“You Who Are Reading Me Now Are A Different Breed - I Hope A Better One.” COMICS! Sometimes You Stop And Find Forty Years Have Slipped Down The Back of The Sofa!

Yes! This is a thing which is happening! It’s the second patience sapping instalment of the world’s slowest and most digressive crawl through Marvel UK’s Planet of the Apes Weekly (1974 - 1977). O ye of little faith! Run, you fools!  photo PotAStartB_zps37829286.jpg Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

Anyway, this… PLANET OF THE APES WEEKLY #1 (Week Ending October 26th 1974) Planet of The Apes Part 1 Art by George Tuska & Mike Esposito Written by Doug Moench Based on the 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Planet of The Apes (1968) Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle Marvel UK, £0.08 (1974)

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Blame it on The Roy. For Rascally Roy Thomas was the one. The one who personally bagged Marvel the rights to produce original material based on the 20th Century Fox motion picture presentation Planet of The Apes. That movie was released in 1968 so why a push for a comic in 1974? Why, Roy? Why? Good question; Roy’s glad you asked. Because Television. You know how important Television is to comic creators today? Well, Television was that central to everyblummingbody back in 1974. Albeit less for monetary reasons, and more for distractions-from-the-hideous-reality-of-the-1970s reasons. There was comparatively very little Television programming at this point in time (the 1970s, keep up!) which tended to lend it all an importance out of all proportion to its quality. It was still early days so there was only a limited array of TV programmes – ones where a pair of caucasian, heterosexual males (one blond, one brunette) had adventures in a variety of settings, ones where a mishap prone heterosexual couple inhabited a house filled with invisible laughing maniacs, ones where someone, usually a caucasian heterosexual male (blond or brunette), was pursued from town to town for eternally unresolved reasons, ones with news on them and then documentaries about corned beef manufacture in Argentina. When the Planet of the Apes TV (PotA-TV) series was broadcast in 1974 it was a daring evolutionary step forward for Televisual entertainment - it was about a pair of caucasian, heterosexual males (one blond, one brunette) having adventures on the Planet of the Apes WHILE ALSO being pursued from town to town for eternally unresolved reasons. As artistically modest as it may appear to audiences raised on The Wire and Mr. Bean it remains a fact that PotA-TV was a smash-hit with the simple, clueless, happy-go-lucky folk of 1970s Britain.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

Luckily for all their lovely share-holders Marvel UK were Johnny-on-the–Spot with Planet of the Apes Weekly (PotA-W) which basically acted like a papery pocket money attractor. So successful was the comic that it ended in 1977 not, as is traditional, for want of sales, but rather because APJAC international Productions raised their licensing fees and Marvel balked. Marvel UK was a bit different from Marvel proper in that it was formed in 1972 (said Wikipedia, yesterday) to publish comics in the UK but with editorial direction via Noo Yawk. While it’s true that Neil Tennant, long before becoming a pop colossus, did work for Marvel UK in an editorial capacity, he denies anything to do with PotA-W. This is a shame because I’d have liked to have mentioned Neil Tennant, being a big fan of The Pet Shop Boys as I am. As it is any mention of Neil Tennant would just unnecessarily cloud the issue. And I think we all know I just cannot be doing with unnecessary digressions. In 1976 Marvel UK would produce its first original material in the form of Captain Britain Weekly, which I liked (Herb Trimpe, oh yeah!) Since PotA-W was produced prior to 1976 all its content (bar the letters page) was produced in the Land of The Free and the Home of The Brave. America, I’m talking about America there. And the face of American comics in 1974 was a Smilin’ one. So, opening the painted cover, the first thing you saw in 1974 was Smilin’ Stan Lee. Caught there for posterity in a comic book store somewhere, in a picture bearing mute but unarguable testament to the sublimity of craft imbuing his hairpiece, Stan Lee welcomes us to this, the first issue of PotA-W. Thanks, Stan! Don’t mind if I do.

