Andy’s Read Pile: Planet of the Apes, Cataclysm Volume 1
Hey Kids! Uncle Andy’s got something special for you all this week: A second read pile!
That’s right! In case you couldn’t get enough of the comic review goodness that keeps the masses informed on what they may or may not enjoy reading from this literary medium, don’t fear! I got your back. Just don’t say I don’t deliver what the fans are clambering for!
Now, I know that I’ve had a theme for the month of September thus far in terms of books that feature “Verses” match-ups between two comic characters. However for this edition, I thought I’d switch back to the normal format for just a second, and review a book that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.
Now, I’m not a huge Planet of the Apes fan, but I do enjoy the franchise on the whole and see its merits especially in small to medium sized doses. I will say my favorite parts of the franchise on the whole are the first two classic movies, especially “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” which I sometimes watch more than the original. That movie has got everything: Militaristic gorillas, mental powered mutants, cave girls in furry bikinis, imaginary fires, atom bombs, a crazy ass Charlton Heston who destroys the entire planet. It’s good stuff. Escape from the Planet of the Apes is where the series begins to go sideways, but even that movie is pretty decent after a beer or two.
Now I could talk about the newer remake films, which are also a fun time, but I’m going to stick to the original series because that’s also the setting for not only this comic book series, but the vast majority of the Planet of Apes books that Boom! Studios put out over the past several years. And let me tell you, that regardless of whether you are a fan or not, there’s no denying the fact that Boom! has been killing it with these Apes books since getting the license to do them in 2011. Whether it was this series or the original ongoing series, Betrayal on the Planet of the Apes, or Exile on Planet of the Apes, you name it, they are all of top notch quality in my opinion.
Now, this particular Apes series I’m reviewing today was the second regular series put out by Boom! and unlike the first which occurred centuries before the classic original movie, this one only takes place less than a decade before that famous line “Get your paws off me, you Damn Dirty Apes” was first muttered. As a result, Catacylsm gives us more of an origin story for some of the main Ape characters we would later meet in that film such as Dr. Zaius, Cornelius, and Zira. This is especially true of the latter two as Dr. Zaius does play a role int Betrayal and Exile mini series, but I’m getting off track.
Long story short, these comic books by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are perfect for anyone that loves the original Planet of the Apes series as it deeply helps flesh out the motivations of those Apes and allows us to see some of the early conflicts that would shape those characters into the ones we are introduced to in the films. I’m not going to sugar coat this in terms of like most liceased material, it greatly helps your understanding and enjoyment of this series if you have actually seen both Planet of the Apes and its direct sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. As for the rest of the movies, eh, it’s not so important, but if you plan on reading this series, at least do yourself the favorite of watching those two at some point prior to digesting this.
The main reason I say that is from the beginning of the book you are introduced to those last days of mankind as we know it, on the verge of the great nuclear holocaust that would reduce the remains of humanity to mere beasts, elevating the apes to the superior position on the food chain, and ultimately causing Charlton Heston to pound a lot of sand at the end of that first movie. We see that there were more than just one “Alpha and Omega” bomb like we first see in Beneath, that there was at least one more, trained to blow up the moon, as some way to nuclear deterrent. Of course, humanity gets wiped out before they can detonate it, and it sits unused for centuries until the beginning of this book.
Flash forward many centuries, and it seems the bomb still exists and is in working order (God bless American made…it’s built to last). Now I’m not going to reveal exactly who finds the bomb and detonates it as that’s one of the exciting twists to this opening volume, but I will say that it does explode and the end result is that it fragments our moon into a ton of pieces. This plays havoc with the Apes civilization as some of these smaller fragments bombard the Earth like meteorites causing massive fires and wanton destruction through explosions.
However, the biggest problem is that it causes Hurricane Katrina style flooding as most of Ape City is drowned by the diversion of a major river as a result of one of the meteorites impact. And I definitely used the term Katrina on purpose, because a lot of what I read in these issues felt like veiled social commentary not only that natural disaster, but on our own response to natural disasters in general here in America.
You see, the Apes books makes it clear that Ape society is organized around species lines similar to our own society and race. The Orangutans like Dr. Zaius, are in the positions of power and influence, and thus get preferred treatment even when terrible things happen to everyone. Whereas the Chimpanzees who the book makes clear were only allowed to start being fully educated a couple generations previously, are more the menial lower class citizens that really suffer when shit starts running downhill.
As a result of this, the book can really dive into the class divides that occur when terrible things happen, the racism, the injustice, chimps getting shot in the street and such. However, this book also deals with the incredible hope, self sacrifice, and altruism that occurs when people (or apes) put aside those differences and truly work together to survive these horrible ordeals.
Of course, we, humans, get it the worst as most apes view us as nothing more than unintelligent plague rats swallowing up their resources and generally being unclean savages. Still this book again makes strong attempt to help promote animal rights via using us as stand ins for poor animals that are left behind in cages or worse when the flood waters rise. Some Apes come to their rescue and repaid with bites, scratches and such that you would from scared animals simply trying to escape, but they still do it, and there’s something life affirming about all that.
Then, there’s the actual mystery to solve about who actually activated the bomb that destroyed the Moon to begin with, and as the world falls about around him Dr. Zaius makes it his almost holy crusade to find out, and he pays a heavy price in doing so. Not only does he lose some important members of his family (I won’t mention who or how), but when he finally learns the truth, it completely shatters his previously existing world view and from that point on, we see a different Zaius emerge, one that is willing to kill Taylor in Planet of the Apes, to spare others of his race from realizing the horrible truths that the entire Ape civilization was based on. It’s a sobering subplot that deals directly with the price of knowledge and is handled in such a way that you really feel for Zaius and his horror as he starts to be one of the few Apes alive that sees the entire picture. No wonder in Beneath the Planet of the Apes he remarks that “Man is evil—capable of nothing but destruction!”
In closing, I gotta say that although this review is only on the volume 1 TPB of this series, I definitely didn’t stop there. I thought this first volume was so good, that I devoured the other two volumes that complete this 12 issue run in short order. Again, although I like the Planet of the Apes franchise, I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of massive fan or something. I just think this series has very strong dialogue, incredible art, and like the best of Planet of the Apes stories, excels with gripping storytelling that has social and political commentary at its heart. I don’t think you need to be a fan of the series to enjoy this.
In fact, I feel like if you have any passing interest in learning more about this franchise whether you’ve seen one of the classic movies or the more modern day remakes, then you should definitely pick up this series. Although it helps to know some of the characters from those original movies and will heighten your enjoyment to see things like how Cornelius and Zira meet, or why Dr. Zaius is such a dogmatic hard ass, it’s not completely necessary as they do a good job of fleshing out the characters right from the start.
So yep, I gotta say scratch that gorilla sized itch today by picking up this series! If you aren’t completely satisfied as I was, then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Banana.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: A