Midway through Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens this weekend, there is a nice little moment when teenage human Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) sits down and reads the book he’s been carrying around all movie to the orangutan Maurice. The scene, which you can watch below, is a minor yet compelling bit of warmth that cuts through the film’s tension. So, what is this book that bonds these noble primates?
Dark yet strangely beautiful, Charles Burns’s award-winning Black Hole was told over the course of 12 issues, between 1995 and 2005. It tells the story of a suburban Seattle high school in the 1970s in which students contract an STD called “the bug” or the “teen plague,” which results in grotesque body mutations (horns, tales, snakelike scales, etc.), turning some into monsters of a sort. Eventually, this disease infects many kids, and they decide to flee and build a camp in the woods for the similarly plagued.
There are some obvious parallels here to the camp the apes create in Muir Woods, but it also goes beyond that. Black Hole at its core is a story about adolescence and the changes we go through when becoming adults — a primal experience that both Alexander and Maurice can connect to. Maurice, who has acquired an intelligence and self-awareness new to his species, is not in such a different place from Alexander, who’s at the point in life where he’s desperately trying to figure out how to be a man. Neither are grotesque monsters, like the teens in the book, but you can imagine part of them thinks they are, because at minimum they, like the teens, are outsiders.