Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1
Written by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman
Art by Gabriel Hardman
Color by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
$3.99 / Color / 32 pages
The best political satire involves bananas.
It’s a question of evolution and adaptability.
As it turns out, the enduring touchstones of science-fiction, fantasy and horror tend to straddle a line between all-out camp and thoughtful social commentary. Stray too far into either territory and you risk being discarded as either too silly or too tedious and preachy. At least in terms of mass appeal. So there’s a reason zombies–first introduced to the zeitgeist through a playful indictment of bloodshed in Vietnam–made their presence known at Occupy Wall Street rallies 40 years later in an equally appropriate comment on consumerism. Presented at face value, the Apes of producer Arthur P. Jacobs’ film franchise are about as kitschy as you can get. But the absurd visual, coupled with their deceptively simple behavior, served as a fun-house mirror reflecting racial and class strife so prevalent in the America of the late 60s. These days we still harbor bigotry and injustice, but the crux of those conflicts has shifted a bit. Accordingly, contemporary storytellers have latched onto another element of the Apes saga:
The Lawgiver and his Sacred Scrolls. In other words, faith.
In their four-part story set between 20 and 5 years before the events of the 1968 film, Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman embrace all those elements present in the best of the series. Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes is a tale of political intrigue, set in a colorful city-state where sentient chimpanzee, gorillas and orangutans each play a distinct role in a three-tiered society of scientists, laborers, warriors and politicians. Ostensibly, it’s a theocracy, with laws set down in an ancient text written by a long-dead ape known as the Lawgiver (an orangutan played by John Huston in the classic films). A council of orangutans settles all disputes in accordance with those laws, whose chief tenets involve apes not killing other apes and the general repugnancy of those savage humans. Fans of the films will be pleased to learn that Dr. Zaius, the ape with the most complicated relationship with these laws, appears here as a new member in the hierarchy. You may also recognize the ferocious gorilla warrior Ursus, who will go on to rally troops with the dictum, “The only good human is a dead human.” Joining them is a terrific new character called Aleron, once a celebrated general in the ape military and now a relatively distinguished statesman (statesape?) serving as counsel in a sort of Scopes Monkey trial of the future. Aleron defends a dear friend named Dr. Cato who has come under scrutiny for teaching his “pet” human Tern to communicate through sign language. The prosecution argues that such actions are heresy, but Aleron is more progressive in his views. And it’s this element that makes the story so unusual for the franchise, and all the more compelling.
The apes have never been the ideal model for social equality, and have typically mirrored our own prejudices and distinctions. There aren’t really examples of gorilla characters not portrayed as aggressive, domineering, or hateful. So for Aleron to emerge as both wise and occasionally mellow with something like compassion for humans is pretty refreshing. It’s a new and exciting addition to the mythology and adds a level of complexity to this world. Radical as it may seem, it also works tonally with the world-building of the best films in the original franchise. Bechko and Hardman’s reverence for those stories is evident, and the result is forward progression for narrative threads left untouched for years. While the burgeoning new film franchise is thrilling in itself, there is so much potential to be mined from the original continuity. If creativity is truly the act of taking what resources are available and combining them for an inventive solution, these two are exceptionally resourceful and insightful. There’s really no other team better suited to this project. It’s an exceptionally smart script that never forgets it’s also about apes in a courtroom. It’s self aware in that way, without those slight, subtle nods getting in the way of a captivating legal thriller plot.
The plain truth of the matter is that no one has ever drawn a better gorilla with a gun then Gabe Hardman. It is maybe his birthright to draw a story like this, combining gorillas and eye-patches and horses. We knew this would look good, but until you flip through these pages you have no idea just how perfect a match this truly is. From the period costumes to the architecture of Ape City and its courthouses and markets. There’s even a joyous (in a suspenseful and harrowing way) chase through alleys and rooftops that pays a kind of homage to Heston’s escape in the 1968 film. There’s such relentless energy to it. And much as I adored Bettie Breitweiser’s coloring of Hardman’s Hulk pages, there’s now a match in Jordie Bellaire who adds an extra dimension to that aforementioned twilight chase. It’s a beautiful book from top to bottom.
The Apes have evolved. It was a wonderful if uneven franchise to start, but this team has more than restored the luster. Maintaining the perfect balance of camp and retro thrills with a perfectly modern legal suspense plot, it’s science fiction at its smartest.
Story: 5 / Art: 5 / Overall: 5
(Out of 5 Stars)