Angelic #1 Review

Written by: Simon Spurrier

Art by: Caspar Wijngaard

Published by: Image Comics

When I was young, someone told me a fable/parable/metaphor about gorillas. I don’t remember who told me this. I don’t remember why they told me this. And I don’t remember what it was supposed to relate to in real life (possibly government?). It obviously wasn’t very effective as an analogy. But the story itself stuck with me for some reason, so here goes:

Imagine a room with five gorillas in it. Let’s call them Gorillas #1-#5. In the middle of this room, there is a pedestal with a banana on it. Any time one of the gorillas tries to touch the banana, they all get an electric shock. It doesn’t matter which gorilla goes for the banana–all five gorillas get shocked. Eventually they all learn not to touch the banana. After they’ve all learned this, turn off the shock mechanism, take Gorilla #1 out of the room and replace him with a new gorilla (Let’s call him Gorilla #6). When Gorilla #6 goes for the banana, the Gorillas #2-#5 will stop him, but Gorilla #6 will have no idea why they’re doing this. Eventually, he’ll just stop trying to get the banana.

Now take out Gorilla #2 and replace him with a new one (Gorilla #7). Gorilla #7 will go for the banana, Gorillas #3-#6 will try to stop him. Now, Gorillas #3-#5 do this because they remember the shock. Gorilla #6 will only do this because he’s following the lead of the #3-#5, and because it was initially done to him. Repeat the process over and over and you’ll have five gorillas who have never been shocked, and are in no danger of being shocked, all preventing any newcomer from touching a banana.

That’s it. That’s the story. Let’s set aside the animal cruelty, the endless supply of gorillas, and the fact that there would be no reason to do this other than sadism or weird nineteenth-century psychology studies. (Let’s also ignore my instinct that says gorillas wouldn’t actually act this way.) I think the point is: Given enough time, reasonable practices become ritualized, so that the practice itself becomes sacred whether or not the reason for doing so remains valid. (This makes way more sense regarding religion than politics or government, but it was definitely not told to me about religion. Like I said, I have no idea why this story was told to me. Perhaps one day, I’ll tell it to my children without ever knowing why and the process can self-fulfill.)

Anyway, I tell you that story because that, in a nutshell, is the premise of Angelic. Mankind is (presumably) no longer living on Earth. Monkeys (Chimps? I don’t know. I’m not an anthropologist) have built a society based largely on rituals that have been handed down through generations, and it’s not clear (to the monkeys as well as the reader) why these rituals are being performed. The monkeys also have wings. Qora, an adolescent female monkey, questions these rituals and her predetermined role in society.

There are also dolphins with jetpacks that seem to be the monkeys’ adversaries. Then there are cats with laser eyes, hermit crabs with human skulls for shells, and unintelligent birds. So the birds are largely unchanged. And there are a lot of references to poop, because the monkeys seem to be about as intelligent as middle-schoolers and this is how they swear.

I had a really hard time with this book. Usually I’m into dystopian stories, but it needs to have at least one of two things, preferably both: I need to be really interested in the questions of how society got to the state it currently is, and/or the characters have to hook me enough to get me really invested in them.

Unfortunately, this book failed on both of those counts. First, questions. How did society get this way? Honestly, I don’t care. People are gone, animals are all that’s left, and their society is fragments of unexplained rituals. Was there a war? Meh. Natural disasters? Eh. Did humanity leave for the stars? I don’t know. Is it still around under the ocean? *Shrug emoji* It just doesn’t feel like the answers to any of those questions matter as the focus is on this deeply-established, entrenched chimp culture. This isn’t like Mad Max, where barely a generation or two has passed and you can ask yourself: Is humanity really this close to the edge? This isn’t The Book of the New Sun where you can see fragments of present society in a distant future and imagine how it became ritualized. This feels like the simian society just is, because mankind did what it did and left.

But, that’s not what dooms this book for me. Many dystopian settings just are without answering the “whys” and the story can still be extremely interesting. In fact, I’d say most “Dying Earth” stories fall into that category. Earth is dying for some reason–no one knows why and no one can stop it. Society/mankind has to adapt however it can. This is where I point to The Night Land. Or the Doctor Who Cyberman story, “Spare Parts.” Or even Firefly to a degree. Those stories work for me because the characters feel so real and compelling. I can see pieces of myself in them and imagine how I would react in those situations–even given that I have no idea why the world is the way it is, just that it is.

I cannot, in any way, relate to Qora. She is a tween girl who wants more out of life than to just do as her elders tell her. I also imagine this is how most tween girls feel, present-day human or futuristic monkey. Sadly (well, sadly for relatability to this story; gladly for every other reason), I am not a tween girl, so this didn’t hit home for me.

Finally, I always hate to be negative towards someone’s artwork, because my drawing skills are like a 4 at best. But I just found this art to be boring. Perfectly serviceable, there was no confusion whatsoever as to what was happening. There just wasn’t anything exciting to look at, either.

Finally finally, I won’t spoil it, but there is a last page reveal that may interest some people on the nature of what “man” means/is within this world. It didn’t do anything for me, but I can see how it may hook some.

I think I may just not be the target audience for this book. Were I an animal loving 12-year-old girl, rather than a 31-year-old man who never owned a childhood pet, I might feel differently. As it stands, though, it was laborious for me to get through Angelic #1. Points for world-building, but poor execution, lack of fun, and no intrigue equal a hard pass from me.