Going Ape! Redux

More on Planet of the Apes Predecessors: Balaoo, DeCamp, Miller, Wellman!


It’s taken me a while to get around to this followup to the first Myrant “Going Ape!” essay,

Back with me now? Good.

I’ve a bit more to offer this time around, including the sf pulp/novel precursor to some of the comics stories I mentioned in that post (the Strange Adventures cover story “The Gorilla World” and Jack Kirby‘s “The Last Enemy!” for Harvey Comics‘s Alarming Tales #1, among others).

I’ve also found in my collection of Manly Wade Wellman rarities the obvious predecessor to the most recent Planet of the Apes feature—a story I’d in fact argue deserved a screen credit on Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, a film I quite love). I doubt much of this will be news to Planet of the Apes devotees, but you never know.

Read on!

First of all, reconsidering the hardcore predecessors to the entire Planet of the Apes concept, I think we need to backtrack to 1941…

Consider L. Sprague deCamp and P. Schuyler Miller‘s science-fiction novel Genus Homo (1941/1950), which I reread this past winter. Given my high school sf reading of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I (incorrectly) remembered it being a contemporary of the original Pierre Boulle novel—I was surprised to find it predated by over two decades Pierre Boulle‘s satiric account of Ulysse Mérou‘s expedition to the Betelgeuse solar system in La Planète des Singes/Planet of the Apes (1963, a Swiftian novel still superior to all its multi-media incarnations and spinoffs).

Genus Homo was the prolific DeCamp‘s first novel, Miller‘s only novel, and it originally saw print in Super Science Novels #7 (March, 1941; cover at right), and subsequently published as a novel in 1950 (Fantasy Press, hc). The copy I read in high school (borrowed, if memory serves, from my pal Alan Finn) and the copy I reread this winter was the Berkley Books/Medallion paperback (1961, and still predating La Planète des Singes by two years).

Revisiting DeCamp and Miller‘s novel—which I highly recommend—I also have to say that if the late Julie Schwartz were still with us, I’d be willing to bet cash-on-the-barrelhead that it was the DeCamp/Miller opus that Julie consciously riffed from for the Strange Adventures #45 story “The Gorilla World” (June 1954; cover below, left).

Since the editors brainstormed all the covers (according to Julie, as related in countless interviews and in personal conversation with me back in 1986) back in those days, the cover concept most likely would have been Julie‘s—so to speak. Given Julie’s encyclopediac knowledge of pulp sf and his having even agented for many sf authors, I find it more unlikely Julie wouldn’t have been aware of De Camp and Miller‘s seminal novel.

The classic DC/National Periodicals run of “gorilla covers” kicked off with Strange Adventures #8 (May 1951, below right), and it didn’t take long for Julie to suggest an abridged spin on the DeCamp/Miller novel for a cover story.

The DeCamp/Miller novel concerns a busload of folks passing through Pennsylvania who suffer a should-have-been-fatal accident only to Rip Van Winkle into the distant future: there’s none of the “what planet are we on?” folderol, they know they’ve awakened to their native planet’s future, where common lifeforms of the 1940s have either evolved into monstrous predators or gone extinct, and gorillas and baboons have hyper-evolved into the dominant sentient species.

Sound familiar?

You bet. The novel has its own rich energy, wit, and style, and the satiric digs at mankind via its extinction and all that has replaced it is still often delightful.

That said, the pulpish sf nature of DeCamp/Miller‘s opus is self-evident: the bus is buried when a tunnel caves in, trapping two dozen men and women on board (many of them scientists en route to a Columbus, Ohio powwow) and perfectly preserving them all in one of those incredibly unlikely states of suspended animation so much vintage futurist sf depended upon. This time, their million-year survival was initiated not only by the earthquake and premature burial, but also by an experimental hibernation “gas” the one of them thar scientists on board just happened to be carrying. Damn lucky, that.

Thanks to the biologist of the group, communication is established with the city-dwelling super-gorillas, opening the door for DeCamp and Miller‘s satire to kick in. Having based their culture on science, the gorillas have managed to eschew everything that resulted in the self-destruction of mankind (there’s a passing reference to nuclear destruction—fleeting, vagure, and entirely speculative—though I wonder if that wasn’t added for the post-WW2 book edition; I’d welcome input on that point if anyone out there has the original Super Science Novels version).


