 1992: "... I wasn't all that keen on the idea, because I was operating on the premise that each episode would be self-contained, and that would free me from having to develop and maintain continuity."
As shown on the splash page above, chemist Dr Fredrich Hoyd, who arrives as refugee from Europe, meets Dr Egel. Hoyd entrusted his daughter, Elsa, into Dr Egel's care when his wife died and he remained in Europe. Anxious to see his daughter, and to learn more of Egel's new experiment, the two men travel to Egel's estate where Hoyd is astounded to meet a full grown orangutan dressed in a suit who can speak and read!
Egel reveals that he trained Orang from childhood and "...even inserted surgically missing elements into his brain!"
Wanting to see his daughter after so many years, Hoyd is dismayed to find that Egel had also conducted experiments on her - she is now a savage ape-woman who no longer recognises her father!
Distraught, Hoyd leaves the estate and goes to a hotel where he meets The Spirit. Informing our hero of what Egel has done, The Spirit leaves to gather some evidence... unfortunately shortly after Hoyd is confronted by his daughter who savagely rips out his throat as instructed by Egel! The Spirit returns to the room an hour later and finds Hoyd's lifeless body.
"This is a crime against nature. A crime beyond the reach of the police!" The Spirit intones as he goes to Egel's estate to apprehend him.
Meanwhile, Orang has questions for Egel:
Fearing for his life, Egel calls upon Elsa to kill Orang, but she is killed herself by a now distraught ape. Orang warns Egel that he is next...
Fleeing for his life, Egel tries to escape in the city, but is persued by Orang until they reach the docks. Orang picks up Egel and kills him before tossing his body into the sea, he then picks up a gun and points it to his head as he can no longer live with himself... The Spirit hears a gunshot and rushes to the docks to find the scenes of a struggle. Concluding that both Egel and Orang are dead, this concludes the story...
"I became enamored of the idea of the ape who had the mind of a man, so I wanted to explore it a little further. I was heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burrough's 'Tarzan' novels." Eisner tells Heintjes.
So, the following weeks' section continues from where the story left off, with a shambling hairy body emerging from the docks... it is Orang, who has lost a lot of blood from the gunshot he inflicted upon himself. Managing to find a nearby doctor, the ape asks for aid before collapsing. The doctor manages to remove the bullet from Orang's head and care for the wound before calling the police. Commissioner Dolan himself arrives at the doctor's and tries to arrest Orang - until Orang asks on what charge? Not realising what Orang had done previously, Dolan invites Orang back to his home whilst he goes to police headquarters to try and find some evidence to hold Orang.
Leaving Orang at his home, Dolan's daughter arrives:
After Ellen faints, Orang decides that he shall return to the jungle, and he will take Ellen with him as his mate!
Soon after a desperate Commissioner Dolan calls on The Spirit to track down Orang and find his daughter. Taking his autoplane (a car which can fly - Eisner used this device in some of the early Spirit stories), The Spirit goes to Sumatra and finds Ellen trying to escape from the ape. Captured by Orang, the two are tied to a tree whilst he calls on his ape brothers...
Aaka, leader of the apes, calls Orang a freak and they fight to the death. Whilst this battle ensues, The Spirit is able to break loose and frees Ellen. The two humans look back in time to see Orang killed by his ape brothers whilst they make good their escape.
The story was certainly racy for the time and "Busy" Arnold fielded complaints about the violence and sexual undertones from newspaper editors who took the feature.
As Eisner comments: "Some people at the syndicate thought readers in the South would read all sorts of crazy things into it, and in 1940 that was explosive stuff. But I think the anticipation was bigger than the actual reaction, and I never changed a thing."
Trivia Answer: It is told entirely in rhyme.(For more information, click here)