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The comic strip bits of the first issue of PotA-W consist entirely of the first part of Marvel’s “6 part adaptation” of the movie (PotA-M). Before the children’s entertainment Star Wars (1977) happened science fiction in movies was, mostly, telling us that the future was going to be even worse if we didn’t get our act together. PotA-M is very much in that grand, finger wagging tradition and it stars Charlton Heston, who I will always adore for a number of reasons. I shall now bore you with them. Obviously, and most pertinently, he would eventually star in three of my favourite Pull Your Socks Up, Humanity! movies – Soylent Green (1973), The Omega Man (1971) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Those were all movies I saw slightly later in life because they were on later in the evening, but I was still primed for Charlton Heston. For, when younger, I had spent many a happy Sunday afternoon drinking Cresta in front of the Television watching The Hest’s parched delivery save such historical and long movies as El Cid (1961), The Warlord (1965) and Khartoum (1966) from my childish disinterest. Best of all the many Sunday Afternoon Hest Fests was The Naked Jungle (1954) which was about Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker learning to love among the marabunta ants. Unstoppable killer ants aside, the scene where the widowed Eleanor Parker character tells Hest that the best piano is one that's been played remains kind of awesome to me even now. Then, later, I found out about Charlton Heston insisting Orson Welles be allowed to direct Touch of Evil (1958), Charlton Heston marching for Civil Rights and, naturally, Wayne’s World 2 (1993). Probably other things in there as well. Yes, for a very long time there was no question about Charlton Heston. But then I made the mistake of watching some Michael Moore thing which had Charlton Heston brandishing a firearm and yelling about his cold dead hands. Unbeknownst to me, apparently in the 1980s (that heinous decade), Charlton Heston threw liberalism over for conservatism. If he’d just called I might have been able to talk him out of it, but he was a proud man and, perhaps unconsciously sensing his error, never sought my advice. Yes, there were sure some mixed feelings in my head that day. But those feelings, that head and that day itself were in 2002; which, in line with Haslein’s theory, hadn’t happened in 1974 when PotA-W started.

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Mind you, reading George Tuska and Doug Moench’s comic book adaptation of PotA-M you’d be hard pressed to guess Heston was the star. In the old days, with their old ways, licenced comics had to get some kind of likeness agreement from the people in the movie concerned; otherwise there’d be some legal unpleasantness. Apparently Marvel didn’t bother with that, because Tuska was, so it’s still claimed in smoky back rooms and seedy dance halls, explicitly told not to make anyone “look like Charlton Heston”. A bit of a drawback really when adapting a movie starring Charlton Heston. And so Tuska’s art compliantly contains no one who could even charitably be said to “look like Charlton Heston”. I’ve had food that looked more like Charlton Heston. If anything Tuska overplays his underplaying as all the human faces resemble cereal boxes bearing variations on the same generic visage. This pretty much sums up Tuska’s performance here – he does as he’s asked, but little more. There’s a lot of chops involved in just doing that well, I’m not unaware of that, but Time lacks mercy and while in 1974 this was probably pretty good stuff, by 2015 I (and this is just me, never mind someone actively involved with comic art) have seen Sienkiewicz & Macchio’s Dune, Bissette & Veitch’s 1941 and Simonson & Goodwin’s Alien: The Illustrated Story. Tuska’s stuff here is never not going to look rough in that company. Audrey Hepburn would struggle in that company, and George Tuska is no Audrey Hepburn. Gamine or no, what George Tuska is though, is competent.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

