Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Creating a comic book version of Planet of the Apes is a proposition fraught with danger. It’s been a long time since Mr. Comics’ Revolution on the Planet of the Apes, so I don’t remember if I quit reading it because I didn’t like it or if I decided to wait for a collected edition that never came. I do remember liking Salgood Sam’s art on it, but being disappointed that it was a bridge between Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the two films in the series that I’ve never seen. I haven’t seen them partly because they’re not generally regarded as any good, but also because – as prequels to the original PotA film – they cover a time period that I’m not all that interested in. While intellectually I’m curious to see how the world of PotA came to be, I’d much rather see adventure stories set in the world of the first movie.
BOOM!’s new series doesn’t do that exactly, but it gets awfully close and ends up presenting something that I didn’t realize I wanted, but really do. Set long after Battle for the Planet of the Apes, BOOM!’s comic shows readers a time in which apes and humans are technically equal, but bigotry towards humans and an imbalance of power in favor of the apes have created a tense situation. That doesn’t sound all that different from the last couple of movies in the series, but it is in at least one important way. Where Conquest and Battle were set more or less on then-contemporary Earth (or that’s the impression I gathered from reading Revolution), enough time has passed between then and the new series that the world’s starting to look something like the original movie.
One of the coolest things about the first film was that its version of Earth was a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. So much of what made it awesome was the look of it: the apes’ costumes, the buildings; the primitive humans. It was a world ripe for exploration, which is why it’s so disappointing that the films immediately went away from that in favor of traveling to the relative mundaneness of the past; our present. BOOM!’s series is back in the fantasy world, though it looks better than any that’s been presented on screen.
That’s all thanks to artist Carlos Magno who’s created a jungle world of spired cities, airships, and medieval fashions. Though both humans and apes are dressed interestingly, the class difference between the two is immediately apparent. Humans are dressed like commoners, though cool, swashbuckling ones with tied-up sleeves and buckles and sashes. Apes on the other hand wear intricately ornate designs, some of which would make the Virgin Queen envious. And of course there are lots of horses and gorillas to ride them. It’s a wonderful world, not just worthy of the Planet of the Apes name, but better than it.
The story is worthy too. Though there’s still some social commentary inherited from the PotA movies, that’s background for the real plot: a murder mystery. It involves an assassination that threatens the fragile peace between apes and humans. So while the stakes are deeply connected to the discussion of equality, the comic avoids preaching about that issue. Instead, writer Daryl Gregory introduces two women – one human; one ape – and gives readers a reason to care about each.
Alaya is the granddaughter of the assassinated Lawgiver of the apes. She’s mourning her loss and trying to find some answers that will let her make sense of it. She knows that the assassin was human, but doesn’t know why they targeted her grandfather, a man who faithfully endorsed peace between the two species. The human is Sullivan, a down-to-earth, free-spirited, and very pregnant woman who was raised by the Lawgiver alongside Alaya and is now the unofficial leader of the humans. She’s also trying to find out who killed the Lawgiver, partly out of respect for him; partly because she needs to prevent the apes from retaliating against all humanity. And then there’s the strained relationship between these two women who grew up as playmates and sisters. It’s potent stuff, made awesome by being set in Magno’s world.