While I catch up re-reading Marvels Planet of the Apes comics, looking for old issues to write new reviews about, I thought I’d revisit an old review from the many POTAs comics I’ve reviewed in recent years.
One of Boom! Studios tactics for spreading the world of Planet of the Apes seems to have been the comic book crossover event. Some of these have been more successful than others, with the current Kong on the POTA being a fine example of the former, but who wouldn’t want a Star Trek/Apes crossover? It seemed like a franchise marriage in the making. What follows is a re-edited review of the series taken from the individual reviews I wrote for Need To Consume.
The Star Trek and The Planet of the Apes crossover is a 5 issue miniseries, entitled The Primate Directive, published jointly by IDW and Boom! Studios. It is written by the same people who brought you the Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who crossover a few years ago but don’t worry, this time they had the help of the wonderful artist Rachael Stott, so none of the cringe worthy art that made that Doctor Who crossover almost impossible to read.
The story starts with a good old fashioned arms deal. A gorilla general is sold a shed load of technologically advanced weaponry by a shadowy figure who eventually turns out to be somebody recognisable from the Star Trek Universe (hence all the shadows and darkness; that’s called creating mystery).
The narrative then shifts to a Klingon communications outpost where two instantly recognisable figures (even through their Klingon disguises) are in the process of infiltrating the compound. Sulu and Uhura are on a mission to steal information regarding a secret Klingon operation and a possible new weapon. The information they steal leads the Enterprise and her crew to a secret location where the Klingon’s have constructed a device allowing them to travel to ‘Otherdimensional’ space. After a brief altercation with a couple of Birds of Prey, Kirk is left no option than to travel through the space portal into the other dimension: which is lucky because otherwise this would just be a Star Trek comic.
The story that follows throws the crew of the Enterprise into a world of vicious Gorillas, underhand Klingons, weary Chimpanzees and the inevitable meeting between Kirk and the Man, Taylor.
The main plot is an enjoyable romp packed with all the scenes you would expect from a crossover of this nature. Comparisons are drawn between Kirk and Taylor, the Klingons and the Gorillas, and the societies features in both franchises.
The majority of story is Trek based, which is a little bit disappointing. For the most part the Apes lore is dealt with via ‘history lessons’ that explain to the Trek crew where they are. The first issue is pretty much centralised on the Star Trek Universe and barely touches the Planet of the Apes aspect of the story after the opening scene. This would not be a problem if this was a long running series but it is only a five issue run and for me, there aren’t enough Apes.
It isn’t until issue 4 where it finally feels like a Star Trek/Apes crossover and not an Apes history lesson told within an episode of Star Trek. By this point the Ape characters are starting to speak and act a lot more like their movie counter parts especially Zaius who has something more to do than tell stories. Ursus also plays a clever little role, acting as spokesperson for the Gorilla’s and then stepping into an authoritative role to squash the rebellion.
The Scott and David Tipton aren’t new to Star Trek or writing crossover stories, and they start this one off very well, if a little bias towards Trek. The opening scene tells the reader everything they need to know about this comic: it sets up the central premise and lays out the reason for the crossover. It also tells the reader which of the Universes they are dealing with: we’re talking original incarnations for both franchises. Over the next five issues the reader is going to be transported into the corrupt dealings of Klingon politics and the arms of power hungry Apes as the usual band of Trek characters’ attempt to stop everything from getting out of hand. It is a wild ride and as long as you can accept the Dimensional Device that allows the narrative to exist then it is an enjoyable one. And to be fair, if you can’t accept the Dimensional Device you’re probably not a big fan of Original Star Trek so you wouldn’t be picking this comic up in the first place.
The characterisation of the main cast is wonderful, you can tell that the writers have been writing Star Trek comics for a while now, and the Ape General from the opening scene feels like he has just walked out of the original movie: he’s almost perfect.
