An ongoing discussion of how the comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the Star Trek episodes and films, soon to be a book from BearManor Media. Click here to view an archive of this article series.
111: IDW Publishing and BOOM! Studios, 2014–2015
Crossing over franchises always carries the danger of alienating those who aren’t fans of both properties. Sometimes it works surprisingly well, though, and Star Trek has been fortunate in that regard. A strong candidate for best Trek crossover would be IDW’s Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who—Assimilation2, from Scott and David Tipton. This is the same team behind Star Trek: Infestation, as well as the aborted ST:TNG/Aliens: Acceptable Losses, so they’re no strangers to mash-ups. It should come as no surprise, then, that the duo’s Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive qualifies as a close second.
The Primate Directive, produced in partnership with BOOM! Studios, was launched with an ashcan preview of issue #1. The five-part miniseries is cleverly titled, as it riffs on Star Trek’s non-interference mandate, the Prime Directive. It’s a double pun, in fact, since it centers around the four primate species featured in Planet of the Apes—the blue-collar and militaristic gorillas, the pacifistic and scientific chimpanzees, the religious and political orangutans, and the subtextual villains in this post-apocalyptic allegory: humans. It’s unlikely anyone reading this article would not have heard of Planet of the Apes, but perhaps a quick primer on the mythos might be in order.
The simian saga began with French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des singes, first published in English as Monkey Planet. In 1968, 20th Century Fox and producer Arthur P. Jacobs released Planet of the Apes, a film adaptation scripted by Michael Wilson and The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the movie ranks among the greatest science fiction tales of all time, due in no small part to lead actors Charlton Heston as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall as sympathetic chimps Zira and Cornelius, Maurice Evans as fearful leader Doctor Zaius, and Linda Harrison as mute primitive Nova.
Planet of the Apes was a huge success, spawning four sequel films, two television shows, and two theatrical reboots, as well as two dozen novels and more than 200 comics to date from a variety of publishers, with a tenth movie, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, slated for 2024. Boulle’s world may not be as vast as Gene Roddenberry’s, but like Star Trek it arose during the volatile 1960s, offering social commentary on bigotry, religious dogmatism, warmongering, nuclear paranoia, rigid class structures, civil rights, and more. This makes Taylor’s voyage as historically important as those of the Enterprise, and it makes the two universes more alike than might be readily apparent.
The miniseries, illustrated by Rachael Stott, featured covers by Stott, Juan Ortiz, George Perez, Tone Rodriquez, John Midgley, Joe Corroney, Kevin Wada, and James Kenneth Woodward. Its photo covers paid homage to the first nine issues of Gold Key’s Star Trek line, while the artwork referenced Mego’s Planet of the Apes toys. Mego’s chair-cage (or “Throne”) appeared on one cover, for instance, while an Ape City building mirrored the “Fortress” playset, complete with rooftop sun reflector. The Primate Directive is classic playtime come to life. In fact, I know a kid who put his Mego Star Trek and Planet of the Apes figures together for combined adventures back in the 1970s, and he (er, I) can’t be the only one who did. Mego, in fact, encouraged it.
The Primate Directive provides a direct sequel to “Errand of Mercy,” in which the Organians had forcibly imposed a peace treaty on the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The treaty prevented either side from waging hostilities against the other, on threat of dire consequences for any violations. Frustrated by this constraint, Commander Kor (who shows up in a lot of IDW Trek comics as the go-to devious Klingon) finds a loophole to circumvent the forced truce: conquering other universes.
It’s an inspired plan, as there’s no reason to think the Organians are monitoring every single infinite reality for signs of Klingon or Starfleet treachery. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe they’re not even paying attention to Earth-Qo’noS relations at all, given the many Trek tales, both onscreen and in print, that have featured Klingon-Starfleet conflicts without the entities stepping in. The Empire could probably go ahead and attack prime Earth, and the Organians would ignore it and keep on pretending to herd goats.
The Klingons aren’t taking any chances, however, and so they build a trans-dimensional portal to an alternate Earth dominated by talking apes. There, Kor arms ambitious gorilla general Marius for an attempted military coup (with the traitor’s troops wearing Klingon sashes, no less), so he can rule the planet with Marius as his stooge. Another gorilla, Ursus—the primary antagonist of Beneath the Planet of the Apes—thwarts this plan by besting Marius in combat. With his scheme exposed, Kor abandons Marius and returns to his own reality, realizing there’s no point in staying since the Federation and the Organians will know what he’s been up to.
James Kirk’s crew teams up with Taylor, Nova, Zira, and Cornelius to warn Zaius so he can prevent a war and a Klingon takeover. (Amusingly, Spock wears a cap similar to the one he donned in “The City on the Edge of Forever” to hide his pointed ears.) Taylor hates assisting his simian enemies, and when Kirk refuses to help him kill every “bloody baboon” in sight, he goes ballistic. But after attacking transporter chief Kyle (drawn with his mustache from The Animated Series and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), trying to commandeer a shuttlecraft to conduct strafing runs, and engaging in shirt-ripping fisticuffs with Kirk, the colonel finally accepts the captain’s plan.
