The first issue of Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive will be released this week by IDW Publishing and BOOM! Studios. TrekMovie is pleased to host a review by distinguished science fiction author, editor, and educator Robert J. Sawyer.
Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive #1, December 2014
Written by Scott Tipton and David Tipton, art by Rachael Stott, colored by Charlie Kirchoff, lettered by Tom B. Long, edited by IDW Publishing’s Sarah Gaydos and BOOM! Studios’ Dafna Pleban
What’s Past is Prologue
A review of
Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive
by Robert J. Sawyer
Remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification,” Part I, first of the two episodes that were supposed to bring The Original Series character Spock into TNG? We get a brief glimpse of Spock in the teaser, then five acts of filler leading to Captain Picard saying, “I’m looking for Ambassador Spock.” A figure emerges from the shadows and says, “You have found him, Captain Picard.” At least that otherwise-lackluster episode had Mark Lenard reprising his role as Sarek—
—which brings us to connections between Star Trek and Planet of the Apes: Lenard, of course, played Urko in the Planet of the Apes TV series. And here we have another crossover, the first issue of Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive, a five-issue comic-book miniseries from IDW Publishing and BOOM! Studios. But, unlike the opening of “Unification,” there’s no saving-grace “B” story in Issue #1, which is all we have so far.
The teaser is clearly a riff on the classic Trek episode “A Private Little War,” with a gorilla soldier decked out like James Gregory’s General Ursus (to name another actor who appeared in both franchises), but named Marius.
He’s trading in his old wooden-barreled Apes-style rifle for what looks like a twentieth-century-Earth automatic weapon being presented to him by a humanoid figure seen only in shadow. But we know, having seen this bit before, that it’s a Klingon arming his side in a war.
(Although perhaps it’s supposed to be a surprise at the end of this first volume when Kirk says it’s “our old friend Kor” (from “Errand of Mercy”), you probably aren’t part of the real audience for a product like this if you didn’t recognize even sight-unseen that it was Kor in the teaser from the way he said, “Glorious.”)
Now, here’s the problem with this first volume: we get a gorilla in the first couple of pages, and on the last page we get Captain Kirk reliving James Franciscus’s moment from Beneath the Planet of the Apes where he basically exclaims, “My God, it’s a city of apes!”
But what’s the meat in the middle of this sandwich? Well, writers Scott and David Tipton have Uhura and Sulu—the latter sporting a John Colicos-style beard—infiltrate a ground-based Klingon computing facility and learn that, in defiance of the Organian Peace Treaty, the Klingons are undertaking an expansionary effort.
And then? Well, permit me a momentary aside: I’ve been greatly enjoying Marc Cushman’s These Are The Voyages: TOS books, and in particular the excerpted production memos. Robert H. Justman, associate producer of the original Star Trek, had a frequent refrain in his memos, namely that television is a visual medium, and you can’t simply have endless scenes of talking heads, especially when they’re retreading ground that’s familiar from previous episodes. And comics, I daresay, are at least as visual a medium as is television—but that’s mostly what’s on offer here for the bulk of this first volume: talking heads having the same sort of Kirk-wants-to-charge-ahead / Spock-and-McCoy-urge-caution chitchat we’ve seen in countless episodes, including “Return to Tomorrow” and “The Immunity Syndrome.” Of course we’re going to go ahead, so let’s get on with it!
Star Trek, debuting late in 1966, and Planet of the Apes, with the first film premiering early in 1968, were both famous for playing with the linear nature of time, so I found the structure of this first comic installment depressingly straightforward. Rather than beginning with one of the exciting scenes depicted on the several variant covers for this issue, none of which actually occur in this volume—Kirk beaming down in front of a half-buried Statue of Liberty, say, or a gorilla general sitting in the Enterprise’s captain’s chair—we instead get straightforward, talky exposition. The Klingons are expanding their territory not in this universe but rather into what Spock calls “otherdimensional space;” hey, here’s a gateway to that space, but don’t worry, Dr. McCoy, calculations show we can go through it and return safely back, so here we go—oh, look, apes! Fade to black.
(By the way, it seems improbable as the Enterprise orbits Earth in what Spock quickly identifies as 3978 A.D.—the year the first Planet of the Apes movie is set in—that he, even if he is from a planet with no moon, would fail to notice that Earth’s natural satellite is missing, as Apes-canon suggests it must be by this time.)
What was appealing about the premise of this comic series was its sheer audacity: how in hell, to quote Colonel Taylor, did this upside-down reality get started? How could you possibly integrate two such disparate universes? Such an intriguing mystery—which they elide over as quickly as Spock dispensing with the anomaly in “The Enterprise Incident” of Romulans using Klingon ships.
I’d been hoping this miniseries would give us a rationale for this mashup as startling as the answer Taylor himself found, treating this as a lingering puzzle culminating in a gobsmacking revelation. But no, it’s simply not our reality, there’s an easy way home, yadda yadda yadda—shades of watching Riker and Troi experiencing the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise on the holodeck.
Still, the art by Rachael Stott in volume one of The Primate Directive is quite good and the colors by Charlie Kirchoff are vibrant. The one gorilla we see does justice to John Chambers’s Academy Award-winning makeup design; the familiar Trek characters including Kor when he finally steps from the shadows at the end, are instantly recognizable, and for the most part the Enterprise’s exterior and interior are rendered with reasonable accuracy (although in dialogue the briefing room is called “the conference room”).
In the end, decades ago, despite its padded prologue, “Unification” Part II turned out to be one of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes … and we can hope that there are twists and turns to come in subsequent volumes of The Primate Directive as Kirk and company actually start to explore the Planet of the Apes. As Taylor said, there has to be something out there better than this—has to be.
Robert J. Sawyer is the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of 22 science fiction novels including FlashForward, the basis for the ABC TV series; with David Gerrold he edited the essay collection Boarding the Enterprise. His website is sfwriter.com.
Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive #1 will be in your local comic shop Wednesday, December 31. You can read a preview of issue #1 at StarTrek.com and see some of Rachael Stott’s concept art at IDW Publishing.
You can order Star Trek comics online from Things From Another World, just click on the banner.