Created by John Broome (1913-99)
and Carmine Infantino
“Aw, the detective thing’s just a sideline these days. I make my real money in investments”
–Bobo lets us in on his little secret, in Martian Manhunter Annual #2 (1999)
He’s known as BOBO or BOBO T. CHIMPANZEE or BOBO THE DETECTIVE CHIMP or simply DETECTIVE CHIMP, but however you slice it, he’s one of the most peculiar detectives to flip, flop or fly across the pages of the admittedly strange DC Comics universe, having made the long strange trip from slightly more clever-than-usual ape all the way up to (I kid you not) God, although these days mostly he makes a living as a private eye.
Not bad for an ape who was only 3’7″ tall and weighed in at 76 pounds. Still, you might be wondering what sort of person would actually hire a monkey to do detective work? I must admit that question popped into my mind.
Originally a decidedly minor character in the DC universe, Bobo’s biography is definitely a cut-and-paste job, with bits and pieces of his retrofitted history jammed in along the way–whether they fit or not.
Back in 1952 when he made his debut as a Silver Age back-up feature in Rex the Wonder Dog, Bobo was simply a very smart ape, owned by animal trainer Fred Thorpe of Oscaloosa County, Florida. Fred was impressed with Bobo’s intelligence and boundless curiosity, and taught the young chimp to ride a bicycle, and help out with the feeding of the other animals. When Fred was savagely murdered, Bobo used his instincts and almost-human intelligence to lead County Sheriff Edward Chase to the killers. In gratitude for helping him solve the case, the good sheriff adapted the young chimpanzee, and thus began a beautiful friendship and partnership.
Over the next seven or so years, Bobo solved numerous small town crimes, often with a circus theme, with and without Sheriff Chase. And, as the original stories progressed, Bobo’s intelligence and skills gradually increased. Besides regularly helping the affable Sheriff bring assorted criminals to justice, Bobo learned to play checkers, managed to rope and ride an ostrich, use a gun to shoot off a padlock and even direct traffic (although not very well). And he clearly understood what humans were saying, even if he was unable to respond. And that was that. Bobo was more or less forgotten (except for a few reprints) for the next thirty years or so.
But in 1989, in an issue of Secret Origins, Andy Helfer, Rusty Wells, and Mark Badger–possibly after a very, very long lunch–dramatically retooled his origin, and took care of that little non-verbal problem, and transformed what was an amusing little bit of back-story goofiness into one seriously skull-spinning surreal trip.
The way his bio now stands, Bobo is no ordinary ape. True, he was once just a curious young monkey bopping around in the jungle somewhere in Africa, maybe a little smarter than most, but then he accidentally swallowed two microscopically small alien simians, Y-Nad and K-Ram, and their spaceship. Working from the inside, in a riff right out of THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE, the two mini-space-monkeys used their “advanced technology” to “amplify” Bobo’s brain, allowing him to communicate with all sorts of animal life.
Soon after, the chimp ran into an American scientific expedition and, thanks to his new, super-duper brain, was able to save the head scientist from being murdered by his treacherous assistant. Content that their job on earth was done, Y-Nad and K-Ram headed back to their home planet.
Meanwhile, the grateful scientist brought Bobo back to the United States where he eventually ended up with famous animal trainer Fred Thorpe, who took the smart young chimp under his wing. And that’s where we came in.
But that’s not where Helfer and his revisionists left it. Always fascinated by human behaviour, Bobo eventually even somehow attained the power of speech (in comic books, continuity is the first casualty). No longer content to keep his intelligence and detective skills hidden from humanity, he started up his own private detective agency in Oscaloosa County. It’s proven to be quite a success, and Bobo’s made enough money — and enough shrewd investments over the years — to ensure he no longer has to work.
Since then, Bobo has occasionally allied himself with an institution called The Bureau of Amplified Animals, an organization of fellow super-animals that his old friend Rex the Wonder Dog also belongs to (Bobo originally appearred as a back-up feature in the Rex the Wonder Dog comic book way, way back in 1953).
