Covers, in order: Cover A, cover B, cover C, second printing, unpublished cover art
Comic books have gone hand in hand with science fiction since folks believed we’d be zipping around by now in flying cars, taking lunar vacations, dining on synthetic foods and having our automated homes cleaned by robot butlers. The comic medium offers a landscape for writers to expand upon the characters, settings and situations of filmic mythos, unconstrained by effects budgets, running times, actors’ salaries or Hollywood’s need to produce blockbusters abundant with spectacle but short on characterization.
Fans of Planet of the Apes know this well, as numerous publishers have produced spinoff tales over the past four decades. Opinions vary as to which series was the most worthy, though some titles (such as Marvel’s trippy 1970s magazine and Mr. Comics’ more recent Revolution on the Planet of the Apes miniseries) tend to fare better among reviewers than others (Malibu’s ’90s run, for instance, spanned almost twice as many issues as Marvel’s but has received harsher criticism, despite producing several excellent tales).
Now, BOOM! Studios is the latest publisher to enter the arena, with a monthly comic from writer Daryl Gregory and artist Carlos Magno, edited by Ian Brill. Set in the year 2680-some 1,300 years before George Taylor’s discovery of an ape-controlled future in the first Apes film, a decade after the Lawgiver epilog of Battle for the Planet of the Apes and more than 600 years after the time of Caesar-issue #1 launches a 12-issue story arc titled “The Long War.” Pending sales numbers, the series is expected to continue beyond that storyline as an ongoing monthly. For fans of Planet of the Apes, science fiction and comics, it’s an investment well worth making.
When the Lawgiver is gunned down by a masked, machine-gun-toting human assassin, his grieving granddaughter, Alaya, vows to find the culprit. To that end, she sends a representative to the human village of Southtown (or “Skintown”), to summon the local leader, Sullivan (“Sully”), to discuss the crime. Alaya visits Bardan, a gorilla scientist and the Lawgiver’s dearest friend, who has autopsied her grandfather. The murder weapon, he says, must be of human design. Sully rides out to the citystate of Mak to meet with Alaya. The human and chimp, both orphans, were raised by the Lawgiver as sisters, though their relationship is strained since Alaya no longer trusts mankind. Skintown is a shelter for radicals and war criminals, Alaya says, and she gives her adopted sister two days to find those responsible, or else the human village will be violently raided by the ape military.
There’s much to applaud in this premiere issue. Although little happens plot-wise (the issue basically sets the stage for the characters and the larger drama they will act out), it’s clear that novelist Daryl Gregory has a grand production planned. Many film elements are present, or tantalizingly hinted at: simian dominance (though humans and apes both occupy the societal ladder, the latter clearly hold the higher rung), mankind’s loss of speech (some humans, dubbed Silents, can no longer communicate verbally), religious mutants (a white-robed clergyman, Brother Kale, has a secret weapons cache in his mission and worships the Alpha-Omega Bomb) and the devastation of the land (industrialization in Mak is poisoning the forests, air and waters). What’s more, the Lawgiver’s murder and the presence of an ape-first coalition called Caesarists could, via simian revisionism, underscore the change from the Lawgiver’s tolerant persona exhibited in Battle to the decidedly anti-human teachings attributed to him in the first two films.
A great story demands strong characterization, and in that regard, Gregory excels. The uneasy rivalry between Sully, a human, and Alaya, a chimp, makes for fascinating reading. Both were raised by the Lawgiver, both were orphaned when their parents were slaughtered in a war known as the Eastern Campaigns, and both are strong leaders who care for the welfare of their respective peoples. But one single event-the death of the elderly ape whom they both called Grandfather-has damaged their sibling relationship, just as it has created an ape-human schism on a grander societal scale. Whether their sisterhood can survive this tragedy, or whether Alaya’s pain-fueled fury will drive too insurmountable a wedge between them, remains to be seen.
