Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – The Prequel Begins


Images © 2011 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and BOOM! Studios

When BOOM! Studios first announced plans, earlier this year, to publish a monthly comic book based on Planet of the Apes, fan speculation began: How would that series tie in to director Rupert Wyatt’s August 5th film reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, John Lithgow and Tom Felton?

In March, I asked author Daryl Gregory, during an interview for Hasslein Books’ Web site, this very question. “Will your comics dovetail at all into the new continuity created by Rise of the Apes? Does BOOM! have that license as well, in case it decides to publish Rise-related comics in the future–either an adaptation of the film or spinoff tales?” Gregory’s reply: “This series is strictly the classic chronology, and we’re not going to try to tie in to either the Burton film or the new reboot. And that makes my job a lot easier!”

So it was a pleasant surprise this morning when an article by the Associated Press’ Matt Moore circulated the ‘Net, titled “BOOM!, Fox bring ‘Apes’ comic prelude online.” According to Moore, the publisher has inked an agreement to produce a 10-page prequel comic laying the groundwork for Rise‘s storyline and characters, “to give would-be viewers a leg up on the film’s premise.” Today, the first five pages (simply titled “Episode 01”) were published at www.apescomics.com, with weekly installments planned to run through August 3rd–two days before the film’s theatrical release.

Even more surprising: Gregory himself has penned this comic prelude, with illustrations provided by Damian Couceiro (Dracula: The Company of Monsters) and Tony Parker (Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?).

A troop of chimpanzees roam the African jungle, consisting of 12 males, 13 females and four chimps under a year old, led by a powerful alpha-male, and hunted by a group of human poachers. The lead poacher notices a female with blue eyes (a rarity among chimps) and instructs his team to capture her, dubbing her Bright Eyes. However, the poachers are surprised when, instead of running to safety, Alpha fights to protect his mate. Alpha and Bright Eyes stand their ground together, fiercely attacking the human invaders. One poacher, Nderu, is badly hurt in the process. The apes make their escape, but the lead poacher vows to capture them, “even if we have to kill the whole troop.”

With only five pages of story, there’s not much to review in this opening chapter of “Episode 01,” which basically serves as a prologue to a prelude to a prequel. So it’s to the author’s and artists’ credit that this brief glimpse at what’s to come in Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeeds in whetting the reader’s appetite.

Gregory introduces film characters Alpha and Bright Eyes, establishes their strong-willed resistance to captivity, and thus sets the stage for Rise’s simian revolution, by showing that mankind doomed himself (to whatever fate the film has in store for humanity–no script spoilers here, folks) the moment these chimps were taken captive. “The comic you’re about to read goes deeper into the world of the apes in that movie, especially that of one of the key characters, Bright Eyes,” Gregory writes in his introduction to this debut installment. “But like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and like the original movies, it’s really about what it means to be human.”

One reason that Gregory believes the films continue to inspire new stories is “the richness of the world, and the attractive metaphor of man confronting ape–a more primitive, yet in some ways purer form of ourselves.” It’s thus fitting that he has chosen to open “Episode 01” in the African jungle, with human poachers doing just that–confronting apes, and on the apes’ own turf. Man’s arrogant treatment of the animal kingdom is largely what caused his downfall in the original films, and it’s clear, from both the film trailers and this comic prelude, that although the particulars of humanity’s fall may differ in Rise, his arrogance and cruelty still remain as strong as ever. Now, however, the apes have grown tired of the game, and are on the verge of fighting back.

As with BOOM!’s monthly title set in the classic Apes continuity, the artwork in the Rise prequel fits the POTA motif quite well. The chimp characters are drawn like actual wild apes, as befitting the new film’s style, but with a hint of John Chambers’ classic chimp makeup thrown in for good measure. This, I think, is a good approach for comic tales set in this new iteration of Planet of the Apes, as it remains consistent with the CGI “real ape” look of Rise, while also resonating with long-time fans.

Fox is taking a risk in rebooting the franchise yet again after Tim Burton’s 2001 re-imagining failed to find a audience sufficient to warrant sequels; one unfortunate casualty of that failure was Dark Horse’s spinoff comic, widely praised as superior to Burton’s film, yet lasting only nine issues due to the movie’s widespread panning. BOOM! is, therefore, wise to have the artists include subtle Chambers-esque touches to the chimps’ appearance, as that could help to ensure the continuance of future spinoff comics, even if the film suffers similar critical lambasting. (My gut feeling, though, is that this won’t be a concern, as everything I’ve seen with regard to Rise gives me high hopes that Planet of the Apes is about to become a very relevant property once more. The trailers have been fantastic, driving up the films’–and BOOM!’s–chances for long-term success.)

According to Ross Richie, BOOM! Studios’ founder and CEO, the comic will span a total of 25 pages, and will appear in four weekly installments until Aug. 3. “The plan is five pages a week on Wednesday, leading up to the movie,” he says, “with the final week being the 10-page final climax!” If this first chapter is any indication, it’ll be exciting to see what that entails over the course of the story. Given Gregory’s skilled scripting on the monthly title, I have confidence in his ability to thrill us. The only downside: Richie says his company currently has no plans to collect the story in printed format. As someone who prefers to hold a physical copy in my hand when reading a comic, I can’t help but be disappointed. Hopefully, BOOM! will eventually change its mind on that decision.

Now that BOOM! has begun publishing comics (albeit in digital form) based on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it’ll be interesting to see if any crossovers do, in fact, result. Both Dark Horse and Mr. Comics attempted to marry the classic and Burton films by having characters from Semos’ planet visit Earth and interact with Caesar’s ape civilization, but neither plan came to fruition (due to cancelation in Dark Horse’s case, and to Fox nixing the idea on the part of Mr. Comics).

It should be noted that neither Dark Horse nor Mr. Comics had the licenses to both universes at the time–but with the release of “Episode 01,” it appears that BOOM! does have access to both the original and Rise timelines, and that could potentially lead to crossovers between the two Caesars’ realities. If the seeds that BOOM! is now planting lead to a bountiful harvest, the company stands to make a lot of lettuce. Down the line, a veritable Caesar salad could be on the menu.