Not quite as lucrative a franchise as the "Marvel Zombies" line, "Marvel Apes" has found legs to stand on. Perhaps Julius Schwartz was right all those years ago about books selling better with apes on the cover. Of course, if that were the case, then shouldn't there be more? Our Robot 6 has Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs, there's Gorilla-Man in "Agents of Atlas," an occasional appearance from Grodd here or there, but beyond that there's a distinct simian deficiency in comics today.
In my review of the first issue of "Marvel Apes," I decided the book was less than stellar, but I decided to put that behind me and give the brand another go with this special. If you chose not to partake in that review, or that series, the first page of this issue (available right here in a CBR preview) recaps things rather nicely.
To add insult to injury, the "best" the ape universe has to offer is their version of Speedball. Trapped in "our" world, Speedball has been enlisted in the Initiative. His place there gives him the opportunity to interact with Taskmaster and bump heads with the Irredeemable Ant-Man.
Kesel delivers a story that is light-hearted and playful, while finding moments to challenge the characters with uncomfortable scenarios, whether it is the ape Speedball encountering his 616-Earth parents or his deceased best friend appearing in the "real" Marvel Universe alive. Kesel keeps the characters even throughout and manages to find a way to bring in the Red Ghost (truly one of the strangest, most out-of-place characters of the Marvel Universe). A book like this, however, would be incomplete without a few groaner puns, which Kesel (and Peyer) manage to work in. Given all of that, Kesel does manage to sneak in a heck of a teaser on the last page for readers who have been enjoying the alternate interpretations of the Marvel Universe characters.
Bachs' art is uneven, hitting in some spots -- like the battles -- but flat in others. His characters remain essentially consistent, but in some wider shots, where the figures can be seen head-to-toe, the characters appear oddly misshapen and some even dwarfish.
The highlight of the book, for me, was the backup story featuring a dust-up between Charles Darwin and the Ancient One. Yes, you read that right. Peyer, Hardin, and Wong deliver the battle you never thought you'd see as the Ancient One seeks to knock Darwin down a peg. The result leads Darwin into his own encounter on the Marvel Planet of the Apes.
This series of one shots (four expected, including this one) will essentially tell a linear tale, but hands the lead off to various simians of the Marvel Apes line. Next up is Spider-Monkey, and Darwin's tale continues in backup format as well.