Man, the Planet of the Apes series is absolutely fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a real child of the Sixties in more than a few ways: debates over the unknowable cosmos, racial politics, animal rights, and man’s possible self-destruction by means of emergent technology have all remained in the public eye since the time that our bratty parents were reading comics and devouring genre film, with the series continuously reinventing itself to tackle these issues (see: last year’s surprisingly wonderful Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Don’t see, or at least pre-fortify with alcohol: Tim Burton’s 2001 remake).
Exile On The Planet Of The Apes #1 from BOOM! continues the franchise’s forays into the funnybook world by expanding upon BOOM!’s recent line of re-imagined Planet comics. Exile #1 sees Corinna Bechko (Heathentown, Fear Itself: The Homefront) and Gabriel Hardman (Hulk, Agents of Atlas) reunite after their allegorical, propulsive, and well-crafted Betrayal Of The Planet Of The Apes miniseries to resume the story of the ascendant orangutan Dr. Zaius, chimp scientist Prisca, and a whopping great human revolution led by ticked-off, sign language-trained Tern.
Taking place two years after the events of Betrayal (of which I will take great pains in this brief aside to compel you to purchase! It’s great! Do it!), Exile finds Dr. Zaius in the prime of his rise to power as a councilor, organizing pogroms against the outcast human vermin. In an increasingly-dicey situation, the mute but signing-capable Tern is back in his fantastic green poncho, leading guerilla raids against gorilla settlements on the border of the Forbidden Zone with the aid of some of the ex-convict apes from the previous miniseries (and if that isn’t the oddest sentence a critic has ever written, it’s got a horse in the race for it). Prisca, Tern’s former instructor, is left as a primary suspect in the attacks, and is hounded by Zaius and his lackeys.
Unfortunately, the primary characters and the writing team are all that Exile shares with its predecessor; where Betrayal surged forward with dynamic art, creative act-jumps, interesting characters, and an expanding conspiracy, Exile #1 is content to rest on its pedigree, combining jarring jumps in perspective, an assumed familiarity with minutiae from Betrayal, and outright confusing art to form a shapeless issue out of the gate.
The art is the biggest strike against it – Gabriel Hardman has backed off to assume only co-plotting duties with Bechko, leaving Marc Laming (American Century, The Rinse) to ape Hardman’s style in a less-than-effective manner. Laming’s style is a near-match at times, probably intentionally so for continuity purposes, but little deviations build into a general mess. Namely, all of the characters in a certain caste (orangutan, chimp, gorilla, or human) look identical to each other, to the point where it’s flabbergasting to determine who is speaking at a certain point.
Hardman avoided this trouble in Betrayal by drawing in a clearer way, having the benefit of brighter inking, and giving his creations notable features: Aleron’s eye-patch and grizzled disposition, Prisca’s facial wound, Zaius’ iconic weird-beard and fringe, Timon’s skinny frame, Tern’s dope poncho (I can’t get enough of that poncho!). Laming forgets that all-important final factor and renders his apes far too similar, with Zaius’ fellow councilors changing hairstyles frequently enough to be mistaken for the good doctor himself, leaving me to wonder whether I’m really some sort of Planet of the Apes-racist who can’t tell these characters apart. This problem only worsens in the muddled battle scenes that make up a good chunk of the issue’s second half, where green poncho-clone human is shot several times, and so is gorilla-soldier clone, while Prisca-clones watch on in horror and the Zaius-clones are probably stroking their stylish, mutable beards somewhere.
The writing takes such a holiday in Exile #1 that the Betrayal miniseries becomes necessary, albeit well-deserved reading; there seems to have been little-to-no character development from Betrayal’s ending in the in-story two years that have passed, the visually-unrecognizable characters speak in batches before actually identifying themselves for the benefit of the reader, and no room has been left on the pages for transition panels, leading to seemingly-random jumps to different locales and apes before conversations between characters reach their logical endings. Positively, the leads seem to have retained their well-defined characterizations from Betrayal, providing one of the few good things this issue has going for it. Unless issue 2 jumps up in quality, re-reading Betrayal Of The Planet Of The Apes would be a better choice for you, dear reader.