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Welcome Back to the Planet of the Apes

A new set of comics may be more fun than a barrel of... well, you know.

By Edward Gross

This article appeared in the June, 1990 (#13), issue of Comics Scene. We were really pumped after reading the article, and couldn't wait to read this new Apes comic book series. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. The artwork was so-so, and Adventure printed it in black-and-white. We stopped buying it after four issues.

"Go Ape!" was the proclamation of 20th Century Fox when they released all five Planet of the Apes films on a single bill in the mid-1970s. It could also easily be the cry of Adventure Comics in 1990.

Adventure, a subsidiary of Malibu Graphics, has no less than four separate Planet of the Apes projects on line, all under the creative guidance of writer Charles Marshall.

"It's really kind of a dream project for me, and I'm doing my best with it," says Marshall. "I grew up with all the movies and the TV series and was a pretty big fan. Many people who are comics fans now -- probably the main direct sales market--are at an age where they were into Planet of the Apes too, which is why it may be a real hot book. It may be coming at the right time when the readers are looking back nostalgically."

Marshall began his tenure amongst the monkeys when Adventure Comics Creative Director Tom Mason gave him a shot at pitching concepts for the title.

"Tom had a couple of proposals on his desk," Marshall explains, "but nothing really excited him, so he said, 'Send me a proposal and we'll see.' Two days later, he had a proposal in his hands, and that afternoon, he called me and gave me the job."

So impressed with his ideas was Mason that Marshall was put in charge of the monthly title as well as a four-issue mini-series, Ape City. These in turn have led to a forthcoming one-shot entitled A Day on the Planet of the Apes and a second mini-series called Ape Nation, which is actually a crossover between Apes and, of all things, Alien Nation.

Planet of the Apes takes place 100 years after the final film in the series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and continues themes presented there.

"In the monthly series, we're trying to stay pretty true to the films," Marshall details, "and we're trying to expand on many of the elements from them. Battle for the Planet of the Apes seemed to be the one with the most elements left hanging, so I chose to follow those because the characters were probably the most interesting. But because of the nature of the license for this property, we couldn't use the actual characters [from the movies], so we bumped it up a few years and used their offspring. For instance, with Caesar, we brought in his grandson. Most of the characters have some tie back to the movies in one way or another. We're really trying to keep the elements that made the films so unique while updating Apes for today's comics audience.

"I guess what we were trying to do is get a core group of characters we could build the stories around," he adds. "Originally, it was set up as a mini-series, where we were trying to tell one good story. Now, it has changed because they've spread it out to an ongoing series, so what I eventually want to do is come back with some single issue stories. I'm not a fan of cliffhanger endings, although we do seem to do that a great deal in the first four issues."

Using the films as a launching pad, the writer says that he has a very clear-cut direction which to travel.

"The first two films dealt with a planet of the apes in the far future," Marshall states. "I'm trying to set into motion some of the things in the past that will get to that future. For example, at the first movie's end, Dr. Zaius reads, 'Beware the Beast Man...' [Webmaster Note: Actually, it was Cornelius who read it.] Well, that document is going to be written by one of my characters in a future issue after an encounter with some humans. I'm trying to set up things now that will get the world to where it is in the first two movies. Both series will do that in a roundabout way. We know what's going to happen when Charlton Heston lands on the planet, so what I'm doing is laying down a foundation for that. In some sense, that makes it easier for me, because I know what's out there and I know what's behind me. I'm just trying to fill up the middle."

Planet of the Apes #1-4 take place in Ape City, where Caesar's grandson, Alexander, is struggling with the burden of leadership. Simultaneously, the city itself is torn apart from within by the gorilla General Ollo, who serves as the leader of the Aldoites. That group is based on the "teachings" of General Aldo (from Battle) who believed that gorillas were the master race and that it was certainly all right for ape to kill ape... and anything else that moved.

"In the last movie, the gorillas were becoming more and more menacing," Marshall notes, "so it seemed like a natural extension that someone would pick up, that mantle and say, 'This ape hall the right idea. He was on the ball; he knew what was going on. This is what we should do.' The gorillas are a pretty sorry lot anyway, because there's not much for them to do. They're militaristic but there's nobody to fight, so they would be willing to follow that way of thinking very easily. Ollo is the one gorilla with real intelligence, and the rest are basically followers. In the movies, the gorillas seemed to be hold on a very tight leash. In our series, they finally break that leash and do what they want."

