By 1993 I’d moved on from comics into the world of computer games magazines, but when I saw that ‘Jurassic Park‘ title with that tagline peering over the other comics on the shelves I was quick to grab it! Previously put off by the movie adaptation, here was the first official continuation of the movie’s storyline. But there was more! As I flicked through to get an idea of what it was about I noticed back up strips too. On first sight it felt like the Transformers comic I’d loved so much. I was sold and bought my first comic in over a year.
Of course this wasn’t to remain the official sequel for long. Just a few years later Michael Crichton would release his novel The Lost World and the subsequent film was based upon that. But the American Topps Comics was the first to do so and Dark Horse International published it here in a typical UK comic format, meaning they were chopped up into smaller parts and backed up with other strips following the central theme. To the uninitiated it might sound like this would drag a story out unnecessarily but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
UK readers were used to monthly stories from across the pond being split up in weekly or fortnightly comics out of necessity. This may have been a monthly too but it still felt completely normal, it was just how things worked over here. Also, the Topps stories were split into mini-series with an unspecified gap between each so editor Dick Hansom‘s decision also made sense. If the comic had kept to this format a four-issue mini-series in the States could’ve lasted a full year over here. If the publishers themselves hadn’t gone bankrupt we could’ve had multiple years of these.
The first thing this issue hits us with isn’t a comic strip but it still takes me right back. I may not have had a Sega Mega-CD (or any wish to own one) but I do remember the onslaught of new gaming consoles at the time, investing in the 3DO myself which I adored. My computer was the Commodore 64 but I loved reading up on the latest tech and the Jurassic Park game for the Mega-CD was completely different than all the others and looked like a proper adventure on the island. The constant hype for all these new machines was so exciting for me back then, like the future was arriving!
“That T-rex saved us from the ‘raptors! By the time we left Jurassic Park, I was almost — hell, I WAS in love with her!”Dr. Alan Grant
So let’s get started into our three strips. While Dark Horse’s Aliens had various stories within that universe to pull from, joining the eight pages of Aftershocks (our main strip) here is the return of Xenozoic Tales (at ten pages) and new back up Age of Reptiles (at 12 pages). Yes, our main strip is shorter than the others but cliffhangers in all three had to be carefully chosen. With a unique dinosaur theme throughout – movie sequel set in the present, one set in the far future and one set in the actual time of the dinosaurs – I never felt short changed and it never felt like anything other than a proper Jurassic Park title.
The story begins with a narrative caption simply stating, “Three days later” above the body of a furious Tyrannosaurs rex. Writer Steve Englehart (The Avengers, Doctor Strange and creator of Star-Lord) was given free rein to develop the movie story as he saw fit, picking up the story with Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Satler returning to Isla Nublar to supervise InGen‘s military-style cleanup operation. This already contradicts what came later (Hammond told us in The Lost World they’d been left alone) but let’s go with it as an alternative storyline.
We begin with that great double-page spread above, narrated by Alan as he watches the ‘rex destroy jeeps, tanks and anything else thrown at her. She’s furious with her prey but Alan’s inner thoughts are ones of love, of being grateful that she saved all their lives. Her very existence in the modern world is a miracle and , just like in the novel and the film, even though he and Ellie are frightened they’re equally in awe of her.
InGen want to regain control, contain the animals and begin scientific experiments on them in an attempt to make back some of the money they’ve lost. They don’t want to reopen the park. A new character called Dr. Fischer is the face of the corporation. He believes Ian Malcolm‘s predictions were coincidence rather than proof of Chaos Theory and he makes it clear he stands for advancing the scientific community, rather than science itself, putting him at odds with Alan.
There’s a hint in here too that the Velociraptors had managed to escape their enclosure earlier than we’d thought, because no eggs were found in there and we knew they were able to breed. This ties in with the book but not the film. In Michael Crichton‘s original story the ‘raptors were able to get in and out of their enclosure at will without the humans noticing. In fact, some had made it on to one of the boats for the mainland, which added more tension to Alan and the kids’ return to the Visitor Centre because they had to warn the boat before it docked. But in the film they clearly didn’t get out.
The art style is a world apart from what we had in the adaptation. Armando Gil (The ‘Nam, Savage Sword of Conan, The Punisher) brings a gritty, mature style to the art. His T-rex certainly looks the part, closely resembling the actual dinosaur and he really captures her size and power. Alongside Armando comes letterer John Costanza (Green Lantern, Batman, Ronin) and colourist and story editor Renée Witterstaetter (Silver Surfer, The Sensational She-Hulk, Jason Vs. Leatherface) whose subdued colours suit the wonderfully scratchy artwork perfectly. It’s a small slice of action but it’s a great start and thought provoking at the same time. I like InGen’s desperation and I like the fact Dr. Fischer believes he’s right, that what he’s doing is for the greater good. I hope it develops these threads.
