Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mike Ploog and Doug Moench bring Terror on the Planet of the Apes

Terror on the Planet of the Apes splash page from POTA 14

The highlight for the entire run of Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine was the spectacular series, Terror on the Planet of the Apes.  Written by Doug Moench (from an initial idea by Gerry Conway) and drawn by one of my favorite artists, Mike Ploog, it was as close to a sequel to the final movie (Battle) that I would ever get.

Jason swears revenge on Apes who killed his family, POTA 1 

You can place Terror a generation after the events in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.  Apes and Humans are living somewhat peacefully together, with racial tensions always simmering beneath the surface.  The Lawgiver keeps them together through his sermons and wisdom.  Jason (a human) and Alex (a chimpanzee) are best friends. 

When the Lawgiver decides to take a vacation in the Forbidden Zone, the Gorilla general Brutus throws their lives, as well as Ape City, into turmoil.  He has a band of masked Gorillas (somewhat like the Ku Klux Klan) who terrorize humans.  They beat up Alex's father (for being a human sympathizer) and murder Jason's family.  Jason swears revenge, but Alex isn't so sure.

Jason and Alex become fugitives in POTA 1

By the end of the first chapter, Alex is convinced of Brutus' conspiracy.  He helps Jason escape prison and the two are on the run for their lives.  Brutus has convinced people that Jason has murdered his wife.  Just like the TV show the Fugitive, the pair would spend the next year on the run throughout the wild world of the Apes.

Jason and Alex in POTA 4

In the Forbidden Zone, Jason and Alex rescue the Lawgiver, with Brutus' army right behind them.  The mutants in the Forbidden Zone are led by a trio of giant brains encased in glass spheres--a great gag that I've seen repeated in many other stories.

Ploog pencils Jason and Alex in POTA 6

Mike Ploog was the perfect artist to draw this series.  He excelled at drawing fantasy adventures and he was great at drawing the facial expressions on the Apes.  But I think the sheer amount of detail and the publishing schedule got to him after a while.  Ploog's artwork was reproduced in full pencils without any inks in issues 4, 6, and 8.  Terror began skipping issues as well, and it was a crapshoot as to whether the serial would be appear each month.  Terror appeared in POTA 1-4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14, 19, 20, 23, 26, 27, 28. 

Ploog's last chapter would appear in issue 19, where he was inked by Tom Sutton.  After that, Sutton did a few chapters, and Herb Trimpe drew the remaining ones.

Ploog pencils riverboat scene in POTA 6

Even though the reproduction was not as advanced as today--I thought Ploog's pencil art was amazing.  Perhaps because I had never seen comic art before it was inked!  But take a look at the quiet scene of this boat on a lake.  The reflection in the water, the detail on the jungle surrounding the shore.  It's sublime.

Riverboat apes meet Gypsy apes in POTA 6

Moench and Ploog created many different Ape cultures within this series.  Jason and Alex encountered Gunpowder Julius' band of riverboat Apes, a Davy Crockett inspired version of this world.  In issue 6, the riverboat Apes met a band of gypsy Apes--which included a breathtaking human gal called Malaguena.

Jason gets in trouble over Malaguena in POTA 6

Malaguena was the kind of liberated gal who could sleep with both apes and humans.  When we first meet her, she's with the Grimaldi the gypsy chimpanzee.  She becomes Jason's girlfriend after he kills Grimaldi in a knife fight.  Then she winds up with Alex!

As you can see here in this panel, Jason's ape-prejudice is always present, erupting in moments of physical violence.  You Dirty Stinking Crazy Ape!! 

End of first Terror on the Planet of the Apes storyline in POTA 11

While Terror in the Planet of the Apes appeared in the Marvel magazine until the end of the run, for me the series came to a logical conclusion in issue 11.  All the plot threads of the first storyline were neatly wrapped up.  Jason, Alexander, and the Lawgiver returned to Ape City and revealed the truth about Brutus' treachery.  The discord between humans and apes is put to rest after another Lawgiver sermon.  Brutus' last ditch attempt to murder the Lawgiver and take over Ape City is upset. 

The Lawgiver banishes Brutus from Ape City forever--and this sends Jason into a fury.  He won't settle for anything less than the death penalty.  He attacks Alex with racial slurs and violence, abandons Malaguena, and storms off in search of Brutus.  On the last panel, Alex speculates about his friendship with Jason:  "Maybe we never were friends...and can never be friends.  Maybe we were just too afraid to hate each other."

I still own many of the POTA magazines with the Ploog and Moench stories.  Here's a question for you, readers:  was Terror on the Planet of the Apes ever collected in a trade?  Nuff said.

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