Thus to Tyrants: The Struggle for Power on the Planet of the Apes

Like many famous movies, Planet of the Apes started out as a novel. Written by Pierre Boulle, it was published in 1963. It inspired the much more famous 1968 film starring Charlton Heston about Astronaut George Taylor and his encounter with an exceptionally intelligent race of apes living in a mysterious land. The film spawned four sequels and a 2001 remake, with a prequel starring James Franco set to be released this August.

In addition to the films, Planet of the Apes has inspired a multimedia franchise over the years, including a live-action television series, a cartoon, an LP adaptation and several comic book series, the last published in 2005 by Mr. Comics.

BOOM! Studios has taken on the mantle of the Apes with Planet of the Apes #1. Written by novelist Daryl Gregory (author of Raising Stony Mayhall, The Devil’s Alphabet, and Dracula: Company of Monsters) and illustrated by Carlos Magno (Countdown to Final Crisis, Tangent), the story takes place about 600 years after the last film and 1,300 years before the first one (there’s time travel involved in the third film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, with the rest of the films following that continuity).

The plot revolves around the assassination of the Lawgiver, the much-revered elder figure in the ape society and a key character in the films. Humans are not the mute creatures Heston’s character Taylor meets in the first film. They are intelligent and have rights but are considered by the apes as an underclass. They are led by Sullivan, the unofficial mayor of Skintown and the adopted granddaughter of the Lawgiver, The orangutan, Alaya, is the head of the council and the Lawgiver’s biological granddaughter. The murder divides the two sisters who, though different species, are bonded by the love they share for their grandfather, forming an ever-increasing rift between the apes and humans.

Gregory takes his time setting up his version of the ape universe for future issues, so there’s not a lot of action. What he focuses on is the relationship between the apes and humans, referencing elements from the original 1968 film. He touches on universal themes such as racism, class structure, and security versus freedom, among others, topics that the films touch on as well. The difference is that Gregory delves into these a bit further. Humans, at this point, are still intelligent. It’s their offspring who are beginning to feel the effects of reversal of fortune, slowly trading places with their primate counterparts; becoming, essentially, the “apes” themselves that we are familiar with in the first film.

The writer is also careful not to side with either the humans or the primates, allowing the readers to choose for themselves; something that the movies seemed to have a difficult time doing.

Here’s an example: Before the assassin, a human, murders the Lawgiver, he or she says, “Thus to tyrants.” which is a slightly shorter version of “Thus always to tyrants” or in Latin, “Sic simper tyrannis”, the phrase that both Brutus used before murdering Caesar and John Wilkes Booth used before shooting Abraham Lincoln. Of course, as a human, the reader is going to automatically side with the humans in the story. Throw that phrase in there, though, and the human comes off, more than likely to most people, as a deranged terrorist through guilt by association.

Magno’s artwork is incredibly detailed and is inspired by the original film, particularly the clothing and landmarks. Despite the low level of action in the story, he gives your eyes plenty at which to look with the intricately drawn backgrounds and the level of emotion evoked from the faces of the characters, especially the apes, gorillas and orangutans that make up the advanced society of primates.

Planet of the Apes #1 explores the relationship between apes and humans and how the desire for power can corrupt even the incorruptible. It’s a parable for humankind that will, unfortunately, never go away.

RATING 8 / 10