Another issue of Dark Horse International’s UK version of Jurassic Park hit shelves 28 years ago today with a slight redesign to the cover, an even split inside once again and a few extra pages, although not quite the number it had before. Michael Golden’s cover is framed this time and the text is reduced, resulting in us being able to see more of his excellent art. Such a shame the best cover art of the series wasn’t given this treatment last month, eh?

The monthly comic had always totalled 36 pages but last month this plummeted to 28. There are 32 here so it’s slowly returning to its previous size and it’s made up of 16 outer pages made of a higher quality grade of paper, with the inner 16 the usual matt. Just like last month the Jurassic Park strip and the Age of Reptiles back up are given the same amount of room to breath, so with the increase in pages that’s 14 a pop. A nice chunky read this month and it’s a corker.

Steve Englehart’s official sequel to the first movie continues with the first part of Rush!, however on the contents page it’s listed as ‘Raptors Attack: Part One’, the name of the four-issue mini-series in the US, the first story of which was Rush. A strange decision by editor Dick Hansom, particularly when it’s not explained and at the time, without the aid of the internet to look such things up, I assumed the comic was making up a name on the contents page but didn’t know why.

But that’s not important. What is, is that this sees the first steps in a story which may seem somewhat familiar to fans of later instalments in the movie series decades later. Doctors Ellie Satler and Alan Grant wake up after supposedly having blacked out when their plane crashed (we’re told the jungle was so thick it slowed their fall just enough) and find themselves guests of a man named Raphael in the middle of Colombia. But it’s not just our human characters he has taken in.

We find out Raphael is known as the “Columbian Criminal” by US politicians, although he says he’s innocent because the drug trade would continue whether or not he was in charge, he just profits. He comes across as a charming individual, but his isolation in the middle of the jungle, hiding from authorities while maintaining his empire, has made him somewhat paranoid. He believes the crash has delivered the perfect solution. Knowing all about Hammond’s island thanks to his links in the corrupt government, he’s going to train the Velociraptors to be his guard dogs to protect those profits.

As you can see above the dinosaurs aren’t happy about this at all. Caged up with electronic collars, the ferocity of the animals trying to get at our heroes through the toughened glass is perfectly captured by penciller Armando Gill, inker Fred Carillo and colourist Renée Witterstaetter (who, as always, is also Story Editor), with John Costanza’s letters working a treat at conveying the sound of their fury. Only two ‘raptors are being trained so far though, the third is being kept separate and still recovering from its injuries, only alive thanks to Ellie’s intervention last issue.

While the American government continues to track their plane, the doctors try to convince Raphael what he’s attempting is impossible, but he uses humankind’s taming of wolves as an example to prove them wrong. Raphael even tells Ellie, while she tends to the wounds of the injured ‘raptor, that if it is indeed impossible he’ll have no more need of her and Alan. They’ve no choice but to help. Above you can see his first attempt at control while Alan and Ellie watch on helplessly.

This continues for a few pages and the reader actually begins to feel sorry for the ‘raptors as they continue to disobey, trying to escape, their anger at Raphael clear in their eyes, as they get electrically shocked again and again. Alan and Ellie beg him to stop but it falls on deaf ears. He’s completely crazed and doesn’t understand why they’d wish to protect animals who would tear them apart given half the chance. Eventually they tire, looking beaten, completely defeated. But they’re faking it to stop the pain, regaining their strength for one final attempt at attack.

The artwork has definitely gone up a notch

Things conclude for now when our heroes’ protests become too much for Raphael and, combined with his annoyance at the dinosaurs’ disobedience, he orders them to go and tend to his new pets. A ‘raptor in a cage weakened from a shotgun wound is one thing, but being thrown into another with these two is something else! This is the cliffhanger for this issue and I can’t remember what happens next, so the dread is likely reminiscent of that I felt back in 1994 when I also had to wait a month for the answer!

While it’s the same creative team behind Rush! as we had for Dark Cargo, the artwork has definitely gone up a notch. The dinosaurs in particular look how they’re supposed to again and the story was incredibly exciting as a teenager. Remember, this was a few years before The Lost World: Jurassic Park so we hadn’t seen anything like this yet, we’d only seen these creatures on the island, nowhere else.

