JURASSiC PARK #7: ON THE HUNT

The Christmas festivities may still be upon us but you wouldn’t know it from the latest edition of Dark Horse International‘s Jurassic Park from 1993. Released just three days after Christmas Day itself there’s not a hint of snow or any festive wishes for its readers, but then again there never were any personal touches to the Dark Horse comics, no editorials or the like. The cover is really special though and the first by Michael Golden to feature on the UK title. I love its mix of the natural and technological (the computer circuits in the background), perfectly summing up the world of Jurassic Park in a gorgeous and eye-catching piece of art.

What it does have are the next chapters in its three fantastic strips and a competition that takes me right back to late nights in bed exploring Isla Nublar on a tiny little electronic screen. It’s another phone-in and states it’s been made particularly easy for all to enter, then goes and continues its tradition of misspelling the island name! But let’s not fuss, the screenshots here may not look like much compared to today’s games but this was such fun to play and kept me awake far past lights out on many a school night.

In the second part of the first official follow-up to the film, as InGen attempt to recapture all the dinosaurs they ignore Dr Alan Grant‘s warnings that there are more Velociraptors out in the wild, so Alan and Dr Ellie Satler decide to take things into their own hands. They head for the other side of the island, scientific reasoning given for every step they take in tracking the animals. They end up on a beach searching caves and in the background a little boat putt-putts along the coast in some scenic panels by penciller Armando Gill and inker Dell Barras (Samsona, Conan the Barbarian, Batman) who criminally wasn’t mentioned in the previous issue’s credits. This is a shame because his deep blacks and line work bring a real sense of action amid a gritty, realistic atmosphere.

There are some nice references to the other surviving characters from the film and where they are now, all of which track with the as yet unwritten sequels, before a new character literally pops up, having come from that small boat I mentioned. After The Lost World this new addition of big game hunter George Lawala may not seem that original, but remember this was out just a few months after the first film. Amongst the dark caves colourist (and story editor) Renée Witterstaetter gives his entrance a burst of surprising colour, matching the sudden change of pace.

He instantly recognises the duo as a threat to his income, resulting in a chase deeper into the cave. He picked this particular cave because of its cover, easy access and the fact it’s far from the humans on the island, unaware of what could be living within. Alan and Ellie are fully aware (in fact they’d already deduced this was the perfect spot) but have no choice but to run further inside. The chase is rather exciting, the deep colours and camera angels drawing us in until we turn the page and both us and the characters are confronted with the ‘raptors.

George will be key in developing the story further and, eventually, in getting us off the island for the first time in the franchise. For now though this is our cliffhanger for another month after a dramatic, beautifully drawn eight-page adventure. Again, the Jurassic Park strip has the least pages of the three stories but it doesn’t feel like that while reading, and where it’s been cut into parts by editor Dick Hansom we’ve ended up with two opening chapters that feel very different from each other (even though they were part of the same issue in the States), as if it was written for this format.

Mark Schultz‘s Xenozoic Tales is next up and it’s the second half of the story from last time. The mysterious lizard people that appeared to be kidnapping Hannah Dundee are revealed to be The Grith, a race of people who work with the Earth to grow both their own health and that of the planet. Despite correctly seeing humans as fighting against the Earth and even after everything they caused, Jack Tenrec was able to befriend them, communicating through a system of ancient tiles, the meaning of which have been lost to time. They might seem familiar to the reader though.

They appear to be a peaceful race but as you’ll see from the end of this chapter they’re quite capable of defending themselves, their friends and the Earth from any danger. The fact they can use the Scrabble tiles (a funny touch to the story) might be because they’re descended from ancient humans, or from other creatures that were around at that time, or maybe there’s some other, simpler reason behind how they can communicate this way. They’re also so in tune with the planet they’re able to predict an earthquake about to hit a cliffside farming community, so Jack and Hannah set off to save them.

Their journey takes them through deep caverns and past a huge, sleeping lizard monster. They must sneak past or be devoured! But the beast wakes up, sees our heroes and simply goes back to sleep, completely disinterested. I love these little moments in Xenozoic Tales that run contrary to our expectations. The stories are full of them. Funny moments also include The Grith making gestures with their bodies and Jack explaining how difficult it has been to communicate with them, priding himself on the use of the tiles. But of course, Hannah is able to decipher their body language easily, completely stealing Jack’s thunder.

