Another exciting cover from Michael Golden, right? Shame it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s inside. In fact, Drs Ellie Satler and Alan Grant don’t even see the Velociraptors, none of our regular human characters do, so this is a somewhat misleading choice by editor Dick Hansom to pull readers in. That’s not to say the strip isn’t entertaining, it’s just not Ellie-holding-on-for-dear-life entertaining!
After last issue’s ‘Animals/Men’ story comes Animals/Gods!, as ever written by official sequel scribe Steve Englehart with the same art team as last time I’m very happy to say; Chaz Truog is on pencils, Paul Fricke is inking, letters are by John Costanza with Renée Witterstaetter bringing it all to colourful life as well as being story editor.
We have two completely separate stories happening here, our people becoming reunited while the ‘raptors enjoy life as wild animals again. Things kick off with the dinosaurs hunting down a cheetah. Naturally the big, powerful cat comes off the worst against these new predators but it’s still a thrilling chase. We get four pages of Alf, Betty and Celia living free, ending with them relaxing as they finish off their meal, have a roll about in the sun and simply enjoying time together as a family unit without us humans ruining everything.
They really are the stars this issue, but when we come back Alf starts to become ill, sneezes and collapses. During the human half of the story we find out there’s been a severe flu virus going around and both Alan and Robert Muldoon have come down with it. As Ian Malcom suggests, the Velociraptors aren’t predictable, they aren’t simple free animals (despite the animals thinking this themselves). Interacting with humans, something dinosaurs were never meant to do, will change them.
Ian’s scenes are the most interesting in the other half of the story. I still take issue with Muldoon having survived and his explanation just doesn’t make any sense, completely contradicting what we saw with our own eyes in the film! It’s also rather insulting for the reader to see him up and about perfectly fine, yet have Ian tells us he was laid up in hospital for months on end with his injuries, and he didn’t have a raptor’s jaw squeeze his skull! Anyway, we have to live with this for now and we find out Muldoon knew big game hunter George Lawala, the man whose work started this whole mess back in #7.
What I do enjoy though is any chance Ian Malcolm gets to talk Chaos Theory. If you haven’t read Michael Crichton’s original novel I highly recommend it for the pages and pages of monologues we get from Ian describing the intricacies of Chaos and his predictions for the park. It’s fascinating stuff. The movie did a great job of distilling these into short little scenes to get the essence across and here we get something of a cross between the two extremes. It’s clear Steve has gone back to the original source material when writing this.
That’s basically the entirety of the human story this time, to give some context to the story of the ‘raptors, the latter of which takes up a whopping 19 of the 27 pages of Jurassic Park strip. As I said, they really are the stars this time. We catch up with them as a local indigenous tribe watches these unknown animals succumb to their illness from a safe distance, believing them to be their gods taken animal form. Celia realises they’re being watched and attacks but despite the anger in her eyes she’s too weak to take them all on.
She finds a sacrificed animal and tries to drag it to her siblings but struggles to do so and collapses. We get a few pages of the tribe gathering around their gods, feeding them elixirs, bringing idols or worship, generally looking after them and taking part in religious chants to impart strength. A long time passes and slowly they return to full strength. The tribe gather tentatively but it doesn’t quite go as they’d thought.
Everyone is slaughtered, but not eaten. Humans are now the enemy after what they did to them in the park. It’s as simple as that. The chapter concludes with the Velociraptors disappearing off into the jungle once more, one simple caption underneath: ‘It’s good to be free and wild again…’
While I do enjoy seeing the ‘raptors portrayed in this way I have to say this is probably the weakest of the strips so far. Not enough happens. The main bulk of the story could’ve been told in a fraction of the pages without losing any of its excitement and the human half is simply a (albeit good) speech by Ian and that’s about it. It feels like a stop-gap, like the comic was taking a beat while it puts the pieces into place for the next story. Transformers would sometimes do this for example and you’d know what it was up to. But there’s one key difference here, the next issue is the last!
At the end of the strip is the line, ‘Next: The Thrilling Climax!’. As a teen I just thought it meant the end of this particular story before the next one kicked off, so this issue’s breather felt like it was gearing up for an awesome finale next time that would lead on to further adventures. However, with hindsight,I now know this meant the end of the comic. But only for UK readers, which I’ll get into next time.