In contrast to the Planet of the Apes movies and such, the gorillas (closer to what we now know of the real species) are a peaceful race; it’s the damned baboons that are the war-mongering culture!

So, the humans pitch in to help the gorillas take on the baboon military-industrial complex (a monarchy, and savaged as such by the authors), culminating in some lively mayhem sure to please Planet of the Apes buffs.

Even with the help of our human heroes, though, it takes more to turn the tide against the baboons—you see, the hyper-evolved primates aren’t the only kingpin mammals supplanting now-extinct mankind: there’s also a species of rather metropolitan, outsized, super-intelligent beavers (!!!) who save the day.

Which makes me wonder, in retrospect, if Tim Truman hadn’t read DeCamp and Miller‘s novel… after all, Tim concocted the Time Beavers graphic novel! But that’s another story…

More sobering still was my reread of Manly Wade Wellman‘s excellent short story “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” in Astounding Stories (Vol 20, No 5, January 1938, cover above, left), which I’ve got the original pulp of in my collection and dove back into this past winter.

But I digress.

No surprise, really, that Manly Wade Wellman‘s “posthumous” contribution to the Planet of the Apes mythos predates even the DeCamp and Miller novel Genus Homo. Wellman, it seems, was often ahead of his times.

I originally read Wellman‘s story on a plane via the UK paperback The Rivals of Frankenstein (1977, Corgi), en route home from my first-ever UKAK in 1985. Wellman‘s story was, in its day, a concise rethink of a number of already-chestnut sf novels, including H.G. Wells‘s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and Gaston Leroux‘s now-forgotten Balaoo (1911, first published in Le Matin, October 9-December 18, 1911).

Balaoo in particular was incredibly popular in its time, internationally renowned and widely imitated; Leroux, after all, was the author of The Phantom of the Opera. Leroux‘s seminal tale of a scientist hyper-evolving a primate via surgery was repeatedly filmed, starting with Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset‘s Balaoo the Demon Baboon (1913) and often “borrowed from.” Official adaptations included The Wizard (1927) and Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942), but the ripoffs span from the Lon Chaney vehicle A Blind Bargain (1922) and the UniversalPaula Dupree the ape woman” films (starring Acquanetta and/or Vicky Lane) of the early 1940s on through the Mexican man/ape transplant horror films like Chano Urueta‘s seminal El Monstruo Resucitado (1953), Fernando Méndez‘s Ladrón de Cadáveres (1957), and René Cardona‘s Las Luchadoras Contra el Medico Asesino/Doctor of Doom (1962) and La Horripilante Bestia Humana/Night of the Bloody Apes (1969/1972).

Hell, even Todd McFarlane ripped on Balaoo (in Spawn), and didn’t even know it (I know he didn’t: in the one and only “want to work with me?” phone call I ever received from Todd, when he was asking me to take on a horror spinoff comic with or for him, and he told me it was the Spawn man/gorilla character he wanted me to work with, I mentioned Balaoo—he thought I was suddenly talking about the fucking singing bear from the Disney animated adaptation of The Jungle Book)!

The ol’ “surgically evolve an ape and/or transplant a man’s brain into a gorilla” schtick was and is just everywhere. But they all owed and still owe a debt to H.G. Wells and Gaston Leroux—and Manly Wade Wellman knew that.

In Wellman‘s tale, his put-upon narrator is an ape named Congo who has been surgically altered to increase his intelligence and allow him to speak. He details his life with the scientist and the scientist’s kind, caring wife, and the fact that he matured more quickly than the couple’s own son, Sidney, who remained “a fat, blue-eyed baby that drooled and gurgled and barely crept upon the nursery linoleum, while I scurried easily hither and thither, scrambling up on tables and bedposts, and sometimes on the bureau.”

Congo‘s account notes his own ability to speak and his unhappiness with the patience and affection showered on Sidney while the scientist “acted grave—almost stern—where I was involved.” Congo is also painfully aware of the ongoing surgeries necessary to his own rapid development, and how this further sets him apart from Sidney.

Hmmmmmmm. Sounding familiar?

In fact, much of the first third of Wellman‘s “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” reads like a template for much of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, sometimes with uncanny fidelity. The overall theme and thrust is also in accord with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in many striking ways—in fact, I’d argue that Wellman was due a credit or at least an onscreen acknowledgement.

