JURASSiC PARK #4: BACK UP SYSTEMS

With issue four the UK version of Jurassic Park was evolving. In the midst of all the hype surrounding the film, Dark Horse International’s monthly was proving a hit. As such, changes were afoot over the next few issues to bring it more in line with the company’s other comics, and to ensure it would be around for a long time to come after proving itself with its initial editions.

The front page doesn’t reuse one of the American covers, instead recolouring a panel from the strip inside (and I love the font they’ve used). The reason was simple. Despite #3‘s checklist stating this would be the final chapter of the adaptation it’s being split in two, so the original cover was being kept in reserve for the following month. This split was to make way for Xenozoic Tales, the first back up strip which I’ll get to later. This was a familiar concept across British action adventure comics (in everything from Transformers to The Punisher) but Jurassic would go even further as you’ll see in #6.

The sequence in the tree with Tim trapped in the Explorer has been completely excised!

Check out this month’s comics checklist and you might get an idea of what’s to come, but for now we’ll concentrate on the issue at hand, which begins with a competition for The Making of Jurassic Park. I actually bought this book at the time and it was a heavy tome, full of details on the making of the film and stands up today as one of the very best of its kind for any movie. You’ll also see an advert for Manga Mania, which fed off the new craze to hit these shores. Ultimately it’d also be a very important title for Jurassic Park fans. But that’s a story for another time.

Our freshly chopped final chapter is still a lengthy 16 pages so regular readers wouldn’t have felt short changed, at least with the page count. Unfortunately, the actual strip itself is another thing. Yes, this is the first time in the comic’s young life when I’ve been left disappointed.

Last month the Tyrannosaurus rex attack was perfectly handled with plenty of tension building and atmosphere so I was looking forward to seeing how the final act would begin. The opening is great, with Mrs Rex towering above Dr. Alan Grant and Lex, both trying to keep completely still.

It’s all going so well until those final couple of panels. The sequence in the tree with Tim trapped in the Explorer has been completely excised! So it plummets to the ground instead and then he’s just unbelievably pulled out and off they go. Alan even has a map at hand to make their trip back to the Visitor’s Centre quicker which is a rather cheeky shortcut. In previous issues scenes had been moved about, moments edited, others added to, all in order to properly adapt the film to the comic page and I’ve been really positive about it. But all throughout this issue huge swathes of story are just missing or reduced to a shadow of their former selves.

Case in point is the fatal encounter between Denis Nedry and the Dilophosaurus. The movie scene included plenty of misdirection and humour, putting the audience at ease before the shock, and that wouldn’t have been easy to translate here but they could have tried. Instead this very famous scene only gets two pages. It’s a very basic sequence now; the dinosaur may as well be a lion. Denis gets attacked as soon as he steps out of the vehicle, he jumps back in and we actually see the Dilophosaurus jump in after him (ruining the final moments of the original) and… well, that’s it.

This truncating happens to basically every major moment, whether it’s the nighttime meeting with the Brachiosaurs, rescuing Dr. Ian Malcolm after the T-rex attack, even the electric fence scene (as you’ll see below) and Robert Muldoon‘s stalking of a Velociraptor. Each are reduced to fit on a page or two and basically follow a set pattern of only showing the first and last moments of the scene and erasing everything else, including almost all the humour.


“Think they’ll have that on the tour?”

Dr. Ian Malcolm

Right back at the beginning of this adaptation I stated how I didn’t usually like comic versions of films and this was the reason why. But up to this point Jurassic Park had been the exception to the rule, with a proper restructuring of the film to suit the format and it was working a treat as a comic in its own right. Maybe if they’d had five chapters instead of four it would’ve worked out differently, but then again maybe the pacing could’ve been plotted out better by writer Walter Simonson and story editor Jim Salicrup. Yes, having all the dino action in the final chapter would, in theory, make for a big climax but there’s just too much to fit in.

The result is a clichéd comics adaptation where it feels more like a way for people to reminisce about the movie they saw in the cinema months previous, rather than working as a good comic book. If I sound overly critical it’s only because the team had been doing such an amazing job so far, even adding in extra dialogue from either the original novel or earlier drafts of the script. So it’s more disappointment than simple negativity.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still things to enjoy here. It’s all on a lovely high quality gloss paper stock this month, some of the best lines from the film are still intact and the art in the first half here is top notch. However, in the second half even legendary artists Gil Kane‘s pencils and George Perez‘s inks start to feel a little rushed and Tom Smith‘s colours feel unfinished and flat, leading me to believe they were working very close to the deadline of getting the original US series out in time for the movie.

