By Keenan Marshall Keller, Tom Neely, and Kristina Collantes
The Humans is one of those amazing concepts that could only really come from the world of comics. The entire series takes place in a world where apes and humans have essentially swapped places. However, rather than the standard Planet of the Apes/Kamandi type approach to this idea, The Humans gives us a world that essentially follows human history with the only change being that great apes are now the dominant species. This ties into a bigger game The Humans is playing and the deeper thematic focus on the decay of the 1960s. As such the central focus of The Humans is on the criminal antics of a California biker gang named ‘The Humans’ in the year 1970. The central focus within the gang has, so far, been split between the two leading brothers Johnny and Bobby. Bobby is the more industrious ape with dreams of a bigger and richer lifestyle for The Humans while Johnny is still trying to reintegrate to civilian life after a hellish stint in Vietnam.
Issue 6 of The Humans begins to take the series in a new direction regarding the comic’s relationship with plot. Previously The Humans was ultimately very plotless, usually letting issues simply orbit a central event without much sense of conflict or driving momentum. That worked for the opening as a means of introduction to the situation and this strange new world where apes rule. At the same time this looser narrative structure gave the comic a chance to really zero in on the character of Johnny, as his struggle with violent PTSD helps cement the deeper focus of The Humans. Johnny’s struggle to force the elements of his old life, such as drug use or violent crime, to coexist and alleviate the burden of his trauma from Vietnam serves to illustrate The Humans’ broader emphasis on the way ‘60s optimism, creativity, and passion slowly corroded and dwindled into the darker aspects of pessimism, gritty reality, and abuse in the ‘70s.
This is central gimmick furrowed into The Humans’ mash-up of genres, taking a patently outlandish and crazy idea like a world of talking apes that would inform ‘60s adventurous and unrestricted storytelling, and wedding it to a dark and uncompromised depiction of criminal and veteran life throughout central California. A lot of this is also reflected in the amazing artwork by Tom Neely and truly stupendous coloring by Kristina Collantes. Neely depicts the world of The Humans as an incredibly dank and grimy full of sleazy, violent, and brutally harsh depictions of ape-kind . Conversely, Collantes colors the book with the bright and vibrant colors of a ‘60s comic, emphasizing block color pastel backgrounds, big hand-drawn sound effects, and purposefully yellowed paper. Even with the increased focus on plot and conflict that’s been creeping into The Humans, the series never losses sight of its central idea and finds a good balance between both elements.
As to the increased focus on narrative conflict it works well for build up and as a way to get The Humans into more thrilling and violent conflicts. It’s all drawn from the broad strokes of crime stories but, again, manages to keep a sense of heightened reality that avoids falling into the realms of cliché. It’s still unclear whether or not the plot will serve to enhance the overall themes of the comic or simply act as another way in which the heroes can express those themes but for the moment it’s very engaging. It also helps in developing the cast of The Humans beyond our two leads as previously the other biker members haven’t really risen beyond arch, stock characters.
What’s so incredibly endearing about The Humans is how it embraces the most insane and innocuous aspects of comic history and comics as a medium to convey its deeper point. There’s a serious misconception that plagues so many comics that the only way to convey an idea is through dialogue and text or that serious and adult discussions mean a comic must exclude the creatively freer aspects of the medium. The Humans flies in the face of all these ideas and is so much better for it, using simple stories with well-written characters and a beautiful blending of art, form, and theme to convey its bigger ideas. The only real problem with The Humans is not enough people are talking about how great it is.