Even as anticipation ramps up for Twentieth Century Fox's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a present-day origin story starring James Franco, BOOM! Studios is bringing the damn dirty apes to comic shops beginning this week.
Written by "Dracula: The Company of Monsters" scribe Daryl Gregory with art by Carlos Magno, the ongoing "Planet of the Apes" series is set in the original film continuity and takes place before the 1968 classic. In that film, four astronauts led by Heston's characters awaken from cryogenic sleep, apparently after 2000 years, and land upon a world in which simian civilization has reached an advanced state while humans are essentially dumb beasts. The final scenes -- spoiler -- feature a ruined Statue of Liberty, revealing that the "Planet of the Apes" is a far-future Earth.
CBR News spoke with Daryl Gregory about returning to the universe of the original movie series and the eternal conflicts he hopes to explore. Plus, you can check out our exclusive 10-page extended preview of the debut issue.
CBR News:With a new film set to revamp the franchise, it's interesting that this series is set in the original continuity. What appeals to you most about this version of "Planet of the Apes?"
Daryl Gregory: Besides the fact that when I was twelve I had a crush on Kim Hunter? There was something about Zira that made me think bad thoughts. Oh, I'll admit that James Franco is a handsome man, but he's no Kim Hunter.
I hope that the new movie kicks butt, brings new people to the franchise and makes so much money they make sequels that somehow involve Uma Thurman. But it's the classic "Planet of the Apes" that's been baked into my consciousness, and as an adult writer (as opposed to that lovestruck twelve year old), what I most admire is how directly the films address the issues of their age. It's all right there on the surface: racism, feminism, war, religion, class differences. Those films, more than any other science fiction franchise, were explicitly metaphorical. No matter how low the budgets got (and they got progressively lower with each film), the movies cared about philosophy and politics. They weren't empty-headed adventures.
With the themes you mention in mind, what aspects of the original five-film series are you hoping to explore further in the comics?
It's a very rich universe. You have not only the complicated history of apes and humans to play with, but also psychic mutants, temporal paradoxes -- [there is] just a tremendous amount of material to work with.
But what's most interesting are the themes of the movies rather than the science fictional furniture. One theme that runs through all five movies is the tension between security and freedom. What are the lengths a society would go to to protect itself? We see it in the first movie, with Dr. Zaius terrified of the truths Taylor might uncover, and in the later movies when the humans do everything possible to prevent the talking apes from breeding. So how does this apply to the post-9-11 environment we're living in? Well, it turns out that you don't have to reach far to find relevance. Xenophobia is the order of the day, and all the isms that were present during the filming of the movies -- racism, extremism, nationalism, fundamentalism -- are all in play. It's kind of depressing that we've made so little progress, but it tells you that the films were trying to tackle universal themes.
The comic series is actually set before the original film. What does the world look like at this point? What is the shape of society, and what are some of the ongoing conflicts?
We're set about 600 years after the last film, and 1,300 years before Charlton Heston's Taylor crash lands in the first film. (For those who never saw the sequels, in the third film Cornelius and Zira go back in time from around 3950AD to the 1970s, and the remaining films continue from there.) It's the time of the Lawgiver, the Moses-like figure referenced throughout the movies. The world was destroyed by nuclear war centuries ago, and the ape-human civilization is clawing its way back. They've recently regained steam-age technology, and they're on the edge of a new industrial revolution. Humans aren't the mute slaves Taylor will meet. They're technically citizens with equal rights, but they're clearly an underclass, living in their own ghetto called Skintown. Despite the Lawgiver's promises, the ape-human utopia has failed to materialize. Is anybody surprised? So, we're looking at a civilization that's at a pivot point. Many of the apes are questioning whether technology is the answer. Do we keep going and end up right back where the humans took us, at a nuclear apocalypse? There has to be a more stable way to run a society. But what do you do with humans who won't go along with society's goals?
As for the humans, they just want their piece of the Lawgiver's dream. They want self-determination. To an ape, though, that sounds a lot like insurrection. In the best tradition of science fiction, we'll start just as things are going to hell -- and then have them get a lot worse. In the first four issues, we'll see the opening salvo of a war, and whether you view the humans as freedom fighters or terrorists may depend on how much fur you have on your back. At the same time, we'll introduce the major characters and do a lot of world-building. We have a lot of story to tell, and a big cast of characters, so the whole trick is getting that information across without overwhelming the reader or slowing down the story.
So, who are our heroes, and what are they up against?
We have no heroes! And no villains either. We do have main characters, and they're going to be on different sides of the conflict. One one side we have the orangutan Alaya, who is the Lawgiver's biological granddaughter. She's the head of the council in the city. On the other is Sullivan, the unofficial mayor of Skintown, who is the Lawgiver's adopted human granddaughter. Each of these sisters is responsible for their people, and much of the time, their needs are diametrically opposed. But this story has a wide scope, so we'll meeting a large cast of side characters. Alaya's second command is Nix, a gorilla who assembles what is essentially Alaya's private army. Sullivan's second is Bako, an ex-rebel who gave up war to raise his daughter in Skintown, and knows better than anyone the limits of violence. We also throw in a mix of underworld figures, chimp bureaucrats, trigger-happy gorillas, mutant priests, and human labor organizers. A big ol' Story Salad.
The issue -- and series -- begins with an assassination. What made this the natural starting point for the story you're telling?
I wanted to signal that this society is already at a crisis point. The time period of the original movies put me in mind of Martin Luther King and JFK, which in turn brought to mind Lincoln and even Archduke Ferdinand. Assassination can be a trigger political change, but just as often it's a signal that change is already happening -- and the extremists are trying, usually futilely, to stop it.
On this note, given the imperfect record of human history in "Planet of the Apes," is the assassin's battle cry of "Thus to tyrants" a hint to his or her motivations?
"Thus to tyrants" is a slightly abbreviated translation of the Latin phrase "Sic semper tyrannis" -- which was on the T-shirt Timothy McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested in Oklahoma. His T-shirt was quoting what John Wilkes Booth shouted after shooting Lincoln, which was itself a quote of what Brutus supposedly said at the assassination of Caesar. Which brings us right back to Caesar, the founding ape, and his moral descendant, the Lawgiver. In McVeigh, Booth and Brutus, you have every archetype of the assassin -- from crazy terrorist, to misguided partisan, to noble patriot. So I'm using the phrase in the book to not so much clarify matters as to muddy them. We'll reveal the assassin's motivations, but that still won't tell the reader how to think about the killing.
You're working with Carlos Magno for this series. What does his style add to the adventure?
Carlos does beautiful figures. His apes and humans, even when they're being violent, are lovely to look at. And he brings such emotion to his faces! When he zooms in, you see so much subtlety of expression. There's a panel on the last page of the first issue, where he focuses on the face of a mourning orangutan woman, that captures both determination and grief. And I think all I said in the script was "Focus on Alaya." But just as important are how thoroughly his environments are imagined. His backgrounds are full of details that flesh out the world. He's drawing on the movies for some of the look of costumes and architecture, but because we're in a time period and tech level that's never been shown on screen, he's also inventing a new vocabulary for the book. I can't wait for people to see what he does in the book.
BOOM! Studios' "Planet of the Apes" is in stores today