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The Chronicle of the Artful Apes

A comic book where apes evolved from men? CINESCAPE unearths the Sacred Scrolls to learn of the many comic book incarnations of those damn, dirty apes

By Arnold T. Blumberg     July 18, 2001


The 1970 Gold Key comic book adaptation of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES
© N/A
It's one of the strangest rules of the industry, but also one that publishers have sworn by for decades ever since it was virtually defined by DC and editor Julie Schwartz. There are, inexplicably, two elements that, when included in a cover illustration, can always spike sales for any comic book. The first is a swastika; the second is a gorilla. In fact, put Superman or the Flash on the cover facing a horde of Nazi gorillas with swastika armbands, and you might just sell a million copies before the shelves are stocked.

If apes are a sure-fire sales grabber for comic book fans, imagine what it must have been like in editorial offices in the early '70s, when a certain classic sci-fi movie series was thrilling audiences with new chapters every few years. PLANET OF THE APES, the first in a five film franchise that later inspired a television series, an animated show, and the new "reimagined" film from Tim Burton and original producers 20th Century Fox, was released in 1968 and instantly became a pop culture touchstone. Soon, Ape-mania was in full swing (so to speak), and throughout the early '70s four more movies were produced while merchandising of the APES saga reached a fever pitch. Naturally, it wasn't long before comic book publishers smelled the bananas in the wind and knew that it was time to latch on to this particular gorilla-driven bandwagon.


SCROLL ONE: THE GOLD(EN) ERA
On a day commemorated by PLANET OF THE APES fans and one fully documented in the Sacred Scrolls, Gold Key Comics became the first comic book publisher to publish an APES title. Through its extensive line of MOVIE COMICS film adaptations featuring such exciting fare as DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE and THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT Gold Key released the first PLANET OF THE APES comic book ever published, a one issue adaptation of the first sequel, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. The December 1970 comic featured a photo cover and a pull-out poster, and today stands as one of the rarest and most sought after APES collectibles.


SCROLL TWO: APE MARVELS
Silence fell like fallout from a doomsday bomb after that, and it wasn't until August 1974 that the apes once more conquered comics. This time, it was the industry's own 500 pound gorilla, Marvel Comics, that brought the franchise to the funny pages with an impressive black and white monthly magazine titled simply PLANET OF THE APES. With stunning, insanely detailed artwork by the likes of Mike Ploog (who has also illustrated storyboards and designs for films like John Carpenter's THE THING), Mike Esposito, George Tuska, and Alfredo Alcala, and scripts by Doug (MOON KNIGHT, BATMAN) Moench, the Marvel magazine adapted all five APES feature films over the course of its twenty-nine issues.

Selected covers from Marvel's 1970s PLANET OF THE APES magazine



The magazine also took APES into the Forbidden Zone of new concepts with original storylines like "Terror on the Planet of the Apes," featuring an ape named Alexander and a human called Jason, and the "Future History Chronicles." The series also featured articles on the entire APES saga, accompanied by occasionally muddy reproductions of publicity photographs (it was only a black and white comic magazine after all).

The success of the APES magazine prompted Marvel to carry their monkey madness over into other formats. Four of the five film adaptations turned up in edited form but now in full color for the fondly remembered Power Records book and record sets released between 1974 and 1978. For some unknown reason, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the fourth film in the series, was not given the Power Records treatment.

It also didn't show up in the standard comic book format series, ADVENTURES ON THE PLANET OF THE APES, which Marvel published from October 1975 to December 1976, but then neither did the third or fifth film installments. Merely a full color reprint series recycling material from the APES black and white magazine, the comic book only managed to re-present the adaptations of the first two movies over the course of eleven issues before poor sales forced its cancellation.

Two examples of Marvel's '70s PLANET OF THE APES output



Marvel's control over the Apes ended in February 1977 when the twenty-ninth and final issue of the PLANET OF THE APES magazine hit the stands. While Marvel also released APES material in a variety of permutations for UK consumption, the only distinctly unique comic book exploits of the apes in England are to be found in three very rare hardcover annuals from 1975-1977 by Brown and Watson. Following those few elusive chapters in the saga, the end of the '70s saw the Apes comics vanish into history like a mutant mirage.


SCROLL THREE: ADVENTURE ON THE PLANET OF THE APES
The Sacred Scrolls next record that a decade or so later, Malibu Graphics decided to resurrect the saga under their Adventure Comics imprint. Forging a bold new strain of Apes continuity, with original ongoing characters and tales, the series debuted with an April 1990 issue sporting one of three color outer covers and featuring cover art by Dale Keown, now well-known for his work on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Adventure Comics' PLANET OF THE APES ran for twenty-four issues and also spawned one annual, a mini-series titled APE CITY, a mini-series subtitled URCHAK'S FOLLY, and a bizarre crossover that saw the Apes encounter the Tenktonese aliens of ALIEN NATION!

Covers from Adventure Comics' 1990s PLANET OF THE APES series



Adventure Comics' ape fever was quelled in March 1993. Many fans had taken to the series initially but found that the lackluster artwork and radical departure from established continuity had soured them on the Adventure Comics extension of the Apes saga. They were subsequently relegated to the archives, and the battle for supremacy over the comic book rights to the Apes was at an end...or so it seemed.

Today, the new APES feature film, a "reimagining" of the original 1968 movie's concept, has inspired Dark Horse Comics to take up the reigns and round up another caravan of Apes excitement. Join us next time when our own Eric Moro takes us for an exclusive trek into the new Forbidden Zone as he seeks out the secrets that lie beneath the all-new PLANET OF THE APES comic book series...

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