Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Simians in White Sheets and Dead Guys Fighting

Doug: Marvel Magazine time, kids. Today we're looking at the first issue of Planet of the Apes, the black and white extravaganza that celebrated all things Ape in the early 1970's. There are numerous articles about the films, and the magazine kicks off with a long explanation from Roy Thomas concerning Marvel's acquistion of the license. I'll examine the first comic story (which is actually the first part of a multi-part serial), with a fine creative team of Doug Moench and Mike Ploog. There is a second comic story that adapts Planet of the Apes, with art by George Tuska. This beauty was on the shelves at the supermarket in August, 1974.

The protagonists of this story are two teens -- a young human named Jason and a chimp named Alexander. They are just out of class and on their way to the village square to hear a message from the Lawgiver. This story, we find, takes place after the events of the fifth film in the Apes series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The Lawgiver, as you might suspect, preaches a message of peace and harmony among the "races". He then drops a bomb by informing the gathered public that he is leaving for an undisclosed amount of time. His place as magistrate is handed on an interim basis to Xavier; the lads are less than thrilled. This is a society dominated by apes, despite the former message, and it shows in the dialogue between our two leads -- there is much tension. The boys attempt to follow the Lawgiver to see which direction he heads, but they quickly lose him. They part ways, and Alexander heads to his house.

But when he get there, he's alarmed to find his father prone on the floor, beaten, and his mother cradling his head. She exclaims that gorillas in white hoods were there and carried out the violence, calling him a human lover and a traitor to the ape cause. Alexander's mother said that their parting words were that all humans were to be subjugated, or killed. She implores Alexander to run and warn his friend Jason. However, as Jason will soon learn, his parents received the latter sentence in a deadly inferno. Jason pursues as the villains ride away, but he is unable to keep up with the horses. He is exhausted, and filled with hatred for those "beasts".

With tensions between Jason and Alexander now higher, the two nevertheless strike a pact to ally and bring the hooded murderers to justice. Cut now to the encampment of the ape "klan", where the perpetrators return and we discover that they were on an initiation mission designed specifically to kill Jason's parents. We also find that the leader is none other than Brutus, the Lawgiver's peace officer. Brutus, the prejudiced, hateful peace officer. As Jason and Alexander have stumbled upon the camp, along with Brutus' wife, they are engaged by hooded miscreants and captured. Jason is eventually framed for the murder of Brutus' wife, a murder which Brutus himself commits when his wife rejects his offer to rule at his side over an ape-dominated society.

The remainder of the story shows Jason on trial for the murder charges. Xavier presides, and his ineptitude shines through as all that he learned of peace and harmony from the Lawgiver is brushed aside by Brutus' strongarm tactics. Jason is sentenced to prison ahead of his impending hanging. However, he is broken out by Alexander, and the two decide that they must trail the Lawgiver... into the Forbidden Zone.

Wow -- what a great story! Moench really nails the tensions between the apes and humans, playing directly off the tone from Battle. And Ploog's art is perfect. He really nails the look of the apes, and his backgrounds and landscapes evoke the best of the Apes films. This was a true winner from Marvel as the company expanded into the arena of black and white magazines -- seek it out, effendi!

Karen: I dug deep into the long boxes for this one. It's Frankenstein Monster #9 (Marc

h 1974), with the battle everyone's been waiting for: The Frankenstein Monster vs. Dracula, lord of Darkness! Brought to you by Gary Friedrich and John Buscema.

This issue is the second (and concluding) part of a two part story. While I don't have all the details, it's not too hard to comprehend. Frankie is in Transylvania, where he's
apparently gotten into trouble with both Dracula and the angry villagers (aren't they always angry?). As we begin this story, the big old lug is being burned at the stake! He's not even fighting back, as the Monster wants to die. But then a cream breaks the night and the villagers realize that while they were setting Frank on fire, Drac has taken advantage of the situation and attacked a woman. The villagers then turn their anger towards Dracula.

Although the Monster wants to end his life, he can't stand by while someone's in trouble -and he also wants to rid the w
orld of Dracula. So he busts loose and heads off to find Drac, only to have the villagers accost him again. He shakes them off and tells them, "I want nothing more than to end my wretched existence...but if you allow me...I will do one good turn for mankind before my death - though I am not at all certain you deserve it!"
Frank heads for a cave that is Dracula's lair. Inside is a beautiful gypsy girl that he met in the previous issue. She had been kind to the Monster when no one else was. Unfortunately, she has been turned into a vampire by Dracula, and attacks the Monster. Although it pains him to do so, the Monster ends her unlife with a stake to the heart.

Who should arrive then but Dracula? He wants to bite the Monster and convert him into a slave. Although Dracula is far more powerful than the Monster, it seems the Monster's hatred for Dracula is so great it gives him a tremendous burst of strength. He tosses Dracula to the entrance of the cave, where the sun is now conveniently rising. As the terrified vampire tries to crawl back into the cave, the Monster grabs two pieces of wood, making the sign of the cross. Dracula recoils, and as his flesh begins to be consumed by the rays of the sun, the Monster forcefully stakes him through the heart, leaving nothing but a skeleton. It is at this moment that we get a surprise visitor -a man who says his name is Vincent Frankenstein!

This was a fun read, a book I haven't seen in many years. It was also a short one, as the book also contains a 4 page horror reprint (the source is not identified). I felt that Buscema's art seemed rushed in places - particularly towards the end, with the fight between the Monster and Dracula. We got a couple of pages with just three panels on them, which looked very odd. Also, a lot of close-ups with no background detail. It's not terrible work by Buscema but far from his best. The inker was John Verpoorten, and it's a decent if workmanlike job. The cover is pretty eye-catching, or at least was to me as a 9 year old! I'm not sure who did it; the Grand Comic Book Database guesses possibly Ron Wilson, but I doubt that. It may be Buscema layouts. The heavy inks remind me of Tom Palmer, but I really don't know who it was.

I do wish Marvel had kept the Monster in the past (as he is here, sometime in the late 1800s). They had a number of characters that started out in other time periods (alternate future characters like Deathlok or Killraven) that wound up making appearances in the regular Marvel universe, and I never really thought that was a good idea. For
the Monster, seeing him running around with Spider-Man never felt right. He is ideally suited to "the old world" -I mean, how else are you going to get the angry villagers?

I do like the characterization of the Monster: he's hardly a brute or unfeeling. He's a sympathetic character, with a good heart and heroic qualities. Actually, the Monster was the prototype for many a Marvel hero -the misunderstood monster! How would the Thing have fared if he'd been in 19th century Europe, rather than metropolitan New York of the 1960s?


MaGnUs said...

I know this is unrelated, but I just wanted to showcase my son's new blog (and first one, since he's five), Bedtime Comics With My Dad, where we'll read comics together and he'll review them. We started with a Silver Age comic, the X-Men's first issue, but we will do some Bronze Age comics eventually.

Sorry for spamming.

nyrdyv said...

This is almost too surreal to think about racism in the Planet of the Apes. Makes ya wonder if it really is racism, is an extreme form of racism, or maybe they just hate themselves...


Steven G. Willis

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