Outward Reviews: Guerillas

I’ve said it before, the monkey game can be a tough nut to crack. Preconceived notions of the apish persuasion aren’t exactly flattering to the genre. Monkeys are viewed as clowns. Beta humans; their lines to the animal kingdom christening them incomplete versions of ourselves. They’re either disturbing or hilarious. Spectacle is king.

“Look at that monkey dance! Monkeys aren’t supposed to dance!”

*Giddy laughter*

*Cracking whip*

“Dance monkey, dance!”

You know the drill.

Goliath with his little helper.

Goliath with his little helper.

Unless your goal is a healthy coating of cheek, you’d expect a genuine attempt at drama featuring our furry cousins to be a fool’s errand. How poignant can a scene be when the prime movers are convicted shit-slingers? Throwing comics into this mix, you’ve got an uphill battle so steep you’d wish you had a prehensile tail just to hold on. It’s a nigh-impossibility!

I was pleasantly surprised to be proved dead-fuck-wrong when I discovered Brahm Revel’s fantastic graphic series, Guerillas.

First released in 2008 by Image comics, Guerillas couldn’t exactly escape the “stinking ape” stigma and was later picked up for continuation/distribution by Oni Press. Though it may not feature unitard-clad superheroes, Guerillas has been steadily gaining cred through 5-star reviews by fans and the kind of steady attention that a deserving work of art merits.

Did I mention that ape-fiction has a fan base? I know I painted a grim picture a few paragraphs ago, but there is a silver lining. Perhaps it’s that mystical power of well-armed primates? Who knows, but if ever there were a work of ‘damn good’ simian drama that deserved recognition, it is Revel’s series.

Guerillas is the tale of a fresh new recruit named John Clayton and his introduction to the hellhole of atrocities that is the Vietnam War. Our boy John is painted as a wide-eyed young chap who seriously miscalculated when he decided to earn his aloof father’s respect by enlisting. This kid could barely hurt a fly. There are genuinely disturbing instances depicted when John and his platoon comb through the jungle and.. do what American GI’s did.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were... you know... into that whole 'talking' thing.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were… you know… into that whole ‘talking’ thing.

The writing is strong throughout. The interactions of the soldiers, while unflattering, remain candid and realistic. It’s got all the conflict and inner turmoil of your big time war flicks; your Platoons and your Apocalypse Nows, all coated in beautiful four-by-four. The art is minimalistic, yet sumptuously illustrated in layers of heavy shadow and bright sunlight. The attention to detail shows: from the rendering of a soldier’s rucksack to the inferred acrobatic antics of the titular primates.

Oh yeah, the chimps! Things take off when our hero buckles under pressure, witnesses his entire squad mowed down by Vietcong and does nothing. It’s at this point that he’s rescued by a group of ‘artificially enhanced’, battle trained chimpanzee commandos. And they don’t exactly take to him at first.

It’s obvious that Revel did his chimpanzee homework. His depictions are spot on. Social interactions are fully represented here, with ‘shit-your-pants’ dominance displays and termite foraging featured just like you’d see it on National Geographic: minus the combat fatigues.

John meets the monkeys.

John meets the monkeys.

Big bruisers like John Bull and Goliath puff on cigarettes; a habit abnormally trained chimps exhibit in real life. Smaller chimps like Goblin and Faben bound shrilly through the trees. These are behaviors (and names) that you see plastered all over nature documentaries. This authenticity legitimizes the story and almost lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading a comic about M-16 toting primates.

It’s this extra effort to tell a good story that is prevalent in Guerillas. It adds nuance and a deeper level of enjoyability to an otherwise fantastic ‘shoot-em up’ war comic. All the right layers are here: Good guys, bad guys, moral ambiguity about who the good guys and bad guys are, mad scientists, swearing; one liner spouting soliders, action, dramatic tension, chimpanzees hooting while they unload a clip into an unsuspecting village..

Guerillas gets my wholehearted stamp of approval. In the world of ape-pulp, this comic stands as a shining example of how to do it right.

Oh. And it’s got a baboon named Adolph that is probably the creepiest loose-cannon character that I’ve ever seen. Way to do that name proud, Adolph… *shivers*

You can get a free digital copy of Guerillas on comixology.com. Not a bad deal for a double-feature sized comic about monkeys.

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Ape Pulp: Never Enough Guns

Complements: Devilpig

They’re all over the damn place. Saved on DVR’s, hidden as graffiti in video games, and lurking between the pages of comic books… It seems that monkeys packing arms are something of a trend. As niche as the concept may be… there must be something to the phenomenon.

Is it self-projection?

Is it the sheer comedic spectacle?

Some find it ridiculous, while others can hardly imagine anything cooler. It’s true; nothing straddles the line of sheer lunacy and utmost awesomeness quite like the sight of a primate with a .45. Something about the promise of impending chaos, mixed with that clownish ineptitude. It’s hard to describe. (As much as I support the right for our primate cousins to bear arms — in fiction, IN FICTION! — I veer dangerously into cynicism whenever I see the stereotypical “infant chimp” with weapons. Call it a pet peeve.)

To some, monkeys and weapons go together like peanut butter and chocolate; or bacon and eggs; or potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. You have a potent yet very volatile mix. It’s so easy to get the cocktail wrong, and end up sinking into a realm of absurdity from which there can be no redemption.

Thankfully this hasn’t stopped writers and directors from taking the risk and putting some very satisfying creations out there for all of us to enjoy. From the iconic Planet of the Apes gorillas with rifles to Chim Chim and his slingshot, it’s hard to refute ape entertainment value. And with that argument, I claim that as a genre, the aptly called Ape Pulp has something to offer that you might not find anywhere else. Ape pulp is great. We need more of it. And thankfully, all you really need to do is look.

Weaponized primates have been around for a surprisingly long time. And they’re still going strong today. Ape pulp is a ‘backwoods’ genre, but its surprising versatility; science fiction, fantasy, thriller, even western applications throw it right across the board. You can be scared by them, or you can laugh at them (Hell, you might even learn from them i.e those damn dirty apes). As long as you are entertained by them, what else could you ask for.

Here are two pieces of literature that have surfaced recently. The first, an older example of the genre. If they’re still alive, the author probably didn’t ask for the reminder.. but the rest of us should thank the internet gods for the millionth time. Gotta love when gems like this emerge.

O’Neil the ‘cowboy’ gorilla.

First off, we have a typical western tale fleshed out with the unlikeliest of heroes. Six-Gun Gorilla appeared in the British paper Wizard, and was published in 1939. It featured a vengeance driven (you guessed it) gorilla named O’Neil, complete with six-shooter, bandolier and holster as he terrorized the men who killed his master; adventuring across the old west.

Recently, Jess Nevins has published the entire saga on his website as the property became public domain. Click here after you pick your jaw off the floor/stop laughing hysterically.

Next we have a comparative newcomer on the ape pulp scene. Ack-Ack Macaque was a work of short fiction by Gareth L Powell. Published in Interzone, the story was quickly voted as reader’s choice story in 2007. The story was about a (right again) spunky one-eyed, cigar chewing macaque. It was set in a divergent future full of zeppelins and automatic weapons.

A fully realized novelization is currently being written by Powell, and should appear early next year thanks to Solaris Books.

Ack-Ack and friends.