While not designed as the penultimate story, it was for us and in this regard it’s lacking. Previous back up strip Age of Reptiles told a better story in a fraction of the pages in any one issue, which is a hard thing for me to say because I’ve been such a fan of the main strip up until the moment they brought back Muldoon, and now it feels like it’s padding itself out, treading water. Maybe it’ll make sense next month and read better as a result, but as it stands this was a fun strip but not worth the 26 pages it took to tell it and would’ve worked much better as a shorter, additional back up.
Moving on and after an advert for the soon-to-be-relaunched Manga Mania (now that the new publisher had gotten their hands into it properly) we move on to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Xenozoic Tales by another name. History Lesson is one of those rare things, a quite lengthy story by creator Mark Shultz (coloured for Jurassic Park by Christine Courtier), lengthy enough for it to be split into two parts over these final two issues. Taken from #4 of Mark’s original comic it takes place before some of the strips featured already, which is another strange choice by the UK editor.
In fact this picks up directly from the story in #7 and didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time. It made it seem like they’d had all these other adventures before realising Gorgostamos was missing. I now know better but in the days before having the internet to research it just felt off. Obviously it wasn’t Mark’s fault. What is also not his fault is the fact nothing much of consequence happens here either. Perhaps when both halves are read altogether the story will be much more interesting, but it’s cut off here before it gets going.
After finding Gorgostamos’ remains Tenrec and Hannah debate whether the Grith killed him in order to save them, and Hannah once again wants to know more (remember, this happened long before last month’s story). Tenrec tells her of catacombs underneath the city where a library has been found, guarded by keepers of knowledge who don’t want outsiders let in. They fear that with knowledge of how to rebuild humans will just cause another cataclysm. Hannah insists on seeing it and the ten pages are about Tenrec meeting with allies to get them inside. Then, just as they do get in the story frustratingly stops for now.
The only really exciting part is the caption beneath the final panel! As a teen I looked forward to finding out the mystery once and for all but now, knowing the previous strips were actually later chapters in the story and the mystery wasn’t solved in them, I don’t think we’re going to get as many answers as this suggests, which actually makes me all the more intrigued as to what the caption means. If it gives at least a hint of what actually happened (or maybe the answer without the characters knowing) then at least that would explain why it was used as the final story for the comic.
I may have been none the wiser but it’s clear the new MangaPublishing knew the end was nigh, even if they were still offering subscriptions on the contents page. It’s sad to think this real time read through is almost over. This is the first issue I’ve been disappointed with as a whole, but 15 issues in that’s not bad at all. It feels like no time since I was reviewing that very first issue and thinking back the comic has changed a lot in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s hope for a spectacular send off. Well, a send off for the time being anyway. I’ll elaborate in #16’s review on Thursday 3rd November 2022.
When editor Barrie Tomlinson gave us the bad news that #6 of Fleetway‘s Ring Raiders was to be the last, he told us they hoped to produce a special the following year to finish off all the stories frustratingly left on cliffhangers. Given how comic specials usually appeared in April or May, and the fact I didn’t know it’d even been confirmed yet, you can imagine my surprise when my parents came back from the shops with this some time in February of 1990. With its gorgeous Ian Kennedy cover and a hefty weight to it, I immediately ran to my room where all my planes and bases could be found.
Also in my room were my comics and after giving the special a quick flick through and seeing glimpses of exciting aerial action I decided to spend the whole day with these characters and read through all of the previous issues, every single story, including the ones that had already finished, before settling down for the mammoth 64-page feast of an issue. The regular comic was 24 pages so this felt like a real treat! Especially when we got not one, but two covers from Ian.
Was #7 meant to be the start of the comic recolouring the logo each issue? Or was it just for this special? Who knows? But clearly Ian had finished the next two covers and I think this inner page (possibly #8) is just beautiful, evocative of the Commando covers he was so well known for, but with a modern (for the time) splash of colour on the Corsair. Wonderful. You’ll have to excuse the state of the pages though. This is my original comic and it was read so many times back then, devoured over and over. The creases and tears tell a story though, of a comic I couldn’t get enough of as a kid.
I really enjoyed reading through the fortnightly and was meant to cover this several months ago but had forgotten I’d let a friend borrow it (and the Super Naturals Adventure Book) and she’s not someone I see too often. But here we are at last. I’ve been looking forward to this. As you can see we kick things off with Operation Chill as colourfully brought to life by Carlos Pino, which only began in the final issue. When a cruise ship carrying a talented bunch of school kids crashed at its destination port with no one on board Wing Commander Max Miles and his Freedom Wing were dispatched to track them down.