Even the minor characters fare well, offering a large cast of players who will hopefully get more screen time in future installments: Bako, Sully’s loyal assistant, who barely controls his anger over simian bigotry; Chaika, a Skintown Silent who communicates through written words and illustrations; Hulss, a stooped representative of the ape aristocracy; Narise, the leader of the Caesarists, who has deemed the Lawgiver and Alaya human-lovers; Vandy, an elderly human servant to the Lawgiver, whose condolences Alaya spurns out of grief-driven bigotry; Nix, a grey-haired gorilla warrior who may have killed Alaya’s parents; Casimir, a deformed, one-armed human laborer facing difficulty in finding work to feed his family; Brother Kale and the mysterious assassin whom he has armed; and particularly Bardan, the gorilla scientist.
Gorillas have almost unilaterally been portrayed as soldiers and warriors in nearly every incarnation of Planet of the Apes lore, aside from a few exceptions in the Marvel and Malibu runs, so Bardan, described as playing “many roles, librarian, archeologist, physician, detective,” could emerge as one of the better creations of the BOOM! line. He provides the issue’s humor, trailing off on tangents while speaking, and claiming, in regard to mankind’s past fixation with guns, that “500 years ago, every human owned one. On his sixteenth birthday, a boy would be given an automobile and an assault rifle.” This style of humor fits nicely with both the films and the TV series, in which tongue-in-cheek observations of human society and behavior abound.
There’s always a downside, and in the case of BOOM!’s POTA series, the main problem is the artwork. Though visually striking, and clearly the work of a skilled illustrator, the interior aesthetic seems a bit off for a Planet of the Apes story. I realize the creators purposely presented something new and unique, and that’s laudable, but it’s difficult to reconcile Alaya’s elaborate, theatrical garb, the Renaissance attire of Mak’s inhabitants, or the presence of dirigible airships with the primitive, agrarian ape society seen on film. Granted, neither Skintown nor Mak are Ape City, and this is an era separated from the films by many centuries, so certain allowances can be made for the difference in appearance, but the effect is still jarring. (On the plus side, the humans’ garments fit well with how the human peasants dressed on the TV series, and the dirigibles are at least in keeping with similar airships appearing in the Marvel run.)
The bigger problem lies in how chimpanzees are drawn, particularly Alaya. The chimps sport extremely human-like facial features, especially with regard to eyes and noses, yet gorillas and orangutans resemble their film counterparts. Compounding the issue, Alaya wears a low-cut dress showing that she lacks any hair on her neck, shoulders and chest. Evolved or not, she is still a chimpanzee, and should thus have a body covered in hair; unfortunately, with all due respect to the talented Carlos Magno, the lack of body hair makes her come off as a masculine human female with sideburns. The way she’s drawn, Alaya more resembles Rick Baker’s makeup design from Tim Burton’s 2001 Apes remake than she does the classic John Chambers look for the original films-she’s far more Ari than she is Zira, and that’s not likely to sit well with fans. It’s a questionable art choice, and I can only hope that will change in future issues.
Moreover, “The Long War” contains several plot elements we’ve already seen. Marvel’s “Terror on the Planet of the Apes” involved an attempted murder of the Lawgiver, while “Future History Chronicles” opened with a human assassin killing a politician to spark a war; Mr. Comics’ Revolution on the Planet of the Apes showed how ape society changed for the worse following the assassination of a pro-peace Lawgiver; and Malibu introduced an anti-human faction called the Aldonites, analogous to the Caesarists. (Curiously, the Caesarists were named in honor of Caesar, while the Aldonites followed the teachings of Caesar’s enemy, Aldo, yet both groups espoused the same simian-centric stance.) Story similarities are far less of an issue than the art problems, however, as Gregory clearly knows how to forge a solid tale.
That said, the multiple-cover gimmick is overused in comics, intended to make über-fans purchase several copies of the same issue. Issue #1 was printed with four cover variants (plus a fifth design announced but unused). At a hefty price of $3.99, that equates to a whopping $16 for fans determined to track down every alternate cover for issue #1. Granted, it’s not a problem specific to BOOM! or Planet of the Apes, but it could be annoying for completist fans on a limited budget.
THE UNEXPECTEDLY COOL:
Nix, the gorilla butcher, is said to have “burned Delphi to the ground.” In 1974, Power Records released a POTA audio adventure titled Mountain of the Delphi, set in the ruins of former Philadelphia. It’s unknown if Gregory plans to elaborate on Nix’s attack on Delphi, or if the allusion to the Power Records tale is intentional-but if he does choose to tie the two stories together in a future issue, that would provide a wonderful Easter egg for Apes fans (an Easter ape, if you will).
