Hasslein Blog: Forgotten on the Planet of the Apes: Forbidden Zone Prime


Hasslein Blog

Friday, March 20, 2015

Forgotten on the Planet of the Apes: Forbidden Zone Prime

By Rich Handley

Planet of the Apes fans who read comic books have fond memories of Marvel Comics' 1970s spinoff Apes title. The series ran for 29 issues, containing adaptations of the five classic films, as well as informative articles and interviews, and several wonderfully trippy original stories written by Doug Moench and illustrated by the likes of Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Alfredo Alcala and Herb Trimpe. Marvel also published an 11-issue color reprint of the first two film adaptations, under the title Adventures on the Planet of the Apes, and a weekly British sister-series from Marvel UK that produced a total of 139 issues repackaging the U.S. material in serialized format (all of which are archived for downloading here).

What fans may be less aware of are a quartet of unpublished stories that Moench wrote that never saw print due to Marvel's unfortunate cancellation of the comic after 29 issues. After Marvel finished adapting Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the magazine needed to move in a new direction, now that all five films had been adapted.

To that end, as of issue 30, Moench intended to make his Derek Zane storyline (from issues 9, 10 and 21, about an inventor lost in the future after building a time machine to rescue Taylor's crew) the main focus of the book. The result was "Journey to the Planet of the Apes," which would have been a multi-arc storyline that would have lasted until around issue #60, taking Zane on a variety of adventures into other eras and, ultimately, to other worlds. (It's astounding to realize that the writer had planned things that far ahead, and a crime to fans that none of it was ever produced.)

Moench completed an 18-page outline for the first chapter of the saga, titled "The Secret of the City." The plan was cut off at the knees, however, when Marvel—pressed for increased licensing fees from APJAC Productions—abruptly canceled the magazine before issue #30 could be produced. This first chapter of "Journey" thus remained unpublished, as did several other stories Moench had written for upcoming issues.

"Future History Chronicles VI: The Captive of the Canals" would have picked up where the fifth chapter of that story left off, with the main characters finding a great city known as Sexxtann, and encountering Her Majesty's Cannibal Corps. In part six, readers would have learned more about the Cannibal Corps, while also meeting Her Majesty, a giant female gorilla captured by the humans of Sexxtann, known as the Industrialists—descendants of citizens from several African nations who blamed apes and Caucasian humans for the planet's devastation, and thus decided to form their own isolated civilization.

Moench also wrote a new chapter of "Terror on the Planet of the Apes," titled "To Meet the Makers." This story, which took place immediately following the previous "Terror" chapter, introduced the Makers' latest creation: Smashore, a 9-foot-tall albino Gorilloid with a hole in his head to propel bombs, a utility belt, bionic eyeballs able to shoot death rays, and laser-shooters in his fingertips—a reminder that although it was set in the Planet of the Apes universe, Marvel's "Terror" was, first and foremost, a comic book.

The above three unpublished tales are available online, thanks to Doug Moench, who provided them to me as research for my first book, Timeline of the Planet of the Apes. Moench graciously allowed his work to be shared with fans, and archivist Hunter Goatley hosted them at his wonderful Apes fandom site, with Moench's blessing.

But it's another Moench-penned Apes tale that is the most intriguing.

Moench wrote a fourth story, "Forbidden Zone Prime," of which he no longer retains copies or even remembers any details. Unlike the above entries, which apparently exist only in script or outline form, "Prime" was fully illustrated and lettered before its cancellation, and was slated to be published in issue #30 had the series not been prematurely canceled.

To date, only 10 pages (1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15 and 16) have been discovered; the remaining pages remain unavailable. The first I knew of this story's existence was when a single page surfaced online, offering a brief, tantalizing view into a previously unknown Marvel Apes tale. I was floored, to say the least. In 2009, comic art collector Edward Haber purchased the other nine pages and was kind enough to alert me to his find. I then traveled to his home with Hasslein Books art director Paul Giachetti to photograph them.

The story involves a chimp poet named Julius, whose public acrobatic antics, atypical tolerance for humans and fondness for the archaic expression of poetry have humiliated and annoyed his wife, a respected architect named Viraga. (One wonders what an architect would do in a town in which all buildings look like the Flintstones' house. But I digress.)

Julius befriends a naïve human woman named Steena, who shares his desire to see ape culture embrace poetry, grace and love rather than maintain its adherence to dogma and anti-human rhetoric. Gorilla soldier Zandor nearly kills Steena just for being a human, but Julius risks his life to save hers. However, the chimp knows that their bond will unlikely change society's bigoted hatred.

What happens next remains unknown—as does the relevance of the title "Forbidden Zone Prime," and the meaning behind the cryptic opening exposition indicating that all of the characters die by story's end. In fact, it's not even known how many pages are missing, since the ending is frustratingly among the lost portion.

Damn you, universe. Damn you all to hell.

Though incomplete, "Forbidden Zone Prime" has the makings of what could have been one of Marvel's most intelligently written (and certainly one of its most beautifully drawn) tales. The late Filipino artist Sonny Trinidad is credited as the illustrator on one page, though when I contacted him in 2008 via his children, Norman and Cherry Trinidad, shortly before his death, he denied that this was his work.

Efforts to locate the missing pages, and to definitively identify the artist, have proved fruitless, but I have hope that the remainder of the story will someday be unearthed. Those pages must exist out there somewhere, whether in a forgotten file in an office or among a private collector's treasures. My goal is to one day see the entire story see the light of day, intact. If you have any of the remaining pages, or any additional information, please contact me at info@hassleinbooks.com. I'd be grateful to hear from you.

It's amazing to think that even now, after nearly four decades, there may still be new Marvel Planet of the Apes lore to devour. I'd like to get my stinkin' paws on all of it.

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