For some reason The Grith trust Hannah. They can foretell she’ll help them, so her protestations and claims she’ll report all of this to the council back in the city fall on Jack’s deaf ears; he knows once The Grith have decided to trust her that’s it. It makes for more crackling dialogue between the pair. But just before things can be wrapped up with a neat bow and a happy ending, we get a glimpse into the darker side of these new additions to the story.

This feels like it’s building on the way the Velociraptors communicated in Jurassic Park

Gorgostamos, a man who had pretended to help Hannah find Jack last issue (as a trap to kill both her and Tenrec) comes face to face with at least one of them, and when we return to him all we see are these rather grisly final panels below. Was this to defend our heroes? Was there no other way? Or are The Grith more capable of violence than Jack thinks?

Jurassic Park would only print a selection of Mark’s strips because most were in black and white and this was a full-colour publication. I do hope we don’t miss out on any of the answers this intriguing strip continues to raise every month.

Finally it’s time to return to the Cretaceous era and Ricardo Delgado‘s sublime Age of Reptiles. Last time a huge Tyrannosaurus rex stole the newly killed dinner of a pack of Deinonycuses, killing one of them in the process in what was actually a very funny moment. This issue kicks off with them returning to their nest and communicating via sound and body movements what had just happened. Even though it was created before the movie was released, this feels like it’s building on the way the Velociraptors communicated in Jurassic Park. It’s clear they’re now out for revenge.

But first we get a few pages of the T-rex simply making his way back home, through forests and across large expanses of water. The art here is gorgeous and I find myself taking more time to ‘read’ this strip than either of the others. I just want to take in all the details, not only in the characterisations on the faces and bodies of the animals (which really do tell the story) but in the backgrounds too. Just look at this page below and you’ll see what I mean. Taking up a full page with these two panels of him simply walking home could be seen as dragging out the scene if it weren’t for Ricardo’s art, which demands this kind of space.

As you drink in these pages it also deliberately slows down the story. Ricardo is a master of pacing. You simply can’t rush through this, and if you did you’d be losing out. Just because there’s not one single written word, no captions, no sound effects screaming off the page, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to this in terms of characterisation, drama and scene building, and it only gets more intense as the months go on.

It’s so unfortunate the comic wouldn’t keep to this format for very long but we’ll get to that next year.

When he returns to his nest we see his family waiting. He lovingly rubs heads with the female looking after their eggs, while the other looks on a bit jealously, although we do find out she is the mother of the adolescent rex, who is currently learning to hunt by chasing a small creature about the rocks and trees. I felt transported back to this time and involved in the natural lives of dinosaurs like no prose story or documentary before it.

Subsequent Jurassic Park/World movies have built upon the original’s emphasis on dinosaurs just being animals, not the monsters of older films and books. Age of Reptiles does a great job of this too, and moments like the one below remind me of the Tyrannosaur family from The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

This instalment ends with the Deinonychuses sneaking into the nest at night and stealing all of those eggs, but the adolescent awakes and raises the alarm. Giving chase, our male closes in on them as they dart through the forest, but eventually the smaller, more agile dinos leap across a chasm and escape, the T-rex left roaring into the night. I remember roughly how this develops and it’s well worth sticking around for! Brilliant, beautiful stuff.

What a superb issue! The three strips come together to create a whole that’s hugely entertaining yet again. Yes, they may be cut down every month and as previously explained this wasn’t technically necessary, but with the three of them side-by-side like this they never felt like anything but three complete strips every issue. It’s so unfortunate that it wouldn’t keep to this format for very long but we’ll get to that next year. Before we go though, a quick look at the adverts within its pages, including news of a new magazine from Dark Horse which sounded awful to me as a kid.

I loved my computer games magazines (in particular Commodore Format and GamesMaster) but the idea of something like that with lots of comic strips in it felt like a gimmick. Although I wasn’t sure if the gimmick was comic strips in a gaming magazine, or gaming features in a comic; it sounded confused. Elsewhere, a chain of comic shops uses a painfully strenuous link to the comic to justify its advert, and a comics and sci-fi merchandise shop I’ve never heard of takes the inside back cover. It’s rather quaint seeing these now, what with comic shops being so much more prevalent today, but back then mail order was much more necessary.

So as far as Jurassic Park‘s stories go and where they’ve left us this month, it appears there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022. Or should I say 1994. The new year of dinosaur action kicks off on Tuesday 25th January.

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