War is coming. Drums beat, the ground crunches beneath the wheels of tanks and the feet of soldiers, and our comic opens on… a girl berating a hooded farmhand for being bad fastening ropes around pigs… Uh oh.
Written by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Jonas Scharf
Colored by Jason Wordie
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
San Francisco lies in ruin as the war for survival between man and ape rests on the shoulders of one solitary soul. Prequel to the upcoming blockbuster film from 20th Century Fox!
As prequel to the upcoming movie War for the Planet of the Apes, “War for the Planet of the Apes” #1 (a title which confuses me to no end), should be the perfect introduction point for those people who missed the previous movies in the series while also acting as a continuation for those people who did see them. Which is why it’s so baffling to me that I have no idea what is going on in this issue at all.
There is no focus to this issue, instead electing to jump between groups of people (and apes) more times than is necessary. Sure, a tactic like this can work very effectively in movies or tv or novels but in comics – especially in 22-page monthly serialized comics – there is a much smaller amount of time and space. It needs to be economized, meaning that if we’re only given 3 or 4 pages to learn about and understand a group of brand new characters, those pages had better contain some damn good character writing. The other option is to cycle between characters that we are already familiar with, who have established relationships and who are continuing an adventure. Sure, they still need to be introduced to newcomers but at least a lot of character work has already been done and can be referenced.
Only problem with this is that “War” does neither. None of the human characters from Rise (which isn’t surprising) or Dawn (which is only mildly surprising) make a reappearance here. Which is fine as Minor? spoiler for the previous movies most of the humans from these two movies don’t survive the movies. The important apes, however, do and they are present here in the comic…for about 2 pages early on and then for the final page to state the obvious, that war is coming. These are the most interesting characters in the entire franchise and they get the smallest number of pages dedicated to them. Sure, there are some pages dedicated to a few other (currently) nameless apes who have their own plots, but a majority of this comic focuses on these new human characters and frankly, they’re just not that interesting.
I think part of that has to do with the artwork of the issue. Scharf does a very good job of capturing the feel of the movies – grungy and with the feeling that just around each crumbling corner could be the next threat. Society as we had come to understand it has crumbled, replaced by rusting signs, grass coated cars and city streets, anti-ape graffiti, and rag-tag bands of humans just trying to survive. The environments that Scharf draws are rich in details like these and really does a great job of setting the tone for the comic. The same cannot be said for the characters he draws.
Each of the humans, while looking distinct from each other, all keep this kind of blank, highly taught expression. Like at one point, nameless character with cross tattoo has come across the ape army leaving what I’m assuming is the building from the end of Dawn. But in the panel that shows him seeing the apes for the first time, his face is disinterested and even bored looking. His eyes feel empty, his mouth is open, slack-jawed like he’s breathing through it and he says “Holy…” but nothing about his face gives us any indication what it is he’s thinking. Is he surprised by how organized the apes are? Is he scared of them? Interestingly enough, the apes don’t have this problem as much. Their faces seem to be much more expressive and their body positioning is always quite dynamic.Continued below
Quick tangent: in the panel preceding his disinterested face, we get a nice shot of him sneaking up on the smoldering building with a bloody axe in hand. It’s a panel that highlights the environment well but it’s undermined by a lack of clarity as to where it is that he is going to. His actual movement is lost between panels and we have to just infer that he is near enough to the apes to see them but far enough away that they don’t see him. Plus, I have no idea what his orientation is relative to the apes throughout the entire sequence. Is he approaching from behind, from the sides, is he actually on a building that overlooks them? None of it is clear. The transitions between groups, though, feels very natural, save for the group that opens up the comic. It’s handled in a very coherent way, bridging events so that it doesn’t feel too jarring when we’ve suddenly been introduced to 6 new characters.
Ok, tangent over. Remember how I said that the human characters were super boring and forgettable? Well, the apes are not and that’s I think this comic’s biggest flaw. The few scenes we got from the apes were leagues and leagues more interesting than cross tattoo guy, probably monkey in disguise playing around with Nevada farmers, and creepy doctor in Atlanta. We have the rumblings of another possible coup, the sadness of losing apes friends to war, and two groups of apes on opposite ends of the country. Instead of seeing the apes through the eyes of the humans, which is how the comic is setting this up (much like Dawn did), we should be seeing it the other way around. This was the failing of, in my opinion, of Dawn. The humans were just so boring and stupid and we focused on how they saw the apes for way too long, instead of seeing more of the movie through Koba or the other apes’ eyes.
We don’t need to see another post-apocalypse story of people hiding in ruined buildings, hiding from some external threat or another run-down human marketplace. We’ve seen it a million times and unless we’re given a reason to care for the characters in those situations (which we’re not here), it’s just repetitive and boring. Instead, let us discover these places from the perspective of the apes. Let us, the audience, have the reveals about what the humans are doing happen at the same time as the apes find out. It builds tension and mystery and when things, such as the creepy scientist, show up, they’re more surprising.
I really hope things turn around in the next issue, what with the coming of the title of the comic, and that the focus sticks to Caesar and his apes instead of random survivor group #271.
Also, yes, nameless character with a cross tattoo has a name (Preacher) but it’s buried midway through the issue, only mentioned once, and I missed it the first couple times reading through. I honestly forgot his name until just now as I write this so I left it how I first typed it.
Final Verdict: 4.0. For a comic called “War for the Planet of the Apes”, it is surprisingly boring and doesn’t have nearly enough apes or war.