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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Super Blog Team-Up: Beast on the Planet of the Apes - a Review

Planet of the Apes #21 (June 1976)
"Beast on the Planet of the Apes"
Doug Moench-Herb Trimpe/Dan Adkins

Doug: Welcome back - it's been awhile! And you're in for a treat today, as my longtime writing partner from Bronze Age Babies is along for the ride. Karen is known to many from several sources, including her work for Back Issue magazine and her recent stint as 1/3 of the crew on Planet 8 Podcast. This is certainly nostalgic for me, but an honor to team with her again! And what a team-up today is. Not only are we a small part of this summer's Super Blog Team-Up, but you'll find us in three spaces: here (of course), the BAB, and at Karen's new blog, Echoes from the Satellite.

Karen: Doug! Always a pleasure to be able to team-up with you and review some comics. Of course, I just love the fact that when the idea to do this was broached, we both thought of doing something with Planet of the Apes! It's so near and dear to both our little hearts. So let's get to it!

Doug: The topic of the day is "expanded universe", and we thought a dive into Marvel's Bronze Age Planet of the Apes magazine seemed like a solid idea in response. If you've partaken of those wonderful B&W comics, you know that the modus operandi was often sprawling epics: "Terror on the Planet of the Apes", and adaptations of the various 20th-Century Fox films. But today it's a 20-page "kind of" done-in-one, and featuring an original character in Derek Zane. From the Planet of the Apes wiki, The Sacred Scrolls (links to the source material have been left in for your convenience):
Derek Zane is a technological genius in 1970's New York who is convinced that Col. Taylor and his crew hit a time disturbance. Determined to prove his theory, Derek sets his time machine for 3975 and is thrown forward in time, destroying his machine in the process. He finds mute humans controlled by talking apes and is accused by gorilla General Gorodon of the murder of orangutan Xirinius. Fleeing across the sea, Derek discovers the island of Avedon where apes and talking humans live in equality but in the style of medieval times. He is accepted as a hero by the community and finds love with Lady Andréa. When Gorodon invades the island Derek leads the defence and kills Gorodon. Later, Derek again sets out to search for the astronauts.
Doug: And it's that "sets out again" adventure that brings us, and you, to today's review. Zane was the creation of scribe Doug Moench, and as editor Rich Handley tells us in his essay closing Boom Studios' Planet of the Apes Archives, volume 2, Moench intended to make Zane the star of the show moving forward. As there were no plans to adapt the then-completed television show and all five films had already been covered, Moench saw Zane further exploring the Apes world. Alas, the magazine was canceled a few months after this story was published.

Karen: I had a few of the Marvel POTA mags when they came out -they didn't creep me out like some of the monster mags did! - but those are all long gone. Those Boom Studio collections are just terrific. I only have the first two, but they're really high quality and I appreciate the Rich Handley essays that provide some context to the comics. 

Doug: I never owned a single copy of the Planet of the Apes magazine when I was a kid. As I read these Archives, though, I was surprised at some of the directions Moench and his collaborators took the franchise. We got mountain man Apes, weird talking brain-like organisms, Ape-supremacists in white sheets, and more! It seemed almost Kirbyesque, the places and ideas Moench explored. As we pick up the Derek Zane narrative, Zane is on Avedon - an isolated island where Apes and men live together in a medieval setting. There is a Camelot, a Robin Hood, fair maidens, dragons... the whole nine yards! Hey, if Edgar Rice Burroughs could stick Pellucidar beneath our surface, why not? Although married to the lovely Lady Andrea after winning a tournament, Zane feels the pull of his original mission: to find and aid the four ANSA astronauts who were lost in space. Solution? Leave Avedon and plunge back into the chaos on the mainland.

Karen: I have to say, I'm blown away by Doug Moench's workload with the POTA magazine. He not only wrote all the film adaptations, but to also produce his own, original series - it's impressive. Like you say, a lot of his work has a real Kirby, Kamandi-style flavor. Much of it is whimsical. I read the Zane stories before this one and they are really out there. 

Doug: Let's face it - Planet of the Apes requires a suspension of disbelief fundamentally. I was only a few pages into "Terror on the Planet of the Apes" when I threw all reservations out the door. To say Moench took us on his own version of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" would be an understatement!

Doug: Reaching the shoreline, Zane found the raft he'd used earlier when he stumbled upon Avedon. However, there's a challenger for its use and even ownership - a chimpanzee calling himself Robin Hood. Picture Errol Flynn in Roddy McDowell's make-up... Zane and Robin joust, and in the tussle they find that they've unmoored the raft and have begun to float to sea. Along the journey, Zane explains his intentions, but also what awaits Robin on the mainland. Avedon, as I said, was isolated so Robin had no idea of mute humans and militaristic apes. Once ashore, Zane and Robin ambush a chimp traveler and take his clothes and horse. And as fate would have it, before the chimp was knocked senseless he'd revealed that there were indeed rumors of talking humans in the area. So it's off to find the nearest city.

Karen: I couldn't help but wonder, what island was Avedon? But I guess after the nuclear armageddon, land probably shifted, so it could be almost anywhere. I know, I really shouldn't waste my time on things like that. Anyway, the Robin Hood character was a hoot. I'd love to see somebody cosplay that!

Doug: You bring up a point that I've actually dwelt on in watching the newest trilogy of films, and that's geography. We know that Taylor and crew landed somewhere near what used to be New York City, yet in the current series it is set near the Pacific coast. How did the apes conquer the entire continent, and indeed the world? And how long did it take? Two thousand years seems barely long enough to get to the point of an Earth as we see it in Planet of the Apes. And to say "uncharted territory" in our context of Earth's geography would now most likely be untrue given our near-complete survey of our planet, yet in the Apes world of 3978 the Earth seems a blank slate for prospective authors to explore. Sentient brains, though? Is that goofier than coonskin cap-wearing Apes?

Karen: Oh boy, I've long wondered where everything took place! And how the land was distorted by the nuclear war. I mean, some of it just doesn't make a lot of sense, but I bet someone (more than one someone) has a long and detailed essay and map that explains the whole thing.

Doug: I keep telling myself, "they're all make-believe stories", but you know how it goes...

Doug: One of our heroes' first encounters would be quite unsettling as General Zaynor gruffly introduced himself. What follows are pretty standard Apes-tropes. Zaynor is a stereotype of Ursus/Urko/Aldo, and the Dr. Cassius the boys seek is a stand-in for any of the chimp veterinarians we've met previously. The vivisection threat, talking humans scare, orangutans as defenders of the faith, and fugitives on the run all come into play. I don't want to say that from this point forward the story was not enjoyable - it was. And maybe this is how Moench felt he needed to reestablish Derek Zane in the thick of his search for Taylor & crew. But it became very predictable.

Karen: I totally agree. Unfortunately, the story lapses into formula, essentially taking us beat for beat on Taylor's journey in the original film. It's a disappointment, considering how delightfully odd and inventive Moench had been before.

Doug: It's not unlike what we found in Brent's journey in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. That movie doesn't get its legs until Brent heads down the cave and reaches the subway tunnel.

Karen: Well, Brent had to be the Taylor stand-in since Charlton Heston refused to do more than a glorified cameo. So there's duplication of the original's story line for sure. But you know, I love Beneath! I know we have slightly different opinions on this film! I'm sure all the strangeness with the mutants had to inspire Moench.

Doug: Moench included a damsel in distress. I was unclear of his intention, as she exists seemingly only to die. A male character could easily have carried out the plot points that "Hope" did, and I was left to ponder if she had a place - or was supposed to have a place - in Zane's heart. There obviously wasn't time to generate any romantic feelings or even tension, and her demise was quick and seemingly without lasting consequence.

Karen: I'm guessing Moench used a female character as she might elicit a more sympathetic reaction from the mostly male readers? Perhaps it makes Zane look more heroic? And let's face it, it's another chance to draw a scantily-clad woman, something comics have always taken advantage of. I did think she would be a continuing character, so I was quite surprised to see her killed. I figured she'd lead Zane to more speaking humans. I don't know what role she served -- or to be honest, how this story set up much of anything.

Doug: As long as you brought up the art, I'd like to pay tribute to Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins. While we certainly get some signature Trimpe poses and facial expressions, I felt Adkins rounded out Herb's pencils and gave them some weight and texture. There were some panels throughout the story that were stunning - I am particularly thinking of the intro. of Zaynor atop his steed. Solid!

Karen: Typically, I am not a big Trimpe fan, except when it comes to Hulk comics. But you're right, the combo of Trimpe and Adkins is a very solid one.

Doug: I did like the Robin Hood character, as his swashbuckling nature was a departure from the usually scientifically-oriented chimps. Robin saved the day, and although he and Zane chose to part, I was left wanting a "Road to"-sort of buddy movie with these two. Alas, this was Derek Zane's swansong, so we'll never know. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever picked up the story and run with it. Seems like it would be a no-brainer for a mini-series or novella.

Karen: I kind of wonder if Moench was just feeling his way with this? I think I would have enjoyed a more fantastic take rather than revisiting the films. But maybe Moench felt he'd already done some pretty far out stuff. Of course, I could have stayed on Avedon! An orangutan King Arthur. Yes please.

Doug: Overall, I enjoyed "Beast on the Planet of the Apes", and found Moench's title thought-provoking. Was the beast Derek and the humans? Or was it the Apes? Was it specifically General Zaynor? Or was it the notion of incompatibility between Apes and Man? Could it have been evolution gone awry - that the very existence of the upside down relationships were the untamed wildness? But I wax philosophically...

Karen: Ah, my friend the philosopher. Well, I noticed that Moench referenced King Kong in this (and also in the other Zane story). Kong too was a beast, but you could say that our society was beastly to him. I enjoyed the story, but I think the earlier Zane story, "Kingdom on an Island of the Apes", was a little more fun. Still, I'd encourage any Apes fan to get these Archives. 

Now it's time for you to jump all over the blogosphere and enjoy some cool content from our #SuperBlogTeamUp partners. Leave 'em a comment!

Super-Hero Satellite: M.A.S.K.: The Road To Revolution

Between The Pages Blog: The Star Wars Expanded Universe

Comic Reviews By Walt: The Aliens vs Predator Universe 

Dave’s Comic Heroes Blog: Logan’s Run Marvel Movie Adaptation

The Telltale Mind: Archie Andrews - Superstar

Radulich In Broadcasting: Flash Gordon Universe

The Source Material Comics Podcast: TMNT/Ghostbusters

Unspoken Issues: Mad-Dog 

The Daily Rios: Little Shop of Horrors

Pop Culture Retrorama: The Phantom Universe

Cavalcade of Awesome: Jumper Universe

MichaelMay.Online: Treasure Island Universe   

DC In The 80s: The TSR Universe (DC comics)


  1. Wow, a bona fide Doug & Karen team-up review. Nothing against posts about merchandise, like over at the BAB, but I have to say, this is the stuff I prefer.
    Nice job on the review; one day, somehow, I'm going to have to get a hold of these. As stated elsewhere, I'm not as big a fan of all things PotA as many others are, but I liked the movies well enough, and even remember watching the TV show. Never read any of the comics, though, and that's something I regret every time I see reviews of them.
    By the way, you guys aren't alone in speculating about the geography of the PotA: when you mentioned the island with the medieval trappings, I was thinking, "England?" And yeah, stories with two traveling adventurers, a 20th century scientist and a swashbuckling chimpanzee Robin Hood, would be awesome.
    Great post, as usual.

  2. Edo, England isn't an island - Great Britain is an island and England is on it.

    This review takes me back to being 10 years old in June 1976 - I first read "Beast" in #85 and #86 of Marvel UK's POTA weekly.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys - great to hear from both of you. Wipes away the years, being back together!


  4. Dan Adkins was not only a skilled inker, he was an exceptional artist in his own right; he's the posthumous recipient of the 2019 Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award.

  5. Very glad to see you and Karen back, Doug. BAB was (and is) one of my favorite comix blogs. I collected the bulk of Marvel's APES magazines for the Mike Ploog art-- and the Tom Sutton-drawn "Future History Chronicles." I gathered some of the movie adaptations by Alfredo Alcala and Rico Rival. But I'm missing a few. Thanks for pointing out #21 here. It's a good looking Trimpe/Adkins job. And of course Doug Moench did some of his best writing on this series. Welcome back!


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