Return to the Forbidden Zone

It’s a staggering forty years since the launch of Marvel UK’s fourth and fifth reprint titles, Planet of the Apes and Dracula Lives. The Apes tv series began its UK run in October 1974 but, ape-allingly,  was never picked up by STV (although it probably was in broadcast up here in the North East)! Apparently Channel 4 showed the series twenty years later but I didn’t have a telly for much of 1994 so I wouldn’t know.

I’ve cast a desultory eye over both Tim Burton’s campy 2001  re-imagining of POTA and 2011’s “reboot”, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Neither, of course, satirise Sixties and Seventies culture the way the originals did.

in ’74, the two new comics were a departure from the Sixties super-hero fare of the original trio of  weeklies. POTA reprinted material from the US magazine of the same name. Marvel had published it as a response to high American tv ratings for winter screenings of the Apes films. 

My parents permitted me to add only one new comic to my weekly standing order ( Four comics equalled 32p a week. In the strike -bound  mid- 70s, you could get a hamburger and a coke for about 50p in Baxters in Strathaven).

Dracula

 I had been allowed to watch the 1958 Hammer Dracula one Friday night in STV’s Don’t Watch Alone slot and my brother and I had been taken to see Battle for the Planet of the Apes at the cinema in East Kilbride,  possibly in early ’74. Furthermore, one of the the first “grown-up” books I read was the novelisation (which I probably got in Safeway,  where the Blish Star Trek paperbacks were sold).

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I suspect I was subtly guided towards the POTA comic and away from Dracula – my parents being quite unaware of the references to lobotomy, gelding and other gruesome experiments in the script and oblivious to the Joy of Sex Man in bondage on the cover. By the second issue, I was captivated by the “savage tales” reprinted within.

Despite my love of  Kirby’s whacked-out post-apocalyptic cartoon Kamandi and its dolphin society however, or the talking worm in Shazam,  the simian satire of POTA didn’t grab me the way the back-up strips did. Ka-Zar, Lee and Kirby’s riff on Tarzan’s New York Adventure, segued into the Conan-esque sword and sorcery of the Petrified Man by Gerry Conway and Barry Smith. Meanwhile Thomas and Kane produced a pastiche of ERB’s Gods of Mars in Gullivar Jones (Even having read a couple of issues of DC’s Weird Worlds, I failed to pick up on the resemblance  for years!)

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I did come across occasional copies of Dracula Lives in the following months, in the homes of neighbours’ kids. I was intrigued by Conway and Colan’s first couple of dread-soaked outings but was far less keen on Ploog’s Werewolf By Night and the antiquated adventures of the literary Frankenstein’s Monster.

The adaptations of the Apes movies began, of course, with the Charlton Heston original which ran from October ’74 to the first week of January’75. This serial was followed by Marvel’s first original story arc, Terror on the Planet of the Apes: a Moench/Ploog collaboration which introduced long-running protagonists, Jason and Alexander. The friends would continue to appear in increasingly -bizarre adventures with  a frontiersman named Steely Dan.

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Back-ups now tended to be Marvel adaptations of bleak sci-fi stories from Worlds Unknown, like “Black Destroyer”, “Killdozer” and “Arena”. At some point in this period, we were taken to see the first POTA movie and Escape from ... at the Ritz cinema in Strathaven.

The weekly publication schedule quickly devoured US Apes material. The response to this crisis, in March 1975, was one of the  most notorious creations of Marvel UK:  Apeslayer. Basically, this was a reprint of the mongrel Adams/Chaykin/Trimpe Killraven/War of the Worlds series…with Martians substituted by apes.

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Absorbed as I was by any and all of Marvel’s sword-wielding barbarians, I owned exactly this one issue of Amazing Adventures (from Stonehouse in ’73) so I was more than happy to read a bastardised into of Carmilla Frost and Grok the Clonal Man. However, this hybridised strip was mothballed by mid-May as Marvel’s version of the mutant-ridden sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes began in June 1975 and concluded in September.

Further Marvel adaptations appeared as back-ups in the summer of 1975: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and The Day of the Triffids. In August, reprints began of Lee, Thomas and Colan’s stultifying spaceman saga , Captain Marvel. They carried on in the pages of the first landscape title, The Titans from October 1975.

At the same time, the comic began to reprint the surreal fantasy of the “Future History Chronicles”, a piratical sequence of ape adventures by Tom Sutton. This story arc would also feature a Captain Nemo pastiche.

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes was reprinted close on the heels of Beneath in that same month.  The most literary strip carried by the weekly POTA was Don McGregor’s Panther’s Rage, beginning in November  and continuing into the late spring of ’76.  Meanwhile, the adaptation of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes ran from January to mid-March, 1976.

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 Ultimately, as was always the way with British comics, there was “great news” for readers as POTA and DL merged that legendary summer,  in June 1976, ahead of the Masters of Terror double-bill on BBC2 that August.  Fittingly, the Jungle Lord , Ka-Zar, was still vine-swinging in POTA’s pages and the mindless Man-Thing , occasionally illustrated by Ploog, shambled over from the horror weekly.

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Meanwhile, Jason and Alexander’s saga became ever more surreal and satirical with monkey-demons, the Gandalf-esque Lightsmith and the unearthly, multi-orbed Keeper.

By December, Conan had bludgeoned his way into the weekly, with the Italianate intrigue of the Crimson Company/ Ring of Black Shadow storyline. It also introduced my favourite sidekick for the Cimmerian , the hoyden Tara of Hanumar.

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The following spring, in March 1977,  POTA/DL merged with the perennial Mighty World of Marvel. By that time, I was more interested in the Headshop Kozmic of Starlin and Englehart’s Captain Marvel than the interminable Battle for the Planet of the Apes– my first Apes story, after all, three years earlier.

The last hurrah for POTA  reprints, with Viking apes, Gorilloids and Terror-Toads,  finally came in the summer of 1977, just before I went into S3. Elvis was still alive but the charts were ruled by Disco Inferno and Carole Bayer Sager.

From early 1978, Star Wars Weekly would carry the bulk of Marvel’s sci-fi output, including movie Guardian Star-Lord;  Starlin’s subversive, trippy Warlock; and toy-based George Lucas pastiche, the Micronauts. Text features  on sci-fi movies, pioneered in POTA, would transfer to SWW and later to Starburst magazine .

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Ironically the apes would be replaced in MWOM by their ’74 stablemate, Dracula himself. 1977 saw the longest BBC2 summer season of horror double bills on a Saturday night: Dracula, Frankenstein and Friends. It was also the summer of BBC1’s Supernatural – and the final episode of that series was repeated for the very first time last night.

As we progress through the season for all things supernatural, future posts will venture into the realm of Marvel’s own Masters of Terror

All images are presumed  copyright of their respective owners. Thanks especially to Hunter Goatley’s Planet of the Apes archives.

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3 comments on “Return to the Forbidden Zone

  1. I must confess that I’d totally forgotten about Conan appearing in POTA.

    I accidentally blundered across the last ten minutes of, “Supernatural,” last night. I shall have to catch up on the rest of it on the iPlayer.

  2. Paul McScotty says:

    Great article 40 years ago I still can’t take that in as my memory of picking both these first issue up in a Blantyre newsagent is so vivid . I wasn’t aware of Conan appearing in POTA either , then again I only picked up a few issue of that comic much to my regret now – Re comic book stories on TV I would also add “The Strain” to that list not exactly in the same vein as Arrow, Flash etc but imho a really good watch.

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