The 1990s were a febrile time for weirdo crossover comics. You had the loopy deathmatch that was Batman Versus Predator, the OCP vis-à-vis Skynet technology war of Robocop Versus Terminator, and even the charmingly befuddling Star Trek/X-Men (which boasted two Dr. McCoys).
But there's one comic that's been entirely overlooked for the past 20 years. Sure, the two franchises it melded lacked the ardent fans of the Enterprise crew or the Dark Knight. But this unheralded crossover was a case study in how to do a ridiculous clash of universes with gusto.
I am referring to Ape Nation, a four-issue miniseries wherein the Planet of the Apes met Alien Nation. And yes, there are scenes of aliens getting shithoused on sour milk.
It's safe to assume that most readers are familiar with the premise of Planet of the Apes, but Alien Nation doesn't carry as the same cachet nowadays. Indeed, the rise and fall of Alien Nation was responsible for The Great Bald Cap Bubble of 1994.
In a nutshell, the Alien Nation franchise originated with the 1988 buddy cop movie penned by Farscape's Rockne O'Bannon. In the far off year of 1991, 300,000 genetically altered alien slaves known as the Tenctonese crash-land in the Mojave Desert.
These "Newcomers" then assimilate into a seedy Los Angeles that looks like suspiciously like a Kenny Loggins video. The cheetah-colored bubbleheads are stronger and smarter than humans but are susceptible to seawater (and James Caan's withering quips).
There's an enigmatic allure about Ape Nation. It was published by Malibu Comics, which went under in 1994. Attempts to contact the comic's writer and illustrator — Charles Marshall and M.C. Wyman, respectively — led me to a Forbidden Zone of bupkis. There's a simian-shaped hole in the internet where all the Ape Nation Angelfire fan sites should be. It is perplexing.
But luckily, in the very first issue of Ape Nation, Malibu Comics Creative Director Tom Mason lays out the decision-making process that led to the damn dirty apes meeting the Tenctonese:
Malibu's head bean-counter Scott Rosenberg [...] was comparing the heights and weights of various Malibu beans and noticed that both Alien Nation and Planet of the Apes were 20th Century Fox properties.
"Yeah, they could come to Earth to find out who's stronger!" one of the bullpen cried out.
"Like in those old Muhammed Ali vs. Superman comics!" went the yell of another.
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" we all laughed.
To quote my coworker Alasdair Wilkins, "Anything that uses Ali versus Superman as its creative bedrock is on firm, firm footing." Improbably enough, this is sort of true. Ape Nation is way more engrossing than it has any right to be. Here are a dozen reasons why.
1.) The crossover is explained in the world's narrowest infodump.
Long story short, a Tenctonese vessel from Alien Nation time travels to Earth's apish future. Unlike the movie, these Newcomers have conquest on the mind. This plot line is explained by way of what appears to be a small-town newspaper editorial.
2.) The ape hero is named Heston and the Tenctonese good guy is named Caan.
Imagine if there was a Jaws Versus Alien crossover about Scheider the shark and Weaver the facehugger. It's sort of like that. Also, that comic would be about a discotheque dance-off.
3.) It's a comic about togetherness.
In the beginning, you're rooting for the evil dictator ape, the evil dictator Tenctonese, and the one human schmuck who can talk. By the end, you're rooting for Heston, Caan, and that same human schmuck who can talk. Moral of the story? Learn to talk.
4.) One of the main characters is a psychic New Age ninja ape named Winnipeg.
This requires no explanation.
5.) Everything about this panel.
See points #2 and #3.
6.) The cover to the second issue promises the Tenctonese equivalent of Andrew Dice Clay.
But in a thrilling sleight of hand...
7.) The second issue does not deliver the Tenctonese equivalent of Andrew Dice Clay.
And you just got suckered into buying this. This comic, it is an angler fish, an angler fish about apes.
8.) The evil alien loves sponge baths.
I adore the first panel because A.) it looks like the character's yelling either at the reader for reading the comic; or B.) the author for writing him into such a ludicrous scenario. The evil alien slaps the evil dictator ape, who then reveals he's a cardiologist or something. Holy fuck, do I love this page.
9.) A not unsizable portion of the plot is about characters getting blotto on sour milk.
When's the last time you read a comic book wherein the main character goes bonkers drinking spoiled goat juice?
10.) The romantic tension is palpable.
For that matter, when's the last time you read a comic where you're really excited about the possibility of an ape named after Moses having intercourse with a bald space alien? That's some next-level posthuman fantasia right there.
11.) The characters reach a happy medium on points #9 and #10.
I'm not going to besmirch the magic of this moment with another word.
12.) The comic ends with Heston raising a glassing of spoiled fruit juice toward his now faraway sour-milk-drinking colleagues.
Ditto for this.