Carrying on the theme of not learning from past mistakes comes the first backup strip, Xenozoic Tales in which our hero Jack Tenrec finds himself at odds with the council and his new friend Hannah Dundee. Both his and Hannah’s tribes want to stop his campaigns against their poaching. But Jack is standing firm, knowing he’s baring witness to humans going back down the very same path that led to the cataclysm in the first place. Creator, writer and artist Mark Schultz has been very clear from the first chapter this is a story about the dangers of human created climate change.
Benefactor is the seventh story in the series but only our third, something I went into more detail on last time. This could be because only some of the tales were published in colour, here by Christine Courtier. It ends with a cliffhanger for the first time and I remember who these strange creatures ended up being. Hannah had been sent to look for Jack after he had stormed off. Using her tracking skills, unaware the council man who accompanies her is intending to kill Jack, she catches a glimpse of his Cadillac shining in the hot afternoon sun but gets more than she bargained for as she approaches it. The back-stabbing and the politics, wrapped up in an adventure in a land populated by dinosaurs is unique and really fun to read.
When I scanned over this issue in the newsagent’s my eyes lit up when I saw the final strip. I know it’s a cliché and an exaggeration to say “it took my breath away” but you’ll get my point. Set in the Mesozoic period it follows a pack of Deinonycuses and a T-rex family as they do battle after one steals the meal of the other. Created and intricately drawn by Ricardo Delgado and beautifully coloured by James Sinclair it contains no narrative captions at all. Everything is told solidly in pictures only, without even any lettered sound effects.
Ricardo is an artist working in the movie and television industries, whose credits include everything from The Real Ghostbusters and WALL-E to Jurassic Park III, suitably enough. James’ credits have included Legends of The Dark Knight, Hellblazer and The Mask comics. Age of Reptiles was Ricardo’s first book in a series and hadn’t been released here yet when it became serialised in the pages of Jurassic Park, where it’s an even better fit than Xenozoic Tales for obvious reasons.
It tells an absorbing story through great art and wonderfully designed characters. The Deinonycuses kick things off by taking down their dinner, a giant Brontosaurus. Originally I thought these were Velociraptors until I read the catch up on the contents page of the next issue, although to be fair they are very closely related species. I love how each one has particular markings and by paying attention to such things we get to know each one over the next few months. How Ricardo imbued each one with individual personalities through markings, facial expressions and their movements is simply genius.
They begin to feast but are rudely interrupted when a giant T-rex jumps on top of their prize and roars at them to back off. But they aren’t giving up so easily and one leaps in to slice at the bigger beast. The strip was quite gruesome and violent for the time and, while there’s nothing to put off younger readers yet, it will build upon this as the story develops. But as I said it also had its lighter comedic moments, one of my favourites coming up right now. After the smaller dinosaur leaps and slices we turn over to be met with the page on the right below.
This still makes me laugh to this day. As the story develops we’d see an ever-increasing battle of revenge between these characters which would include some ferocious fights, some tender moments and one surprisingly heartbreaking scene. Don’t believe me? You’ll just have to wait and see. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a thrill to be reading Age of Reptiles again after so long. The collected books go for silly prices online these days so I’m happy to wait and play the slow game with this serialisation. Worth the price of admission alone!
To finish off here’s a look at the advertisement on the back cover for the Jurassic Park videogame which was being released on a variety of platforms. It’s the tagline I love the most here. This was around the time Street Fighter II was everywhere. (It would even be a comic advertised in these pages soon enough!) But forget that game, because “when the street just ain’t tough enough… go play in the park”. A brilliant piece of competitive marketing for the time!
I remember playing the Nintendo Game Boy version. Even though it didn’t follow the plot of the film at all and had Alan Grant out in the park collecting all the eggs with a gun, firing tranquillisers at all the dinosaurs as if they were all out to eat him, it was still a really fun game to play. Especially at night when I was meant to be asleep for school the next day, having to play it using that heavy, cumbersome light attachment on the supposedly handheld console.
This was a brilliant start to my Jurassic Park comics journey. Surely here was a title that I could collect without fear of it being prematurely cancelled? How could a comic based on the hottest thing on the planet be anything other than a runaway success for years and years? Well, if the comic had kept to this format and continued until the end of the US strips, those 19 American issues would’ve spanned a whopping 57 British editions over nearly five years! The next one is #7 and its review will be up on the blog on Tuesday 28th December 2021.