ADVANCE REVIEW! Planet of the Apes #1 will come out on April 27, 2011
Last year I subjected myself to a Planet of the Apes marathon, spending a day sitting through all five original movies back-to-back. I'll give you a quick rundown of my findings. Planet of the Apes is a classic. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a worthy sequel a killer ending. Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a tremendously missed opportunity that The Man Who Fell to Earth did way better. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is incredibly ballsy, easily the best of the series. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is bullshit.
I also remember humans being comically susceptible to nets.
Now, to coincide with the upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes, BOOM! Studios has scored the license to produce new Apes comics. Daryl Gregory's script takes place post-Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which is maybe the most fertile period to explore, there being 1,200 years between Battle and the first film. Moreover, it would be impossible to do anything that takes place after Beneath -- if there's one thing I love about Planet of the Apes, it's the series' hilariously bizarre timeline.
That final film ends with apes and humans coexisting, but on shaky ground, so Gregory does what any decent writer would do: threatens that balance. Here, he opens with the Lawgiver being machine-gunned to death by a mysterious assailant, which artist Carlos Magno renders as a glorious full-page shot of an ape being liquefied by what appears to be a gun-toting ninja. This is all I ask of you, comics.
The rest of the issue is about introducing our characters, setting up the tension and mild segregation in The City-State of Mak (the humans live in a section called Southtown, or "Skintown"), and investigating the murder. Gregory sets up some solid dramatic tension by establishing the main characters as childhood friends on opposite sides; the human Southtown mayor Sullivan and grieving ape leader Alaya are both orphans raised by the Lawgiver. More surprising is that both characters are female, and that Sullivan is pregnant -- something that hardly shows up in the phallocentric realm of mainstream comics. It's not often you read a comic with an active main character that's moments away from giving birth, especially one based on a well-known movie franchise.
The script itself is solid, never falling victim to Novelist Writing Comics Syndrome that results in a wall of text covering all the art. It's not the most lively comic I've ever read, but there are choice moments -- a mute human associate describes an ape by playfully doodling a monkey on her handy chalkboard necklace, and the obligatory autopsy scene turns out to be the best scene of the book, introducing us to the jack-of-all-trades scientist ape Bardan, who delivers this gem of human history: "On his sixteenth birthday, a boy would be given an automobile and an assault rifle. I have a citation… "
The of sci-fi Planet of the Apes inhabits requires world building, and Gregory and Magno do a decent amount of it in this opening issue, establishing the polluted, industrial wage slave culture of Mak and the overall mounting unrest. Magno's incredibly detailed background work does a great job setting up the Middle Age trappings of the city -- barrels, stone block buildings, horse-drawn cars, tunics. A sci-fi comic's mise-en-scene needs an amount of love that the generic cities of superhero comics don't necessarily require, and Magno's a great choice for the needs of Planet of the Apes. His figures may be a bit too crosshatchy for my tastes, but he's adept at getting his characters to perform.
Planet of the Apes #1 is a promising start to the new series, and a thoughtful picking up of where the film franchise left off. Battle for the Planet of the Apes was clearly rewritten to accommodate a slashed budget, but the best thing about comics is that you don't need a budget to create a suitably epic sci-fi parable.
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