By Patrick Larose
There’s an experiment you can play while reading Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes, every time the current tension has played out and they’d need to cut away to move forward—stop on that page.
Then, as you slowly turn the page, see if the next one has dinosaurs attacking.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the series, Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes feels made up of two distinct halves. One uses the characters of Tarzan and Planet of the Apes to address British colonialism, white supremacy and the validity behind violent resistance. The other is about dinosaurs invading from other dimensions.
Both stories are wrapped around the emotional narrative of Tarzan and his ape brother Caesar, their frayed family and uncertain station among the Magani apes but there’s a structural whiplash that splits the focus. Do the apes band together and fight back against the human poaching and slavery or do they defend themselves against the invading monsters that threaten their homes?
Issue #3 finally reunites Tarzan and Caesar as adults on opposing sides of the British-Ape-Slavery conflict but that conflict disappears when raptors attack. Tarzan’s human cousin and his gang of slavers are killed, apes are still weakened but survive and the brothers come together vowing to strike back against the slavers that threaten their newfound family.
The reunion isn’t a happy one as both the slavers and the interdimensional monsters have left their home and people in ruins. The series so far has most thoroughly succeeded through its depiction of Tarzan and Caesar's relationship. They’re brothers and they feel like brothers. Their love for each other is palpable, their mutual drives imprinted on their faces and when they mourn, the world shakes.
“I’ll take small comfort in one thing, brother…when father died, I was alone,” Caesar tells Tarzan with his arms wrapped around him. “At least we can mourn [spoilers] together.”
The beautiful, moody art and these words come together and present their pain on the page. After a funeral pyre, the Magani tribe with Caesar and Tarzan at the lead makes a brave vow. They promise to end the violence against them through violence. To make a better future by pushing back against their oppressors.
So often in Western fiction, especially comics, there’s a need to shy away from the expression of violence as a valid form of resistance. Even though a superhero will punch a villain through a skyscraper, there’s a slight turn towards the camera to assure that "violence is never the answer.” Yet systematic oppression has only sometimes been fended off through non-violent resistance amidst a greater history of armed rebellion.
Sometimes an invading army can only be fought by another army. Sometimes freedom and independence can only be achieved through rebellion and coups. It was a dramatic moment to see Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes let the white colonialists be the bad guys—to show the brutal suffering inflicted on the people here and the pain that goes in to create a revolution.
Then a page later, the characters are fighting flying monsters. They’re talking about multiverses and the space-time continuum. The modern iteration of these characters slam into the ideas of Jules Verne as they fight a city at the center of the earth using portals from other dimensions to enslave the multiverse.
The dissonance is almost physical and even with the coherent, watercolor style that makes it all visually fit, you can feel the shift. The book tries to create a great cohesiveness as this city stands almost as an extension of the British Empire.
The Mahars live at the center of their world, they have an army of slaves and their new technology enables them to spread their dominance across existence. Every living being in any place is a potential host for the Mahars to grow their people and their influence. Their rule and invasion only seeks to drain the foreign places and embolden themselves.
It’s strange for a story to both include a science fiction metaphor as well as the real thing they’re drawing comparisons to side-by-side. In any other book, I might accuse it of cowardice—this act of shying away from addressing a more historical, a more real and important thing (white supremacy and the devastation caused by colonialism) to fight a more diluted and fantastical version of that thing.
I won’t do it here because I don’t think that’s what happening. This isn’t an either-or scenario but rather the comic mini-series intends to somehow do both. The war against the Mahars plays out through montage—a quick depiction of the brutal war waged by the survivors of the Mahars against these weird pterodactyls.
There’s a visual weight to it but not a narrative one. We haven’t seen these people get cut up and mutilated like we did the apes by the British invaders. There’s not the historical context like there is of England’s imperialist attempts in Africa or the West’s ugly history of African slavery. The conflict instead feels rushed and inconsequential.
Yet even though that’d normally be negative, I don’t think it is here. They comic draws out the conflict we care about and speeds us through the ones we don’t. There’s intentional, yet so far unseen, reasons behind the Mahars thematic purpose waiting around the corner. There’s another shoe to be dropped and if I could turn the .pdf past page 29 I’m sure it would be right there.
This a good comic created by good writers and artists. The characters are compelling, the underlying setting and themes well-handled and honestly written. The artworks beautiful but there’s this giant dinosaur in the room and I have to wonder how we’re planning on addressing it.
Tarzan the Planet of the Apes #3
Writers: David Walker & Tim Seeley
Artist: Fernando Dagnino
Colorist: Sandra Molina