By Todd Allen
A month or so ago, I’d pulled Dracula: A Company of Monsters out of the library and found myself pleasantly surprised by it. Somebody in the comment section mentioned Daryl Gregory, co-writer on the Dracula book, was doing Planet of the Apes and it was worth checking out. Sure enough, the library had that, too. Daryl Gregory may be one to watch, because his Planet of the Apes is better than his Dracula, and he’s two-for-two.
This particular Planet of the Apes is the one BOOM! is putting out without any subtitle. It’s written by Daryl Gregory and drawn by Carlos Magno. Planet of the Apes being a franchise, you have to figure out if you’re dealing with the version from the original book (Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet — yes, Planet of the Apes originated from the same typewriter as The Bridge on the River Kwai), the first film series or the more recent remakes. In this case, it’s the original film series and would take place sometime between Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the first Planet of the Apes film, in the time loop after the apes took over, but while they were still trying to co-exist with humans.
Actually, I don’t think you need to be a Planet of the Apes scholar to enjoy this. You figure out pretty quickly that the Apes are in control and live in a big city, while the humans are sequestered in a little shanty town. There’s limited technology and the secrets of the past are hidden or lost.
The book opens with the human-sympathizing ape leader (both political and religious), “The Lawgiver” being assassinated by a human with a much fancier gun than anyone has seen before. This sets a number of threads into motion and brings lingering hostilities between the apes and humans to the surface.
The first trade paperback, collecting issues 1-4, sets the stage. We meet the players. The inhabitants of “Skintown,” where the humans live. The leaders of “Tree City” where the apes live. An albino gorilla imprisoned for a massacre of humans, the last time hostilities flared up. A human religious order that worships the image of a bomb (OK, that means something if you’ve seen the films). Human children being born without the ability to speak. (Another Easter egg.)
By the time you get to the second volume, hostilities have broken out as part of the humans are trying to broker a political solution while other favor insurrection. The apes, too, maneuver politically amongst themselves as religion becomes a tool on both sides of the conflict and the history of the last conflict comes to forefront.
This version takes an ethnic minority view of the human population. There’s a threat of genocide. Of forced labor. Segregated settlements. It’s a theme that’s been a near constant throughout history. This is a political thriller about ethnic conflict between humans and apes. The religions driving part of the conflict are from the films, the technologies from the past and you see a little bit of more traditional science fiction slipping in toward the end of the second volume, but the apes are standing in for an ethnic majority in any number of scenarios from the last 100 years and you can swap out two conflicting religions, set in a more familiar war zone and you have yourself a political thriller. Aside from talking apes, the fantastical elements are mostly in the background… though I suspect they shall be making themselves a bit more prominent before the storyline has ended.
This has an effect of grounding the story, not so much in realism, as in a firmer suspension of disbelief. While the apes are a creature of fantasy, much of the rest of the world is familiar and the situations things we’ve seen before.
Magno, who previously was working on the Transformers franchise for IDW, has a just enough texture to his art without going crazy with crosshatching. It ends up giving everything a soft, organic look. Again, a good thing for suspension of disbelief. He also manages to convey some emotion while drawing ape faces. That can’t be an easy thing to do in a realistic style, but the book is much better for it.
While there is a little bit of apes on horses chasing humans, there’s far less of it than you might expect. This is a tense drama exploring the socio-political landscape of a strange, yet familiar, land. It reads as a very modern and relevant treatment.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.