The chapter is cut off with a superb cliffhanger though. The view of a Velociraptor‘s feet as it chases Dr. Ellie Sattler is just as unnerving as it was in the film. It’s a shame then the terrifying Velociraptors, when viewed in full, are reduced to looking like miniature T-rexes. Below is this final scene with its positives and negatives, alongside that fence scene with the dramatic resuscitation of Tim also taken out.

I also noticed Ray didn’t volunteer to go to the maintenance shed as he did in the original story, where he met his grisly end. Instead Muldoon and Ellie head off while Ray looks on silently. This means he’s still alive, a big departure from the film. It’ll be interesting to see how that effects the rest of the story next month.

With 16 pages to the main strip I assume there’ll be roughly 12 or 13 next month unless the final chapter was given a few more pages in the original American Topps Comics publication of course. Either way there’s a lot of the film left to cover in half a chapter. The kids and Alan are still out in the park which means their return, the kitchen scenes, the chaos of the Velociraptors in the Visitor’s Centre and the heart-stopping climax are all to come.

I’ll still hold out hope things can be turned around because so far it feels like spending 90 minutes being completely engrossed in a film only for its ending to let you down. Which of course is not what happened with Jurassic Park! For now, the sun sets on the adaptation as we move on to something else entirely.

In the early days of Marvel UK‘s Transformers its back up strips were in some way related to the robotic theme, such as Machine Man or Iron Man. It wasn’t long before it became a way of bringing some of Marvel’s other US characters to these shores for the first time instead, but Jurassic Park kept its strips dinosaur-themed, much to the delight of the teenage version of me. The second back up would appear in my first issue (#6) but here readers were introduced to Mark Shultz‘s Xenozoic Tales.

Later adapted into a cartoon TV series called ‘Cadillacs & Dinosaurs’ it was an independent, alternative title Mark wrote and drew himself, running for 14 issues irregularly released between 1987 and 1996. Originally in black and white the strips in Jurassic Park are taken from the coloured reprints released by Marvel‘s imprint Epic Comics in 1990 and coloured by Denise Prowell. This issue’s complete story was the first one written by Mark and what an introduction to something brand new this first page was.

Set in the 26th century global warming has resulted in sea levels across the globe forcing humans to initially build underground. After 600 years they’ve reemerged to find their cities flooded, technology virtually non-existent and strangest of all the world is populated by dinosaurs once more. Anyone capable of mechanical work is seen as invaluable and this is where Jack Tenrec comes in, a car mechanic with a penchant for Cadillacs. Thanks to these skills he acts as an unofficial head of security and advisor to his tribe’s leaders and lives on an outcrop (formerly high hills) not far across the water from An Archipelago of Stone, the home of the tribe and in reality the remains of New York City.

I love that first page, cleverly written from the point of view of a Pterodactyl. In the story a neighbouring tribe’s ambassador, Hannah Dundee arrives at the City in the Sea and a team of poachers who had stolen from her Wassoon Tribe want her dead. It’s up to Jack and his men to stop them. All the way through this strip, knowing he’s about to get in way over his head, Tenrec keeps telling his men to send someone called Hermes to help. Then, just as it seems he’s doomed a surprise arrival bursts in. That’s Hermes!

Well I certainly didn’t expect that. Hermes the Allosaurus disposes of the villain, munching on his head and throwing him out the window, before Tenrec thanks him, revealing who this is. That doesn’t mean he’s a pet of course and the usually cool and collected Jack knows it.

It’s brilliant stuff. Original, fun and surprising, introducing the main protagonists, the unique setting and the cast of regular and semi-regular guest characters all in 12 pages while maintaining an interesting story and racking up tension is rather a phenomenal feat. No wonder Xenozoic Tales is so highly regarded even to this day. It may at first seem like a strange choice for Jurassic Park’s back up but it works perfectly and as a teen I remember being engrossed with the slowly developing back story that would become more apparent in later issues.

In between the two strips is this month’s look into the making of the movie, covering the famous disaster that hit Hawaii and the relief efforts the producers helped coordinate, plus the building of sets and the end of principal photography. At the very end of the feature is the teeny tiny box with the date of the next issue including a little tease that things were afoot for the future of the comic.

Thankfully they didn’t say “great news for all readers” or we’d have got the wrong idea. With these couple of pages, a long main strip and a back up it really does feel more like the kinds of UK comics we were accustomed to at the time. I may have enjoyed the extras more than the adaptation this time but I know from memory that what’s to come from Jurassic Park made this one of my very favourite comics growing up. So stay tuned for some terrific stuff from Isla Nublar, as well as from the far future and soon the distant past!

The fifth issue and the conclusion of the movie storyline will be stomping its way on to the blog on Tuesday 26th October.

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