In 1999 Bobo popped up in the Martian Manhunter Annual, where he was interrogated by the Martian Manhunter, John Jones himself, answering a few questions about super-villain Gorilla Grodd. Appearing a bit surly, Bobo wasn’t much help, although he seemed rather pleased that he had once helped Grodd’s wife in her divorce.
In 2005 he appeared in the Day of Vengeance miniseries, one of several limited series leading up to DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis event. Along with several other magical beings of the DC Universe, Bobo joined — and became a major figure in — a hastily formed superhero group known as the Shadowpact, who in turn starred in their own on-going series.
And if this isn’t enough, in an amusing 2007 one-off, Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp, Bobo became, briefly, Dr. Fate himself, but couldn’t cope with the burden of being all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful and has since returned — so far — to being simply “a lowly chimpanzee with some jumped-up language skills.”
Bobo’s creator, John Broome, who also wrote under the pseudonyms John Osgood and Edgar Ray Merritt, was responsible for some of the most colourful creations of the “Silver Age” of comic books, including Green Lantern, Elongated Man, and most of The Flash’s Rogues Gallery, as well as much of the writing in The Justice Society of America. Interestingly enough, given the themes of education and learning that have woven their way through the series from the very beginning (after all, what were Y-Nad, K-Ram, Fred Thorpe and Sheriff Chase, really, but teachers?), perhaps it’s no surprise that when Broome retired in 1970, moved to Paris and later to Tokyo, and taught English himself.
Oh, and if this isn’t too much D.C. monkey bidness for you to be involved in, check out Angel and the Ape.
- THE ADVENTURES OF REX THE WONDER DOG
(1952-59, National Periodical Publications)
Writer (for Bobo): John Broome
Artists (for Bobo): Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Frank Giacoia
- “Meet Detective Chimp” (#4, August, 1952)
First appearance of Bobo, and debut of back-up feature.
- “The Return of Detective Chimp!” (1952)
- “The Case of the Runaway Ostrich!” (#13, 1953)
- “Detective Bobo — Chimp-knapped!” (#20, 1955)
- “A Whistle for Bobo!” (1956)
- “Bobo’s New York Adventure!” (#235)
- “Meet Detective Chimp” (#4, August, 1952)
(1972-77, DC Comics)
When this comic became a “super-size spectacular” (“100 pages for 60¢!”), it did so by reprinting several old DC strips, including Detective Chimp and Congo Bill.
- “Meet Detective Chimp!” (#230, April-May 1974)
- “The Return of Detective Chimp!” (#231, June-July 1974)
- “The Case of the Runaway Ostrich!” (#232, August-September 1974)
- “Detective Bobo — Chimp-knapped!” (#233, October-November 1974)
- “A Whistle for Bobo!” (#234, December 1974-January 1975)
- “Bobo’s New York Adventure!” (#235, February-March 1975)
- SECRET ORIGINS
(1986-90, DC Comics)
Writer: Andy Helfer
Artists: Rusty Wells and Mark Badger
- Re-telling of Bobo’s origins, including space monkey angle (1989)
- MARTIAN MANHUNTER ANNUAL
(1998–, DC Comics)
- Bobo makes an appearance (#2, 1999)
- DAY OF VENGEANCE
(2005, DC Comics)
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Justiniano and Walden Wong
- SHADOW PACT
(2006 –, DC Comics)
Created by Bill Willingham
Writers: Bill Willingham
- THE HELMET OF FATE: DETECTIVE CHIMP
(2007, DC Comics)
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Shawn McManus
Cover by Brian Bolland
- “The Case of the Massively Magical Monkey Mage” (#1, January 2007)
- Detective Chimp Figurine | Buy it!
October 2007, Eaglemoss Publications
This hand-painted lead figurine of Detective Chimp, clutching a magnifying glass and a pipe and sporting a deerstalker cap, goes all Sherlock on you fanboys. It stands about four inches tall and weighs in at about eight issues, and came with a 20-page replica issue of The Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp, providing detailed history and background on the featured characters, including exclusive images and interviews. This is Item #69 in Eaglemoss’ DC Comics Superhero Figurine Collection.
- Detectives in Detective Comics
A listing of all the private eyes who have shown up in DC Comics.