When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?
Millhouse, The Simpsons “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”
Drew: One of the hardest things to ignore when evaluating a work of art is your own expectations. Whether they’re unreasonably high (guaranteeing disappointment) or unreasonably low (setting the experience up for failure), our expectations only get in the way of what the art actually is. At the same time, genre fiction — and especially established franchises — run on our expectations. Where would James Bond be without his peculiar martini order or idiosyncratic way of introducing himself? These may ultimately be trivial elements of the story (though larger structural elements are not immune to these rigid expectations), but for whatever reason, they’re strangely satisfying to fans. A story that hopes to do something new with established franchises — as Boom! Studios and IDW’s new Star Trek/Planet of the Apes sets out to — has an awkward tightrope to walk, then, beholden to fan expectations that only partially apply. That tension leaves the first issue overburdened with exposition, robbing it of much of the fun promised on the cover.
It’s a similar problem to what Greg felt when we covered the first issue of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters — this issue favors mythology over entertainment, which is fine if you are invested in the sanctity of the respective continuities, but is downright boring if you aren’t. This issue could have very easily condensed its “a dimensional portal brought these universes together” plot into a few pages, giving the crew of the Starship Enterprise some actual facetime with the apes. As it is, the issue spends its entire first half either teasing a villain we actually meet and name by the issue’s end, or retrieving the plans that actually set the story in motion — we gain nothing from their inclusion, other than putting off the interactions we actually picked up the series to see: Kirk and crew are on the Planet of the Apes.
What we’re left with is an issue that feels decidedly like maybe the first act of an episode of Star Trek — we’ve only established the setting, not even the central conflict. We are given strong hints as to what that conflict might be — the Klingons have apparently been dealing arms to the Apes — but since our heroes have never even been in the same room as a single ape, they don’t have really any skin in the game. What they do have is the Prime Directive (and, I’ll be honest, if the “Primate Directive” pun is the only thing I get out of this issue, it was totally worth it), which suggests that they maybe have some kind of duty to intercede where the Klingons are doing more than just observing. The problem is that that’s an oddly convoluted conflict for these franchises, whose own mythologies imply a much more intuitive one, hinging on the enslavement of mankind on the Planet of the Apes.
Like I mentioned, this story is far from complete, so it may be unfair for me to judge the plot based on what we get of it here, but boy, this issue sure makes coming back an unlikely proposition. That’s not to say the issue was entirely devoid of fun — I was particularly pleased with writers Scott and David Tipton’s handling of Kirk’s halting speech patterns:
In the end, those little tastes that define the franchise are the strongest parts of the issue for me. Unfortunately, as with the plot, they seem to be paced for a much longer arc — there’s no “beam me up, Scotty” or “Damnit, Jim” to be seen, meaning this issue doesn’t even really hold up as a satisfying nostalgia piece.
Spencer! Were you able to find more to like about this issue than I was? You tend to be the one to put me in my place when I’m too hard on premiere issues — is that what’s going on here?
Spencer: For once, Drew, I don’t think you’re being too hard at all. As the first chapter of a Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover this issue is frustratingly lopsided, which is a shame since it would actually make a rather good first chapter of a straight-up Star Trek series. So hey, bear with me, cause that’s exactly what I’m going to pretend it is for a few paragraphs.
One thing I think this issue does really well is capture the energy and aesthetic of the original Star Trek series it’s based upon. Rachael Stott’s characters are a perfect likeness of the show’s cast, but they never come across as caricatures — and actually, while this is clearly based upon the 60’s Star Trek, Stott even manages to sneak a little Chris Pine into her interpretation of Kirk.
Where Stott is most successful, though, is in recreating the feel of the show. Stott’s obviously not limited by budget or technology as the original series was — allowing for smooth starship battles and even some fun little flourishes like the Enterprise’s exit from the portal — but she makes sure never to allow her art to become so futuristic that it feels out-of-place in the world established by the original series.
Thus Stott’s style helps create a world that feels lived-in and familiar, although the Tiptons’ writing is just as essential in this regard. They quickly establish a professional-yet-easygoing rapport between the various officers of the Enterprise that shows just how well the crew knows each other and why they work together so well. Even when they’re at their most expository, the Tiptons make sure to add just enough characterization to remind the readers of the relationships between these characters, making them more than just mouthpieces for vital information (although they’re certainly that as well).
For as talky as this issue can be, though, it isn’t light on action, treating us to both a starship battle and Uhura and Sulu’s infiltration mission. Drew’s right that the issue takes its time establishing the conflict, but still, if this were simply the first issue of a Star Trek series then I would definitely call it an above-average premiere. The problem is that this isn’t a Star Trek series; it’s a Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover, yet there’s hardly an ape to be found.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the recent trend of companies publishing what essentially boils down to canonical crossover fan-fiction, especially since I was known to dabble a bit in crossover fan-fiction myself in my high school years. As someone with a bit of experience in the field, though, I can safely say that the creators behind this title have missed the point of crossovers, which is actually seeing the characters from the two different franchises interacting. At the end of the first issue only one character from The Planet of the Apes has been introduced (General Marius, who appears to be a new character to boot); while the crew of the Enterprise has been firmly established, we still have no idea who’s included in the central cast on the Planet of the Apes side of the equation, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s vital information that needs to be established by the end of the first chapter of a crossover. I suppose it’s possible that the Tiptons intend to shift their focus to the apes in issue two and spend most of that chapter on their point of view, but even that means postponing the actual meeting of the two casts one more issue, and that could be a fatal move for the series.
One piece of writing advice I hear rather often is about how vital is it to start your story at the right point, and ultimately, that’s where the Tiptons miss their mark. All our concerns with this issue boil down to the fact that the story just starts too early — there’s certainly fun scenes and important information in this issue, but in the end it’d be better served if the story had begun with the two casts already interacting. As it is, this series is a crossover that doesn’t yet feel like a crossover at all, and while that might be okay if you just picked this up to read a Star Trek story, it leaves Planet of the Apes and/or crossover fans out in the cold.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?