They even manage to extend what we know of certain characters. Take Ursus for example. They portray him in a different light to the gorilla seen in Beneath the Planet of the Apes who is very much just war hungry. The writers try to explain how Ursus became this rage filled character: this is something which is being examined further in the Ursus titled comic which started in January 2018. It is fascinating to see how the writers have interpreted this, and other, Ape characters who don’t have much background. Obviously they don’t have the same problem with the Trek side of things, they have written plenty of Trek comics and know those characters inside and out by this point.
Although this isn’t very obvious in the second issue of the series which plays out like a game of Happy Families for each of the franchises, using a host of recognisable figures from each but with very little actual character. “Do you have Commander Kor of the Klingon?” “No, do you have Zira of the Chimpanzee?” This is not necessarily a bad thing as it’s fun to include characters that the fans can relate too and is probably one of the main reasons for doing a crossover like this. It also helps to set the time frame for the story which is firmly between the original Planet of the Apes movie and it’s earth shattering sequel. But it would have been pleasing to get more in depth with some of the characters earlier on in the run; at least some of that comes later on.
The pace of the narrative picks up as the series moves on and the art work becomes more alive because of it. There is a definite sense of action and drama in the fight scenes and the backdrop to Cornelius’ speech showing the potential Ape civil war is harrowing especially, steeped as it is, in the heavy orange and blood red washes. Even the conversational panels seem more animated in later issues as if the story has woken up and the characters have been given a well-deserved breath of life.
Although there may be the odd concern for the character’s portrayal, there is no issue with their visual representations as they are perfectly illustrated by Rachael Stott. She brings a classic look to the characters and their settings but at the same time is not limited in the way she lays out the pages or the panels. She captures the character’s likenesses brilliantly so much so that there is no need to introduce them through the text (this has been a problem with past franchise comics and the Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover I mentioned early suffered greatly from this). Anybody who is slightly familiar with the characters can see that it is Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek universe on that first page which means that as a reader you instantly become engrossed in the story instead of trying to work out who you’re looking at.
The standard of the art work is high quality from the beginning and the representations of the characters are beautiful especially during the scenes of confrontation. Marius and Ursus squaring up to each other is an excellent panel: it has the aggression of the characters but is also slightly ludicrous just like the later Apes movies. And when they start fighting, oh boy does it look good. The gorilla fight scenes are outstanding. They are full of energy and anger and the aggression reaches out of the page threatening to engulf the reader like an uncontrollable force. The inevitable fight scene between Kirk and Taylor is pure nostalgia, choreographed in the same way that every fight in the original Trek T.V. series was. Stott has captured the scene wonderfully focusing on the staged fight moves and highlighting the idiosyncrasies of each leading man.
The Art work throughout this comic series is of a high calibre and carries the story through the weak points. Unfortunately, the fifth and final part of the comic is very underwhelming. The Klingon threat is cleared up so quickly it’s almost as if Kor didn’t want to take over the world at all and was just waiting for a reason to go home. Even the space battle serves no purpose with the mighty Birds of Prey crumbling to dust with barely a shot fired. Everything on the planet returns to the original status quo without much effort from either the Apes or the Enterprise crew. Everything is taken care of and wrapped up so easily that you do question the point of the whole thing.
The final issue also differs from the previous ones in that it relies heavily on background knowledge of both franchises. Up to this point anyone new to either sets of characters could pick this up and get something out of it however that changes in the final part.
Zaius’ role as narrator for the Planet of the Apes elements of the story initially seemed unnecessary and took up too much room, but the reader might very well be pleading for that narration in the final sequences. If you haven’t seen Beneath the Planet of the Apes or Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the entire finale of this story makes no sense. Kirk leaves the earth having returned everyone to their desired places and then, without warning or explanation the planet explodes. It is confusing that the Tipton’s used so much space in earlier issues to explain the intricacies of Ape culture (which has no relevance to the plot) but then doesn’t spend any time at all on a major narrative development. It’s all a little disappointing. By the time Cornelius learns of the ‘slingshot effect’ the reader is left wondering why the story didn’t revolve around the planets destruction in the first place. It feels like a missed opportunity.