His wing ended up over chilly Arctic waters being fired upon from an unknown source, with only giant icebergs beneath them. On the first page of this issue’s strip you can see gun ports in one of them and it’s on this that our ejected pilot Frank Turner finds himself. Another character named by the comic, Frank is soon set upon by Skull Squadron goons but he’s not as unarmed as it would seem, using another of the miniature gadgets the comic invented for the rings.
The iceberg is also on the move! At this point, as a kid, I had an idea of what was really underneath the ice and the next part of the story confirmed my suspicions. This particular segment would’ve been in #8 with a release date of 23rd December, the Christmas issue. If all had gone according to plan eager kids awaiting Santa would’ve read this just a few days in advance, and no toy in the series was more sought after than the Skull Action Assault Base!
While readers had seen the base in the Trackdown strip we have to remember these are time travel stories and so, much like with Doctor Who for example, timelines can be presented out of order. Even though this takes place a few years after Trackdown, this is clearly the mission in which the Ring Raiders themselves first encountered the base (unless it was kept hidden from the world up until now) and I think over time it would’ve been fun to piece together these events into a timeline.
The villain is of course Chiller, the most used in the comic and simply the most sinister and fun. The plan is to re-educate the kids as mind slaves but, even after Chiller takes to the skies with his new ice weapon and takes out two of the Raider planes, Commander Miles doesn’t give in, making the most audacious of moves by landing on the base. Staying inside the cockpit and using the plane’s weaponry to disable the base he soon overpowers the enemy and commandeers it.
This final panel has Miles posing as he does on the toy packaging. Hmm, he’s called Max Miles and his plane is the Knight Fighter… and in Knight Rider we had Devon Miles… oh I’m just overthinking that, right? Anyway, with the funny image of Frank using the Skull base’s facilities Barrie’s story comes to an end with four parts here, making five altogether, so originally due to conclude in #10. Who knows if the next story would’ve seen Skull Squadron coming for their base, but it would’ve made for an excellent battle if they did.
On to what was the main strip in the comic for me, the epic Trackdown written by Angus Allan and drawn by famous British artist John Cooper. It always felt epic in its scope, story, use of character and pace, but as it turned out it truly was as epic, with five four-page episodes here altogether it was 11 parts and 48 pages in length; beginning in #1 on 16th September 1989 it wouldn’t have come to its explosive finale until #11 on 3rd February 1990. Getting the final 20 pages here feels like a bit of a cheat, but these are the best pages in this special, and indeed the series.
In fact, the very first part here (which we would’ve enjoyed in #7) would’ve sealed the deal for Ring Raiders as one of the very best action adventure comics in the UK. The Doomsday Device is on its way back to Skull Squadron in Blackjack’s auto-piloted Harrier while he’s taken a young boy hostage in a biplane, threatening to throw him out. Wing Commander Joe Thundercloud of Rescue Wing can only chase one, but which one? Much to Blackjack’s surprise he takes off after the Harrier, or so it seems.
This sequence is thrilling today, so imagine reading this at 12-years-of-age surrounded by all the toy planes, including the one featured here! Scorch orders Blackjack to toss the boy out of the plane to his death, but Blackjack hesitates, just long enough for Joe to swing his plane round and come at the biplane at a 90 degree angle and slicing it in half, giving the Air Carrier Justice the order with split second timing to beam up based on his location. The boy (and half the plane) materialise on the Ring Raiders’ flying base whilst the rest plummets to the ground.
Where could this story go from here? Clearly anything is possible and next Angus has the Wing Commander catch up with the Harrier. With Blackjack out of the picture, Joe disables its engines and then picks it up with his own F-16, using the power of the ring to convert his own body’s energy into extra power and try to get the pilotless plane to the Justice.
But as a caption reminds us, “Use of the rings means terrible physical exhaustion” and, tapped into his mind as well as his body, Joe’s wish to protect those he holds dear and panic over the screaming engines accidentally sees him activate the time jump engines, ending up back in prehistoric times, flying above dinosaurs. As you can see the Harrier is no longer balanced atop his plane. The strain was too much for his body to bare and he lost control, the Harrier tumbling into the lake below.
How amazing was this scenario for young comics fans? Ring Raiders deserved a much larger audience than it got in the end, this was top comic action with or without the licence. But as a fan of the toys this was the most amazing thing I’d ever read in my young life as far as I was concerned! It was a story I’d replay with my Matchbox planes over and over. I think I even created a tiny biplane out of Lego so it could be cut in half, that’s how much I loved this.
