The Cultural Gutter

hey, there's something shiny down there...

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Nothing Ape Is Strange To Me

Carol Borden
Posted July 19, 2012

I am Ape. Nothing Ape is strange to me.–Publius Terentius Afer (sort of)

For what is there beautiful in man,-what, I pray you, worthy of admiration, or comely–unless that which, some poet has maintained, he possesses in common with the ape? –Arnobius

I’m surrounded by a stack of comics and one illustrated novel all set in the same world as that 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes and my head is swirling with Cicero.  I’ve been thinking about why I prefer one comic to the other, what exactly it means for a character to be relatable and what it means to be a person. As an ape, nothing ape is strange to me.

I respect Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s Planet of the Apes: The Long War (Boom!, 2011). I am intrigued by Taylor E. C. Gaska’s illustrated novel, Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes (Archaia, 2011). But Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman‘s Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes (Boom!, 2011) and Exile on the Planet of the Apes (Boom!, 2012) are the Planet of the Apes comics I have always wanted.

Beautifully illustrated by twenty-six artists, Gaska’s Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes recounts the same events as the 1968 film. Three astronauts, Col. George Taylor, John Landon and Thomas Dodge survive the crash of their experimental spacecraft on an alien planet in the year 3978. They discover an ape civilization and voiceless, feral humans. Instead of retelling the movie’s events from the perspective of its protagonist, Taylor, (played by Charleton Heston), Gaska offers the perspective of multiple characters, many of whom were marginal to the film’s plot: Astronaut John Landon; chimpanzee scientists, Drs. Milo and Galen; Ape City Security Chief Marcus; orangutan Minister of Science cum Defender of the Faith, Dr. Zaius; and the mysterious psychic humans who live deep beneath the Forbidden Zone outside Ape City.

Conspiracy reads like science fiction written  in 1968. Gaska uses 1960s language: Man, mankind, gender-neutral “he,” and one of the psychic humans is, “The Negro,” following the credits of Planet of the Apes‘ sequel, Beneath The Planet of the Apes (1970).  Planet of the Apes is easy to watch as an allegory on race and racism, but there’s more about class and “sexual politics” in Conspiracy. There’s even a little Sirkian melodrama as Dr. Galen’s class-conscious wife has an affair with a garbage collector.

Betrayal begins twenty years before the crash. It’s a sort of an Ape City crime comic. Lawyer and retired general Aleron represents Dr. Cato, an orangutan scientist, who, as part of his research, taught a human sign language. Cato is being tried for elevating humans to the level of apes. Ape kills ape and Aleron flees. Meanwhile, Dr. Zaius investigates secret doings among Ape City’s most important figures, as well as the mysterious disappearance of the general’s aide a decade before. Exile continues the story with Marc Laming as artist.

Gregory and Magno’s Planet of the Apes: The Long War is set in the industrial city of Mak, 1,300 years before the crash. Humans live in Mak’s Southtown, aka, Skintown. Most can speak, but an increasing number cannot. When a human assassinates the Lawgiver, the Lawgiver’s adopted granddaughters, chimpanzee Council Voice Alaya and Sullivan, Skintown’s human mayor, are set at odds, personifying the destruction of harmony between ape and human. In a way, the continuing series is an origin story, detailing ape and human relations’ deterioration from co-existence to armed gorillas hunting silent, crop-ravaging humans. It’s a solid, well-written comic with gorgeous art and so close to my perfect ape comic that I would’ve bought it every month if not for Betrayal and Exile.

I’ve thought about why I prefer those two books. Some of it is origin story fatigue. Some of it’s aesthetic. I like the 1960s design—the ape symbols, the gorilla uniforms, General Aleron’s eyepatch. The Long War uses Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) designs, making chimpanzees more gracile and “human,” and the female chimpanzees human pretty. And that’s my fundamental problem: I don’t need the apes to look more human in order to relate to them. I already relate to characters different from me. I’ve done it since I was a little girl reading books about little boys. This is even more true for readers who are not white or able-bodied and are more complexly gendered.  I prefer Betrayal and Exile because they follow the apes’ stories without “relatable” human mediators and I’ve always wanted to know more about Ape City.  Bechko and Hardman trust readers to be able to relate with characters more deeply than through physical resemblance.

