April sees the debut of a new comic book series based on the classic film series Planet of the Apes. While previous attempts at bringing the Apes saga to comics have met with varying degrees of success and quality, this new series has three things going for it. First, the publisher this time around is BOOM! Studios. Secondly, this is an in-continuity series set firmly in the timeline of the original films. Thirdly, the writer is a new and innovative voice in science-fiction/fantasy, author Daryl Gregory. While the first two reasons should be enough to make this a must-have book, Gregory may still be an unknown factor to most people. This week we sent a few questions to Mr. Gregory and he kindly took some time to answer them. If you’re not hooked on this new Apes comic already, we hope you will be by the end of this interview.
POP CULTURE ZOO: OK, the first obvious question should be what makes you THE guy to be writing Planet of the Apes?
DARYL GREGORY: I’m a little intimidated by the way you capitalized THE, Joseph. It makes me feel like there are people out there wondering, who the hell does this guy think he is? Because, obviously, I’m not the only guy who can or should write Planet of the Apes comics. I’ve talked to a few writers who would happily take on the series, who have a backlog of ideas they’ve been waiting to try out. And frankly, I’d love to read those comics, because some of them are fabulous writers. But I think I am the only guy who can write this particular apes story. Okay, maybe because I’m the one who made up the characters and the plot. But it’s also because this story is all about my worries and questions about the world we live in now. It’s a post-9/11 world, and any story about freedom, extremism, and cultural warfare has to take our world into account.
The great thing about the Apes movies is that they were always more than adventures about apes on horseback chasing down humans with nets (though that is awesome). They’ve always been a way to talk about society and politics. It’s there in the original movie, but the political subtext is probably most naked in CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Paul Dehn and J. Lee Thompson–the screenwriter and the director–wanted to talk about America and racism in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the movie is about as clear a parable as you could ask for.
PCZ: This takes place BEFORE the original 1968 film and its sequel, but as we know films 3-5 were all prequels. Will we be seeing what happens between Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the first film?
DG: Exactly. The story is set in 2680 A.D., 600 years after the events in the last movie, but before Taylor arrives in 3954. It’s a few years after the Lawgiver’s coda in BATTLE, where he talks to the children about living in an age of peace and harmony between humans and apes. But we all know how well that works in the real world. When we pick up the story, apes and humans have been living side by side since the nuclear war 600 years earlier. After many setbacks, the civilization has reached an industrial revolution, with steam-age technology. Apes are definitely the upper class, but humans are not yet mute savages.
Logically, the civilization should be only a hundred years from space travel. But we know that when Taylor arrives 1,300 years later, ape society is largely agrarian, and humans are running wild in the forests. So what happened? Why did civilization turn away from that path? That’s one of the questions in the story. But the main plot is about ape-human conflict. The first arc, called “The Long War”, starts with an act of violence that disrupts the status quo of the society. From there it’s a short step to insurrection and full-scale war.
PCZ: Will we see any characters from the films and various spin-offs or is everybody brand new?
DG: We’ll get to meet the Lawgiver, but because of the time period, most of the cast is new. However, characters like Cornelius, Zira, and Caesar have become legendary figures, and they very much still have an effect on society.
PCZ: Will there be a character that we will recognize as played by Roddy McDowall had this been a live-action production?
DG: One of our featured players is a very smart chimp who is the scheming, Iago-like version of Roddy McDowall. Call him Roddy Malcolm McDowall.
PCZ: As this book is considered within the official continuity, how cool is it that you are getting to expand the original Apes mythos?
DG: It’s very cool — and very scary. See above, and all those people wondering who the hell this Daryl Gregory guy is.
PCZ: Time travel is a familiar aspect to the film and TV series, is that something that will play a part in your series?
DG: Time travel won’t play a role in the first few arcs, but time itself is very much part of the story. Some of the apes know that the world ends in fire in a couple thousand years, at least according to Cornelius and Zira. But does that mean it has to end? Is time a closed loop, or is this an open, multi-branching universe? I’m trying very hard here not to say, “Time will tell.”
PCZ: How far out have you planned this series? Basically, are you planning on sticking around for the long-term?
DG: I’ve got a year’s worth of story planned out — and I’ll happily go further! The Lawgiver and the fans willing.
PCZ: What did you do to research the Apes universe?
DG: I’m treating the movies as the only source material, so that means a lot of rewatching. (Very pleasant homework, by the way.) I also keep the original scripts around, as a reference. I didn’t want to be influenced by what other writers had done, especially in the other comics.
PCZ: What aspects of your series will be appealing to long-time fans of the franchise and what will hook those who have never seen the films?
DG: The trick to pleasing both groups is to tell a good story. For long-time fans, there are plenty of nods and references to the movies. All we have to do is mention “Caesar” and they’ll be able to pick up a lot more than someone who’s never seen the movies. But none of that insider knowledge is necessary to understanding the story. We’ll tell new readers what they need as we go along. The only thing we’re taking as a given in issue 1 is that people see “Planet of the Apes” and know it’s got something to do with apes and humans. We also have a not-so-secret weapon in Carlos Magno. His artwork on this book will pull anyone in. He can make apes and humans alike be both beautiful and scary.
PCZ: Any thoughts to figuring out how to include Tim Burton’s film and the upcoming Rise of the Apes into continuity or is that beyond your mandate?
DG: Happily, I don’t need to integrate with those stories! Those films are in their own universe, and we’re in ours. That makes my job a lot easier.
Thank you very much to Daryl Gregory for taking the time to answer our questions and thank you to BOOM! Studios for making it possible. Planet of the Apes #1 ships from BOOM! in April, but you might want to let your local comic book shop know you want a copy now. We suspect this one is going to sell out. Stay tuned to Pop Culture Zoo as we have more Apes awesomeness coming soon!