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Despite art snafus, BOOM! Studios and Daryl Gregory are off to a strong start story-wise, and I’m excited to see what’s to come. The greatest obstacle this series could face, however, has nothing to do with quality, but rather the historic unlikelihood of POTA comics achieving long-term success. Gold Key adapted only the second film; Marvel’s run, though well-received, ran for only 29 issues; Malibu offered only 24 monthly issues, plus several miniseries and one-shots; Argentine publisher Editorial Mo.Pa.Sa. produced only seven issues based on the TV series; Brown Watson published only three hardcover annuals containing comic strips; Dark Horse’s title was prematurely cut short after only nine issues, due to the failure of Burton’s film; and Mr. Comics released only a single miniseries before dropping the license.
Each of these publishers’ work was enjoyable, yet none lasted for more than a few years-some far less. Will BOOM! succeed in finding a proper audience and outlive its predecessors? Hopefully, comic book readers will embrace it as fully as it deserves, as it’s been far too long since there’s been an ongoing Apes comic in stores, and I’d like to continue enjoying this one for years to come. My advice, paraphrasing Doctor Zaius: Look for it, Taylor-you may like what you find.
Thanks to BOOM! Studios, today brings a look at not only all the covers for the brand-new Planet of the Apes #1, but a sneak peek at some interior pages. Carlos Magno’s artwork is breathtakingly awesome! This book is going to be as gorgeous to look at as it will be fascinating to read. My only hope is that Magno and writer Daryl Gregory are both committed to this book for a good long while! Here’s your preview and a few new details from BOOM!
Taking place before the original 1968 PLANET OF THE APES movie, but true to the continuity of the first five films, this new ongoing comic series begins in a time when Ape society reaches a new golden age. But there are ripples of dissent in both the ape and human ranks. Tensions will rise and soon all will be caught in chaos! And amidst all this uncertainty, what is the fate of…The Lawgiver? Find out as a new chapter of the acclaimed sci-fi classic, PLANET OF THE APES, begins this April!
PLANET OF THE APES #1 is written by Daryl Gregory with art by Carlos Magno and ships with an A & B cover by Karl Richardson and Carlos Magno respectively, a special 1-in-10 “Damn Dirty Apes” incentive cover and a retailer variant for Larry’s Comics by Chad Hardin! This title ships in April and carries a Diamond Code of FEB110852.
April sees the debut of a new comic book series based on the classic film series Planet of the Apes. While previous attempts at bringing the Apes saga to comics have met with varying degrees of success and quality, this new series has three things going for it. First, the publisher this time around is BOOM! Studios. Secondly, this is an in-continuity series set firmly in the timeline of the original films. Thirdly, the writer is a new and innovative voice in science-fiction/fantasy, author Daryl Gregory. While the first two reasons should be enough to make this a must-have book, Gregory may still be an unknown factor to most people. This week we sent a few questions to Mr. Gregory and he kindly took some time to answer them. If you’re not hooked on this new Apes comic already, we hope you will be by the end of this interview.
POP CULTURE ZOO: OK, the first obvious question should be what makes you THE guy to be writing Planet of the Apes?
DARYL GREGORY: I’m a little intimidated by the way you capitalized THE, Joseph. It makes me feel like there are people out there wondering, who the hell does this guy think he is? Because, obviously, I’m not the only guy who can or should write Planet of the Apes comics. I’ve talked to a few writers who would happily take on the series, who have a backlog of ideas they’ve been waiting to try out. And frankly, I’d love to read those comics, because some of them are fabulous writers. But I think I am the only guy who can write this particular apes story. Okay, maybe because I’m the one who made up the characters and the plot. But it’s also because this story is all about my worries and questions about the world we live in now. It’s a post-9/11 world, and any story about freedom, extremism, and cultural warfare has to take our world into account.
