Title: Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive
Publisher: IDW Publishing/Boom Studios
Writers: Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Artist: Rachael Stott
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff
Letters: Tom B. Long
Cover Artist: Rachael Stott
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
When I learned there was going to be a crossover comic between Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, I felt it was a match made in heaven, and I looked forward to reading it. Though I’m largely unfamiliar with Planet of the Apes, I am quite the fan of Star Trek, having seen about half the original series and a scattering of The Next Generation. When I got my chance to read the series, I found my passing knowledge of Planet of the Apes was no obstacle, and it was an entertaining, engaging adventure.
As I mentioned above, a reader need not know much about Planet of the Apes to enjoy The Primate Directive. A basic understanding of the first film’s plot is enough: astronaut George Taylor lands on a strange planet populated by intelligent apes, only to discover later that the planet is the future of his Earth. Conversely, a reader who is a fan of Planet of the Apes but knows only a little about Star Trek will probably get less out of the tale. In my opinion, this is primarily a Star Trek story, so it requires a greater familiarity with that universe and cast. And while I can’t speak to the creative team’s grasp of the Apes mythos, I can say they do an excellent job of capturing Trek.
When the crew of the Enterprise discovers a new Klingon operation that involves interdimensional travel, they follow the Klingons into the Planet of the Apes universe, where the Klingon officer Kor has begun providing weapons to the sinister gorilla General Marius. Starfleet’s Prime Directive dictates that Starfleet operatives interfere as little as possible with the natural course of civilization on less-developed planets, but Captain Kirk determines they need to stop the Klingons from using this alternate Earth as a new frontier for their military expansionism. The crew enlists the help of Taylor and the apes Cornelius and Zira to foil the Klingon plot.
There are a few weak points in the otherwise solid story. First, I feel that Kor and Marius’ motivations are underdeveloped. For the Klingons’ part, we only have Kirk and Spock’s theory that they’ve expanded into a different universe because they’re unable to expand much more in their own after signing a treaty with Starfleet. I wasn’t 100% certain what the Klingons gain from the bargain, if it was simply more power, more territory, or something different. At the end, Spock and Kirk reiterate their theory, suggesting Marius would have been a puppet government for the Klingons, but maybe this could have been fleshed out more if we’d had more time with Kor and Marius. I also think the resolution of the planetside conflict was a little too quick, with the story feeling over even though there remains a scene of the Enterprise pursuing the Klingons through the solar system.
That said, the creative team makes it feel like a genuine classic episode of Star Trek. The characters’ personalities and voices are spot-on, and more importantly, the dynamics are intact. The all-important Spock/Kirk exchanges would sound right at home on the original series, and it’s a real treat to imagine Leonard Nimoy saying the line, “It appears, Captain, that the Klingons are providing those gorillas with firearms.” It’s also interesting to watch how the Trek characters interact with the Apes characters, such as Taylor’s insistence that the Enterprise help him overthrow ape society or escape Earth, which ultimately culminates in a spectacular brawl between him and Kirk.
The art team turns in great work, as well. Comics that adapt traditionally live-action works can sometimes slave themselves to actors’ likenesses, and the art suffers for that, occasionally looking traced from actual footage. Rachael Stott avoids this pitfall. Her depictions of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the Enterprise are faithful to the actors, but they look like natural likenesses rendered in her art style, which is smooth and fluid. Action is dynamic, and sometimes backgrounds are excised in favor of focusing on a character or object, a framing tactic I found effective. The environments are beautiful, whether it’s the Enterprise zooming through space or the blasted shores of New York. The Enterprise’s interior is a great-looking compromise between the original set’s 1960s futurist aesthetic and modern sensibilities of future computing and space travel. I actually giggled aloud with glee when a panel recreated the bridge crew’s overblown reactions to an enemy attack hitting the ship, another moment that could have appeared exactly as-is on the show. Charlie Kirchoff’s colors bring everything to life; Starfleet uniforms are bright, lighting is dynamic, and from what I’ve seen of Planet of the Apes, the apes are colored faithfully. Stott and Kirchoff really shine as collaborators in a two-page spread of an imaginary war between apes, with a chaotic, violent crowd scene and a red-orange haze over the whole thing. I’m also impressed by Tom B. Long’s letters for the transporter effect, which themselves look as though they’re being beamed into a scene.í
The Primate Directive is a fun crossover that respects both its component franchises while offering a new situation for both of them. Though I wouldn’t recommend it as a gateway to Star Trek, I highly recommend it as a mash-up of two popular sci-fi franchises for fans of Trek or both.