Book Review: Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes
Publication Date: July 25, 2011
· Andrew E.C. Gaska
by Chris Delloiacono
Published: August 8, 2011
This is an exciting time for a “Planet of the Apes” fan. Not only has a new film just arrived in theatres, but BOOM Studios is publishing a first rate comic book series, and Archaia recently released “Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes”. My love for these damn, dirty apes was fomented in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the films -- and episodes of the television series cut as films -- aired frequently on WNYW 5 in the New Jersey area. In all the time that’s passed, there’s been precious little ‘new” for an Apes enthusiast to partake in. Sure there were some comics by Malibu, but they never appealed to me, and there was the utterly mishandled Tim Burton film. All I ever wanted was more Cornelius, Zira, Taylor, or at least stories that made sense within that continuity.
“Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes” is an illustrated novel. To call this illustrated is actually underselling the amount and quality of the images contained within. There are more than 30 full page illustrations by some of the finest artists in the world. The book kicks off with a Jim Steranko cover and features work from Joe Jusko, Dave Dorman, Mark Texeira, Brian Rood, and plenty more. The book looks like a graphic novel, but it’s actually nearly 270 pages of prose mixed in with these brilliant images. I love comic books, but this format works best to explore the characters in depth with an amazing clarity. The images that are mixed in cement the prose indelibly upon the mind.
Andrew Gaska is clearly as big a “Planet of the Apes” fan as exists. He understands the connective tissue that binds together the five original films. Those films were written in part by Rod Serling, Michael Wilson, John & Joyce Corrington, and Paul Dehn. An odd circular plotline ended up having the cause of the apes’ takeover occur in the later films in the series. The writers were a bit too smart for their own good and all of the twists and turns didn’t always fit together perfectly. Gaska’s story superbly connects the first two films and setups the device that gets the third film rolling. It’s well thought out and comes together far better than I ever hoped possible.
Connecting the other films isn’t the main journey of this story, though. This book really serves as a parallel tale to the 1968 original. That film, in case you haven’t seen it centers on a crashed American space vessel and three survivors who encounter a city of talking apes. Charlton Heston starred as Colonel Taylor and the other two astronauts, Landon and Dodge, are quickly separated and only make extremely brief appearances later in the film. What Gaska does is takes Landon (played by Robert Gunner in the film) and makes him the narrative focus of the book. Many moments from the original film are seen from a different perspective and, more importantly, many of the film’s supporting characters play into Landon’s adventure. Anyone familiar with the original knows this tale will end in tragedy, but the POTA films are of an era when movies didn’t necessarily end happily.
The story also has a strong focus on Doctor Milo, played by Sal Mineo in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”, Doctor Galen (Wright King in the original), and the Gaska creation Mungwortt the garbage ape . Each of these characters are leant a wholly unique voice and different proclivities and rationale for their choices. Along with Landon, these are the central players in “Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes”. Longtime Apes fans will be thrilled to see characters like Zaius, Cornelius, Zira, Marcus, and General Ursus play key roles as well. This is a smorgasbord of fun for anyone that delights in the classic series.
I’d imagine the book would be a tough sell if you are not at least mildly interested in the series of films, but it’s not only for inveterate Ape geeks either. Gaska has a command of pacing and characterization so anyone could jump right in and enjoy the ride. Considering the reams of novels and background pieces written for “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”, it’s mind-boggling that nobody has fleshed out the world of “Planet of the Apes” before this. Many of the best novels based on those other film properties are written by people with an absolute passion for the material. Gaska’s passion mixed with serious chops has given sci-fi fans one of the best prose gifts we’ve had in quite some time.