It shouldn’t have escaped your notice, especially if you’ve read a few of my previous posts, that the original Planet of the Apes film is 50 years young this year. 50 years since Charleston Heston embarked on his mission into a world so very different yet hauntingly familiar to our own. 50 years since Kim Hunter’s Zira stood up to Ape authority and championed a ‘lesser creature’. 50 years since Roddy McDowall made a career out of playing a chimpanzee.
The original script for the film, written by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, would have required a budget too big for any of the Hollywood studios to take on but a rewrite by Michael Wilson saw the setting of the story change and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, to celebrate such a milestone in the films life, Boom! Studios have adapted the original Serling script into a gorgeous, hard backed graphic novel so we can all, finally, share in the original vision for the Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries was released last week and tells the story of Thomas, an astronaut lost in time and space, alone on a crazy, mixed up world. Just like Thomas, the reader will find this world both new and yet, strangely familiar.
Dana Gould adapts Serling’s screenplay for the comic book format, packing the pages with tension and intrigue; and only a small proportion of this is lost by knowing what’s round the corner. Everyone reading will know that Thomas is going to come face to face with talking Apes, be captured and all the rest. What Gould and the artists have managed to achieve here is depicting recognisable sequences in an enjoyable way and playing up to the actual differences between this version and the original.
The most surprising thing about this version is how little is actually different. Not to ruin anyone’s reading of this but the story is pretty much the same as the 60’s movie counterpart. The setting and tone are the major differences, with a much more advanced Ape world for Thomas to get lost in, but the plot moves along at about the same rate and pace.
Thomas, the central character, is a much more likable character than Taylor. He is compassionate and carries a sense of hope with him as he travels through the topsy turvy world. It’s clear from this adaption that Charleston Heston brought a lot of himself to the character of Taylor, making the astronaut cynical and full of rage. This works in the 60’s movie as he is a product of his time and an explanation for what ultimately happened to the Humans. In Dr Zaius’ eyes, Taylor reinforces everything he has come to understand about ‘Man’ which makes his actions understandable and, in a lot of ways, relatable.
Thomas, on the other hand, represents a contrasting example of ‘Man’ for the future rulers of the world. This has the effect of turning Dr Zaius and his fellow scientist’s into easier to recognise villains and easier to accept as such.
The change in character also makes the ending of both adaptions more intriguing. Everyone knows how the film ends, it is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history, however, the way that it plays out in Serling’s original concept is different enough still to provide a shock element at the end of the story. As a reader you wait for the big reveal but the twist will grab you and give you a good shaking. The entire final sequence of the book is touching and beautifully drawn.
Chad Lewis’ art work has cinematic scope and captures the essence of the scenes wonderfully. His attention to detail, especially in the backgrounds, gives the comic a believable and immersive setting. As a reader you are sucked into the world as much as Thomas and his cohorts. The composition of the panels help to make you feel trapped in an unknown world, even with large vistas spread across the page. When the astronauts first encounter the ‘Humans’ they become trapped between the slowly encroaching people and the vast ocean behind them. There is a series of panels illustrating the slow advancement of the wild people followed by a wide shot with the heroes trapped in the centre, lost and very much alone on an alien world. The tension is gripping.
There are three colourists working on the book but not that you can tell. There is a consistency to the colouring throughout and the contrast between the forbidden zones and Ape city is striking; with slightly too bright natural colours for the forests compared to the muted blues and yellows of the city. A certain unease has been created by the colourists because the natural world appears almost unnatural in its brightness whereas the city is dull in comparison; this is a switch from how we would expect the two setting to be coloured. The colour sets the tone, switching from the mysterious, to action, to intrigue all via altering the colour pallet.
Ed Dukeshire’s lettering is fits snuggly around the artwork, barely making an impression which is the way that it should be. Where the lettering especially stands out is with the sound effects. They boom out of the page and traverse the panels giving Serling’s world sound that you can almost hear. The powerful ‘Thup’ of helicopters rises above the landscape, each time preceding danger for the central character.
In adapting Serling’s script, Gould and co have taken on a mammoth task: not only do they have to make Rod Serling’s vision shine off the page, they have to present something new and entertaining to a readership who will, for the most part, know exactly what is going to happen in the plot. The creators on this book have successfully packed the pages with suspense and drama despite the familiarity of the plot; in some cases, they have used the readers expectations of what will happen to create a more dramatic, and sometimes shocking, scene.
