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This Week's Comics Rock #1: Planet of the Apes #1

I work in a comic shop and I must admit that every week when I unpack our order I get excited. Usually there are books that I am looking forward to specifically because I am reading the current story arc or it's a favorite writer or artist or character involved. Every issue of Grant Morrison's Batman is a treat for me, for example. But beyond this, there is also the joy of going through all the books that are new that week and seeing the plethora of comic awesomeness. There is always at least one book that makes me laugh out loud when I pull it out of the box. It's a guarantee that there will be a book I hold up, calling to my colleague "Hey James! Check this out," as I smile giddily.There's always a book I have to pause in my work for, thumbing through it because the cover was just too enticing to pass by. Every week I am left with only one conclusion:
This weekly ritual (business) is one of my favorite parts of working at JC Comics. And it's because I love comics so much. And so with that in mind I've decided to try doing a review every week of at least one new book. Some weeks they will be issues of titles that I regularly read and other weeks it will be books that catch my eye. It could be an issue I've heard about, something that's piqued my curiosity, or a book that just sounds appealing. This week it's all three of these.
Planet of the Apes #1
Vital Stats:
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Release Date: 4-27-11
Author: Daryl Gregory
Artist: Carlos Magno
Cover Artist: Karl Richardson
Cover Price: $3.99
Paul's Grade: A

The perfect Ape cover
This first issue from Boom! Studios came with two covers but in my opinion the other one (a sort of montage a la Drew Struzan) was no match from this Ape-tastic cover. The ferocious gorilla's expression embodies not only savagery but also malevolence. Toss in the shattering human skull and Karl Richardson captures both the physical power of the ape as well as his hatred for humanity and asserts the cultural ape dominance. It's a powerful image and hits all the right PotA buttons.

A Chimpanzee Official orders Gorillas to search the human part of the city "Skintown"
Monkeys have a long-standing history in comics and this one embraces that subgenre and adds its own indelible mark to it. One of the big challenges faced by Daryl Gregory is to not feel like a regurgitation of any of the plethora of other Planet of the Apes iterations (4 sequels, a live action and an animated TV series, a Tim Burton remake, and several comic series if I know my Ape canon). But Gregory rises to the challenge and at no point does it feel tired or retreaded.
Taking place mid-way between now and the arrival of Taylor the comic explores an era previously unseen in PotA history (2680 AD). Some elements of Ape culture are already in place like the lawgiver and other elements of the Ape-verse are evolving (Darwinian double-entendre intended). We see a human priest worshiping a small nuclear rocket golden idol in one scene, for example. Humans are second-class citizens (working menial jobs, not having the same standing as Apes, living in their own bad part of town) and Gregory does a good job of touching on easily identifiable issues of class/race struggle but between Apes and men.

Opening Splash Page
So, it opens with a bang and the murder of the Lawgiver by a radical human. This sets off events for the series. This immediately and viscerally establishes what seems to be the coming conflict in the book and introduces that human insurgents have recreated the ancient craft of making automatic weapons (promising an ape vs machine gun-wielding human battle in the future). I will also note that this opening is very reminiscent of where Battle for Planet of the Apes left off (the Lawgiver addressing both ape and human children and the year it takes place in) so I give kudos to Gregory for that little nod. I also want to draw another parallel between this and the original in the faces of the apes. One of the most compelling things about the original film was how emotive and familiar and real the prosthetic faces of the apes were and now Carlos Magnus does the same with his art. His pen captures the range of expressions of the apes beautifully. Rage, grief, contempt, and all other emotions play across their faces and is as believable and evocative as the emotions of the human characters which is essential to Planet of the Apes. I love this panel which shows the viewpoint of the council apes about violent and destructive humans. The horror on the ape's face is deliciously counterpointed by the vicious joy on the human's. Plus, yanking out teeth is pretty brutal.

They have the good sense to go no further, only implying the bloody results
Another great contribution by Magno is the culture of the Ape world. The costumes especially are all beautiful. They have all the trademarks of the pre-established Ape garb but are updated and expanded to encompass the height of Ape society. The beautiful, ornate gowns of the female council apes stand out in particular.

And I love the look of Bardan the Ape Doctor
The two main characters are adoptive sisters, one human and one ape both of who were raised by the murdered lawgiver. The human sister Sully is the unofficial "mayor" of the human part of the city and Alaya the ape sister is on the council. Their similarities and differences seem to be interesting and I look forward to seeing how these two play on their respective sides and how they personally evolve their relationship.

I like the image of the two of them being divided by the flame and smoke
PotA also observes an interesting turning point in Ape/Human history as the younger humans are being born speechless. This is only lightly touched on in the first issue but I can only assume as Sully is pregnant that this issue will come closer to the forefront of the story. Again, we have to thank Carlos Magno for his very expressive faces because even silent and only briefly seen I am intrigued by Chaika the speechless girl.

The humans live in lower class settings as opposed to the grandeur of the ape part of the city
They also take some time to tease a coming Ape villain in the form of General Nix the white gorilla. He only gets one or two panels (flashbacks) but they are beautifully done and Magno manages to convey all the brutality and evil of Nix in a single shot of him gleefully gutting a human.

I am also excited to see next issue teased as the White Troop which implies more Nix
All in all this was a great Planet of the Apes comic and I think it is a worthy successor to the franchise. It is creative and original while it hearkens back to older Ape stories but never overbearingly. Overall I would give Planet of the Apes a solid "A", missing the "A+" simply because it didn't have a moment that really blew me away (which is ok because there is a lot of exposition to get through in a first issue).
Planet of the Apes #1 was engaging, skillfully made, and FULL of monkeys. At $3.99 it is a little pricey but well worth it!

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