Comics Review: ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’

Rod Serling’s original ‘Planet of the Apes’ screenplay comes to life in a new graphic novel…

Planet of the Apes Visionaries

Cover art for ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’ by Paolo Rivera (image credit: Boom! Studios/20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purpose only).

Written by:  Rod Serling (adapted by Dana Gould) / art by:  Chad Lewis / inks by:  David Wilson / colours by:  Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa

What’s it about?

A crew of astronauts find themselves stranded on a strange world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

In celebration of fifty years of Planet of the Apes, Boom! Studios present an original graphic novel that brings The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s original screenplay of Pierre Boulle’s novel to life.  Adapted by writer/comedian Dana Gould (whose writing credits include The Simpsons and Stan Against Evil) with art by Chad Lewis, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is an interesting reinterpretation of what eventually became the first Planet of the Apes feature film.  On first thought, Gould may seem like an odd choice for such a project but given his professed love for Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone then it soon becomes clear that he’s perfect for the job.

As is well documented, Rod Serling’s screenplay for Planet of the Apes was rewritten by Michael Wilson in order to accommodate budgetary limitations but it’s evident here that an awful lot of Serling’s work was retained for the film and was simply retooled to fit a more modest production and entertain the masses.  The main differences are visual, given that Serling adhered closely to Pierre Boulle’s vision of a modern, industrialised ape society.  In place of horses there are motor vehicles (and helicopters) and instead of primitive stone huts there are skyscrapers, film theatres and nightclubs.  Reminding us that these are in fact apes, whilst adding a touch of the zany, is the sight of citizens swinging across the streets using monkey bars!  Like Boulle’s novel, the dialogue is a little more academic and in true Serling style accentuates the satirical and social elements, giving the story a slightly darker and more philosophical slant.

Another significant departure is the leading protagonist, named Thomas, who though sharing some similarities to Charlton Heston’s Taylor is largely a different character.  Taylor’s gruff heroism and misanthropic outlook was a perfect fit for Heston as an actor and screen presence (and Planet of the Apes would not have worked so well without him at the centre) but the ‘hero’ of Serling’s take on Boulle’s story is of a more scientific and anthropological disposition.

All of that doesn’t necessarily make this version of Planet of the Apes superior to the screen version, just a fascinating alternative.  The less technologically developed simian culture of the 1968 film is actually to its benefit, providing a primal feel and otherworldliness that make the final outcome all the more shocking and Charlton Heston’s performance unforgettable.

The interior art by Chad Lewis (inked by David Wilson) is appropriate with a loose, rough and slightly cartoonish style that together with muted, dreamy colours (provided by Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa) helps to evoke a pulpy, retro sci-fi feel with the ape character design more animalistic and simian-like in a way that could not have achieved with actors in make-up and prosthetics.  It’s fair to say that in the hands of previous Boom! Apes artist Carlos Magno Visionaries could have actually been even better, but it may have ultimately changed the tone and visual uniqueness of this particular iteration.

Aside from the story itself, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries contains closing thoughts from Dana Gould and Chad Lewis (backed up by some nice concept sketches) discussing various aspects of Rod Serling’s vision and their approach to faithfully interpreting and respecting his work.  They’re fascinating to read and Gould’s passion for the Apes franchise and his adoration of Rod Serling is particularly enlightening.

Boom! Have done great work with the Apes license and have produced some brilliant stories that have expanded and embellished the Planet of the Apes universe and Visionaries is no different, whilst the uninitiated may find it odd it’s well worth a look for Apes fans.

The bottom line:  Planet of the Apes: Visionaries provides an intriguing look at what might have been and a fitting tribute to fifty years of an iconic and beloved franchise.

Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is published by Boom! Studios and is available in print and digital formats now.

6 thoughts on “Comics Review: ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’

  1. This looks like a great new take on Planet of the Apes, that cover is very striking as well. BOOM have indeed done some brilliant books with the Apes license, I’ll have to check this one out. Great review!

  2. Really glad to see a comic review from ya! It feels like it’s been forever since you last dropped one of your brilliantly composed reviews of anything you’ve read! Even more glad to see a title that I had not heard of or ever looked up. The alternate story definitely does sound intriguing, and the background information you provide throughout your review makes this really intriguing. Awesome review as always, Chris.

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