I live in a Navy town. Growing up, carriers were always arriving and departing, with thousands of young sailors leaving the Navy Base to go hit-up the local bars on the island, spend some money, and eventually make their way across the bay to San Diego. On occasion up to three carriers would be docked at the same time, and as residents, we definitely noticed the rise in testosterone in our little community. Coming from all walks of life, a large amount of sailors would import their hotrod cars and motorcycles when first arriving at Base, so they'd have some transportation to get to and from San Diego during their stay. Let me tell you, when you live next to a moderately busy street on a thoroughfare to the Base, you grow up learning to hate the sounds of motorcycles. Not only would these riders be revving their engines throughout the day, sounding like a fighter jet taking off, but during the evening hours as well. But wait, it gets better: I can't tell you the number of times I've been woken up during the wee-hours of the morning because of a motorcycle drag race involving several bikes on their way back to Base. And don't even get me started on the cyclists that weave dangerously close between cars on the freeways.
But enough of my Andy Rooney impression on why I don't like loud motorcycles. While I'm no fan of the vehicle itself, I've been strangely enamored with the biker culture and the live fast/die hard lifestyle they project. Movies and television shows like Easy Rider, Gangland and Sons of Anarchy make biker gangs the taboo stars of pop culture, where no fucks are given and their lives are filled with drugs, sex, and lots of violence. They do what they want, who they want, coming across as badasses in their patched vests and polished bikes. In this culture, being a 1%er means something else entirely. While only Pee-Wee Herman can calm the savage beasts, the rest of us cower in fear that they don't kick our asses in front of our girlfriends.
When I was covering the Image Comic Expo last summer, Tom Neely & Keegan Marshall Keller's announcement of The Humans had me intrigued. Monkeys and motorcycles? The only other time I saw that was in the movie Jumanji. Just the way they presented themselves onstage made them stand out from the rest of the writers and artists at the Expo; they looked like bikers. Their persona was one of "Is this over yet? Where's the drugs and alcohol?" They flipped-off the audience! Who does that?! Like a high school girl falling for the bad boy, I knew I had to read this comic.
Bakersfield, California. 1970. The local motorcycle gang known as The Humans rule the surrounding area with an iron, hairy fist. A mix of chimps, orangutans and gorillas, their leader Bobby is the one who calls all the shots. After the funeral of fallen brother Mojo, a rival gang called The Skabbs crash the ceremony and want to start some shit. It's as if a man in the back said "everyone attack!" and it turned into a ballroom blitz in the cemetery, with The Humans coming out as the victors. As they return to their compound, The Humans plan to party all night in memory of Mojo, but little do they know a familiar face from their past is about to reunite with them amidst all the partying.
Johnny, Bobby's younger brother and second in command, is back from the Vietnam War. He was presumed dead, so his return to Bakersfield and The Humans is quickly deemed another reason to celebrate. The only problem is, Johnny has witnessed firsthand the horrors of war, and is beginning to suffer from bad PTSD flashbacks. It's through Johnny that the reader plays catch-up with discovering who The Humans are, what drives them to do the things they do, and how they run their shady business ventures.
The world that Neely and Keller have created isn't all that different from our own, with the primary factor being that the comic stars apes rather than humans. In fact, there are several different gangs comprised of different species of apes throughout, keeping things interesting. When I interviewed the creators at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo last year, they told me certain subspecies of apes would occupy parts of the world they're native to. The Vietkong for instance are Doucs, a species of monkey that inhabits the Vietnamese jungles. That's part of the genius of The Humans—they really stick to the different species that inhabit the world and their unique characteristics, and Homo sapiens even get a role. It's not a particularly nice role, since we're pretty useless without Charlton Heston.
Neely's art, colored by the talented Kristina Collantes, really sets the gritty tone of the world. It's as if a 1970's filter was applied to the entire comic, with vibrant and colorful splashes emerging every time Johnny is having a flashback or another Human is having a drug trip. There's plenty of monkey nudity throughout as well, if you're into that sort of thing. Since primate anatomy is so similar to human anatomy, I can only assume Kim Kardashian would be a baboon if she was a part of this world. The action sequences are bombastic and wild, reminiscent of a great ballroom brawl with chains and knives. You almost forget that the main characters are apes, since we're so much alike in the first place. And if you though cockfights were brutal, wait until you witness a skinfight. It's not a pretty sight.
The first volume collects issues 1-4, as well as the ultra-rare zero issue. The zero issue takes place a year prior from the first issue, and gives a good idea of what kind of gang The Humans are. In the back are pin-ups by Collantes, Skinner, Johnny Ryan, Benjamin Marra, and Katie Skelly, character biographies, and amusing commentary by Humans member Karns (who is crazy as fuck). The first arc is your typical introduction to the characters and setting, with things looking to get even more insane from issue five onwards.
The Humans is everything you could possibly want from a biker gang comic book without having to actually join one (but you can pledge your body to The Humans for the low price of $6). Wildly offensive, hilarious as hell, and more action-packed than a Liam Neeson film, The Humans will drag your ass 120 MPH across the asphalt until there's nothing left, but you'll still be begging for more.