Having said that, this series has had some amazing high points; the Tipton’s character representation; Stott’s spectacular illustration; but unfortunately the story arc itself contains too much filler in the wrong places and it ends rather flatly. Issue by issue the problems are more noticeable but read as a whole the narrative does flow more satisfactory. Ultimately this is an extended episode of Star Trek that features, as special guests, the characters from The Planet of the Apes as opposed to an equal melding of the two franchises.
There is a lot to like in these pages. It’s worth reading for the fight between Kirk and Taylor and there are a number of nods that only fans will pick up on, Kirk and Spocks ‘Earth’ clothes for example are reminiscent of Burke and Virdon’s from the Apes T.V. series. And it is moments like these that make this a worthwhile read if not the epic that it could have been. I would recommend this for fans of both franchises as they will get plenty out of it. Casual readers however, could get enough out of it for an enjoyable read although there are better Ape (and Star Trek) crossovers out there.
Title: Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Prime Directive
Publishers: IDW Publishing/Boom! Studios
Writers: Scott and David Tipton
Artist: Rachael Stott
Colours: Charlie Kirchoff
The Planet of the Apes movie is 50 years old today (and the original novel celebrates its 55th year since publication). I forgotten when I first saw it or how many times I’ve watched it since. All I know is that it, and the subsequent sequels, TV shows and comic book spin offs, have captivated me for years. I buy any and all Ape’s comics, re-watch at least one of the movies every year and now, thanks to Titan publications, I can read new and reprinted Apes prose.
To celebrate, I am re-posting an overlook of the Planet of the Apes comics which I wrote sometime around the release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and posted to the Need To Consume website (now gone, sad face...). It is a quick look at the comics runs from their humble beginnings to their current popularity within the hands of Boom! Studios. Some of these comics I will be looking at more closely over the next few months as I continue to celebrate 50 years of Planet of the Apes, but for now, I offer up this quick guide while I try to figure out the best way to abbreviate Planet of the Apes so I don’t have to keep typing it.
The Planet of the Apes comics have been around for nearly as long as the films and, like Doctor Who, the franchise existed long after the films had stopped being produced thanks to these tie in products.
Over the years a whole host of publishers have put out comics with deviations of the Planet of the Apes title splashed across the front, with varying degrees of success.
What is possibly the most surprising moment in Ape comic history is that the first Planet of the Apes comics were released in Japan and not America. And it was released just after the first film hit the cinemas. These comics were adaptations of the Charlton Heston film and very popular at the time. They are also extremely sought after today and very rare. One of the adaptations was written by the Japanese horror comic writer Kuroda Minoru and was over 250 pages long.
Marvel was the first publisher to get any real mileage out of the franchise with a magazine format title that first appeared on the shelves in 1974. The magazine included adaptations of the films but also back up stories where brand new adventures were set in an alternate time line to the movies. They are mostly adventure based tales in the same vain as the films but they also touch on sociological issues such as commercialism, religion and racism.
These stories were reprinted all over the world and translated into a variety of different languages. Each county had their own format for the reprints which means that they are subtly different depending on where in the world you read them.
The UK editions printed the stories in a weekly magazine format with backup stories from a host of Marvel titles including Dracula Lives and The Incredible Hulk. The black and white art work suits the stories that are being told and helps to keep the b-movie feel of the movie. The art was generally of a high standard with Mike Ploog producing some very fine, detailed work. He captured the Apes aesthetic extremely well and created emotional characters that were easy to identify with. His previous experience working on horror comics (again a link with past horror creators) definitely contributed to the style he adopted for his Planet of the Apes run.
The majority of the stories at this time were written by Doug Moench and Gerry Conway, both of whom have written some outstanding, memorable comics in their time: Knighfall and The Death of Gwen Stacy respectively. Because of this the comics have some very strong stories that have stood the test of time: if they were to be reprinted today they would not feel dated.
