Monday, September 12, 2011

Ape-Quest '11: "Quest for the Planet of the Apes" Edition, Part 2!

Remember a couple of years ago I wrote a piece making affectionate fun of the story "Quest for the Planet of the Apes" right here in this very blog? You don't? Okay, go read it here and then report back to me. It was meant to be the first part of a two-part look at an obscure bit of Planet of the Apes lore. And it still is, goshdarnit! Here's the second part! When we last left our jolly ape friends, they were about to fight an angry Governor Breck and his his band of nearly-naked humans.

 What's Breck so angry about? Well, he used to be ruler of a mighty state, but thanks to Caesar the super-smart boss of all the talking apes, he's now a bearded bum in a soiled loincloth. Just about anyone else in Breck's reduced position would look back on his life and think, "Maybe running a repressive regime that enslaved anthropomorphized apes wasn't the best career move," but the ex-governor isn't like most people-- refusing to recognize his own culpability for his fall from power, he places sole blame on Caesar and wants revenge!

Rico Rival has been replaced by my favorite Apes artist-- one of my favorite artists, period-- Alfredo Alcala.  Alcala's art here isn't as ornate as his work on the black & white Beneath the Planet of the Apes adaptation, a series highpoint.  It's a little simpler, the gray tones a bit flatter.  It's still quite lovely, with a slightly comical quality, especially in the apes' expressions.


Even after two years of constant study, I haven't figured out why the humans are in Tarzan rags. In the movie Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which this story immediately precedes, they just wore regular clothes. It would be thousands of years into the future before the humans started making like the extras in a Hammer Studios prehistoric romp-- my favorite is Prehistoric Women because it has the amazing Martine Beswick in it as the evil high priestess of a decadent tribe-- in Apes film continuity.  Another thing I don't understand is why the woman on the far left felt it necessary to kneel.  Other than to fit into the scene without Breck's jagged speech bubbles covering her face.

This page has an excellent feeling of depth, though.  The apes are almost silhouetted in the foreground, Breck and his gang occupy the well-lit middle ground, then there's a suggestion of foliage behind them.

Instead of just shooting Caesar and being done with the whole ordeal, Breck has to voice all his grievances while Caesar and Aldo squirm uncomfortably.  It allows an old orangutan time to climb up on a wagon full of guns-- ever-generous Aldo brought them back from the ruined city in the Forbidden Zone to share with all his pals-- and jump on Breck.  This sequence occupies approximately 12 days of story-time.

Then comes the big fight!

Yeah, it's pretty much a re-write of Battle. My memories of that movie are confused with those of the David Gerrold prose adaptation. The novel is infinitely superior to the movie, which is common with film versions of literary works but rarely seems to work in the opposite direction.

But in this case, Gerrold worked from a shooting script that was written for a significantly higher-budget movie than the one that eventually reached the screen. If I'm remembering correctly, Aldo holds his gorilla cavalry out of the big third act fight after a disastrous headlong charge into the humans' automatic weapons, then has his horse-apes chase down and slaughter the fleeing and demoralized survivors after their defeat by the other apes led by Caesar.

I believe that sequence never made it as far as the filming stage, which is too bad; the movie could have used a little more epic scope a "Charge of the Ape Brigade" would have lent it-- mutants to the left of them, mutants to the right, mutants in front of them, volley'd and thunder'd. You get the idea. Here, Aldo just can't decide. Let the hated Breck kill the hated Caesar or kill the hated humans? Eventually, he decides to do both. Which is good for us, because we get to see his gorilla soldiers do this:

And then Aldo himself do this:

"Skluch!" Wow, these old Marvel magazines have the sickest sound effects, don't they? Take that, you filthy, gun-wielding counter-culture artifact! "Skluch" is the perfect "gorilla general karate chop to the skull" onomatopoeia, isn't it? Unless it's supposed to be, "Rowrrur!" and Aldo's actually sawing into the hippie's brain. But that hardly seems likely.

Oh yeah, that old orangutan turns out to be Mandemus, played by Lew Ayres in Battle.  Mandemus guards the Ape City arsenal in the movie, and his appearance here seems to contradict a bit of dialogue in the film.  Do you remember a scene where genius ape Virgil describes Mandemus as his former teacher?  I seem to, but I'm still not sure I trust my memories.  In this story, he's already an elderly kook.  Well, maybe he is a teacher and we just don't get to see his classroom.  But does it seem likely as familiar with Virgil as Caesar is later, he wouldn't know the primary teacher of the ape school in this story?

Am I confusing my sources again?

Not to be outdone by his more savage rival, Caesar engages the nearly-naked Breck in some mano-a-mano fisticuffs using the Marquess of Queensberry rules. Caesar is a civilized ape, but he throws a wicked right uppercut. BALD BULL! UPPERCUT! UPPERCUT! Sorry, that's the only punch I ever knew how to throw when I played that old video game.

Finally, his feelings deeply hurt (he's a sensitive man), Breck sniffles a little, then storms off, vowing never to invite Caesar to his birthday party. Which would be held in the bowels of a city devastated by nuclear war, the kind of thing that sort of cuts down on the festive atmosphere.  And then, pumped up on adrenaline, Caesar goes and does something kind of stupid.

The next day, the two adversaries face off and toss arch bon mots at each other.  Caesar uses his wit like a rapier; Aldo uses his like a big wooden mallet.  He kind of reminds me of Animal Mother from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket here:  "Well, I've got a joke for you.  I'm going to tear you a new asshole."  Animal Mother and Aldo, brothers in subtlety.  Might I suggest Adam Baldwin for this part in the remake?  I mean, not taking anything away from Claude Akins's fierce portrayal, but he's no longer alive.

Now it's Caesar's turn to see how it feels! Check out the body language Alcala gives his battlin' apes here. Aldo just hit Caesar so hard, his unborn son Cornelius felt it!  He hit Caesar so hard, the shelf containing all the Mego Planet of the Apes action figures collapsed at K-Marts across the land!  There were plastic figures recalled all over the place at Christmas time that year because they came out with lop-sided faces and dark marks over their eyes.  He hit Caesar so hard, Roddy McDowall had to sit down for a few minutes while filming an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery.  Which makes the punch all the more impressive, because McDowall guest-starred on that show about seven years before Marvel published "Quest!"

It's pretty much the final sequence of Battle, with Aldo taking to a tree. Only in this one, the outcome is a bit different.

Ah, slapstick!  Cue the circus music.  Perhaps "Sabre Dance" as Aldo struggles and spins beneath the swaying limbs of the big oak tree.  All's well that ends well, right? No, this is Planet of the Apes. Not only do things never end well, thanks to the circular nature of the series' narrative, they never end at all.

Oh, that irrepressible scamp Aldo! You know there's going to be all kinds of delicious trouble ahead!

While it may lack in originality as far as plot points go, "Quest for the Planet of the Apes" more than makes it up to us in sheer fun.  I wish Marvel had done a few more stories within the movie series continuity-- not that I don't dig all the weird-o stuff they did do-- but more than anything, I really wish someone would get on the ball and reprint all of Doug Moench's insanely brilliant Apes work.  Dark Horse... Dark Horse...  come in, Dark Horse!

No comments: