Opening up with what is a potted version of the intro to Planet of the Apes – three astronauts find themselves stranded on a strange planet surrounded by mute humans, who are then hunted by savage talking apes on horseback bearing rifles – this latest in the take on the Monkey Planet from Boom appears to tread familiar territory but wait a minute. No. Sure the scenes are nothing we haven’t seen before, iconic even, but we’ve never been lead through them from the point of view of that most misunderstood of gorillas General Ursus have we? What do you know poor old Ursus is suffering in silence. Mourning the loss of Mrs Ursus, he lives a home life of solitude that is far removed from the brash, aggressive ape his subordinates see. It’s not long before we see that very furious ape going, well, ape, when it’s suggested to the high council that soldiers are retrained as farmers to combat the famine approaching Ape City after years of human infestation has ravaged the crops. Ursus has warned them all along … the only good human and all that … and now to suggest that the soldiers stop killing the pests that are humans and start farming, well, it’s all too much for the gorilla general and when a talking human turns up Ursus is ready to take matters in to his own hands.
What then follows will be familiar to ape fans as we are around the events of the first film – the proper first film, you know, Charlton Heston and all that carry on – but with a number of behind the scenes tales and flashbacks to Ursus in his younger days. These scruffily sketched memories are what drives the tale as the re-telling of the Planet of the Apes movie from a simian perspective is all good and well, but seeing how the deeply ingrained hatred of humans has festered in General Ursus’ psyche since childhood is a powerful device. Ape society is deeply divided along species lines which, if you wanted to, you could read as a commentary on social class and/or racism and/or toxic masculinity and/or many other things that people argue about on the internet these days. Ursus and his gorilla legions perceive themselves as the ones who do all the hard work for no reward. Keeping all of apekind safe from the plague of humans, yet the out of touch Orang-utan politicians and intellectual, but weak, chimps look down their noses at the brawn over brains approach. Religion and politics are closely guarded secrets by the High Council and those who inhabit the simian corridors of power know far more than they let on. After all, if you can teach the population of Ape City to hate the humans (especially the brutal thugs in the gorilla ranks) as The Lawgiver says you should and anything else is heresy, the status quo is preserved and power is maintained. The general population can’t handle the truth so don’t tell them it.
The strongest parts of this six part book are then the tales we haven’t heard. The back story and development of ape lore that takes in the young Ursus, his lost love, encounters with religious ape fanatics and primal savagery from human and ape. Who would have thought that Ursus, the most ferocious and brutal off all apes could be painted as a tragic character? An emotional depth is uncovered through flashbacks to his upbringing – he had it tough – love and loss and a number of formative experiences that moulded him in to the raging, human hating, angry at the world beast that we all know from the film. There’s great potential here for a multitude of extended apeverse tale telling. As we all know though, nobody wins in this upside down society be they chimpanzee academics, gorilla soldiers, orang-utan protectors of the faith or humans, of the talking time traveller type or savage, mute primitives. Not to mention the mind wrecking mutants that are hidden away in the Forbidden Zone … and so it all comes to a head. Man and ape are locked in an eternal loop. Eternal warfare, self-destruction, political corruption and over-zealous religious lunacy. Sound familiar? Marv Gadgie