Contacting the Justice over millions of years via more use of the ring (and nearly passing out as a result) the rest of the force arrives, giving Joe time to get his energy back and load up the F-16 with Super Sidewinder missiles which he uses to destroy the side of the lake (it overlooks a cliff), draining its water and exposing the Harrier with the Doomsday Device in its cockpit. But the sky suddenly fills with more explosions. Blackjack in his replacement aircraft and his Havoc Wing were tracking his original plane all along.
It may be black and white but that last panel of part nine (third episode here) exudes atmosphere. The sun feels hot, the Harrier ominously coming out of silhouette as Joe looks desperately for his arch enemy. My memory had this as a cliffhanger in the fortnightly, such was the impact it had on me, but nope it’s right here with the next part on the very next page. Simply gorgeous imagery by John Cooper there.
The characters having replacement back up planes may initially seem to ruin the drama and tension somewhat but it’s not uncommon. Later in Castle of Doom Yasuo needs his reserve machine in a hurry but the landing crew try to dissuade him as you’ll see. Clearly each character has their main craft and a reserve, which makes sense militarily and they’re never presented as a cheap way of continuing the action. It adds another layer of authenticity to something so fantastical.
The story comes to its conclusion as Blackjack steals the device back while Skull Squadron keep anyone from launching from the Justice with an all-out assault, but with the device dangling from a claw under Blackjack’s cockpit Joe blasts it, opens his own cockpit and uses the power of his ring like a form of tractor beam to pull it aboard. But the ring was never meant to be used that way and with too much toll on his body earlier he loses control. Scenes like this establish that the ring isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free-card, it has consequences and must be used sparingly, unlike the cartoon version.
The story constantly flips back and forth between which side is winning, every time success is within grasp of someone it flips again. It makes for genuinely tense, exciting reading, even as an adult. It’s also nice to see other characters milling about in the background or helping out here and there, giving more of an ensemble feeling to the cast than normal. Joe just about touches down without crashing and taking the future of the planet with him, then our inside cover star Salty Salton launches against orders, his slow but manoeuvrable F-4U Corsair making it to the ground just in time to punch a hole in Blackjack’s cockpit, making him scarper.
Salty uses the ring to reenergise Joe’s and in turn Joe himself, and the story wraps up with doomsday averted and the device launched into deep space. What a ride. Ever since those early episodes with Rescue Wing’s Freddie Riley and the professor it’s been non-stop, building and building, with high-flying, high-octane stuff fans of the toys longed to see, with one-on-one dogfights, crash landings, huge battles and at the centre of it all were two characters driving the story forward. The story was never forgotten for a single page, never sacrificed to show off the action. These final Touchdown chapters were a worthy climax to the comic as a whole, even though that was never the intention.
Castle of Doom began in #6 and was instantly a favourite because it starred my two favourite characters, Wing Commander Yasuo Yakamura and Skull Leader Wraither, their planes being the first I ever purchased so I had a soft spot for both. Following on from the cliffhanger last time, how does a jet pilot rescue a man hanging by a branch on a cliff face? With this rather ingenious Rescue Pod above, that’s how. I love that.
This story has six parts here which would’ve taken it up to #11 with seven parts in total, so as you can see there was no standard length to a Ring Raiders story, which would’ve made for a wonderfully unpredictable reading experience if the comic had continued. Castle of Doom’s plot was all about using time travel to the past in order to affect future events, something which had always intrigued writer James Tomlinson (who went by James Nicholas at the time), and it’s clear he had great fun crafting this tale as it jumps about time zones within the isolated castle setting, layering the plot slowly over the first few episodes.
Basically, in 1989 (two hundred years hence) this castle would be seen as the ideal secure location for various governments of the world to gather and discuss the growing threat of Skull Squadron, a meeting which would be key to the formation of the Ring Raiders. So Wraither and Vulture Wing have ventured back centuries to hypnotise (using a nose mounted ray of some sort) the family living there, planting a seed that wouldn’t be activated until hundreds of years later in the minds of their descendants.
