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Genre-bending crossovers are nothing new in comics, but we seem to be in the midst of a resurgence. Recent years have seen publishers reaching for interesting (if often-times incongruous) match-ups between different properties, with mixed results. For every Batman/Ninja Turtles meet-up, there are more than a few bizarre combinations. In meshing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan the Ape-Man with the dystopian science-fiction classic Planet of the Apes, Dark Horse has struck gold.
The two properties seem a natural combination, given their shared connection to great apes. That said, the chronological differences between the two makes for some awkward problems through which the story must navigate. Planet of the Apes is set in a distant future but the Tarzan story is firmly rooted in the late 19th/early 20th century. How then, do you bring the two together?
Time Travel, of course.
As with any time travel story, the reader needs to go in with a dose of their painkiller of choice ready at hand. The headaches come fast and furious before any explanation is offered. Writers David Walker and Tim Seeley choose to leave the necessary exposition waiting while they jump into the action. This leads to a number of “what?” moments, as Tarzan encounters such oddities as Triceratops in Africa in 1901 after being seen battling ape guards in 2016.
The time-travel macguffin remains unexplained and largely unresolved. Since its the first issue, we can forgive that. Walker and Seeley do yeoman work in setting up a sizable cast of characters and establishing the inter-relational conflicts. Some of those conflicts do seem a bit muddy and ill-defined, but the characters are still compelling. The characters all have distinct voices and attitudes, though some seem better developed than others. Where the issue runs into trouble is its structure. The central plot device of the story seems up in the air. It is unclear which of the temporal shenanigans or slave-hunter plots is the true focus.
The story is paced well, despite its structural issues. The first issue moves along very briskly and drives the story forward. There’s a ton of potential in that story, whether it focuses on events in 1901, 2016, or both. The writers deserve to be lauded for finding an interesting way to bring these two worlds together.
The first issue of Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes is visually striking. Fernando Dagnino‘s pencils are incredibly details, and he manages to achieve that most difficult aspect of comic book art in successfully conveying energetic movement in the still images. If there is a weakness in the art, it is consistency. There is a bit of stiffness to some of his panels, but that is greatly overshadowed and more than made up for by the tremendous work which colorist Sandra Molina brings to the table. Molina’s colors make the entire issue sing, with a rich palette which lends an air of foggy un-reality to the entire endeavor. This sense of a world somewhat concealed and slightly out-of-phase with everything else works well in tandem with the story, despite its structural issues.
Overall, the first issue of Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes is a success. It checks off all the boxes needed to jump-start a story. Walker and Seeley’s unique approach to the combination is beautifully aided by Dagnino and Molina’s art. The combination makes for an beautifully engaging read. There is enough meat to the story to bring readers back for more, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. It does have some weak points, which kept it from a perfect score, but Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes earns a solid 8/10.