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!”
“Dance monkey, dance!”
You know the drill.
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!
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 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.
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.