EXCLUSIVE: Hardman & Bechko Take Classic "Planet of the Apes" Ongoing

Over the past year, BOOM! Studios has been overrun by Apes, and the evolutionary action isn't stopping any time soon.

Today, the publisher revealed its control of the "Planet of the Apes" film license for comics stories is entering a new phase. In September, a brand-new "Planet of the Apes" ongoing series will launch set in the years before the original 1968 film and written by the husband-and-wife team of Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko. Though the former is known for his work as an artist for publishers including BOOM! and Marvel Comics as well as for his film storyboarding on projects like "Inception," Hardman and Bechko have been teaming on acclaimed "Apes" mini series like "POTA: Betrayal" and the current "POTA: Exile." The new series picks up on some of those threads as the writers team with artist Damian Couceiro under covers by painter Alex Ross.

CBR News scored the exclusive first interview with Bechko and Hardman about the series, and below the pair discuss the experience to date with "Planet of the Apes," how the big battle awaiting in next month's "Exile" #4 informs the future of the franchise, why the end point of the original film helps make their plans stronger, and where the war between Apes and humans is headed next.

CBR News: The news of the day is that the work you guys have done on the two "Apes" miniseries has led to a new ongoing series which will both build on what you've done before and serve as the core of the "Apes" work at BOOM!. That's quite a vote of confidence in the material from both fans and the publisher. What was your initial response to the idea of expanding out like this? Did you originally plan in any way for a story that could go this long?

Gabriel Hardman: We were very excited and it's obviously pretty gratifying. With each miniseries we set out to tell a contained story that was accessible while still built on "Apes" lore but we didn't plan for a longer story. That said, as soon as we finished "Betrayal," our first mini, we were dying to tell more stories in this world.

Corinna Bechko: We've always said that there are a million stories that can be told in the POTA universe. We're both thrilled and humbled that BOOM! wants us to explore it further.

Of course, there's one issue left of the current "Exile" mini, and #3 ended on quite a cliffhanger with the war between Aleron's human encampment and Zaius' ape army about to clash in the forbidden zone. How will the final issue of this series work to set up the status quo you'll be exploring in the new ongoing?

Bechko: There will be a little bit of carry over from both "Betrayal," our original POTA miniseries, and "Exile," our current one, but the new series will be set several years later and won't require any knowledge of our previous work. It'll be a great jumping on point for new readers, but folks who have been following along will get to see the fallout that the two minis had for several of our main characters, including Dr. Zaius.

Hardman: Since the story arc for the new series takes place a few years closer to the events of the first movie, we're also able to include characters like Cornelius and eventually Zira, giving some insight into their early lives and careers. It's a great challenge to tell a new story for a new #1 issue that both acts as an entry point and works for seasoned "Apes" fans. But we've always been most interested in telling stories that are compelling on their own and not just fan service. And trust me, we're huge fans so that takes vigilance!

Overall, the focus of your "Apes" work has been the major upheavals in society years before the crash landing that sparks the original film. What specific focus will that idea take in the new series, and how does having an ongoing story to play with impact how you'll go about telling it?

Bechko: Well, obviously it gives us room to spread out a bit, and to lay some ground work in ways that we didn't have the chance to do when we knew we were limited to four issues. But it also gives us the chance to write about one hell of an upheaval, as you'll see!

Hardman: In the first arc, it's a big external disaster that threatens Ape City. It's a different approach than we've done before but it gives a new lens for showing the cracks in the social order of ape society as our characters are tested through fires and floods.

In your run to date, you've introduced a number of original characters that have had a dramatic impact on how we view Ape society -- most importantly scientist Prisca and general Aleron who have sympathy for the plight of humans. How will their story and their view of human society inform what happens in the new book?

Bechko: Since the new storyline will be set several years after the events in "Exile," we'll see a bit of a jump in where the characters we've already set up have gone. We'll also see the impact that Prisca's interactions with humans have had on her life, and how she can't shake the time she spent with Aleron and Tern.

Hardman: But we also set up Prisca and every other character for that matter in a way that's accessible for new readers. You don't need to know what happened in the miniseries to follow the story but it does add texture.

On the flip side, we've got Zaius -- someone who everyone knows well from the movies but who has been playing a more subdued role in the current series. As he's one of the more complex characters in the films, how are you approaching his ongoing development?

Hardman: People always remember Zaius as the straight forward villain of the first Apes movie but there's really a lot of nuance to his character.

Bechko: Zaius really is the most complex character in the films, and that makes him a lot of fun to write for. He always does what he thinks is right for Ape society, no matter what anyone else thinks. In the new series we're going to see a more personal side of him that we haven't really explored before.

We've also gotten some human development with General Tern and his people. Of course, some of their fate may be determined at the end of "Exile," but do you anticipate continuing to develop and write about human society alongside the apes?

Bechko: Oh, absolutely! You can't have "Planet of the Apes" without the tension of the humans living right alongside, yet apart from, the other species.

Hardman: That conflict is always going to be at the core of an Apes story.

On the art side of the equation, Gabriel drew the first series and set the tone that Marc Laming has continued into "Exile." In what ways are you working to keep a visual continuity with your previous work on the series?

Hardman: Damian Couceiro will be taking over art duties in the ongoing and while he's going to bring a different sensibility to the series, there will definitely be visual continuity. Like you said, I set the tone in "Betrayal" then Marc put his tighter, more realistic spin on it. I'm sure Damian will take it in a different direction too but the established tone and the script tie them together. We build a very specific kind of pacing into the scripts that inform the visuals too.

Not to mention Alex Ross doing covers. I'm sure he's a big fan of the original films. What kind of interaction have you had with Alex, and what's your impression of what he brings to the front of the series each month?

Hardman: How awesome is it that we have Alex Ross on covers? We really haven't had any interaction with him but it goes without saying that he's producing some phenomenal imagery. You can't ask for a better way to represent your comic on the shelves.

Bechko: I was so thrilled when we found out he was doing the covers! You just can't get more iconic than that. I think his work really conveys the excitement we hope to bring to the first arc of the new series.

Overall, there can be many perils associated with writing prequels of one kind or another. While your "Apes" series is set years before the movies, are there ways in which you have to work against the idea of that crash landing serving as an endpoint, or does knowing the future of the franchise free you up in some ways?

Bechko: In many ways it's a good thing to have a fixed reference point to improvise around. Keeping the flavor of the original films is very important to us, so knowing where things end up eventually is more of a help than a hindrance.

Hardman: One of the ways we've dealt with the prequel issue is introducing new characters that intermingle with the established ones. Readers may know that Dr. Zaius lives through to the first movie but what about General Aleron? Or Prisca? The world of "Apes" is big enough that we can create a lot of suspense, jeopardy and shocking events to affect everyone. Hopefully our stories will give you a deeper appreciation of the events in the movie. Ideally the series would end with Taylor snarling, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape." That would be the perfect thematic conclusion to the story we've been telling.

The new "Planet of the Apes" ongoing series debuts this September from BOOM! Studios.

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Tags: boom! studios, alex ross, planet of the apes, damian couceiro, gabriel hardman, corinna bechko

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