This manifests itself as a mass shooting in 1989, with the owners of the castle suddenly falling into a trance and opening fire with automatic assault weapons on all of the representatives present! Yakamura wins the day by using a low-yield missile to knock out a wall of the castle and take out half of the assassins, but the head of the family escapes and throws a grenade into an ammunition store. In the end the survivors evacuate just in time, with the rest of the assassins captured (I’d assume to come round later and be exonerated) and Wraither’s P-51 Mustang Galloping Ghoul shot out of the sky, the mysterious pilot left abandoned in that time zone until Skull Squadron come to rescue him.
That’s it pretty much summed up but there are two main reasons I love this strip so much, the fact it’s full of great action between my two favourite pilots and planes and how it was delving into some of the backstory, taking tentative steps at setting up some mythology. It reads as an important early chapter in what I’d hoped would be a long-running comic. Wraither and Yakamura were likely chosen because they formed a special two-plane Starter Pack (my Starter Pack in fact) and because of this it seemed they were destined to duke it out forever.
To the uninitiated it might seem daft to have two such vastly different planes engage in battle but it’s actually believable, with Yasuo’s jet unable to make the kinds of quick manoeuvres over short distances as Wraither but with speed on his side, and the latter’s ability to fly so close to the ground and mountains and use cloud cover to disappear and reappear at will. In fact, the Grumman X-29 is almost trashed at one stage and Yasuo has to time jump back to the Justice for his reserve machine.
Untested and with unfinished computer systems, which were such an integral part of his plane, it all made for a tense showdown with Yasuo outnumbered four-to-one against Vulture Wing, the castle under attack by assassins, his inability to land to help and the castle poised to explode, wiping out the Ring Raiders before they’re even formed. The last three chapters were clearly not finished by the time the comic was cancelled as they are combined into one, 12-page finale.
Artist Don Wazejewski again brought James’ script to life and there are some lovely atmospheric visuals here (my favourite being the panel of Yasuo “almost hearing” Wraither’s laughter above) and aerial battles that feel genuinely fast and exciting. I also like his chunky depictions of humans, especially on board the gigantic, high-tech Air Carrier Justice; there’s a certain Thunderbirds-esque feel to those particular pages. Over 24 pages it’s a real thrill ride and it’s such a shame this would be the last meaty read of the special and the last time I’d see these characters.
It hasn’t lost any of its ability to excite for this 44-year-old. But then again, all those happy childhood memories of favourite characters and those little toy planes all bubble to the surface when I read any issue of this comic.
To finish, in such a serious storyline, with the tension ratcheting up page after page, there’s a genuine laugh-out-loud moment during the fast-paced climax as Yasuo delivers the missile. The story had made a lot out of the supposed mystery of who, or even what, was behind the mask of Wraither and his sinister character is perfectly portrayed, making this moment towards the end of the story so much funnier for the fan in me.
After that momentous blockbuster we’ve only got two individual chapters to go. Next up is the seventh and final part of Freedom Flight. Tom Tully’s story involved Skull Squadron using a band of rebels for their own ends, assisting them in their attempts to overthrow a democratically elected government in South America. The story ended on a cliffhanger in #6 which saw Skull Leader Mako’s ‘Sea Hunter’ MiG-29 about to be blown out of the sky by ‘Raider Yuri Kirkov’s missile, fired from his ‘Comet’ F-4 Phantom.
As the young readers could be fans of either side of the never-ending war we would sometimes see the cliffhangers sway towards Skull Squadron, although this was used sparingly in the issues published. Still, it made a refreshing change. Speaking of which, after 40 pages of beautiful black and white art, turning the page to see Sandy James’ full colour pages is a shock to the system, in the best possible way of course.
This being just the one, final chapter it’s basically the end of the battle that was raging months ago in the comic, so alongside the juicier stories in the special it unfortunately feels like a rather light affair. However, in actual fact, if read with the previous half dozen instalments, it’s the perfect exciting ending with Kirkov finally fighting back to victory after the hardships of other issues. His missile closes in on Mako, and he even sees off the wingmen who attempt to come to the rescue.
Usually this would mean the end of the plane and most certainly the character, what with him not bailing out before impact, but as we readers know and as Kirkov suspects, Mako’s craft can operate underwater, so the Ring Raiders must content themselves with the fact he’s escaped. Without the futuristic back up the rebels are soon defeated and our heroes travel back to the Justice to await their next mission, their work in the air complete.