But how thoroughly beside the point the argument from resemblance, with which you are so mightily charmed, is in itself. Is not a dog like a wolf? And, as Ennius says:—
How like to us is the degraded ape!
Yet the character in both cases is different.
You assumed that reason can only exist in the human form.
–Cicero, I, XXXV De Natura Deōrum

Theoretically, a relatable character could be anyone or anything. In practice, a relatable character is usually a straight white guy. In alex MacFadyen’s piece about The Dresden Files, he notes how bland Bob as a genie Jeeves is in the tv adaptation compared to Bob as a rune-engraved talking skull in Jim Butcher’s books. In avoiding the possibility that the audience would find a talking skull ridiculous and unrelatable, the showrunners settled for a less interesting sidekick—a white British man. And so, despite characters being human constructs and, therefore, entirely relatable to human beings, the more theoretically relatable human-looking character made for a mediocre show.

cotpota zaius

Of course, the question raised by a relatable character is, “Relatable to whom?”

Created as a normative person, a relatable character inevitably excludes others. The human is reduced to its most surface physical signification–gender, race, hair color–and the possibilities inherent in fiction are diminished. It’s a failure of imagination and empathy. And it doesn’t just limit stories. Experiencing only stories with protagonists like yourself–especially on the most surface level–is limiting and even stunting. It can limit and stunt imagination and empathy. It can create a crippling sense of entitlement at the same time as it creates such defensiveness when faced with even the smallest disagreement or deviation from a perceived norm. And the world is filled with disagreements, deviation and difference.

Which brings me to Col. George Taylor.

“If this is the best they’ve got around here, in six months, we’ll be running this planet.” –Taylor

Taylor’s the focus of the 1968 movie. He’s the white guy among people who are different from him. Unlike so many, he doesn’t go native, or, well, ape. He’s the breezy hero of his own story, on top of his own world and certain he would run any other. But Taylor’s barely present in Conspiracy‘s retelling. Instead, Gaska replaces Taylor with his fellow astronaut and fellow white man, Landon, as the only character who represents our earth. In the movie, Landon’s weakness highlights Taylor’s virtue. Landon’s breakdown after realizing the earth he had known was thousands of years gone contrasts with Taylor’s antiheroic jauntiness; and later Landon serves as a terrifying warning to Taylor of where he stands in a world where Apes rule Men. But in the book, we see Taylor from the outside, as Landon does, and this erodes Taylor’s position as relatable character, his primacy as representative of humanity. Resemblance is not enough. There is, as Dr. Zaius’ colleague Cicero notes, the issue of character. Landon sees Taylor as a pompous, narcissistic asshole.

Further, Gaska’s use of multiple narrators mitigates the problem of one relatable character excluding others. It’s easy to sympathize with them all. I sympathized with Dr. Zaius’ bad day at the office, of which Taylor crashing through Ape City was only a small part. I loved chimpanzee scientist Prisca for her basic decency and courage.  Some of my favorite moments in the novel involve two retired orangutans who like to feed the birds. My favorite character was Dr. Milo (who appears in Exile as a chimpanzee Tesla). And I feel terrible for Landon, caged in Dr. Galen’s lab, waiting to be the subject in experimental transplant surgery.

But my concern for Taylor is at the most basic humane level:  Involuntary surgery—Run! I understand the fear of being silenced, dismissed and subject to unfair justice and, again, involuntary medical procedures. But the existential angst that he feels as an astronaut, a man who men wanted to be and women just plain wanted, being silenced, ignored, dismissed and finally ordered neutered, the vertiginous experience of the natural order overturned and the world becoming a “mad house” because of his loss of primacy—that is foreign to me.

They weren’t humans. They weren’t even aliens.  My god, they’re… gorillas?  Gorillas on horses.  Gorillas on horses with guns. –Conspiracy (66)

Being human, like Taylor, is not enough because I think that Taylor’s problem is not with his treatment, but that he would be treated that way. And so, Taylor is convinced by years of being Taylor and reading stories about men just like him, not only that every story is about him, but that every story should be, as he runs right through hundreds of stories in downtown Ape City, stories by and about people he cannot relate to because he’s already decided that they’re damn, dirty apes.