He’s certainly as competent as Franklin J. Schaffner’s unspectacular direction of the source movie. But Schaffner had advantages denied to Tuska. Schaffner had Jerry Goldmith’s appropriate pandemonium of parping brass and screeching strings to load even the stillest moments with foreboding, and he had a cast comprising Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Charlton Heston. Poor old George Tuska has none of these things; Hell, he’s even denied anyone who even “looks like Charlton Heston”. He does a decent job; even though I kind of tense at the meagreness of his line and the inertia soaking everything so that even the rough and tumble in the reeds which ends the issue struggles to excite. But it’s doubtful if excitement was even on their agenda. What Tuska and Moench have done here isn’t so much an adaptation as a documentation of PotA-M. Moench & Tuska are obviously attempting to replicate the movie as rigorously as possible on the printed page. Of all the comic options this is the most literal and least interesting approach. But, again, I wrote that in 2015 and this comic was made circa 1974 when the idea that the mass of the UK population might own and view movies in their own home was the stuff of unhinged fantasy. (The exception was a minority of film buffs and onanistically inclined gentlemen for whom select movies were available for home projection; but it was hardly a widespread practice. The projection of movies in private domiciles that is; onanism is ever at hand.) The ephemerality of the movie viewing experience at the time meant that a comic such as this would act as a substitute to a repeat viewing. Once a movie’s theatrical run ended usually the next time you’d see it would be five years later on Television. So there are certainly reasons for Tuska and Moench’s, to modern eyes at least, tiresomely literal script. Yet, what was once a boon has become a burden thanks to that unstoppable bastard, Time.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

Basically, in 2015, I’d rather watch the movie but in 1974 I didn’t have that option, and neither did anyone else. Because I do like the movie, don’t get me wrong. While I may have found Pierre Boulle’s original 1964 novel torpidly unengaging someone liked it enough to get Rod “Twilight Zone” Serling (and Michael Wilson) to punch it up with sensationalised action and on-the-nose allegory to the point where someone as uncouth as I is still quite happy to watch it. Sure, there’s more than the one odd thing about PotA-M, not least Taylor himself. When we first meet Taylor, and Taylor is the first person we meet, he is not only hubristically huffing a cigar in a high pressure oxygen environment but also helpfully setting up the themes and basic gist of the movie about to unfold. He does this via a Hestonically delivered misanthropic soliloquy. Taylor’s basic distaste with the Human Race persists throughout the movie until it is knocked off its perch by his distaste for the simian usurpers. He’s just not a people person, Colonel Taylor, and I don’t think putting him in charge of a space mission speaks highly of NASA’s (or is it ANSA's?) screening processes. And that NASA mission’s a bit odd as well. It looks like someone’s had the bright idea of throwing three men and a woman into space with the intention of setting up a new franchise of Humanity. “She was to be the new Eve”, yeah? Now, when it comes to biology my interest is purely amateurish and recreational, but it strikes me that three men and a lady is a breeding fast-track to kids with more thumbs than fingers. I could be wrong; I’m no science-tist. Or maybe two of the blokes were a couple or something. As it happens the, biologically speaking, weird science doesn’t matter much because quicker than you’d Adam and Eve it Stewart (the female crew member) is both old and dead which, even in the swinging ‘60s, is enough to dampen the crew’s ardour. Gerontophilia, perhaps. Necrophilia maybe. But both together’s a bit rich, or am I just being old-fashioned? Then there’s a long mostly quiet bit full of rocks, wandering about and Taylor winding up his crew before we get to the big shock reveal, which is that they are on a (SPOILER!) planet of apes! Boy, it’s a good job it isn’t called Planet of the Apes or something, he said sarcastically. Mind you, at least they left The Big Twist (they’re all dead!) until the end back then, nowadays even that one’s spoilt by the box cover. All of which spoilery matters a lot less than you’d think because back in 1968 they made movies that were so well made that they could survive as satisfactory viewing experiences even with all the surprises sucked out. Alas I can’t say the same for the comic adaptation which is just OKAY!

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NEXT TIME: The back-ups are coming! The back-ups are coming! Gil Kane! Jack Kirby! Can poor printing mute talents so large? Sabre-toothed tigers and horse riding lobster men! It’s even better than an offer to groom you for nits - it’s Part 3 of Planet of the COMICS!!!