This review contains SPOILERS!
Apes have always been of great interest to me, since I was a third grader doing school projects on gorillas and doodling chimpanzees in the margins of my journal. This was only solidified by the release of the Disney animated feature Tarzan. I tried reading the book, but it was just too advanced for me at the time, as were the Planet of the Apes films made in the 1970’s. However, recently there has been a resurgence of these pop culture icons, with the prequels to Planet of the Apes starring Andy Serkis and the live-action Tarzan film that debuted over the summer. So, it was a very smart move by Dark Horse and Boom! Studios to release a new comic series combining these two franchises while they are both still fresh on the mind, and I just had to pounce on the opportunity to review it.
So how do you crossover a story set at the turn of the 20th century and a story set in the future? Easy: Time Travel.
So, in this interpretation, we begin the comic with Tarzan being captured by the Mangani (the race of advanced apes of the “Planet” series) in North America, 2016 before flashing back to his childhood in the African jungle over a century earlier in 1901. There (and then), both the gorillas of the Tarzan mythology and the Mangani are co-existing races with common leadership and goals. Tarzan is the adopted son of Cornelius and Zira, leader of the Mangani, yet still answers to the authority of Kerchak the silver back gorilla. He and his brother Milo are playing in the trees when a strange noise alerts them to a stampede, but the animals causing it aren’t rhinos or elephants. After consulting some history books, it is determined these beasts were the long extinct dinosaurs (triceratops, by the looks of it) and that it is possible that the same mysterious force that brought the Manzani from the future has reopened and let the past spill into the present. Meanwhile, a group of headhunters led by Sir Clayton has discovered the trapped Kerchak using language unlike any other ape and plan to capitalize their findings, unless stopped by the young Tarzan, of course. However, the ape-man and his Mangani brother are far more valuable and it would seem one of our main characters will die… before jumping back forward to 2016. There, Tarzan fights until subdued and a military leader threatens him about disclosing the whereabouts of more humans, but not before mentioning that Zira is still alive, piquing Tarzan’s interest.
I was very excited about reading this comic, although quite skeptical at the ability to pull off a cohesive story with two completely different universes that share so many similarities. From the synopsis, you should be able to deduce my worries were put at ease quite effectively. By incorporating a time travel/portal element to the plot instead of just having Tarzan stumble upon a tribe of humanoid apes, writers Tim Seeley and David Walker have the reader already primed for the fact that this is indeed science fiction. So long as the explanations are plausible enough, any crossover can be explained. I still don’t know how the 115 year time gap is accounted for, but I’m assuming it is related to the reason dinosaurs were included and will be explained in later issues. The writing smooths out what would otherwise be a rough combination of the ape tribes with great dialogue and proper elaboration on some of the more difficult concepts. This is enhanced by the artwork of Fernando Dagnino, who has a clear grasp on the anatomical identity of the Mangani, as well as gorillas. Much of the scenery is washed out in the background, properly setting the focus on the main characters without ignoring the beauty of the African rainforest. Some of Tarzan’s mannerisms are more simian than sapien, but the exposure to the Mangani definitely prepared him for more of a manly posture than the source material. (Nerd alert: after seeing his character physiology, I wanna see what Fernando could do on a Nightcrawler piece). It’s clear that the whole creative team did a ton of research on the subjects and have great pride in their work.
If the whole 5-issue miniseries lives up to the standard of this first issue, then it totally gets my seal of approval. The art captures realism and beauty, and the writing resonates enough to make the reader invest in the characters. Even with a limited background of these wild stories, I was able to understand the plot and appreciate the connections between humans, gorillas, and the Mangani. You’ll go bananas over this!
Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes #1 is on sale September 28th.
Great, 4 out of 5 Stars!
Writer: Tim Seeley, David Walker
Artist: Fernando Dagnino
Colorist: Sandra Molina
Cover Artist: Duncan Fegredo
AUTHOR’S NOTE: After Harambe the gorilla was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo last May due to a child falling into the enclosure, the internet was outraged and upset. Unfortunately, that soon turned into ridicule and disrespect when he turned into a meme, with merchandise and websites popping up all over the place. I’ll admit that I was amused at first, but I’m getting really upset by the tastelessness of these jokes. My wife is a primate zookeeper who recently lost one of her monkeys, Banji, and she and her co-workers were pretty devastated. I can only imagine what the staff of Cincy Zoo must be feeling when they see their friend’s picture plastered with angel wings on social media daily. I know this rant won’t stop anything, but at this point, anyone who uses any Harambe hashtags or buys merch is not honoring his memory, but dishonoring it. This fad needs to die, and the only way that can happen is for people to grow up and stop sharing dumb jokes about a dead gorilla.