After the Mr Comics Planet of the Apes mini-series ‘Revolution on’ (which I will come back to in the near future) there was a bit of a dry spell of new Apes related material. However, sometime in 2010/2011 Boom! Studios picked up the license for the franchise and returned to the classic continuity just in time for the launch of the new movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’.
Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s seminal run was set 1300 years before the events of the original movie and focused on Mak, a city on the edge of revolution. From the very beginning Gregory emphasised the conflict inherent within the Apes franchise and used racial tension as a catalyst for his story.
In the opening sequence, a masked human guns down The Lawgiver, the political leader of Mak. I have written before about the Lawgiver in the Marvel Comics from the 70’s but the one featured here is different. He is still a leader of Apes and Humans but the God like status has diminished and the fact his mortality is central to the first arc highlights how much the religious figure has changed for Ape society. Although, Gregory understands the importance of religion within any Planet of the Apes story, it plays a large part in The Long War, the Religion featured here is a more modern take on how religion can affect its believers. There is corruption and extremism within the faiths of Mak; both feeding the racial divide and stirring the uncomfortable alliance between Human and Ape.
Religious terrorism and manipulation is at the centre of Gregory’s story.
The first arc in this Boom! Studios run deals with characters and consequences and sets up everything that is to follow. But it doesn’t just introduce the characters, it gives them depth, gives them a history and hints at the future. The narrative is grounded in known Ape lore and feeds off every aspect of this to give the story a sense of grandeur while at the same time keeping the story tight on the ventral few characters.
Gregory also isn’t afraid to face some of the beguiling aspects of the Apes franchise. His story embraces the underground mutant humans: in fact, as future arcs unfurl they become ingrained in the narrative. The relation between Human and Ape leads the story, creates the drama and helps to question political and religious dogma. The Long War has some lofty aspirations and this arc creates an intricate, detailed, and complex world with a strong initial focus but roots that spread out in all directions.
Carlos Magno will be a name avid readers of Ape comics will recognise as he is still working on Boom! Ape titles, such as the current Kong crossover. His artwork style is extremely detailed with fine inked lines that brings a cinematic vibe to each panel.
The overall design of this series falls somewhere between the Tim Burton remake, with elaborate costumes and building design, and the realism of the modern movies. In this opening arc there is no distinction between Ape and Human. They are afforded the same particular artistic treatment, with the colourist Juan Manuel Tumburus employing muted, earthy tones throughout. Occasionally there are splashes of vibrant colour but these are mostly reserved for Alaya, granddaughter of the Lawgiver and new ruler of Mac.
As an opening to a story, The Long War is packed with adventure, action and intrigue. Gregory alludes to disturbing histories for some of the characters and feeds that cycle of hate that is present between Ape and Human. An atmosphere of mistrust and racial tension gives the narrative an edge of uncertainty. The reader knows that the city is on the brink of disaster and the title of the story itself foretells the coming conflict but what Gregory does it weave a twisted tale with a number of gut punching surprises to keep you on your toes. It isn’t very clear who is the villain and who the hero for the most part of The Long War, this is because everybody has flaws and everybody can be manipulated when the world around them is falling into such chaos. Each of the main characters he introduces has a wealth of history built into them, waiting to be uncovered. There are strong characters in both the Human and Ape camps, and someone to root for on both sides.
An impressive political story line fused with intricate artwork makes Planet of the Apes: The Long War a satisfying read and leaves the reader wanting more.
Planet of the Apes: #1 to 4 The Long War
Originally published by Boom! Studios in 2011
Written by Daryl Gregory
Art by Carlos Magno
Colour by Juan Manuel Tumburus