Following its acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019, Disney has been gradually obtaining the rights to make comics based on Fox properties from other publishers so that they can publish new comics under Marvel. This began with Marvel putting out a new Alien series in 2021, and continued with a Predator series in 2022, marking the end of Dark Horse’s decades-long hold on the comic publishing rights for both franchises. Now, Planet of the Apes has left the hands of BOOM! Studios, and Marvel has gone as far as to create a brand new imprint for it: 20th Century Studios Comics. Alien and Predator are set to receive new #1s soon, which will see them folded into the new imprint.
Planet of the Apes #1 by David F. Walker, Dave Wachter, Bryan Valenza, and Joe Caramagna is an adequate starting point for a new wave of tie-in stories for the fifty-five-year-old film franchise. Set firmly in the continuity of the recent trilogy, this issue further explores the fallout of the ALZ-113 disease (colloquially called the “Simian Flu”) introduced at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In the films, the pathogen was merely a narrative device to kill off humans and speed up the process of apes overtaking the Earth. However, this comic treats ALZ-113 a bit differently, and it’s easy to tell that it’s because of… a certain global event that’s been going on for the last three years. Walker, the writer, seems particularly interested in how different factions of humans emerge based on the way that they view the sickness. The scientific community clarifies that “Simian Flu” is a misnomer, as the apes are not responsible for the disease, and preserving them is the best option for a cure. Meanwhile, a group of fanatics known as the “Army of Man” refuse to believe the scientists. They seek to eradicate all of the apes and any human who tries to help them.
The parallels between the Army of Man and COVID deniers aren’t subtle, but Planet of the Apes has never been shy about its political commentary on the human condition. After all, the original movie, which came in the middle of the Cold War, ended with the revelation that humanity had destroyed itself in a nuclear war. Still, I get the feeling that the comparisons here are meant to be broad ones because the allegory in Planet of the Apes #1 gets a little bit problematic when you compare actual racist hate crimes to a battle against enhanced primates. But Walker was probably trying to explore the more general ways that people who embrace misinformation and ignore science threaten humanity (especially during a pandemic). The comic is effective in bringing that new perspective to an existing fictional narrative.
Dave Watcher’s art and Brian Valenza’s work on the colors do a good job of bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life. Watcher has a style not unlike Joshua Cassara (who did the cover), though he’s a bit less heavy on the details than Cassara is. This is probably for the best because the interiors have just the right amount of clutter going on. This is particularly true for two big splash pages featuring ape attacks, one of which depicts the Golden Gate Bridge finale of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The other provides some creative character design in the form of apes with makeshift armor and weapons. There’s a gorilla wielding a damaged stop sign like an axe, and it’s delightfully kickass.
My only complaint is that I’m not sure that the nonlinear narrative works. The story starts by recapping the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, then goes to 2015, then 2014, then 2013, then 2012, and then back to 2015. Thankfully, these scenes don’t all follow a specific character, so it doesn’t necessarily matter what order you read them in. Still, it’s just a choice that doesn’t quite click for me.
Planet of the Apes #1 is a solid reintroduction to the world established by the films. It probably won’t appeal much to anyone who’s not an existing fan of the movies, but for those eagerly awaiting 2024’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, this will satisfy your need for those damn dirty apes in the meantime
Planet of the Apes #1 is available now at your local comic book shop.