Review: Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive trade paperback (BOOM! Studios)

[A series on Planet of the Apes comics by guest reviewer Zach King. Zach writes about movies at The Cinema King and about comics on Instagram at Dr. King’s Comics.]

I love crossover comics. There’s something almost alchemical about two creative universes colliding. If you’re not familiar with both properties, a good crossover can be a sampler for a new world (it’s how I was first introduced to Danger Girl, SpyBoy, and - believe it or not - The Terminator1). But if you’re already steeped in the two distinct universes, seeing them mash together is a rare and potentially beautiful thing, brimming with possibility and exploring new angles on the things you know and love.

There’s a reason, after all, that DC and Marvel fans are always clamoring to see another crossover from the House of Ideas and their Distinguished Competition. As a kid, I fell in love with Marvel vs. DC and had my first heartbreak when I realized that I’d never again get to see Peter Parker working for the Daily Planet, that the courtship of Robin and Jubilee was not to be. The possibilities were endless — but try explaining corporate cooperation to a third-grader. (We got JLA/Avengers seven years later, but my comics reading was ebbing then. Fear not, I scooped up a copy long before speculators got their mitts on it.2) It seems we true believers - and whatever the DC equivalent is - will have to wait a while longer.

Fortunately, man does not live on superhero comics alone, and there are plenty of other worlds to collide. And for this reader in particular, everyone (it seems) wants to visit the Planet of the Apes. When they held the license, Boom! Studios was not shy about sharing the keys. Their first crossover, Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive, brought the original crew of the starship Enterprise into orbit, and I have to imagine that some of the impetus must have come from the irresistible subtitle, “The Primate Directive.” In this crossover, Captain Kirk and his merry band pursue the Klingons through a dimensional gateway, where they discover that the Klingon commander Kor has formed an alliance with the gorilla General Marius.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I should confess here that I am on one of the bottom rungs of Star Trek fandom. I’ve only ever seen the “Kelvinverse” films (I know, I know), and I’ve never seen any of the television shows. I have what can best be described as a passing familiarity with the mythos, what little has seeped its way into my brain via cultural osmosis. It’s a gaping hole on my nerd bingo card, yet even so writers Scott and David Tipton avoid making the crossover too insular. Having previously mashed up Star Trek with Doctor Who (that’s The Next Generation meets the Eleventh Doctor, for those keeping score), the Tiptons do a commendable job of making the crossover accessible to neophytes like myself, and I will say that reading this book has motivated me, finally, to give the original films a chance.

For those in the know, though, The Primate Directive strikes an ominous chord when we learn that the Enterprise crew have landed in the year 3978, the same year George Taylor and his crew made planetfall. Readers don’t have to wait long before discovering that The Primate Directive is set during the events of the first Planet of the Apes film, with Kirk eventually encountering Taylor just moments after the latter’s discovery of the Statue of Liberty. That moment is doubly shocking because of how deftly artist Rachael Stott captures Charlton Heston’s likeness, which has not always been the case with the other Apes comics I’ve reviewed. Indeed, Stott’s artwork is precise and recognizable, and she distinguishes between Zira and Cornelius almost as well as the live-action prosthetics, somehow managing to capture the way Roddy McDowall tended to glare from under his chimpanzee brow.

Stott’s linework goes a long way in selling the premise that these two creative properties have collided, such that The Primate Directive almost feels like a lost episode of Star Trek, which was still airing when the 1968 film debuted. The Tiptons, meanwhile, manage to play most of the hits without feeling obligatory. If you wanted to see Taylor roam the deck of the Enterprise, for example, that’s definitely in here, but it’s done in a way that feels true to Taylor’s resourceful nature; rather than have Kirk usher him aboard with fanfare, Taylor steals Chekov’s communicator, beams himself aboard, and tries to steal a shuttle. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of handwringing over whether it is a violation of the Prime Directive to meddle in the affairs of the alternate future of a parallel dimension — a philosophical quandary that ought, I sense, to tickle any Trekkie’s cerebrum.

At five issues, The Primate Directive feels almost punishingly brief, though its pacing only dithers at the very end of the volume. Kirk and Kor linger in space long enough to witness the destruction of Earth (as seen in Beneath the Planet of the Apes), yet they never cross paths with Brent (James Franciscus). Most egregiously, nor do they ever meet the good Doctor Zaius. Despite a promising issue cover that shows Spock playing against Zaius in a game of tridimensional chess, Doctor Zaius only appears in 21 panels, mostly to comment on the gorilla army’s penchant for violence. It’s hard to imagine Zaius forming an alliance with Kor — hence, the invention of General Marius, an original creation for this story — nor could we expect him to take the Enterprise’s arrival in good strides. (Fans of Sulu and Uhura may likewise be disappointed by their comparative absence from much of the book.)

After the conclusion of the story proper, there’s a little stinger - the comic book equivalent of a post-credits scene - that dances, one last time, between the raindrops of the Apes films, cleverly teeing up Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an unlikely fish-out-of-water sequel that found Cornelius and Zira time-traveling their way into a bootstrap paradox. The collected edition also includes a slew of variant covers (including one from none other than the late, great George PĂ©rez!3) and a handful of essays by our old friend Dana Gould. In these essays, Gould waxes nostalgic about fandom, about how the properties we discover as children end up shaping our adult lives in weird, unpredictable ways. And in one, Gould connects the dots for us that Spock’s pointy ears were designed by special effects wizard John Chambers — the same John Chambers who created the distinctive look of the simians who populate an entire Planet of Apes.

Perhaps then, having been in the zeitgeist at exactly the same moment in history, it’s fate that these two universes should collide in such spectacular fashion in Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive. The Tiptons and Stott have made alchemy out of the improbable, a real delight for fans of either franchise, of both, or simply of the bizarre world of inter-company crossovers. Up next, beat your chest and let rip a hearty yodel for another no-brainer collection that finds Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes.

  1. Superman vs. The Terminator (2000), to be exact, from Alan Grant and Steve Pugh  ↩︎

  2. I didn’t know it then, but we were in a second golden age of inter-company crossovers. The first had started with 1976’s Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, culminating with The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans in 1982.  ↩︎

  3. Sadly, though, the variant cover gallery omits the “Gold Key” style variants, which juxtaposed images from each series in the manner of 1960s fumetti, with the playful tagline, “It’s the crossover nobody expected! It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!”  ↩︎


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