With Marius defeated, Kor abandons his conquest scheme and all seems well again… until the Earth explodes. This may shock readers familiar only with Star Trek, but Apes fans will recognize the significance: in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, a dying Taylor detonated a 2,000-year-old doomsday bomb, killing every character and even the planet itself in the movie’s cataclysmic conclusion. Then a third film was greenlighted, throwing filmmakers into a panicked state since the maniacs had blown it all up.
The third entry, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, revealed the explosion had propelled Zira, Cornelius, and fellow chimp Milo two millennia into the past aboard a repaired spaceship, where the story could then neatly continue in the 1970s by reversing the “fish out of water” scenario from the first movie. How many franchises can boast five decades of longevity after destroying absolutely everything in only the second tale? Planet of the Apes can, thanks to imaginative screenwriter Paul Dehn, and it’s with this twist that the comic’s conclusion dovetails.
It’s long been debated how the chimps could have possibly gotten a spaceship into orbit, and multiple licensed stories have provided explanations, including the comic miniseries Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm, by Corinna Sara Bechko and Gabriel Hardman; Drew Gaska’s novels Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes and Death of the Planet of the Apes; and Ty Templeton’s “Milo’s Tale,” published in the fiction anthology Tales from the Forbidden Zone, co-edited by this article’s writer and Jim Beard. The three accounts differ, but all are fascinating extrapolations worth reading.
The Primate Directive avoids the debate over which licensed account is correct, though it does suggest the Ape-o-nauts traveled back in time via the slingshot effect (featured in Star Trek’s “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth,” as well as in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), due to Cornelius having stolen a tricorder from his Starfleet pals. In other words, everything in the Planet of the Apes franchise past the second film can be attributed to poor equipment management on the part of Kirk’s crew. This is especially embarrassing when you consider that Leonard McCoy had already lost his communicator in “A Piece of the Action,” potentially altering that world’s technological development.
As crossovers go, The Primate Directive is a solid story that reverentially honors its parent universes. The writers have displayed their Star Trek cred with their past work, and here they prove adept at capturing the feel of Planet of the Apes as well, with the voices of Hunter, McDowall, Evans, and Heston evident in every exchange. The concept is consistent with Star Trek, which frequently features alternate realities and time travel, and it makes sense Kirk would discover a reality in which, to paraphrase Marvel’s 1970s POTA magazine tagline, man once stood supreme but now rule the apes.
Where the logic falters is with the idea that Zira and Cornelius had met Kirk’s crew prior to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which centered around the arrival of astronaut John Brent. The couple had mistaken Brent for Taylor because they’d only ever known a single talking human, and because all humans look the same to them—yet in The Primate Directive, they befriend a dozen other humans and can tell them all apart. What’s more, they meet extraterrestrials (Spock and the Klingons) who look human, so their shocked confusion upon seeing Brent would make little sense if, just a few days prior, a bunch of talking, spacefaring humans had helped them stave off an attempted military coup and invasion involving even more talking, spacefaring humans.
That’s a minor quibble, of course, for Star Trek isn’t the only franchise with a multiverse. Planet of the Apes has one as well. Between the nine films, the two TV shows, and the spinoff literature, there have been numerous timelines based on Boulle’s concepts, so the easy fix is to assume The Primate Directive occurs in a universe in which Beneath played out a little differently but still culminated in Earth’s destruction. Problem solved. (That, incidentally, is also the easy fix to reconcile numerous other Apes tales from BOOM! Studios that likewise don’t jibe well with onscreen continuity.)
It’s admittedly difficult for me to find any fault with this comic at all, though, since the Tiptons graciously wrote me into it as a redshirt, and redshirts are a fiercely loyal breed. Ah, but this column isn’t about me, it’s about Star Trek. And as Trek tales go, this one’s not chimp change. Next week, we’ll set printed comics aside as we go bananas for a long-running serialized strip, Star Trek—The Webcomic. There’s no gorilla warfare in that series, but there is a lot of monkey business. In short, it’s prime, mates. (Sorry, I can’t help myself. Ape puns are the joke that keep on gibbon.)
Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:
- My ongoing column for Titan Books’ Star Trek Explorer magazine
- The Complete Star Trek Comics Index, curated by yours truly
- The Star Trek Comics Checklist, by Mark Martinez
- The Wixiban Star Trek Collectables Portal, by Colin Merry
- New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, by Joseph F. Berenato (Sequart, 2014)
- Star Trek: A Comics History, by Alan J. Porter (Hermes Press, 2009)
- The Star Trek Comics Weekly page on Facebook
Rich Handley has written, co-written, co-edited, or contributed to dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Planet of the Apes, Watchmen, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Stargate, Dark Shadows, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Red Dwarf, Blade Runner, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman, the Joker, classic monsters, and more. He has also been a magazine writer and editor for nearly three decades. Rich edited Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, and he currently writes articles for Titan’s Star Trek Explorer magazine, as well as books for an as-yet-unannounced role-playing game. Learn more about Rich and his work at richhandley.com.