It’s a pleasant surprise that this is the year that pop culture seems to be revising the classic Planet of the Apes franchise. Not only is there a new prequel in production at Fox titled Rise of the Apes (a sort of remake/reboot of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) but in April, BOOM! will be publishing a new comic series based on the franchise based on the continuity of the original films.
And to write the comics, they’ve recruited novelist Daryl Gregory (The Devil’s Alphabet, Pandemonium), tasking him with charting the course of ape/human society after the events of the last film in the series. Gregory spoke with MTV Geek by e-mail to tell us a bit about the upcoming series, old clashes between humans and apes made new, and the impact the original films had on his formative years.
MTV Geek: So how did convince BOOM! to run with your idea of a new Planet of the Apes series?
Daryl Gregory: I wish it was my idea. Matt Gagnon, BOOM! Editor-in-chief, called me and said they were going to do a new book for Planet of the Apes, and was that something I'd be interested in writing? He didn't understand that I grew up in Chicago in the 70's, when WGN had the Apes movies running on near-continuous repeat. It was The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Dirty Dozen, and all five Apes movies, every weekend. At least that's how I remember it. So these movies are baked into my consciousness.
But here's how Matt sealed the deal: He told me we had the entirety of the classic mythology to play with, and we could set the story at any time period and use whoever we wanted. So the only question was, did I have a story I wanted to tell in this world?
It turns out I did—and it's epic. I don't mean that as in "awesome" (though I wouldn't mind if people thought that), but in the true meaning of the word. The series has a large cast of characters, a sprawling city, war, politics, murder, philosophy, economics, destiny... and of course, apes on horseback, beating the hell out of humans. Wait til you see Carlos Magno draw that.
Geek: Could you tell us a little about the plot?
DG: The story is set in 2680 A.D., 600 years after the events in the last movie, but before Charlton Heston's astronaut crash-landed in 3954. It's the age of the Lawgiver, the Moses-like figure referenced throughout the movies, and played by John Huston for a few minutes in the last movie. In that movie, the Lawgiver talked about an age of peace and harmony between humans and apes.
But we all know how utopias work—if they exist at all, they're brief and unstable. Issue 1 starts with an act of violence that ends the status quo, and the political ramifications roll out from there.
Geek: The solicitation describes the story as taking place during a “new golden age” in Ape society. What’s the shape of ape society like at this point?
DG: It's really an ape-human society. The species have been living side by side, if not exactly together, since the nuclear war 600 years earlier. In the city-state of Mak—which is not Ape City, but a larger metropolis somewhere west of New York—the apes have become the upper class, and the humans largely stick to a ghetto called Skintown. The civilization is just now clawing its way back to steam age technology. There are factories, airships, and steamboats. And because they haven't completely forgotten history yet, they know what's possible.
So what happened? Why is it that 1300 years later, ape society is practically agrarian, and humans have been reduced to mute savages?
One of the questions the apes ask is, “Is this the only way, following in human footsteps?” Mak has a booming economy, but it also has all the problems of an industrial city: pollution, crime, racial and economic inequality. And if the march to higher technology continues, will they just end up blowing up the world like the humans did?
As for the humans, they are clearly not getting to take part in the Lawgiver's dream of peace, love, and understanding. They're oppressed, and some in the younger generation are not willing to sit around as things get worse.
Geek: Based on the description of the second issue, it almost sounds like there are parallels between your plot and how Southerners panicked during the rash of slave uprisings in the 19th century. Was there a conscious socio-political element to your plot?
DG: That's an excellent parallel for some of what's happening in the story. But for paranoia, distrust, xenophobia, and the conflict between security and personal freedom, I don't think we have to look further back than this morning's headlines. What I'm particularly interested in is what we're starting to call "The Long War" (not so coincidentally, what we've titled the first story arc) and the questions that war raises. What extremes would you go to in order to protect your family, or win freedom for your people? And what extremes would a society go to in order to protect itself from perceived threats?
Geek: What was the appeal of the era in which you set your story?
DG: This is the time period where everything changes. It's the blank spot on the map that closes the loop in the chain of movies. I just mixed metaphors there, but you get the idea. We'll have a chance to explain everything!
Geek: To what extent will we see some familiar faces from the original series of films?
DG: Well, we get to meet the Lawgiver, but because of the time period, we're meeting a new cast of characters. But Cornelius, Zira, and especially Caesar are legendary figures that have a real effect on the current society and the story's characters. They're like Biblical characters, or the Founding Fathers: current-day apes are going to interpret what they did and what they said differently—and for their own political uses.
Geek: Are there any plans to revisit the plot further into the continuity of the film series? Was there any talk of looking at either the 2000 Tim Burton film or the upcoming series reboot, Rise of the Apes?
DG: This is strictly classic chronology. I'm glad I don't have to create some kind of Grand Unification Theory that would link all those films together.
Geek: Was there any attempt to revisit either the Gold Key, Marvel, or Dark Horse (or range of other publishers’) comics that preceded your series? Why or why not?
DG: I was aware of them, and I read the Marvel stories when I was a kid. But for me the five films are the only source materials I'm going to depend on. Again, I'm happy I don't have to unite them all.
Geek: What do you think it is about Planet of the Apes that’s allowed it to survive over half a century and in almost every medium possible?
DG: The original Planet of the Apes was more than an adventure. Like all great science fiction, it was really about the issues of the day: war, prejudice, intolerance. And the other Apes films tackled religious fundamentalism, feminism, and the morality of violent revolution. 40 years later, those subjects have not aged a bit—to our shame.
Geek: Tease three big moments from the series—but here the catch: you only get two words.
DG: I hope you meant two words per each moment, because that would let me use this haiku:
BOOM!’s Planet of the Apes #1 will be on shelves later in April.