Alexander, with all his doubts and insecurities, is a character who fascinates Marshall. "I think anyone who has a famous or great person in their family has those kinds of doubts," he muses. "You're given more opportunity, but you're also given more responsibility. You're seen as basically the same person. In this case, the apes are looking at Alexander in the same way they looked at Caesar, and that may be too much weight for him, He's not sure he's strong enough to be the ape that Caesar was. I would like to think that he is. If I was in his paws, I would feel the same way. He has quite a legacy to live up to, because he fell into the leadership of Ape City, and didn't really earn it, which brings about most of the doubts. But by the end of the first four issues, he feels as though he has earned it."

Other characters include: Jacob, an orangutan who fears the very concept of intelligent human beings -- much as Dr. Zaius did in the films -- and the potential threat they pose to the simian race; Grunt, the giant mute offspring of General Ollo who ultimately turns out to be a source of his father's undoing; and Simon, a human to whom knowledge is all-important. Marshall promises that future issues will take all of these characters, and many yet to be introduced, in various directions.

"There will be many shake-ups with the characters." he says. "There will be betrayal and some turns I don't think the readers will be expecting. I would also like to give the reader much more insight to the planet of the apes, its surroundings and its settings. I want to jump ahead several years at one point, not giving a straight day-by-day account, but more a year-by-year account of what's happening, so you see more drastic changes. In Planet of the Apes, nobody knows much of how the whole works, and would like to see the characters travel around and see what's going on in other parts of the country. What's out there?"

The writer answers that in Ape City, a four-issue mini-series that begins in August. It is a more quirky and offbeat title than its counterpart, although Ape City takes place in the same time period.

"When they presented me with the opportunity to do a second series, one set in Europe, I didn't want to do more of the same," Marshall emphasizes. "We had done our homage to the movies, so I couldn't get excited about that. But to give Adventure all the credit in the world, they gave me carte blanche on everything, and I told them, 'If I do another series, it's going to be weird,' and they had no problem with that whatsoever. Knowing I had no limitations, I came up with a pretty crazy story, which I think works in the context of Planet of the Apes. I'm trying to do things with it that I couldn't do with the first series, trying to answer questions that have never been answered. I daresay that no one will expect what we're going to be doing with this book. I just have a mental picture of die-hard Apes fans having seizures in their comic stores, because it's far and away the most different thing that has ever been done with the concept.

"I've always been intrigued with what happened," he adds. "What brought it from Conquest to the point where apes took over the planet? I'm not sure we can answer all that in this series, but what I wanted to do was have some characters who are conscious of what happened, and who could explain at least their perceptions of events."

Ape City, which ironically enough harkens back to Pierre Boulle's original novel, Monkey Planet, which spawned the whole series, has the apes essentially taking Man's place in all walks of life. After most of mankind has died in a plague, the apes begin utilizing all the left-over technology and partying heartily. In a way, it seems like the era of the Roaring '20s, before the Great Depression.

"To me, it's the next logical step when apes take over," Marshall points out. "You have apes that are emulating humans. In their part of the world, nothing has been devastated. You still have the buildings, the clothing stores, and the restaurants. These apes who have been the servants to the humans, who have seen how they acted, are all suddenly in the same shoes. I can't imagine that they would just throw everything away. They know that it's not going to last forever unless they can figure out the technology, but they can't. They don't have the numbers or enough apes intelligent enough to figure it out, plus they don't have the resources. They don't have petroleum coming in, so they can only drive cars or motorcycles until the gas runs out. There's definitely an energy crisis on the planet of the apes!

"I really like the characters. To me, that's the fun hook to write. I enjoy writing Planet of the Apes, but Ape City is a labor of love. With Ape City, I'm playing for myself and hope it's enjoyable for the readers as well."

