The Primate Directive written by Scott and David Tipton, illustrated by Rachael Stott, colored by Charlie Kirchoff
Really, I’ve got to say it’s shocking to me that there hasn’t been a Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover until now, with The Primate Directive, a joint graphic venture between IDW Comics and Boom! Studios. The five-volume story is written by Scott and David Tipton, illustrated by Rachael Stott, and colored by Charlie Kirchoff. As a mashup concept, it’s brilliant. As far as this particular execution goes, though, well, it has its ups and downs, with most of the former coming in the first half.
The story opens on an arms deal with one side proffering automatic weapons to an unnamed General. It’s nicely drawn so as to add a sense of unfolding mystery, with a focus on hands alone on the first page, only revealing one of the two speakers to be a gorilla on page two. The seller, meanwhile, remains a shadowy figure (literally), though Trek fans will most likely pick up on clues via the dialogue as well as memory of a similar occurrence in the original series. The setting, and the color palette, then shift to Uhura and Sulu on an intel-gathering mission deep in Klingon territory, where after a few tense moments, banter, and a display of hand-to-hand combat skills, they return to the Enterprise with coordinates that lead them to an inter-dimensional portal, which they go through after a brief firefight.
Yes, it does in fact lead them to the other half of the mash-up. On a strangely similar Earth, they enter the Planet of the Apes tale just after the famous ending of the movie. The Klingons, it turns out, have been selling arms to General Marius and encouraging him to overthrow his ape leaders (Dr. Zaius, for one). Kirk, et. al. decide they have to stop the Klingons, but with minimal impact on the Ape culture thanks to the Prime Directive. This becomes a more complicated decision once they meet Taylor, who tries to convince Kirk to help the humans overcome the apes, who treat them like livestock or worse. When Kirk refuses, Taylor tries to take matters into his own hands, giving Kirk yet another problem to deal with. Eventually, the story moves through the rest of the Apes movie cycle, with a few changes.
To begin with the positives, the Tiptons do a great job with the characters, nailing each of them perfectly with regard to their original portrayals. McCoy, for instance, when Kirk is mulling over entering the portal, tells him in his inimitable fashion, “This is hardly the place for space tourism, Jim.” Taylor is as angry and aggressively effective as he was in the movie, and the writers haven’t forgotten his views toward humanity, having him explain to Kirk that he joined his mission because he “was hoping to find something better. Something better than man.” Spock is his usual rational self, Scotty is inventive, and Kirk, along with being his decisive self, even gets his shirt torn in a fight. You can’t get more classic Trek than that, as Galaxy Quest once reminded us. The apes fare just as well, coming off just like their characters in the movies, as when Zira calls Cornelius “primitive” when he says he “won’t allow” her to risk the transporter. The tense relationship between Kirk and Taylor is also perfectly handled; each of them is so used to being in command, to being active and taking the initiative that it should come as no surprise that they don’t fall immediately into an easy partnership. The fact that they have two opposing goals also makes perfect sense, besides offering up motivation for conflict.
Another plus is the way the story takes its time in the first two issues, with the slow intro to both worlds via the arms deal and the espionage mission, then the firefight at the portal before entering it. Once on the planet, the writers take the space to create a sense of the Ape’s world and culture, with Zira explaining their stratification (chimpanzees, for instance, located primarily in academics and science), Zaius via an internal monologue giving us the context of possible famine (which makes General Marius’ actions a bit more understandable), and Cornelius detailing their ethics of “Ape shall never kill Ape.” Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew have sometimes-lengthy debates over what they should or should not do, wondering for example if the Prime Directive even holds in an alternate dimension such as this.
Things heat up, and the pace picks up, once Marius makes his move, leading an army against Ape City. These scenes are mostly well done, but it’s shortly after the resolution of the big battle that things started to go off the rails for me. One issue is with Taylor deciding not to take up Kirk’s offer of a trip back to Earth (albeit a different one). The decision I’m fine with, but his reason — “I left because I thought there had to be something better than human society. I think your world is the same old Earth I left behind … I’m never going to fit in there” — makes no sense in the context of this. He has seen nothing at all to indicate that humanity is still as savage or war-torn as his own was in his day, and in fact, given Kirk’s constant attempt to minimize violence and corruption of this world’s society, he’s seen just the opposite.
Once they leave Taylor behind, they beam back aboard the Enterprise, only to take part in a weirdly detached cat-and-mouse game with the Klingons that goes on for a few days, ends in a wholly abrupt and anti-climactic fashion, and seemed to serve no purpose save to have the Enterprise around for when one of the movie events takes place (why I’m avoiding spoilers for 40-year-old movies I don’t know, but I am). And while up to this point one needn’t have known much at all about the movie franchise to make sense of events, at this point, if you don’t know the plot of Escape/Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the ending scenes will seem to come out of nowhere.
The artwork is clean and pleasing to the eye, with well-drawn lines, and generally makes good use of color. Fight scenes, I thought, could have been more clear in terms of the action a few times, and sometimes the reader has to work a bit harder than perhaps they should to distinguish the ape characters from one another (stitching on the sleeves helps), but generally I’d regard the art as mostly a positive. It also offers up some iconic images playing off the films, such as the Statue of Liberty or the crying statue of the Lawgiver.
The story definitely veers off its mostly positive path in the latter quarter or so, with abrupt shifts, scenes that appear utterly random and contrived, and odd character choices. Up to that point, however the mash-up was a clear success, with both worlds feeling wholly true to their origins and coming together in a near-perfect melding of character and plot and tone, with mostly good dialogue that occasionally becomes a bit talky or expository. Even with the weak ending, I’d say it’s worth picking up as the positives certainly make up the greater balance of the story. Recommended with caveats about the closing issue or two.