Thursday, September 15, 2011

What About the Future?: The Lost Issue of Marvel's Planet of the Apes Magazine

Does it ever bother you that the story "Terror on the Planet of the Apes," serialized in Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine, ends on a cliffhanger? Sure, it's not quite of the same order as that maddening final episode of Twin Peaks, but it's unfinished business nevertheless. I probably spend a lot more time bemoaning the lack of a third season for David Lynch's weird show than I do an ending to Doug Moench's even weirder comic book saga, but I'd never turn down either.

What's tantalizing about Apes is how in #27, editor John Warner promised a "novel-length, double sized TERROR novel," set to appear in the never-published thirtieth issue of the magazine. It would have sparked a "[redefined] the direction" of a narrative that already had too many of them.

Directions, that is. "Terror" is the picaresque story of Jason, the loin-cloth wearing, fiery-tempered human and Alexander, his long-suffering chimpanzee friend.  Yes, Jason and Alexander.  They're on the run from gorilla Brutus, the ironically-titled "peace officer," an ambitious gorilla who uses his respected office as a cover for recruiting other gorillas into his violent ape supremacist movement. Brutus stops at nothing, not even the murder of his own wife, which he pins on Jason. The human-ape buddies flee into the Forbidden Zone, but not without a lot of fist waving and angry emotional showboating on Jason's part.

Actually, let me just take a moment here and say for the record Jason is one of the most annoying and unlikable protagonists ever to grace a Marvel title. Really, I can't imagine why Alexander puts up with him. Jason is just that much a jerk. Self-pitying and largely unforgiving, too.

The two fugitives have all kinds of increasingly psychedelic adventures as they encounter cultures all too coincidentally similar to different historical epochs-- gnarly old frontier types in buckskins and with names like Gunpowder Julius (an ape) and Steely Dan (a human); the Assimians, who appear to have spent quite a bit of time studying James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales; apes of the far north in horned helmets who love wild feasts in their warm meadhalls and go raiding in longboats.  Along the way, Jason and Alexander make friends with a techno-hippie who calls himself Lightsmith, after the flashlight he wields and Maleguena, who becomes Jason's lover even though even she can't stand his arrogant posturing.  But her previous boyfriend was a jealous chimp, so I guess on the Planet of the Apes, this is considered trading up.

And don't forget the mush-faced drones led by giant floating brains, the googly-eyed aliens and their pet flying monkey-demons inside mountains and a vast ecosystem of mutated beasts-- like the former horses that now resemble maiasaura.  They add zest!

The story climaxes as Brutus attempts to invade Ape City with his rogue ape army supplemented by the Gorilloids-- bionic apes made by yet another group of human mutants, the Makers.  This leads to an epic battle sequence where practically every character in the story shows up to scream and run around shooting guns at each other. Jason reduces Brutus to a prisoner in chains, but finds it's a bitter victory because he will never know the joys of wearing pants. Meanwhile, some dumb kid ape has gotten himself turned into a nearly mindless cyborg by the Makers-- they plan to attack as well-- and comes strolling up in the battle's aftermath.

And that's all we ever get of "Terror."  From gorgeous but occasionally rushed-looking art by Mike Ploog, to serviceable work by Herb Trimpe, Moench's story is the comic book equivalent of ghost riding the whip.  And then falling off the hood, landing on one's head and entering a coma from which one never awakens.  The final issue of Planet of the Apes, #29, consists largely of an installment of the "Future History Chronicles," which features talking apes but otherwise has only the merest connection to the movies that spawned the magazine, and there is no #30.

So we never get to see the Makers attack, or find out what happens to cyber-ape-kid. My guess is this vaporous thirtieth issue would have wrapped all of this up and future storylines would have explained how Gunpowder Julius, the viking apes and the Assimians all came to adopt such specific, anachronistic lifestyles in just a few short years after the collapse of modern civilization.  Then more of "Future History Chronicles."  According to Warner, Marvel had no plans to adapt the two Apes TV properties, the live action show and the animated one.  But he did hint at a third series starring Derek Zane, hero of the magazine's lamest-- yet, oddly enough, more closely-tied to movie continuity-- stories about a guy who invents a time machine and then has a lot of Mark Twain-inspired adventures among apes who've patterned their society after Camelot, complete with jousting knights and a Robin Hood.

But after that?  Who knows?  Let's ask the Lawgiver if the day will ever come when we Apes-fans will get to read more thrilling tales of jerky Jason and agreeable Alexander:

I'm afraid, my children...

1 comment:

Hasslein Books said...

As it happens, you can find out what would have happened next here: