Review: Planet of the Apes: Ursus #3

Darryll Robson Darryll Robson
Expert Contributor
March 29th, 2018

Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.

Review: Planet of the Apes: Ursus #3
Comics
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Planet of the Apes: Ursus issue 3 is released this month as Boom! Studios continues its commitment to celebrating the franchises 50 years since the movie was released. As the story hots up our contributor, Darryl Robson, continues his own commitment to reading all things Ape.

As the story line from the original movie plays out on the side of this narrative, the writer and artist continue to expand upon one gorilla’s character. Taking him from a one dimensional leader of an army to a deeply complex Ape has proven to be Walker and Mooneyham’s greatest success in these pages and this issue is no different. Centralising on the contrast between the gorilla’s past and present turns a simple retelling of the movie storyline into a deeply intricate ethical dilemma.

On the Planet of the Apes, nothing is as it seems. There are layers and depths to be discovered everywhere.

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Synopsis

Moench leads an expedition of gorilla’s into the Forbidden Zone where they encounter the mind projections of the mutants who live underground. Most of the ape soldiers are easily scared but Moench is on a mission from the great General Ursus and he refuses to let his leader down.

Meanwhile Ursus himself laments. He drowns his sorrows as he remembers the horrors of his past. Ursus has seen so much in his life that it has changed him, embittered him to a point that he no longer trusts anyone, Ape or Human. What is becoming of the Gorilla Leader the Ape army needs?

And all the while, Dr Zaius’ fears of Human intelligence continue to grow.

Credit: Boom! Studios

Analysis

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There are two stories at play in Planet of the Apes: Ursus. The first is instantly recognisable as it features actual scenes from the original movie with additional linking scenes expanding on the characters that all Ape’s fan know and love.

The second narrative is an emotional one staring Ursus. This one feature features the previously unknown life story of Ursus and how it has made him the Ape present in the final days. This story shapes him and explains his present day actions.

David F. Walker marries these two elements together with a deft skill that makes it impossible to image Ursus’ story being any different. It all fits together snuggly as a series of events and consequences. The way that Walker makes this work is by comparing and contrasting the present day, recognisable sequences, with the new material of the gorilla’s past. He positions elements of one narrative by the side of the other to show the direct, and sometimes indirect, relationship between the events. The violence of Ursus’ past and his desire for Human’s to speak just so he could hear their cries of pain, is laid next to Ursus’ fear in the present that the Humans can talk, thus proving they have a greater intellect.

This is a problem that has been shown through Zaius in many different iterations of the Planet of the Apes, but by putting this worry into Ursus it creates a new dynamic. Zaius is, when it comes down to it, a politician and a realist. His instincts lean towards cover ups and lies. Ursus is a gorilla of action, his life has been one long training session to one end: to kill all Humans. Walker shows the inner conflict of Ursus to give the character depth but also raise an ethical dilemma. Knowing something is mindless makes it easier to destroy. If Ursus accepts that Humans are intelligent what does that mean for the way he has lived his life and for the actions he is currently taking?

In this issue, Ursus soaks himself in alcohol in an attempt to forget the truth or drown it out at least. Walker poses this dilemma for the reader through the character of Ursus. The writer wants you to judge the gorilla’s actions and in the end, it’s not a straight forward judgment.

Credit: Boom! Studios

The art work for the two narratives are distinctively different while the characters are recognisable in each time frame. Chris Mooneyham is able to create two worlds for the same characters and lay them side by side. The past has a sketchy approach to it not only to discern it from the present but also the illustrate that it is Ursus’ memories. It reflects how Ursus remembers his past and also the inner turmoil he is currently experiencing. The detail starts to fade and suddenly it is not as crystal clear as he once thought. His memories are starting to unravel and this is reflected in the art style. The present day panels are much more defined and have solid black inks; in contrast the past is more like pencil marks on parchment.

The colour work by Jason Wordie also plays a part in creating the distinction between the time periods. The brighter, deeper colours of the present stand out against the painterly washes of the past. This has the same affect as the pen/pencil styles in that it symbolises the degradation of the memories over time. The colour is fading as Ursus’ memories fade. Some of it is bolder and stands out more, such as the Apes that he meets, but the backgrounds merge together signifying their lack of importance. It is clear in these panels which elements are important for the reader and the gorilla himself.

Mooneyham also contrasts the past and present Ursus within the pages of the comic. Panels from each time frame sit next to each other on the page allowing the reader a chance to compare the way that the artist deals with the character’s stance and demeanour. This highlights the mind-set of the gorilla in both time periods. In one sequence in particular Mooneyham shows Ursus drunk and being carried home in silence to be left alone. This is contrasted to the younger gorilla as he defies the Orangutan he is with and charges headfirst into a fight, standing tall and unafraid of the world. In one set of images he is sure of his beliefs and his own abilities. In the other, he is alone and broken.

There are some wonderful moments in this comic both narratively and artistically. Some of this is helped by knowing the franchise but the story is strong enough to exist on its own. The character of Ursus is complex and drives the action. The creators have made him compelling to read, a protagonist who is neither the hero or the villain. Will that impression of him change by the end of the six issue run? Walker and Mooneyham make you want to stay and find out.

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Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he remembers his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson, but he does remember to write more about comics on his website comiccutdown.com

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