Monday, May 24, 2010

Beneath the Planet of the Apes: The Power Records Adaptation

Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Publisher: Power Records/Peter Pan
Writer: Unknown
Artist: Arvid Knudsen and Associates

One of the coolest things about being a child of the 70s was having access to the illustrated book/record sets put out by Peter Pan and Power Records... which I think are one and the same. Their line included popular superheroes like Batman, Star Trek, the original G.I. Joe toys, at least one Conan the Barbarian story (with art by Neal Adams, who actually did a number of books for Power) and movie adaptations like Beneath the Planet of the Apes. What made them so cool was the art, which was occasionally spectacular.

This was the third comics adaptation of this movie, the first being an expurgated Gold Key one-shot and the second being a gorgeously illustrated Alfredo Alcala epic serialized by Marvel. The Marvel version can be found in full color in the Adventures on the Planet of the Apes monthly, in the b&w Apes magazines and in a graphic novel reprint from now-defunct Malibu Comics.

But this? This is a compressed version you read while listening to a record with bad acting and sparse sound effects. Like the Marvel version it starts with a dramatic splash image of the ruined Statue of Liberty:

The artist isn't credited by name. Instead, there's a catch-all credit for "Arvid Knudsen and Associates," which is probably a packaging firm, an artist's agency or an advertising firm of some sort. Info is sketchy; believe me, I've looked.

From appearances, I'd say the anonymous artist was Filipino. In the early to mid-1970s, a number of brilliant Filipino artists had come to the States to work with DC and Warren, including Alcala (who produced quality pages at an absolutely insane rate far exceeding the fabled "Kirby Barrier") and the undersung Nestor Redondo. The art definitely has a Nestor Redondo quality about it, but isn't quite as modeled as Redondo's art. Which may be the result of it having been a rush job, or a side effort for some cash. But I suspect the actual artist wasn't Redondo but instead was another of his countrymen, possibly Mar Amongo.

Mar Amongo was a protege of Redondo's, and the line quality here (especially the way the anonymous artist deals with feathering) looks more like Amongo's. While the two artists' figure work could look remarkably similar, the unknown Knudsen illustrator, like Armongo, doesn't seem to have used as much of the ultra-fine, etching-like crosshatching that characterizes Redondo's artwork.

There's also a chance it's by Rudy Nebres. That's a possibility given the Neal Adams connection. Nebres came to the States in 1975 and later did some work for Adams' Continuity Studios. It could also be the work of the underappreciated Tony DeZuniga.

It also bears the influence of Alcala's adaptation of the same material, especially in how the artist costumes General Ursus, the movie's powerful ape general (a rabble-rousing performance by James Gregory in a role actually written for Orson Welles). The film Ursus wears a distinctive headpiece with a large, bubble-shaped crown with long side flaps. For his ape warlord, Alcala collapsed and toned it down a bit and so did the anonymous Knudsen illustrator:

It looks a lot like he'd seen Alcala's artwork. And why mess with perfection? Weirdly, he also makes Dr. Zira a bit more butch, almost interchangeable with her fiance Cornelius. Who wears the pants in this loving chimpanzee household? Why, they both do, in the latest unisex styles for ape scientists:

This is a good example of how the writer and artist condense the film story. In the film (and the Marvel version), there's a whole ton of business about Zira's not applauding the Ursus speech and some arguments with Dr. Zaius about military adventurism. Here it's just a one-page encounter and then Zira and Cornelius disappear into the sunset in a kind of melancholy fugue.

Immediately afterward and without explanation, astronaut Brent turns into Nature Boy and begins running around in a soiled loincloth:

Looks like he made it just in time for the famous New York Fun Festival. The year before his spaceflight into the future he missed the festival entirely when he came down with a nasty stomach virus and spent the entire week in and out of his hotel bathroom.

But no trip to the New York Fun Festival is complete without running into the local mutants of the skinless variety:

Brent then demonstrates the extreme tactfulness for which he was known back in his own time, a quality that led to his being chosen as America's second "ambassador to the stars:"

What else could make a trip to a ruined, subterranean of New York populated by skinless mutants complete? Why, taking a gander at their god, an atomic bomb! Hanging around at this point is a bad mistake roughly on a par with your paroled cousin Randy's get quick rich scheme involving a crystal meth lab:

Actually, it's not quite that bad. Because the reassuring thing about atomic weapons is how they act as the ultimate deterrent against violent invasion by war-mongering gorillas:

Oops! Don't worry, kids. All we have to do is set the bomb's coordinates for the apes' nearby city and...

Because everything is so telescoped, the storytelling is closer to pure illustration, or the tableaux style of a Hal Foster Prince Valiant Sunday strip. Yet it's surprisingly effective for something so short. This, along with the lush figure work and rendering provide evidence of the strong illustrative traditions of the Filipino comics industry. And considering the amount of work many of these artists could turn out, it's not surprising companies were snatching up the top pros at the time and bringing them across the Pacific.

Also, little of the gruesomeness or the bleakness the Apes films frequently indulged in is toned down. That's a bit surprising when you consider the intended audience of kids. While the dialogue is extremely simplistic, the artwork alone makes this a rare comics gem, along with the adaptations by the Arvid Knudsen crew of some of the other Apes films.

PS- If you look at the cover again, you'll notice the apes aren't gorilla soldiers. Instead, they're peace-loving chimpanzees and one of them appears to have shot Charlton Heston in the back with an arrow. Obviously these apes were part of a picnic or day camp featuring an archery contest that went horribly awry. We did things like that back in the 70s, what with all the lawn darts and Alpha-Omega nuclear devices lying around. It's a wonder any of us made it to adulthood. Note Dr. Zaius angrily shouting about all violations of camp safety regulations (also Brent and Nova are running on the pool deck in blatant disregard of the rules!) in the lower right hand corner. Although he's a major player in the movie, he doesn't appear in this comic at all!


Pete Mullins said...

Joel...What a gem you've found here! I have never seen that before.

It's funny to think that it was only later in life that I discovered that the majority of 70s Marvel artists I liked were from the Philippines.

I loved Ruby Nebres inking over Gil Kane's pencils for the Marvel John Carter of Mars comic.
Gorgeous line work!
Keep 'em coming, man....

Joel Bryan said...

I think I didn't learn the Philippines connection until I started reading Comic Book Artist magazine. Seems like they did a story on how US editors scouted out some amazing talent.

Yeah, Rudy Nebres always added something special to the pencillers he inked, and his handling of Gil Kane was just the best.

And now that I'm in the US with full access to my PotA magazines, I'm going to do a lot more Apes coverage. I'm writing a post about the Gold Key Beneath adaptation now!