If you were to read this issue and the following chapters (from what I remember of them) for the first time now the impact may be somewhat diluted after the five movies that have followed, but I’m still just as thrilled as I was back then because that’s how I instantly feel when I open each issue, like it’s 1994 all over again. Back then this was the only sequel and it was developing the original movie’s plot in ways I’d never imagined.

It feels epic yet it’s ultimately just a tale of two dinosaur packs so we’ve got to know the individuals involved

Moving on to the second half of the issue and it’s hard to believe we’ve only had seven parts to the simply brilliant Age of Reptiles, superbly written and intricately illustrated by Ricardo Delgado with the bright and vibrant colouring of James Sinclair. The connection I feel I have with these silent comic stars makes it feel like I’ve been enjoying the strip for a lot longer. It just feels so epic yet it’s ultimately a small tale of two packs of dinosaurs so we’ve got to know the individuals involved, each one standing out with their body language or distinct markings.

We begin with the Deinonychuses walking alongside a huge Ultrasaurus. Initially we think they’re maybe just heading in the same direction, or using the huge beast as cover, but then she begins to tire and eventually collapses, dead from a series of smaller wounds inflicted on her by the pack. But in a moment that shows the brilliance and the humour of Delgado, they realise they’re not alone for this potential feast, above.

Regular readers of the blog may recognise some of the characters below, although I must say I’m a little disappointed they’re only in this for a page or two and that’s it. Being named in #9’s ‘Cast of Characters’ I was looking forward to their introduction, especially Hades, our red Carnotaurus friend there, but they’re no sooner introduced when the story moves on. But their presence is important. As a result, all but one of the Deinonychuses want to make a run for it, as you can see in the funny series of panels below. This is what I meant by how Ricardo is so good at character through body language.

Surprisingly, while we’re led to believe Hades and his team’s arrival would lead to a fight over the food, instead a battle takes place between Dark Eye, the current Deinonychus leader who listens to the worry of the pack members and leads them away to fight another day (in the photo above see the bottom panel, dino on the right), and Quetzal who wishes to stay and claim their prize (they’re the angry looking one).

There’s a bit of back and forth, then the rest desert Quetzal to fight for the food alone, but she leaps on top of Dark Eye and next thing we’re underneath a huge skeleton in the barren landscape for a leadership battle.

A gorgeous, epic spread. This continues for another page or two and at one point they rush each other, claws bared as they pass and we see blood fill the frame. But whose was it? In the end, in a shock twist, Dark Eye is the one to fall, leaving Quetzal to assume control.

I loved the suspense here (played out over more space than I can show you) and was genuinely surprised when, panel by panel, I saw it was Dark Eye who had lost. I was even more surprised to see the amount of blood and too know they’d actually been killed.

Age of Reptiles isn’t a strip for those who like to rush through their comics, this is for people like myself who really take their time, savouring every little detail in each panel before moving on to the next. Especially since this strip contains absolutely no words at all, changing scenes, times of day and handling transitions all through visual queues. There are so many little details that come together to tell this story, you’ll spend just as long with it as you would with a wordy strip from any modern comic.

So what could this turn of events mean for the pack in their war against the Tyrannosaurus rex families? With their new, dangerous leader at the front the final page of this penultimate chapter sets a moody scene as they return to their nest where one of the rex females had previously killed so many of them. On the one hand it’s disappointing to know there’s only one more part of this wonderful story to go, but on the other it’s the moment it’s all been building to. I’m so glad my memory has failed me and I can’t remember how it ends because I’m (probably… again my memory!) as excited as I was back then. I can’t wait to see the conclusion.

A consistently great title, Jurassic Park has evolved and changed over the past year. My favourite format was definitely when we had three strips consisting of the film sequel, the strip set in the age of the dinosaurs and the sci-fi futuristic strip with added dinosaurs. But from memory the rest of the comic’s run would be two strips, with just the one back up, like this and last month’s issues. That’s not to say there are no more changes afoot, however. For now though, there’s another month’s wait ahead until I find out how these cliffhangers revolve themselves. Issue 13’s review will be up from Thursday 4th August 2022.

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