Monkey See, Monkey Do

In this post from last autumn, https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/return-to-the-forbidden-zone/- I discussed the UK Planet of the Apes weekly comic. It was launched, reprinting US Marvel stories, as a response to the tv series spin-off from the movies.

STV, of course, saw fit never to screen that series in 1974/75, opting instead to broadcast “from Norwich, the Quiz of the Week”: the archetypal cheapjack Anglia TV game show. Perhaps £8 prizes hidden behind a curtain connoted less of a sense of Popery? Who knows.

POTA tv

Anyway, thanks to Freeview channel True Entertainment, I have now finally seen two episodes. The Good Seeds starred Pete Duel’s brother, Geoffrey, in ape guise and the second, The Gladiators featured Marc Singer from V.

The titles are striking and nightmarish- again, perhaps not nearly godly enough for a West of Scotland 70s Sunday . The stories themselves are essentially Westerns, where the humans are the White Hats, falsely accused and on the run. In The Gladiators, when one of the astronauts loses a “computer tape”, I was reminded of the similar loss of access to the Tardis in DW’s Hartnell era.

As I wrote last year: “The weekly publication schedule  (of the UK POTA) 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.

warlord apes

12114-2469-13563-1-amazing-adventures

Absorbed as I was by any and all of Marvel’s sword-wielding barbarians, I owned exactly… 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 …”

One fact I had forgotten was that supporting characters Carmilla Frost, Grok and M’Shulla were renamed San Simian, Zom and Mala. San Simian, of course, is a pun on San Simeon, the Californian locale of Randolph Hearst’s personal “Xanadu”; that’s a joke worthy of Kirby.

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Passing Killraven off as Apeslayer is a fundamentally ludicrous concept. The bionic ape Warlord alone is comical, to say nothing of the blatantly Martian tripods. I also think UK fans treated it with (understandable) derision. If you have never read Killraven, it is worth pursuing, however. Don McGregor’s experimental- if bloated -and bluntly satirical prose style is one I find hard to take ( and it dissuaded me from the reprint of “Panther’s Rage”) However, Craig Russell’s art is delicate and ornate.

What little I read of the series was in the usual haphazard style thanks to British distribution. First was the derivative Warlord issue by Wolfman and Trimpe, bought on a visit to my mum’s home town,  then- as a total contrast,  three years later- the unsettling tale of The 24 -Hour Man in the early spring of 76.

image-19

This issue ignobly combines two uncomfortable sci-fi tropes: women having sex with monsters (which also featured in the Conan story, “The Last Ballad of Laza-Lanti”) and babies ageing to adulthood with weird designs on mum or other women ( cf. Space 1999 and the justly infamous Avengers 200). As you can see, the masthead of the comic proclaimed Killraven for a while but presumably the WoTW tie-in boosted sales.

death family

The return of Marvel colour monthlies to the town where I attended Secondary School allowed me to  dip into many different titles. Next stop on the Martian trail some weeks later was the impressive and tragic “A Death in the Family”, which features an origin story and the deaths of two supporting characters.  This was followed in May ’76 by a journey to Mars in “Red Dust Legacy”.

computer respect

By the summer, the mentally challenged Old Skull had a touching origin story and the mind-blowing “Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect” was a trippy highlight of our week’s holiday in Port William.

Giffen killraven

Returning to school for S2, I next read Keith Giffen’s  dense, impressionistic Marvel Universe parody and …that was all, until I read Russell & McGregor’s final issue in 77/78. It was one of several comics in a “grab-bag” sold in Lewis’s department store.

final glory

In the mid-80s, the rise of comic marts and back issue sales in Glasgow allowed me to catch up with “The Death Breeders” storyline: a gruesome and horrific tale of human birth, oppression and the appetites of the Martians. It also introduced the scintillating Volcana Ash.

Killraven Davis

I didn’t read the Killraven Marvel Graphic Novel until the b/w reprint Essential Killraven was published. Prior to that, however,  I did read the first issue of Alan Davis’ re-imagining of the saga in 2002. However, financial pressures at that time prevented me from following the series. I’d also lost interest in sword-slingers for a while.

Despite its various shortcomings, Marvel’s War of the Worlds/Killraven series became a concerted effort to wrest something articulate, imagistic and scathing from a shonky sword and science stew. The desperate invention of Apeslayer sells it rather short.

Coming soon: Black Goliath and The Seven Soldiers of Victory

 

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

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2 comments on “Monkey See, Monkey Do

  1. I loved Killraven when I was a kid. “Only The Computer….” in particular had a massive effect on me. When I was fourteen, whenever our English teacher told us to write a short story for homework, I wrote it in the style of Don McGregor. She must have wanted to strangle me.

    Nowadays, I find the series deeply flawed but do feel the world of comics was better for its existence.

  2. Elginmarvel says:

    My English teacher must have felt the same when I aped the style of Logan’s World by William F. Nolan.

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