Ape City brings together a variety of simians: Dr. Benday, an older orangutan considered to be the smartest ape on Earth, who is doing what he can to solve the energy crisis; Cong, an 18-foot "adopted son" of Benday, and the result of' a genetic experiment; Mongo, a chimpanzee described as part-daredevil, part-actor, part-pathological liar, part-brawler, part-lover and part-Elvis impersonator; Rox, a female gorilla warrior; and the Baboonjas, a race of dim-witted baboon ninja warriors. Added to the mix are the Vindicators, a group of killers sent from the past with state-of-the-art weaponry to help mankind balance itself out against the apes, thereby preventing Earth's obliteration as detailed by Cornelius and Zira in Escape From the Planet of the Apes, and seen at the conclusion of Beneath the Planet of` the Apes.

Explaining the Vindicators, Marshall notes, “The humans in the past basically know their future, that apes are going to take over the planet. I can't imagine that they would have that information and not try doing something about it. It's interesting that the first thing they did was to enslave the apes [in Conquest], which set up circumstances for the future to take place. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. On another level, I think they would try to do something more drastic, and from that I came up with the idea of sending a suicide squad into the future to change the human/ape balance. You basically get killers with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and put them in a situation where they're like a computer virus, working their way in and doing as much damage as they can. So, as I see it, they're the big threat to the planet of the apes.

"What wanted to do with Ape City all along," he elaborates, "is to make it the party-ape book. Just a lot of fun with nobody really caring about the future, and living for right now. We also establish that there are many threats here, too. Everybody wants to be on top. It's kind of a wild ride all the way through.”

Scheduled to be a 40-page one-shot for publication late this summer, A Day on the Planet of the Apes is an anthology that spans the globe to explore monkey life. "This title was inspired by the photography book they did recently where they sent photographers all over the world to take pictures on the same day, so you got a feeling for what was going on everywhere. I wanted to tell stories that took place in one day all over the planet of the apes, so you got a feeling for what kind of place this was and how different it was."

The same could be said for Marshall's career. Besides being a successful copywriter, he pens a syndicated newspaper column, has worked for various comic book companies and is the author of Caliber's Fugitive, which deals with a psychopathic killer being chased by a detective through old TV shows. In addition, he is developing with DC Comics a sort of "which-way” Batman/Two-Face story in which the reader must flip a coin to determine which page he should go to next in the story. And Marshall has just gotten approval from Adventure Comics for a Planet of the Apes and Alien Nation crossover mini-series to be published late this year.

In that mini-series, Ape Nation, a Newcomer slave ship accidentally hits a time curve and finds itself, where else, on the planet of the apes.

"What I liked about Alien Nation is the interaction between the two diverse characters, which is probably what everybody else likes about it," says Marshall. "What this mini-series will try to do is pick up some of that same appeal, except that instead of being a human, the other character will be an ape. These two characters will develop a buddy relationship, much like Alien Nation. They'll be faced with stopping an army of humans, gorillas and Newcomers, all of whom are being led by General Ollo.

"The way I look at it is that you've got this slave race. There are no resources being harvested on the planet of the apes and there's nothing for these slaves to do, so I figured that it would be a logical off-shoot that they would be used for an army, the only job open. So, they're a part of this vast army that's wiping out everything on a direct path to Ape City. Many of the characters from Planet of the Apes will be popping up, mostly in small roles. They know that this army is coming and they're trying to do something about it, but they don't have the ape power to stop them. Basically, though, it's the story of two characters. The ape's name is Heston, and it's pretty obvious where that came from, and the alien is named Caan, which I thought was a nice tribute to James Caan from the original movie. I'm trying to pick up the buddy quality that appealed to me about Alien Nation and work that in, too.

"I've always been a fan of weird crossovers," he adds, "and it's always a challenge to pull it off and not have people go, 'Oh, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.' If we can get the characters together in a way that works for everybody, we can tell a real good story."

He's obviously confident that he can, as he points out that Ape Nation concludes with everything returned to status quo, while leaving the door wide open for another, very different mini-series that might follow. Planet of the Apes, it would seem, has sparked his imagination.

"It's really exciting to come back to something like Planet of` the Apes," Charles Marshall admits," although I don't know what the kids who aren't that familiar with it are going to think. It's more of a baby boomer kind of thing anyway; a real nostalgic kick. But I'm glad we're doing Planet of the Apes, and we're doing it right.”