The narratives diverge significantly, however, when the scientist sells Congo to subsidize his future experiments. Congo is essentially recruited into show biz (shade of Mighty Joe Young!), but Wellman was a most literary man—and so, Congo is offered the part of Caliban in a production of William Shakespeare‘s The Tempest (and Congo himself is sharp enough to respond to the role, and recognize his affinity with Caliban‘s plight).

Eventually, though, Congo contrives to realize his personal dream—his (ahem) “return to Africa,” where he is violently rejected by the natural tribal apes and forced to instead return to civilization, totally aware of his complete misfit status and utter singularity as a sentient being: the tragedy of Frankenstein’s monster, just as Mary Shelley conceived her monster.

When Congo is reunited with his maker, the scientist informs Congo of his plan to surgically mass-produce more of man-ape hybrids:

“…each a valuable property—each an advance in surgery and psychology over the last… In six or eight years there’ll be a full hundred of you, or more advanced… I will lighten the labor of mankind…”

At which point, Congo—just as Caesar does in Rise (as articulated in screenwriter Paul Dehn‘s original imaginary arc of the first Planet of the Apes movie series)—objects, and—

Go, read “Pithecanthropus Rejectus,” then revisit (or enjoy for the first time) Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

And tell me I’m wrong.

Original Astounding Stories illustration by William Elliott Dold, Jr. (1892-1967) aka “Dold” for Manly Wade Wellman’s “Pithecanthropus Rejectus,” January 1938. Below: Rupert Wyatt/Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis as Caesar via Weta Digital CGI effects (Rise of the Planet of the Ages photo: ©2011 20th Century Fox, posted for archival and entertainment purposes only).

_______________

Further recommended reading:

* Rich Handley‘s From Aldo to Zira: Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes (2010, Hasslein Books) is what its subtitle says it is: “A Comprehensive Encyclopedia” to the imaginary universe of the Planet of the Apes 20th Century Fox series and licensed offshoots in all media incarnations—and if this is indeed a first volume only, I can only say: Godspeed Volume 2!

Handley‘s intensive knowledge of his chosen subject—the complete span of the Planet of the Apes mythos, including all its detours, dead ends, eddies, and open vistas—is shared with enthusiasm, wit, and relentless attention to detail. If the minutea of the entire Planet of the Apes movie and TV universe and its cartoon, comics, and novel offshoots is your own obsession, rest assured Handley shares it. If a one-stop reference guide to acquainting yourself with the Planet of the Apes universe is your need, From Aldo to Zira: Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes is the best book on the market.

Fully illustrated and a clocking in at a hefty 400+ pages, this paperback covers everything of the invented PotA turf, with well over 3,000 entries citing every character, location, concept, and media permutation. Handley makes it all accessible to both the amateur entry-level reader/researcher and the lifelong obsessive, and I can imagine no higher purpose or scope for a book such as this. Highly recommended!

(SP: Rich also authored Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: The Definitive Unauthorized Chronology for the same publisher back in 2008; I haven’t laid hands on a copy, but it looks mighty tempting!)

* Also: I’m not sure how you can lay your hands on a copy for yourself, but I really enjoyed a recent zine dedicated to the Planet of the Apes universe, The Forbidden Zone/Zine (not to be confused with the 1992 Malibu Comics series; note the logo’s obfuscation of the ‘O’ in “Zone” with an “I”). I was kindly sent a copy of the first issue last year, and it’s a full-color 38-page slick jam-packed with comic art (both original comics material unique to this zine, and previews of Planet of the Apes comics series), behind-the-scenes peeks at the development of PotA comics cover art (by Ty Templeton), some of Richard Pace‘s unpublished Revolution on the Planet of the Apes comics pages, articles on the painting of the PotA collector’s cards, and much more. There’s work here from Drew Gaska, E. M. Gist, John B. Kirtley, Matt Solia, Jessica Rotich, Graham Hill, Neil Moxham, and Neil T. Foster (deliberately copping licks from Jack Kirby‘s Kamandi apes stories), and it’s cover-to-cover a labor of love. Any more issues available?

[See comments thread, below, for answers!]


