Terror on the Planet of the Apes starts as a very simple story. Two young friends, one Chimpanzee and one Human, become caught in the wave of a Gorilla up rising and the ethnic cleansing of Ape City. From there the characters are taken on a wild, and sometimes outlandish, ride through the Forbidden Zone, beneath the Planet, into a mountain and out the other side; meeting some of the craziest characters of the Apes franchise.
The Second Phase of the story began to skirt on the verges of farce, with the Psychedrome issues almost becoming too ridiculous to read even for a comic about talking Apes. There are too many eccentric elements and characters which don’t fit with the general ethos of the rest of the franchise. However, the central characters all develop and come out of the story in a good light, pretty much unscathed.
One of the characters, not affected by the craziness in the second phase, is the Lawgiver, who’s own story takes a tragic turn of events. But before this, in the first phase, the depiction of this character is fascinating. He is seen as the ruler of Ape City, and to most of the Ape inhabitants, he is a religious figure of highest regard: A Pope like figure. During the first few issues of Terror the Lawgiver is away in the Forbidden Zone, a prisoner of the Inheritors but with Jason and Alex’s help he returns to the City like a messiah. Through the use of religious imagery and the depiction of the Lawgiver in When the Lawgiver Returns, Doug Moench and Mike Ploog are able to relay to the reader a greater image of Ape City and the culture that built it.
In Chapter 7, When the Lawgiver Returns, there is a surprising amount of religions imagery and allegory but this is befitting of the story that Moench is about to tell in this issue. Near the opening of the issue, before the heroes return to the city, there is a panel featuring a crude crucifixion. Xavier the keeper of the City who was ruling in the Lawgivers absence, is found tired to a cross with an arrow thrust into his side. It is a symbol to the Apes of the city that the Humans can no longer be trusted but it is also a lie because we, the reader, know that a Gorilla was responsible.
From the point of view of the Gorilla rebels, Xavier died for the sins of the city, for harbouring Humans as if they were equals and the rulers fate is a not too subtle religious reference.
But this is just the start, a way for Moench to set the scene for the rest of the issue, because Chapter 7 is a reflective parable of religious stories, especially those about Kings or Leaders. Through out the issue there are links to Jesus and Moses and the trails that there encountered in their stories. Each borrowed reference tells the reader something about the society of Apes and how they became slaves to religion as much as Humans did.
Two pages after the crucifixion, the Lawgiver is pictured re-entering the city. He is drawn by Ploog at the bottom of the panel, in the centre, the major focal point. Despite his frailty, as shown in previous pages, he is still a strong leader with a trail of people following behind him; a long procession with him at the head.
The entire procession forms the shape of a triangle leading the readers eye from the top of the panel to the bottom. In conjunction with this the Human and Ape’s all have bowed heads and their gaze is downwards, towards the Lawgiver. All of this forces the reader to follow the gaze of the Lawgiver’s supporters and where ever you look at this panel your eyes are drawn directly down to the Lawgiver himself.
As the procession enters the city it leads directly into an altercation between Ape and Human. A standoff that is on the verge of violence, fuelled by the death of Xavier. The Lawgiver rises up to put a stop to the arguing. Throughout the sequence he is drawn larger and, from the perspective of the reader, higher than all of the other characters. Basically the Orangutan towers above everybody else and is able to enforce his will upon them. He shames the Apes and the Humans so that the potential violence is quelled.
A moment later he returns, alone, to his home but without his presence and influence a fight breaks out. The first panel on the page shows the Lawgiver leaving, his back to the reader and cast in shadows. This indicates that he has no control over what happens next; it is behind him where he cannot see. Just like what happened to the city when he wasn’t there.
He has great power but only when he is actively engaged with the inhabitants. The religious connection here is with Moses. The Lawgiver spent time in the Forbidden Zone and returned home to find his people tearing each other apart: Moses ascended the mountain and returned to find his people worshipping false gods.
Moench and Ploog are showing the reader how important the Lawgiver is to society. His presence is instrumental for the peace to remain. This is further highlighted in the sermon that follows the leaders return: another religious allegory. The Lawgiver stands above his people, with Ploog illustrating the panels so that the reader looks down, passed the leader to the people below. The sermon is a heartfelt one and speaks of fear and hate; across the page the sternness of the Lawgiver is juxtaposed with the sorrow of his followers.
That is until the gorilla, Brutus, challenges the words. He speaks of Pride and cultural doom like a brute defending his racist views. He blames others for his shortcomings but his power is reflected by his positioning in the panels. He is drawn central to the panels and appears to stand shoulders above the other characters, all but the Lawgiver. During his ranting the Lawgiver suddenly loses his position of power, it feels as though he is now closer to the crowd and in one panel in particular he is fighting to stand tall, crouching below his own words in an attempt to be heard. There is a real threat to the peaceful order of the city as illustrated by the Lawgivers loss of powerful status. Brutus is bringing him down which will lead to trouble and violence as has already been established earlier in the story.
When the Lawgiver Returns is an important chapter of Marvel Planet of the Apes comic. Not only is it the final issue of Phase 1 of ‘Terror’ but it also hammers a wedge between the Ape and Human heroes forcing one to leave the city. The aftereffects of this break up drive the story through Phase 2 as the majority of the narrative leaves Ape City behind. Moench isn’t quite done with the Lawgiver but chapter 7 is the pinnacle of his characterisation and he is instrumental to the success of chapter 7’s narrative. The writer and artist use religious analogies and imagery to reinforce the social aspects of Ape City and its inhabitants which in turn leads the drama. The conflict between the different races and ultimately the different characters all stems from the belief, or lack thereof, in the Lawgiver. He is made out to be the head of society and all those who oppose him are portrayed as rebels in one way or another.
Where the story goes after Phase one is questionable but When the Lawgiver Returns is a pure Planet of the Apes story with all of the elements that made the original movie the hit classic it has become. It is meticulously written and contains some intense art work. A wonderful work of drama.
When the Lawgiver Returns was originally printed in issue 11 of Marvel's Planet of the Apes and has recently been collected in Boom! Studios Planet of the Apes Archive Volume One