Casus Belli: BOOM!‘s ‘Planet of the Apes’ Prepares for War

[13 June 2011]

By Charles Moss

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets
—Voltaire

“Casus belli” is a Latin expression that means an event or political occurrence that brings about a declaration of war. “Casus” is literally translated as “incident”.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June 1914 by a young Bosnian Serb, which directly led to the July Ultimatum. The crisis came in the form of an impossible-to-fulfill ultimatum issued by Austria-Hungary to Serbia as a way to attack and eventually destroy the country. This was the “Casus belli” that started World War I.

A similar “Casus belli” occurred in Planet of the Apes #1. The assassination of the Lawgiver by a masked human has made the people of Skintown all targets of ape justice. The aftermath in Planet of the Apes #2 continues to drive the inevitable war between humans and apes.

Alaya, granddaughter of the Lawgiver and Council Voice to the apes, has come to agreement with Sullivan, the unofficial leader of Skintown and adopted sister of Alaya. Sullivan has one week to find the murderer before the apes ransack her human ghetto of a town.

In preparation for their retaliation, Alaya grants pardon to a new character, Nix – former friend and protector of the Lawgiver (imprisoned for reasons yet unexplained) – to build an army. They both sense that a revolution is on the horizon for the humans.

Nix is a creepy vision of a gorilla and in some instances, borders on terrifying, which means that artist Carlos Magno and colorist Nolan Woodard have once again created a stunning visual accompaniment to the Planet of the Apes franchise. The colors are muted, earthy tones and the level of detail is exquisite; pair that with Daryl Gregory’s evenly-paced, well-scripted writing and you’ve got a very promising new comic book series.

What Planet of the Apes #2 presents readers with then, is a deep and meaningful meditation on the kinds of actions we take even when the outcomes seem wildly damaging. Daryl Gregory writes with the most amazing skill, recreating the drama of a train crash seconds before impact. Time has slowed. It is easy to predict what has happened, what will happen soon. Yet, like a nightmare, you cannot look away.

If anything, Planet of the Apes seems to be treading the same ground as the 2010 sleeper hit, the Green Zone. Last summer saw the Matt Damon vehicle explore the reasons behind going to war in Iraq in the early part of 2003. A large part of what made the Green Zone such a prominent piece of social commentary was its finding a way to not demonize any of the positions of players in pre-Mission Accomplished Iraq. The Army, Old Guard CIA, Neocon Department of Defense, all held different views on the role of US in the new Iraq.

In a similar way, Daryl Gregory produces some of the most poignant pages when writing about characters who find themselves in an impossibly unforgiving historical path. It’s not that the key players in Planet of the Apes fail to see the logical end of the path they’re on. It’s more the case that none of them can resist needing to take they need to at this point.

Over the course of just two issues, Planet of the Apes has moved from a police procedural to the high drama of the minor heroisms of characters trapped in a looming and inevitable war.

The Lawgiver is dead. Blood has been shed. War is coming.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/143718-casus-belli-booms-planet-of-the-apes-prepares-for-war/