Discussion (13) ¬

  1. Gene Kannenberg, Jr.

    You wrote this just for me, didn’t you, Steve? :-) Wonderful, wonderful stuff – I must track it all down somehow!

  2. srbissette

    Gene, they’re easy finds, actually. GENUS HOMO is readily available in various editions (check http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?kn=Sprague&tn=Genus+Homo ), and the Manly Wade Wellman story was also reprinted in numerous anthologies: see http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?43973 :

    Publications:

    Astounding Stories, January 1938, (Jan 1938, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., publ. Street & Smith Publications, Inc., $0.20, 164pp, Pulp, magazine) Cover: H. Wesso – [VERIFIED]
    Science Fiction of the Thirties, (Jan 1976, ed. Damon Knight, publ. Bobbs-Merrill Company, 0-672-52087-7, $12.50, xii+468pp, hc, anth) Cover: Howard V. Brown
    Science Fiction of the Thirties, (Jan 1976, ed. Damon Knight, publ. Bobbs-Merrill / SFBC, #1657, $3.50, xii+465pp, hc, anth) Cover: Howard V. Brown – [VERIFIED]
    The Rivals of Frankenstein: A Gallery of Monsters, (1977, ed. Michel Parry, publ. Corgi, 0-552-10465-5, £0.70, 222pp, pb, anth) – [VERIFIED]
    Science Fiction of the Thirties, (Mar 1977, ed. Damon Knight, publ. Avon, 0-380-00904-8, $4.95, ix+469pp, tp, anth) – [VERIFIED]
    The Best Animal Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, (1979, ed. Donald J. Sobol, publ. Frederick Warne, 0-7232-6169-5, $8.95, 195pp, hc, anth) Cover: Stanislaw Fernandes
    The Rivals of Frankenstein: A Gallery of Monsters, (1980, ed. Michel Parry, publ. Barnes & Noble Books, 0-06-465105-3, $1.95, 213pp, pb, anth) Cover: Fred Charles
    The Mammoth Book of Frankenstein, (1994, ed. Stephen Jones, publ. Robinson, 1-85487-330-X, £5.99, 577pp, tp, anth) – [VERIFIED]
    The Mammoth Book of Frankenstein, (Dec 1994, ed. Stephen Jones, publ. Carroll & Graf, 0-7867-0159-5, $9.95, xiv+577pp, tp, anth) – [VERIFIED]

  3. srbissette

    As for the STRANGE ADVENTURES comics material, “The Gorilla World” (script: Otto Binder; pencils: Carmine Infantino; inks: Joe Giella) must be in one of the oversized DC b&w collections, yes? Anyone?

  4. srbissette

    And—I should have known, the PLANET OF THE APES devotees are all over this. But no mention as yet of the Manly Wade Wellman story, note: http://planetoftheapes.wikia.com/wiki/La_Planète_des_singes

    I’m also going to have to track down a copy of this Aldous Huxley gem:

    “English novelist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote about another Dystopia, set in 2108 after a war has devastated most of the world and apes rule in place of man. Published in 1948 and written in the form of a discarded and rediscovered screenplay, Ape and Essence followed the attempts of a human biologist to make sense out of the upside-down world. When a group of researchers from New Zealand, the last bastion of human society untouched by the final war, arrived in post holocaust Los Angeles, Alfred “Stagnant” Poole was captured by ruthless, de-evolved humans. He discovered their society had gone savagely wrong, with science being replaced by a type of devil worship. A baboon culture, on the other hand, living concurrently with the humans, was far more civilized and took steps to limit the humans’ reproduction. Poole was shocked by all he saw, and returned to New Zealand with news that America was beyond all hope of salvation. Huxley’s presentation, as the work of a misanthropic screenwriter, pokes fun not only at human folly but also the system of Hollywood.”

  5. Gene Kannenberg, Jr.

    Holy cow, Steve, THANKS for all of this!!!

  6. patrick ford

    Steve: “ruthless, de-evolved humans. He discovered their society had gone savagely wrong, with science being replaced by a type of devil worship.”

    We have that today, it’s called the Tea Party.

  7. Henry R. Kujawa

    Cool stuff.