The great thing about the Apes movies is that they were always more than adventures about apes on horseback chasing down humans with nets (though that is awesome). They’ve always been a way to talk about society and politics. It’s there in the original movie, but the political subtext is probably most naked in CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Paul Dehn and J. Lee Thompson–the screenwriter and the director–wanted to talk about America and racism in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the movie is about as clear a parable as you could ask for.
PCZ: This takes place BEFORE the original 1968 film and its sequel, but as we know films 3-5 were all prequels. Will we be seeing what happens between Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the first film?
DG: Exactly. The story is set in 2680 A.D., 600 years after the events in the last movie, but before Taylor arrives in 3954. It’s a few years after the Lawgiver’s coda in BATTLE, where he talks to the children about living in an age of peace and harmony between humans and apes. But we all know how well that works in the real world. When we pick up the story, apes and humans have been living side by side since the nuclear war 600 years earlier. After many setbacks, the civilization has reached an industrial revolution, with steam-age technology. Apes are definitely the upper class, but humans are not yet mute savages.
Logically, the civilization should be only a hundred years from space travel. But we know that when Taylor arrives 1,300 years later, ape society is largely agrarian, and humans are running wild in the forests. So what happened? Why did civilization turn away from that path? That’s one of the questions in the story. But the main plot is about ape-human conflict. The first arc, called “The Long War”, starts with an act of violence that disrupts the status quo of the society. From there it’s a short step to insurrection and full-scale war.
PCZ: Will we see any characters from the films and various spin-offs or is everybody brand new?
DG: We’ll get to meet the Lawgiver, but because of the time period, most of the cast is new. However, characters like Cornelius, Zira, and Caesar have become legendary figures, and they very much still have an effect on society.
PCZ: Will there be a character that we will recognize as played by Roddy McDowall had this been a live-action production?
DG: One of our featured players is a very smart chimp who is the scheming, Iago-like version of Roddy McDowall. Call him Roddy Malcolm McDowall.
PCZ: As this book is considered within the official continuity, how cool is it that you are getting to expand the original Apes mythos?
DG: It’s very cool — and very scary. See above, and all those people wondering who the hell this Daryl Gregory guy is.
PCZ: Time travel is a familiar aspect to the film and TV series, is that something that will play a part in your series?
DG: Time travel won’t play a role in the first few arcs, but time itself is very much part of the story. Some of the apes know that the world ends in fire in a couple thousand years, at least according to Cornelius and Zira. But does that mean it has to end? Is time a closed loop, or is this an open, multi-branching universe? I’m trying very hard here not to say, “Time will tell.”
PCZ: How far out have you planned this series? Basically, are you planning on sticking around for the long-term?
DG: I’ve got a year’s worth of story planned out — and I’ll happily go further! The Lawgiver and the fans willing.
PCZ: What did you do to research the Apes universe?
DG: I’m treating the movies as the only source material, so that means a lot of rewatching. (Very pleasant homework, by the way.) I also keep the original scripts around, as a reference. I didn’t want to be influenced by what other writers had done, especially in the other comics.
PCZ: What aspects of your series will be appealing to long-time fans of the franchise and what will hook those who have never seen the films?
DG: The trick to pleasing both groups is to tell a good story. For long-time fans, there are plenty of nods and references to the movies. All we have to do is mention “Caesar” and they’ll be able to pick up a lot more than someone who’s never seen the movies. But none of that insider knowledge is necessary to understanding the story. We’ll tell new readers what they need as we go along. The only thing we’re taking as a given in issue 1 is that people see “Planet of the Apes” and know it’s got something to do with apes and humans. We also have a not-so-secret weapon in Carlos Magno. His artwork on this book will pull anyone in. He can make apes and humans alike be both beautiful and scary.
PCZ: Any thoughts to figuring out how to include Tim Burton’s film and the upcoming Rise of the Apes into continuity or is that beyond your mandate?
DG: Happily, I don’t need to integrate with those stories! Those films are in their own universe, and we’re in ours. That makes my job a lot easier.
Thank you very much to Daryl Gregory for taking the time to answer our questions and thank you to BOOM! Studios for making it possible. Planet of the Apes #1 ships from BOOM! in April, but you might want to let your local comic book shop know you want a copy now. We suspect this one is going to sell out. Stay tuned to Pop Culture Zoo as we have more Apes awesomeness coming soon!