The 1990’s were splattered with various attempts to reignite the franchise. This involved a short lived monthly from Malibu Publishing and a collection of one off, mini-series and reprints. It was during this period that the concept was pushed to the boundaries of possibilities with titles like Ape City which was set in a European city where life was not as rural as in the American counterparts. This mini-series opened in a speakeasy style venue with an Ape jazz band and introduced a squad of assassins who travelled forward in time to basically massacre Apes. To top this outlandishness there was even a cross over with Alien Nation, a film and short lived TV series which was popular for a year or so. The resultant comic was Ape Nation (obviously) and combined the best aspects of both series in a highly enjoyable alternate dimensional romp. Unfortunately, none of these serials really caught the imagination of the comic buying world and as a result disappeared as quickly as they appeared. Although the comics published at this time do have a 1990’s feel with a lot of large heavy weapons and bulging muscles, for the most part the stories are still worth reading and contain interesting new takes on the Apes concept.
Just out of the 90’s Ian Edginton was brought in to write a movie adaption and new series based on the Tim Burton remake. As everyone knows the film itself wasn’t very well received and the comics fell in its wake. This is a shame because there were some great characters and stories produced in the run from 2001 to 2002. The art captured the wonderful designs of the new Apes (one of the only highlights of the movie) and used a Pop Art style to tell gritty adventure stories that didn’t suffer from the awful acting of the film version. Given half a chance, and a decent movie to play off, Edginton would have been able to grow his idea and produce something worthy of a place in Ape history, as it stands these comics will probably disappear without a whimper, never to be seen again.
Revolution on the Planet of the Apes was a short series published by Mr. Comics and picks up the story of Caesar from the end of the Conquest movie. It attempts to fill in the gaps between the fourth and fifth films and in doing so tells a rip roaring politically driven story full of violence and bleeding hearts. Although it only ran for 6 issues from 2005 to 2006, it is a worthwhile addition to the Ape canon and fits snugly in with the movie continuity. The real beauty of this series is the art and design of each comic. There are some impressive talents involved with Revolution and each issue included a backup, standalone story as well as detailed, and often humorous, ‘previously in’ introduction pages. The final short story written by Ty Templeton introduces the brilliant idea that the ‘Time Loop’ involving Taylor’s spaceship Icarus and the three apes who journey into the past, can be re-written and therefore the future of the Planet can be changed. However, this idea was never played out because no further comics were produced by these creative teams: an opportunity missed for the franchise.
The most recent offerings from Boom! Studios have been very creative and successful. The first run written by Daryl Gregory tells a story of terrorism set before the events of the first film. It details how the Apes and the Humans relationship finally broke down with the Humans fighting every step of the way to survive. Unfortunately, the Apes become the beasts they accused the Humans of being and blood flows through the streets of Ape City. The story was political in nature from the beginning and the artwork is detailed and intricate.
The second Ape offering from Boom! Studios started as a four-part mini-series called Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes which was again set years before the first movie but not related to Gregory’s story or characters. This developed into ‘Exile on’, another four-part story, and finally into a 12 part monthly which concluded the story and brought it up to the very end of the planet as depicted in the second movie. Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman produced some amazing work for these comics and their ideas just couldn’t be contained in the original four-part story they produced.
Both of these Boom! Studio series contained some brilliant, clever and insightful writing as well as some of the best art being produced for comics published today. Although there is a mountain of continuity, these comics do not rely on the reader knowing any of it (until the very end, then it all falls into place) so that they can be enjoyed by anyone who loves reading comics.
Over the years there have been stacks of comics published under the Planet of the Apes name, all aimed at different audiences across the world. As the world has changed, so the comics changed to reflect this but the conflict between Human and Ape has always been used to illustrate the writers and artist’s views on modern life, and in most cases politics. If you enjoy good old fashioned adventure stories or allegorical tales of justice or even family dramas, the Ape comics will have something for you to get your teeth into, as long as you can accept the talking simians.