    Because the 1st movie left the “back-story” so vague, I recall my brother & I being fascinated, trying to work out how things got that way. Then I read the novel, which has stuck in my head to this day. Yes, it IS better than all the spin-offs. Many don’t realize “ESCAPE…” may have been so well-liked because it was an adaptation of the 2nd half of the book, only, upside-down (and with a horribly-downbeat ending tacked on). The end of the book actually turned up (sort of) as the opening scene of the 3rd movie.

    The book PLANET OF THE APES REVISITED explored in depth the making of the movies. I got disgusted reading about “BENEATH…” So much wasted potential. (The Colin Baker DOCTOR WHO story, “The Mysterious Planet”, reminds me of it, only much more fun to watch.) Like ALIEN 3 and HALLOWEEN 6, it kept getting worse with each new decision and change. The one thing missing from the book (I read about this online later) was learning the 2nd film was supposed to have the upbeat ending the 5th film did. At the height of Viet Nam, what a wonderful, positive statement they could have made, that different people CAN get along in peace. Instead, they just took Heston’s advice– and blew up the planet (while “The Watcher” from the FF cartoons commented– Paul Frees, natch).

    You didn’t mention the POTA model kits from the 70′s, did you?

    When I joined KLORDNY (LEGION a.p.a.) I named my fanzine “From The Forbidden Zone”. For the longest time, I’ve jokingly referred to my home town– Camden, NJ– as “The Forbidden Zone”. It looks it, a bit. Also, judging by how far Heston had to travel to reach first, the Statue of Liberty, and then, Manhattan (or, “The ruins of Manhatt”, in THUNDARR ), I figured Ape City was somewhere in NJ. (The ocean was on his right, so he’d have been travelling North. Makes sense, right?)

    And speaking of KAMANDI, I’ve done restorations on the 1st 14 covers for my blog, so far. Not bad, considering I don’t have a single one of these things in my collection! (Shocking, isn’t it?)

  8. BobH

    “As for the STRANGE ADVENTURES comics material, “The Gorilla World” (script: Otto Binder; pencils: Carmine Infantino; inks: Joe Giella) must be in one of the oversized DC b&w collections, yes? Anyone?”

    No, unfortunately DC started their STRANGE ADVENTURES b&w reprint with #54 (possibly picking the first code-approved issue as an arbitrary starting point), less than a year after the “Gorilla World” story which doesn’t seem to have ever been reprinted. Still a lot of gorilla stuff in that book, including “The Gorilla Who Challenged the World”, “Gorillas in Space” and “The Gorilla Conquest of Earth”.

  9. srbissette

    Thanks, Bob—I’ll dig out my copy of “The Gorilla World” and post it here on MYRANT, then. I’m not finding any evidence of anyone posting it online to date.

  10. Graham Hill

    Hi Steve, Just the one issue of the Forbidden Zine / Zone so far, I think Neil Foster and Michael Whitty the guys behind it were working on more though.
    Best,Graham.

  11. Graham Hill

    hi steve Michael has been in touch and asked me to post this for him as he’s having trouble getting post through…

    Regarding the Forbidden Zine (it’s Zine not zone, if you look closely!:)) – we
    are slowly getting together the net issue but Neil T Foster is busy with other
    (PAYING!) projects right now and the main comic story is incomplete. Next time
    we’ll offer options for black and white issues…the full colour issue cost over
    20 bucks each and we lost a lot of money. We are also getting our share of
    wonderful POTA comics these days from the BOOM! mini series (not the main story
    - it confuses the look of Burton’s apes!) and the main series is going classic
    soon so there’s no real void needing to be filled. To stay in touch I suggest
    you join the POTADG (Planet of the Apes Discussion Group)
    Also to meet your “fanzine” needs is another current fanzine run by passionate fan Dave
    Ballard SIMIAN SCROLLS

    Michael Whitty

  12. srbissette

    Thanks, Graham and Michael—oops, my bad on Zone/Zine! I’ll correct that now in the main post.

    * Is there anywhere interested folks can still order a copy or copies of Forbidden Zone/Zine? I scoured all online venues (including ebay.au), but no luck.

    * Thanks for the update and info, and feel free to post links to POTADG and any SIMIAN SCROLLS info/order/links.

  13. Hunter Goatley

    Issues of SIMIAN SCROLLS and THE APES CHRONICLES, another Apes fanzine, can be found on my Planet of the Apes website:

    http://pota.goatley.com/

    Hunter

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