I was personally surprised how close to the original film this version was, with Ape city being different in visual aspects only, but this did not occur to me until after I had finished reading it. It is a gripping adaption, presented beautifully in a hard backed book format. The script and artwork presents us with characters we recognise but at the same time have to get to know them all over again; Thomas is refreshing in comparison to Taylor and the entire book has a more upbeat tone to it. Until the end where one of the biggest differences occurs. A change which will take your breath away as the familiar is subverted by the horrific.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries isn’t a wildly different take on the story and, fittingly, reads more like a Twilight Zone version of the concept. But it is enjoyable, fascinating and expertly crafted. It is an essential read for Apes fans and will fit in perfectly with any Ape franchise collection.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries
Printed by Boom! Studios
Original Screenplay by Rod Serling
Adapted by Dana Gould
Art by Chad Lewis
Inks Assist by David Wilson
Coulours by Darrin Moore, Miguel Muerto and Marcelo Costa
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
In this final issue of RoboCop Citizens Arrest, the creators delve into the production surrounding RoboCop and the battle between Old and New. Brian Wood has produced a script that is reminiscent of the original RoboCop movie in almost every way; minus the ED-209, which is a shame.
The story follows Leo Reza from his moments waking up as the next RoboCop through to his confrontation with Alex Murphy. Reza enters the Detroit streets under the command of O.C.P. and proves to be a hit with the populace and those in charge. Once more, a human-esq police office proves to be the reassuring protection that the city wants.
However, there is an aggressive streak within Reza’s actions; an anger that is bubbling just below the surface waiting for a moment to burst through to the surface.
Murphey, meanwhile, is protecting Reza’a family and waiting for the inevitable confrontation to occur. He is ready to fight whatever RoboCops O.C.P. throws at him.
The first half of this issue is all too familiar. The creation and awaking of the man within the machine bares more than a passing resemblance to the first movie. This isn’t just a nod to that story, an Easter egg for the reader, this is a retelling in short form. Reza waking, being sent on a mission and becoming the darling of the right wing news programs is a direct reference to the movie. There are, however, a few subtle differences which the Murphy RoboCop points out later in the issue and is the point that the creators are trying to make.
The original movie was a reaction to the time it was made; over the top, biased new casts; pushy advertising and inappropriate product placement; the rich being above the law. RoboCop was a clever satire of the world around it. Citizens Arrest follows that trend and its main point is ‘not much has changed’. The familiar opening attests to this fact by deliberately reminding the reader of a movie made in the 1980’s. The second act confrontation pits the old against the new but there is so little between them; how far have we come?
Despite the strengths of the narrative, the comic doesn’t pack the same kind of punch as previous incarnations of the character. This is partially down to the artwork. The close ups and a number of establishing shots are wonderful. They do exactly what they need to do. One in particular with Reza’s family hiding in their house is a clever, isolating panel surrounded by panels of action shots. It’s a smart layout and captures the essence of the scene brilliantly.
Unfortunately, not all of the art has this same impact. Sometimes the rendering of the characters is awkward or flat; lacking the impact that the moments deserve. This isn’t always the fault of Jorge Coelho, whose artwork gives the best pages of the comic their strength, but because the colour work by Doug Garbank doesn’t lend itself to some of the emotionally charged scenes. It feels inconsistent across some of the pages which makes the reader question the art and narrative unfavourably.
In one instance there is a scene with two characters running across two panels, the background has been dropped in favour of movement lines and colour only. These two panels work really well, with the starting point of the movement a bright yellow turning to a dark orange as the reader follows the characters. However, on other pages the background colours shift wildly with no discernible reason and on more than one occasion the background and foreground have uncomfortable meetings points.
There are some strong sequences in this comic, especially the lettering work on the sound effects which really stands out. The overall narrative has a point worth making and the referencing of the original film is a clever technique employed to make this point unfortunately some of this is lost in the inconsistent art work. This series overall has had strong and weak moments. I’m not sure if this would still be the case if a different artist worked on it because some of the stronger moments were down to Coelho’s layouts and composition. This is a satisfying conclusion to the story but it might not lend itself to a re-read.
RoboCop Citizens Arrest is published by Boom! Studios
Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Jorge Coelho
Coloured by Doug Garbark
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.