"It's a good time to be [a Planet of the] Apes fan."
Those words, written by BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon on the hype page, ring extremely true in the heart and mind of this writer. I've related it before in other Apes associated reviews — I am a lifelong fan of the franchise, and consider it one of the sparking influences in my ongoing relationship with fiction. I still get chills when Heston grumbles out "damn dirty apes." Thanks to a successful and profitable movie and a good thing happening in the main Apes title, a four-issue series like this gets a chance. I'm glad it did, as Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes opens as one of the more engaging additions to the franchise.
Our central character is Aleron, a former general of the Ape army and now retired war hero and practicing lawyer. Surprisingly, and somewhat refreshing, Aleron is of the gorilla caste in ape society, a portion of the population that is ubiquitously portrayed as brutish and war-hungry (though Michael Clarke Duncan's Attar in the 2001 movie wasn't all terrible). The story begins 20 years before the event of the original movie as General Aleron oversees a routine extermination of humans at an area called Hollow Cliffs. From the jump we see clearly that Aleron is not thrilled with assignment, but he is loyal and dutiful solider who does what he must.
We quickly flash forward 15 years to find the war vet handling himself more than adequately in the courtroom. His defendant is an animal psychologist named Cato whose charge is teaching a human named Tern how to communicate in sign-language. Those three on their own are an entertaining cast of characters, and then you throw one of the best film villains ever in Dr. Zaius and it's a simian fiesta.
The script carries a curious energy to it, as I am allured to a story about a character and a species that is normally the bad guy. Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman's story hits all the tones, locales and name drops of a successful franchise tie-in. In particular the scenes with the orangutans and in the court venues evoke the memories of the first movie and even the reversal of it in Escape from Planet of the Apes. Despite its science-fiction world, Apes has always functioned best as a sociopolitical drama, which is exactly where Betrayal's writing duo goes.
Hardman proves why he is one of most sought-after talents around, and from a brilliant page one every moment attacks you with ape action and a "damn dirty" world. Aleron is powerful, virile and capable but you can tell he is tired and not what he once was. The human Tern leaping through the streets has as much energy as a Bourne film and the storytelling aspects are superb at every turn. His proficient and rendered style would make any comic look good, but you can literally see the passion for the story in the details. In an backhanded sort of compliment to this series, I have to say that this issue pretty much locked Rick Remender and Hardman's future stint on Secret Avengers for me.
I expected Betrayal to be good, but am surprised that it is such a gripping, inviting comic. I suspect it will be a worthy — and possibly shining — installment in a legendary brand by its completion because the creative team's passion for the world bleeds through. Do not miss out on this.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.