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.