Review time! with Planet of the Apes volume 1
So at San Diego this year, Chip Mosher, the marketing and sales director of Boom! Studios, told me, as he always does, that I should read more of his company’s comics. I replied, as I always do, that I read the ones I think I’d like and can’t always read everything. He responded by demanding that I read Planet of the Apes, the new series his company has published. I responded by saying I’d get the trade, because I’m really trying to shift to trades these days. The trade wasn’t out at San Diego, so I figured I’d wait. I hadn’t pre-ordered it, but even though I knew my store wouldn’t order it unless someone specifically asked for it, I thought it would be no problem to buy it at Atomic Comics, right? Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. So I didn’t have the trade. But then Mosher sent it to me and once again demanded I read it. He was positive I’d like it. And, frankly, Mosher scares me a little (the dude is HUGE!), so I figured I’d better do as he says. This is the lesson to people who want me to review their comics: Be HUGE or hire someone HUGE to demand that I read their comics. It totally works.*
* Note: I’m not really scared of Chip. He’s a good guy. Although he is HUGE.
Anyway, Planet of the Apes, volume 1 (it may be subtitled “The Long War,” but that also might be the brand name of the series in general, because the “war” in this case hasn’t actually started) is written by Daryl Gregory, drawn by Carlos Magno, colored by Juan Manuel Tumburús and Nolan Woodard, and lettered by Travis Lanham. It collects the first four issues of the ongoing (Mosher sent me issue #5, too, but I’m not going to review that right now – I’ll get to it!), and it costs a tidy $9.99. That might be one reason why I’m trying to wait for trades these days!
I should point out that I’m not a fan of Planet of the Apes. I’ve never seen the original movies and know the cultural references only because they’re so prevalent. The only movie I’ve seen is the Tim Burton version, which, let’s face it, kind of sucks. The closest I’ve ever gotten to seeing the movies is watching Troy McClure star in the musical. So this might be a hard sell for me, but it’s not that I’m completely against the idea of Planet of the Apes, just that I’ve never really gotten into it. Just so you know.
Gregory’s story takes place in AD 2680, which is 1300 years before Charlton Heston shows up and emotes on the beach (according to the blurb on the back cover of the trade). That means Gregory can create his world from the ground up, and he does so by showing apes and humans living side by side … sort of. The humans aren’t slaves yet, but the apes are definitely in charge. Gregory also introduces the notion of humans who can’t talk – the Silents, they’re called – although it’s not clear exactly why they’re the way they are – it’s genetic damage, one character says, but the cause is left mysterious. Many apes are looking for an excuse to enslave the humans, so Gregory is definitely setting up the status quo of the movie, but he has over a millennium, so he has plenty of time.
The story begins with an assassin killing the Lawgiver of the city-state of Mak, which causes some problems. It’s obvious the assassin is a human, and the apes aren’t happy about that. The Lawgiver’s granddaughter, Alaya, becomes head of the council ruling the city, and she desperately wants to find the assassin before racial tensions boil over in the city. Meanwhile, a prominent human, Sully, was once taken in by the Lawgiver after her parents were killed, and she and Alaya were once like sisters. So, of course, there’s that tension between the two.
Alaya frees a war criminal named Nix to lead the investigation, and this is were the book becomes more interesting. Gregory is writing a fairly complex story, so that the identity of the assassin (which is somewhat surprising) isn’t really the point – the death of the Lawgiver is simply a spark for revolution, and Gregory plays that out very nicely. The characters are well-rounded and realistic – Alaya and Nix are desperate to find the assassin without upsetting the human population, but they also aren’t above using some police-state tactics. Gregory shows us that Nix, a hardened soldier, is much smarter about the humans than some of the Young Turks who have no respect for them. Sully, on the other side, is also the voice of reason, but she’s trying to hold back a tide of human resentment that is building. Her second-in-command, Bako, is angry about the way humans have been treated but realizes that they’re in a bad situation, especially as his own daughter, Chaika, has become more radicalized since she started going to a new church in the area, where the preacher foments revolution. There’s a lot going on in this book, and it’s nice that none of the characters are black-and-white. Alaya, for instance, seems hard-hearted, but she also makes good points and she also realizes that there’s a faction within the ape community that wants to eradicate humans, so things would be a lot worse if she weakens. Chaika is a Silent, so she has reasons for her rage, but she’s also young, so she’s full of passion without often thinking things through. The humans are upset at being treated like second-class citizens, and Gregory subtly comments on this as well – perhaps they deserve to be treated that way for their past failures, and maybe the apes are better equipped to rule. He doesn’t state this baldly, which is nice, but that tension is still there.
Magno is superb on the art, as he gives us a fully-realized world and very nice characters. Each person has their own look, and they all look like actual people (or apes, as the case may be). He takes care to design intricate fashion for each character, and he doesn’t cheat on the backgrounds, as we get beautiful and ornate architecture in the tony ape sections of the city and a darker, more gritty look to Southtown, the human ghetto. The backgrounds help delineate the differences between the rich, ape sections of the town and the more poverty-stricken areas, as do the background characters – we get cameos by apes who look well-groomed with bright finery, while many humans are missing limbs, wear rougher clothes, and even have bad teeth in some instances. Magno does a really nice job with the action in the book, too – it’s clear, kinetic, and well choreographed. The book is packed with details but we’re never lost when we’re looking at it.
Planet of the Apes is really a good comic. It’s exciting and complex, and Gregory and Magno seem committed to world-building and making sure that everything fits into that world. This volume is a nice introduction to all the players and how the war is set up, but it’s also a tight thriller that gets into the generation gap that is a universal theme. Not a bad way to kick off the ongoing series at all, I’d say. Mosher, of course, is enthusiastic about all of Boom!’s comics (it’s kind of his job to be), but in this case, he has every reason to be.