Off to see War for the Planet of the Apes tonight, so I thought that today I’d delve into the archives for this little beauty…
Whether by chance or design (probably a little of both), Marvel Comics launched their UK reprint of their adaptation of the first Planet of the Apes movie in October 1974, only a couple of weeks after the Planet of the Apes TV show started airing in the UK.
The first Planet of the Apes movie (co-written by Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone) is a classic. It’s based on the novel La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle but deviates quite a lot plot-wise. In the book, the apes have a much more technologically advanced civilisation: in the movie they have guns, but no electricity. Their world is all ropes and dust and hand-carved wooden benches. (Even the ape plasterers lack the skill to properly render a wall. Tch!)
Yes, the science is a tad ropey and the Shocking Revelation at the end is signposted all the way through*, but it’s got that absolutely iconic first shot of the apes on horseback, plus that Shocking Revelation itself is still moving after all these years – I didn’t know about that twist when I saw the movie as an eight-year-old: it blew me away!
Subsequent POTA movies suffered from a steady drop in quality, and the series was cancelled after the fifth in 1973. The TV show only ran for for fourteen episodes.
However, Marvel UK’s POTA comic was a huge hit. That first issue featured only the POTA strip (25 pages, uncredited but written by Doug Moench with art by George Tuska, John Romita and Mike Eposito) and an article on the movie apes’ make-up. Subsequent issues featured fewer Apes pages, but added other reprint strips: #2 featured Warrior of Mars (adapted from Edwin L. Arnold’s novel Lt. Gulliver Jones) and Ka-Zar (Marvel’s take on the “white man raised in the jungle” character).
The reduced page-count for the Apes strip meant that its source material, the twenty-nine issues of the Marvel’s American POTA title, could be stretched out into many more issues, but even that was in danger of running out so Marvel’s Killraven title (an unofficial sort-of sequel to H.Q. Wells’ The War of the Worlds) was adapted to fit by renaming the character “Apeslayer” and replacing the martians with apes. Yes, that really happened.
After two years (123 issues) POTA was merged with The Mighty World of Marvel to become The Mighty World of Marvel featuring The Incredible Hulk and Planet of the Apes, which is surely a contender for the most awkward comic-book title ever.
The Planet of the Apes franchise subsequently sparked an animated TV show, more comics from an assortment of publishers, a Tim Burton “reimagining” that didn’t star Johnny Depp and yet still managed to be disappointing, and – in 2011 – the first of the “reboot” series of movies, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is one of my favourite movies of the past decade. Its first sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is perhaps not quite as good, but it’s still great fun. Advance word on the new one is very positive, so I am optimistic!
As far as I recall, in the book the apes don’t speak any known human languages. In the movies, the apes speak English. That alone should have been a pretty strong clue to Taylor (Charlton Heston’s character) that the planet has been Earth all along, but somehow he misses that (possibly because he was distracted by rifles the apes were carrying).
In the book, it’s always cloudy at night: this is given as an explanation as to why the protagonist doesn’t see the moon and go “Oh, this planet’s moon looks identical to Earth’s moon, therefore this is Earth.” Clever get-out, that… Except, of course, Monsieur Boulle didn’t twig that the moon is visible during the day just as often as it’s visible at night.
Inside the front cover of POTA #1: Stan Lee personally introduces the comic for us!
The back cover of Planet of The Apes #1… Dracula Lives lasted a not-too-bad eighty-eight issues before POTA absorbed it. (An aside: Marvel’s Dracula character was, at times, the “good guy” in his comics, which in my opinion makes Dracula the first ever superhero created by an Irish person. Others may disagree, and I wouldn’t put it past them.)