 

~~~

Carol Borden hopes one day to be granted a doctorate from Ape City University, though she’d probably be accepted by the Universtiy of Mak, Skintown. She would also like to give Tim Burton credit for depicting gorillas a little less atypically violent.

Carol received a review copy of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes from Archaia.

Comments

9 Responses to “Nothing Ape Is Strange To Me”

  1. Carol Borden
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    Since rereading Gregory and Magno’s Planet of the Apes: The Long War for this, I am now desperate to find out what happens in the second volume.

  2. Nothing Ape is Strange to Me | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    July 24th, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    […] READ THE ARTICLE>> This entry was posted in Comics, Monkey Business and tagged Planet of the Apes. Bookmark the permalink. ← Sassy Gay Friend may have reached the end of his rope with YRF ladies […]

  3. K. A. Laity
    August 5th, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

    Superb.

  4. Andrez Bergen
    August 5th, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

    Wow, Carol, this is a wunderbar read.
    I grew up with the first wave of Planet of the Apes movies, as well as the ’70s Marvel comic Adventures on the Planet of the Apes.
    I haven’t had the opportunity to check out the more recent stuff from Gaska, Bechko, Hardman, et al – but looking forward to doing so with this feedback/review in mind.
    Ta!

  5. Carol Borden
    September 6th, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    Thanks, guys.

    Andrez– Strangely enough, I one an issue of the 70s Marvel comics adaptation and almost included it, but decided I already had more than enough to go on.

  6. Summer Fun Time Reading ’12 | Monstrous Industry
    March 18th, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    […] (This article was originally published at The Cultural Gutter). […]

  7. Nothing Ape Is Strange To Me | Monstrous Industry
    March 20th, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

    […] (This essay was originally published at The Cultural Gutter). […]

  8. 10 Comics I Liked In 2013 : The Cultural Gutter
    January 2nd, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

    […] cheating a little here. I already wrote a piece on Boom’s Planet of the Apes comics and how much I like Bechko, Hardman’s books in particular. But Cataclysm starts with a […]

  9. 10 Comics I Liked in 2013 | Monstrous Industry
    January 3rd, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

    […] cheating a little here. I already wrote a piece on Boom’s Planet of the Apes comics and how much I like Bechko and Hardman’s books in particular. But Cataclysm starts with a nuclear […]

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Sequential Art, Ryan Carey deconstructs and reconstructs Jack Kirby’s OMAC . “In order to better understand OMAC, then, we’ll be taking things one piece at a time here — we’ll look at where the ideas came from, how they related to other views of the future popular at the time, where Kirby was, creatively and professionally, in 1974, and ultimately try to decipher precisely why all of this ended up in the shape it ultimately did.  After that, we’ll concern ourselves with the real nitty-gritty of examining each and every one of the series’ eight issues, before taking a look at how, and in what form, the legacy of both the character and the book continue, and evolve, to this day.”

    ~

    Video of illustrator and character designer Katsuya Terada drawing and talking about his work. (via @aicnanime)

    ~

    A 1,300-year-old Egyptian book of spells has been translated. “Among other things, the ‘Handbook of Ritual Power,’ as researchers call the book, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat “black jaundice,” a bacterial infection that is still around today and can be fatal.”

    ~

    Zack and Steve go through and review Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module S-1: The Tomb Of Horrors at WTF, D&D?!…so you don’t have to.

    “Steve: Most of the opening paragraph is a warning about difficulty. ‘You’ll never find the demi-lich’s secret chamber’ and the tomb is fraught with “terrible traps, poison gases, and magical protections.” It’s telling you not to play the adventure.

    Zack: Not just in that part. In the DM’s notes section at the start, Gygax explicitly warns Dungeon Masters that if your players enjoy killing monsters they will be unhappy with the adventure.

    Steve: ‘This module is only for parties that enjoy dying immediately and repeatedly.’ Oh, man, we’re not going to play though this thing are we?”

    ~

    Dr. Nerdlove takes a brief break from helping the nerd get the girl to address something that’s been bugging him. “Pardon me while I go off on a bit of a media criticism/ rant here. So I’ve been enjoying the *hell* out of The Flash lately except for one thing: Iris Allen. Her character is screen death; every time she’s around, everything comes to a screeching halt.

    The problem is: it’s not her fault, it’s the writers. Rather like Laurel Lance in the first two seasons of Arrow, she has Lois Lane syndrome. Her (like Laurel and Lois) entire character arc is based around being ignorant of events that literally everyone else in her life is aware of.”

    ~

    Get your own copy of the Satanic Temple’s The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities!

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: