Ah, that ripe, slightly pungent smell of plots thickening like some rustic stew when the turnips are thrown in! Alright, perhaps that analogy’s not the greatest, but if the inclusion of Gorilla Grodd in a Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern crossover isn’t at least just a little bit turnippy then I don’t know what possibly could be. Last issue’s big reveal was one of the most audaciously silly things I’ve seen in a mainstream comic for a while now. Guy Gardner is leading a crack team of Lanterns to a timelooped Earth ruled by sentient apes so of course he decides it would be a good idea to borrow Grodd from Belle Reve and take him with them. Because absolutely nothing could go wrong with a super-intelligent, monstrously powerful telepathic, ten-foot primate on the team against his will, could it? If, like me, you were left aghast at how wrong-headed that decision was – not only strategically, but also morally (they’re apes; he’s an ape – everything should be fine!) – then you’ll probably want to read on…
Before we get to Grodd, though, we return to Sinestro who’s having one of those almost-informative-but-not-quite conversations with a restrained (physically as well as emotionally) Zaius. Sinestro hints at a number of things here – his plans for the ring, how he got to Zaius – but nothing is really spelled out. The main reason for the conversation is to show Sinestro finding out where the universal ring is – the Forbidden Zone – and to remind us that he’s a bit of a sadist. A couple of his lines are drily amusing, particularly the one about ‘sacrifice’, but, given the rather dramatic way last issue ended, this opening is a little low key.
And that continues as we move to Hal getting out of the city, escorted by his friendly apes who, it turns out, are absolutely rubbish at subterfuge and physical activity, although, to be fair, it’s Hal who breaks their cover by recognising an ape who was unkind to him last issue. Is female characters kicking male ones in the groin a trope now? It would seem so as Zira takes care of the guard by unleashing a kick at this most sensitive of areas, although her “That hurt a bit more than I would have thought” is quite funny. Hal and friends reach the outskirts of the city where Nova is waiting for them with some spare horses. I wonder if Hal’s role as surrogate Taylor will extend to the romance department. Perhaps fortunately, we’ll have to wait to find out.
Because we’re back in the Forbidden Zone for an epic confrontation between General Ursus’ forces and Cornelius and his newly-minted army of mutant ring-wielders. What you might expect happens: a full-on bunfight that is thoroughly deserving of the two-page spread Bagenda gives it, although it’s portrayed very much as a free-for-all brawl with very little sense of strategy from either side.
The narrative shifts mid-battle to New York where Guy and his team of GLs are heading towards the spot where Hal disappeared with the intention of replicating his shift across the ‘chronoscape’, a neologism that is about as useful a plot concept as Doctor Who’s infamous ‘timey-wimey’ stuff and as well-explained. Guy is carrying Grodd in a construct cage and referring to him as a ‘monkey’ much to Grodd’s really rather understandable annoyance. This section is horrifyingly hilarious. No one thinks that taking Grodd with them to a planet of intelligent apes is a good idea. Not even Guy thinks it’s a good idea. He admits that he is not “really a good idea guy” which might qualify as the “you don’t say” moment of the century. Why Kilowog and Arisia are so content to go along with him is a complete mystery to me, but there is a kind of sick fun to be had in watching Guy’s complete lack of diplomatic skills sow seeds that you just know are going to reap a harvest of Grodd-shaped disaster later on in the series.
The GLs finally arrive in time for the second half of the ongoing battle between Cornelius and Ursus and there’s some pretty impressive stuff here. Grodd uses his telepathy to devastating effect (note that Kilowog is impervious to his mental powers; this will, I suspect, be important later), leaving only Cornelius standing. Guy’s about to attack him when… Atrocitus and a bunch of Red Lanterns show up. Now, given that we had a whole scene last issue explaining how ridiculously difficult it was to access this timelooped alternate Earth, the Red Lanterns showing up like this is a little bit too convenient. While it’s true that Arisia felt like she was being watched when in New York and there’s a line of Atrocitus’ dialogue that mentions him waiting for the “lanterns to open the way”, the implication that the Reds managed to avoid being detected by the Greens on Earth and then somehow slipped through the chronoscape in their wake is less than convincing to me. We’ve already seen green rings detect red activity in the first few issues of Green Lanterns. Why wouldn’t they do the same here?
But… this is crossover stuff and I guess we’re expected just to go with the flow. The introduction of Atrocitus as yet another player who wants the universal ring mixes things up nicely. The issue ends, however, as it began – in a low-key way and with the focus on Sinestro. The revelation at the end of the issue is intriguing more for its implications than anything else and, my occasional misgivings about plotting convenience and Guy’s stupidity notwithstanding, this issue does leave me wanting to read more.
Overall, then, this is pretty enjoyable. Guy is written reasonably well and is always fun to read. The back and forth with Grodd is both excruciating and funny. Hal’s story is suffering a little because it’s already familiar to anyone who’s seen the first film, and the conflict between Ursus and Cornelius, though spectacular and exciting enough, doesn’t really seem to be leading anywhere, but the introduction of the Red Lanterns and Sinestro’s discovery at the end of the issue show that the creators still have the capacity to throw some real surprises at the reader. Bagenda’s artwork remains good but seems a little sketchy at times; his depiction of the Red Lanterns’ arrival is impressive, some of his facial expressions less so. That aside, there’s a lot to like here and the story is, for the most part, fun which, surely, is what a crossover like this should be all about.
(This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)
Last issue’s introduction to this crossover series gave us some familiar elements from both franchises and enough hints as to the unfolding plotline to persuade me that reading issue 2 would be worth my while. One of the most sympathetic ape characters of the original movie franchise, Cornelius made a good viewpoint character and his transformation during that first issue (culminating in him wearing a Red Lantern uniform and killing a mutant) was both interesting and more than a little disturbing. Add in a de-powered Hal Jordan washing up on the shores of a ruined New York and there’s certainly potential for a good story here. Is that potential developed in issue 2? Let’s find out…
Issue 2 opens with Hal waking up on the aforementioned beach with the help of some less than tender prodding from one of Zaius’ apes. Hal reacts pretty much as you might expect and, without the power of his ring, is eventually subdued. What happens to Hal through the rest of this issue is almost identical to what happens to Taylor, Charlton Heston’s character, in the original film: the hosing with water, the beatings, the discussing him as if he’s a lesser animal. The differences are telling, though. Hal gets to keep his clothes on and, oddly, he gets to keep his ring, too – a concession whose justification (that removing it was too much effort) is less than convincing given the brutality and single-mindedness we’ve seen from the ruling apes so far.
The idea of Hal as surrogate Taylor is only reinforced when we realise very early on in this issue that Taylor is dead, killed by the mutants in an attempt to retrieve information from his mind. This confirms that the book is indeed set in an alternative timeline for both Lanterns and apes. With no Taylor to blow it up at the end of the second movie, maybe this Earth has a shot at survival after all. The sequence in which Cornelius finds the dead Taylor and manages to restrain himself from killing the mutants responsible is really rather affecting. The creative team take Cornelius through the gamut of emotions – from anger at what the mutants have done to Taylor, to the willpower necessary to keep himself from killing them, to compassion (although the colours wrongly show him as a blue lantern at this point, the insignia is that of the Indigo Tribe) for his dead friend. It’s a powerful moment in the book and leads to the next big departure from established Planet of the Apes continuity – Cornelius’ effortless dismantling of the nuclear bomb the mutants had been worshipping. For the best of intentions, Cornelius determines that he is going to make the mutants gods themselves and somehow conjures up additional universal rings to give to them.
Confused? Mystified? It’s a good job we’ve got a big massive infodump coming up then, isn’t it? Not a man to take ‘mind your own business’ for an answer, particularly when one of his friends has mysteriously disappeared, Guy Gardner pays the Guardians a visit and, after some initial wrangling, finds them in a considerably chattier mood than in the last issue. If, like me, you were wondering about the universal ring’s apparent similarity to the phantom ring, you’ll be happy (or slightly disappointed, depending on how you view the revelation) to know that the universal ring is, in fact, a cheap knock-off of the phantom ring, an attempt by guardians less skilled than renegade guardian Rami to replicate his creation. (And, presumably, sell them at street markets and car boot sales all over the galaxy.) This ring, however, is “alive” and has a desire to reproduce itself as well as “pacify”, although what exactly is to be pacified remains unclear. Apparently, the guardians decided this ring wasn’t going to pan out so they exiled it to an Earth that exists in its own time loop separate from the rest of “hypertime”. This is what is known as a ‘technobabble’ explanation and it raises as many questions as it answers, not least of which is the not unreasonably one of why can the Guardians not dispose of their crap properly? Surely, chucking the ring into the heart of a nearby star or black hole would be a better option? Then again, if the ring is, in some sense, ‘alive’ that would be tantamount to murder, wouldn’t it? Perhaps they could have just stuck it in the same vault as Volthoom? Hmmm. Maybe not.
The writers do at least attempt to answer the question of why the universal ring was banished to Ape-Earth and, while I don’t find it all that satisfying myself, it does lead Guy Gardner to do something very odd at the end of the issue, which we’ll get to in a moment. After explaining that Sinestro has used some kind of “sorcery” to locate and activate the universal ring, the Guardians helpfully provide Arisia, Guy and Kilowog with devices that will take them through the ‘chronoscape’ (no, I have no idea either) and will protect them from the universal ring’s “endless hunger”. Okay, then. (There’s a spare one for Hal, too.)
Meanwhile, Hal escapes with some help from some nice apes, Sinestro shows up unexpectedly (he doesn’t twirl his moustache evilly, sadly) and Guy and his two fellow Lanterns go to Belle Reve to pick up this issue’s surprise guest star… which doesn’t really make a lot of sense except in the most broad thematic way. For one thing, if Guy and his fellow Lanterns are successful in rescuing Hal, they have no way of getting the guest star back home. For another, the guest star is not someone I would trust as far as I could throw him. Which is not very far at all. But, this is Guy, this is comic books and crossover comic books at that. We’ll see what happens.
All in all, this is a decent issue. Bagenda’s art remains good. His depictions of Cornelius are particularly impressive, although his Hal looks just a little on the young side at times. The script is generally good, too. We needed some background on the universal ring and that’s what we got, but the revelation that it’s a variation of a superweapon only introduced in the regular Green Lanterns book a few months ago is kind of disappointing. In a way, though, it’s entirely consistent with the approach of the writers so far. We’ve been presented with a quick whirl through some of the more familiar elements, moments and tropes of both series, and this does imbue the story with a rather unfortunate sense of déjà vu. That said, there are indications that we’re about to veer off into more unfamiliar territory and that alone suggests that the series is worth sticking with.
NB: This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.
DC fans are experiencing something of a crossover renaissance at the moment. Batman’s hanging out with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on what seems to be a semi-regular basis. The Justice League is currently teaming up with the Power Rangers. Heck, even He-Man and the Thundercats are getting in on the team-up fun. Already in the middle of a sequel to last year’s well-regarded adventure in the Star Trek universe, the Green Lantern gets yet another slice of the crossover pie – this time dipping his toe into the world of one of the most iconic sci-fi movie franchises of all time. Yes, it’s the Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern crossover. Is it a bright shiny ring of a series? Or more of a banana skin? Let’s find out…
Before we do, though, that cover… Ethan van Sciver has long been a fan favourite and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a raw power to the image of the ape hand thrusting towards the sky, the ring glowing on its finger, that is really impressive. The GL corps members hovering in the background look great too – even if their number appears to include a disco ball and a giant onion in a sweater. That the internal artwork doesn’t quite reach van Sciver’s level is a little disappointing but not deal-breakingly so. Barnaby Bagenda’s art is impressive enough, although it is, I would suggest, less polished than his work on Omega Men, although that may be down to colouring issues. On the whole, though, it’s dynamic when it matters and faces are expressive and consistently drawn.
The issue opens with a scene that manages to be dramatic and portentous, while simultaneously raising some troubling questions. On a barren planet, a mysterious hooded figure is engaged in some kind of ritual, apparently drawing on the power of a number of differently coloured Lanterns, each bound and gagged by glowing yellow-orange chains. Now, I’m not a massive Lantern fan, but even I recognise Munk, Saint Walker, Bleez, Gnort, Arkillo and Larfleeze along with a Star Sapphire who is probably Fatality, but it’s difficult to be sure. Whoever this hooded guy is, he must be wielding some pretty impressive power – particularly if he’s captured Larfleeze who, remember, wields the power of an entire corps in his orange ring. What happens to these captive lanterns at the ritual’s climax appears to be fatal and we later see their bodies with smoking holes in their chests. Are we in some kind of alternate reality for the Corps here? Hmmm…
The action shifts to the Planet of the Apes-era Earth where a silent Nova (there is no other kind, I suppose) stands at the edge of a huge crater caused by the impact of what turns out to be a mysterious glowing ring. She’s met by Cornelius who just happens to be out searching for Taylor. This, I think, means we’re somewhere between the first and second movies (the original ones, that is – not the recent remakes). Cornelius takes the ring back to Zira, but already the ring appears to be exerting an influence on him, briefly turning orange at precisely the moment Cornelius is expressing that he can’t leave something as “precious” as the ring lying in a hole in the ground. Aside from being a perhaps ill-advised call-out to The Lord of the Rings, it does hint at the nature of the ring, which seems to amplify (or instil?) the emotions of those near it. There are further hints in the conversation between Cornelius and Zira that follows. As Cornelius expresses his dismay at the warmongering of Zaius and his determination to prevent the general from acquiring the ring, the ring begins to glow a distinctly redder shade of orange.
Which is appropriate, because the next thing we see is the Red Lanterns attacking Oa (which, in itself, is a massive clue that this story does not take place in current continuity) because they believe the Greens have taken Bleez. The Green Lanterns respond as you would expect them to. There’s some nice action here as well as some entertaining banter between Guy Gardner and Hal. Bagenda’s artwork is pretty impressive here, particularly in the panel in which Dex-Starr attacks Arisia. The Green Lanterns deal with the threat of the Reds easily enough and then we’re back to our mysterious hooded figure who reveals himself to be… Sinestro. Of course he is, complete with evil chuckling. We find out that the ritual that started this issue was intended to lead Sinestro to the “universal ring”, presumably the object Cornelius is currently studying. Despite the fact that he still doesn’t possess the ring, he seems pretty happy with himself, the implication being that he knows where it is.
Back to Cornelius who wonders if the ring, now glowing a bright ruby red, is reacting to his voice, before deciding to put it on his finger. Dramatic things happen, including Cornelius crying out in pain and, back on Oa, Hal’s ring telling him that a “cross-chronal disruption” has been detected. The Guardians turn up to reassure Hal that it’s absolutely nothing to worry about, although they do refer to a “relic of an ancient security system”, something that sounds like it just might be worth worrying about. Hal, of course, isn’t satisfied with that and sets off to locate the disturbance and finds out that it’s coming from…. Earth.
On arriving at his homeworld, Hal gets attacked by Sinestro, who tells him that he has found a “true path to victory”. As their battle unfolds, Cornelius is out in the desert struggling with the ring’s energy that, in a rather nice double-page spread, leaps out of his ring and across universes to disrupt Hal’s fight with Sinestro. Things get weird as Hal’s ring loses power, he plunges into New York harbour and struggles to shore only to find himself on the desolate beach made so famous by the first film’s ending, complete with a half-buried Statue of Liberty. This would be a perfect moment to end the issue, but writers Robbie Thompson and Justin Jordan have one more sting in the tail. Cornelius encounters a group of the underground mutants from the second movie who have been drawn to the power of his ring and the issue ends ominously with the mutants bowing down to him in subservience.
Well, that was fun. There are a few issues with this story, but there’s enough going on here to persuade me that picking up the second issue would be a good idea. I suppose the main problems with the story are how it might fit into GL continuity and the overwhelming sense that we’re experiencing a “greatest hits” of the Green Lantern Corps. Oa? Check. Hal and Guy banter? Check. Guardians acting like tremendously unhelpful authoritarian dicks? Check. Hal fighting Sinestro? Check. While I’m not overly concerned about how this fits into GL continuity, I do feel that, on the GL side at least, we’re not really getting much new here. At the moment, it’s the Planet of the Apes elements that are hooking me. I was delighted to see the mutants from the second film make an appearance and I’m very intrigued to see where Cornelius’ meeting with them goes.
Another issue is that, for readers of the current Green Lanterns series, the concept of the ‘universal ring’ might be just a bit too close for comfort to the phantom ring encountered by Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz in recent issues of their book. How enjoyable you find the issue may ultimately boil down to how irritating you find this and/or the portrayal of the GL Corps.
Personally, I enjoyed the issue and think there’s enough impetus here to take the story forward into some interesting places. Bagenda’s art is dramatic when it needs to be and Jordan’s script is easy to follow and, on occasion, witty. The task of bringing two very different fictional universes together is not a straightforward one, and I think, on the whole, the story manages pretty well. Above all, it’s a fun, if not especially challenging, read. It’s worth checking out, particularly if cross-overs are your thing.
NB: This review first appeared in a slightly different form on the Weird Science DC Comics site. Check them out for a whole host of comic reviews.