But one page later Kirkov returns in the one-off character story we would’ve read in #7 and it’s quite possibly the best one of the series, or at the very least right up there with Chiller’s in #3. As usual it kicks off with an air battle against the Skulls. Wraither again actually. As he expertly uses clouds to vanish into thin air during battle, Kirkov is reminded of the mist covered skies of Vietnam through which he flew in his Douglas A-1 Skyraider after defecting from Russia to fight for the United States.
Those of us who grew up in the 1980s will remember most of our heroes in primetime television had fought in the war, each one suffering some degree of personal trauma (Thomas Magnum, Magnum PI), physical damage (Michael Knight, Knight Rider) or psychological issues (Stringfellow Hawke, Airwolf). So as a young teenager this lent a credibility to Ring Raiders, seeing a character caught up in a real world war, one that we were all too aware of at the time and the devastation it caused.
The story was a real treat and as the last strip the comic would ever publish it made an impact, its gritty, rain-and-mist-shrouded panels evoking the same atmosphere we were used to in flashbacks in those aforementioned television shows (and later in the 90s when Bravo showed Tour of Duty which I became completely hooked by). Reading it now, Scott Goodall’s well-paced script and John Gillat’s superb artwork take me right back to those times. In fact, it feels all the more mature reading it now when compared to the other strips in this issue.
The story is a bit well worn by now, with a mysterious character helping our hero in their desperate time of need, only for us to find out that person had actually died and it must have been an illusion of some sort (although implied to have been their spirit continuing to help people as they had done in life). It’s the fact this story is in Ring Raiders and is illustrated in the way that it is that makes it so very special.
The perfect way to wrap up Ring Raiders, not just this special but the comic as a whole. Not only is it a superb strip, it shows the real potential this comic had in the range of its storytelling and how I think it could’ve reached beyond those obsessed with the toys if given the chance. It’s heartbreaking to finish the final story but I think it just proves the point I’ve been making since the beginning. Rounding off the issue is the second Photo File by James, this time of the cover star’s aircraft, the F-104 Starfighter, one of James’ all-time favourites.
Well that’s it.
James and Barrie were able to tell me the names of some further adventures that we never got to see. Hill Kill was written by Scott Goodall so possibly another character piece, Viking Job was by Tom Tully and Sandy James (their follow up to Freedom Flight and most likely set in the distant past), Surprise Attack, Skull Surprise was by Barrie Tomlinson himself so most likely was to be drawn by Carlos Pino and there was an unnamed Christmas story by James Tomlinson and Don Wazejewski, plus another story by the same team called Blow Bubbles, whatever that was about. A Christmas issue of this comic would’ve been nothing short of awesome for me! Oh well.
Ring Raiders could effortlessly flip between the futuristic and the historical, the fantastical and the realistic, keeping its feet grounded with believable, likeable characters, hugely exciting action, superb art and interesting stories. If it had continued goodness knows how much better it would’ve got as it developed. It’s anthology style worked a treat and for those few short months I ran to the newsagents every other week to get my next fix.
OiNK aside, the fact this comic remains my number one from childhood with only seven issues to show for itself should tell you something.
Ring Raiders was a superb comic and is well worth picking up, although be aware issues can go for a pretty penny on eBay and you’ll be very lucky indeed to find this special. (There are also two annuals but they were by Grandreams, had nothing to do with the comic and are really poor, with no strips, just bad text stories and basic art). Ring Raiders was proof that licenced toy comics could be taken seriously and produce excellent results! Kudos to Barrie and the whole team, and thank you for the memories and the comics to this day.
There are still some treats in store for Ring Raiders fans reading the blog, so watch the skies for word on those in the future.
It’s all change this issue as Dark Horse International has now become Manga Publishing. The UK arm of Dark Horse had gone out of business but the success of its Manga Mania comic and the rapidly growing interest in the UK for the art form saw a purchase of the titles and a rebranding across them all. (The company changing hands could account for the delay between #10 and #11.) I’d assumed all their comics were cancelled in 1994 but Manga Mania (at #15) would carry on all the way through to #39. Jurassic Park wouldn’t be so lucky.
But at least this temporary reprieve enabled our comic to reach a decent ending point in #16 instead of just stopping on a cliffhanger (I’m looking at you,Havoc!). Michael Golden’s cover would’ve been better suited to last month’s issue but it’s still a striking image, even if it’s somewhat disappointing to lose that distinctive left-side border. You’ll notice ‘Cadillacs and Dinosaurs’ is mentioned, is this a new back up strip? Not quite, as you’ll see below. Finally, the mysterious free gift mentioned last issue ended up being temporary tattoos, long lost to the mists of time.
The contents page retains its atmospheric design and still offers up subscriptions so the plan must’ve been (initially at least) to carry the comic on for some time to come. In reality, the boast of “Now With Extra Pages” on the cover meant we were up to 40 pages which, while a good increase over the previous three issues, is only four more than we had in the first ten. It does mean we now get a full chapter of the American story per issue though, with the aforementioned back up bringing up the rear.
There’s now a whopping 26 pages of Jurassic Park to enjoy but it’s still listed using the name of the US mini-series comic it was taken from, rather than the name of the chapter itself. This was confusing because we were unaware of the mini-series’ name, so instead to the uniformed (like me) it looked like laziness on the part of UK editor Dick Hansom, like he didn’t check what the strip he was printing was called. As you’ll see over the course of this and the next two issues, Animals/Men was the beginning of a trilogy of stories, the title of each a variation on this theme.
As you can see the art team has changed. Steve Englehart is still the writer of this official sequel, John Costanza is still letterer and Renée Witterstaetter remains as colourist and story editor. However, joining them are penciller Chaz ‘Atlas’ Truog (Green Lantern Corps, Animal Man, Coyote) and inker Paul Fricke (The Fly, El Diablo, Secret Origins). At the time I was a little disappointed in the change from the more scratchy, hard-edged artwork but nowadays I absolutely love this!
Even Renée’s colouring appears to have changed to suit the new style, boldly coloured backgrounds highlighting each frame. The cartoonier style put me off initially as a teenager but it did grow on me. Today, it feels very much like the Jurassic Park movie had been given a cartoon makeover in the same way Ghostbusters had with The Real Ghostbusters. It’s great. It’s a lot more animated and dynamic, and as you can see having better defined facial features means our characters now actually look like cartoon versions of the actors.
Drs Ellie and Alan Grant attempt to escape from Rafael’s compound deep in the Columbian jungle but accidentally set off a hidden alarm, in response to which Rafael immediately unleashes his supposedly trained Velociraptors. Trying to escape their reach up a tree, a vine Alan clings to is grabbed by one of the ‘raptors and suddenly he finds himself flat on his back, exposed and an easy target. That is, until Rafael catches up.
During the attack we find out Alan and Ellie have named the dinosaurs. The alpha is called Alf, the beta is Betty and the injured ‘raptor who is still within her cage is Celia. If this rings a bell you’re not alone. Much later in Jurassic World, released 21 years after this comic, Owen Grady named his four Velociraptors after the second to fifth letters of the alphabet too (Blue, Charlie, Delta, Echo, with Owen himself as the ‘alpha’). Was the movie inspired by this comic, or was it just a coincidence? Either option is likely.
Ellie and Alan are ordered to return and look after the injured Celia, who continues to let Ellie do so, knowing she saved her life. But our doctors think that if she wasn’t restrained they’d be on the menu. They’re very aware of how they’ve romanticised the dinosaurs’ place in nature, but they’re still killers. This leads on to a dark scene in which one of Rafael’s men suggests they take it in turns raping Ellie to relieve their boredom and he’s immediately shot and killed by his boss, telling his men to feed him to one of the ‘raptors, so he clearly wants his creatures to maintain their taste for human flesh. But why?
Then, after all the action, tension and interesting story developments the strip unfortunately takes a turn for the absurd.
Even as a teenage reader I didn’t find this to be the thrill it was hyped as on the cover and my opinion hasn’t changed since. Having game warden Robert Muldoon alive and well is just stupid. Remember that “clever girl” scene in the movie? He looks awfully healthy after that, doesn’t he? What elaborate explanation is given for him surviving a Velociraptor jumping on top of him and apparently eating his head? He raised them. I hate this. Not only is it ridiculous to think he survived but if he did it completely ruins that whole scene in the movie.
According to #10Ian Malcolm had to spend months in a hospital after his injuries but Muldoon gets the kind of return we’d expect from a superhero comic that finds some trick to retcon a character’s demise. I remember feeling let down by this but thankfully it isn’t dwelled upon beyond this one page (for this issue anyway) so we can get back to the meat of the story which is much, much better.
“It seems ‘raptors can remember a kindness”
Steve Englehart, writer Animals/Men
Celia’s training commences but she isn’t cooperating. She responds to commands but doesn’t go for the head of the human-like hay dummies like the others, instead biting an arm or leg, never going for the kill. The ever-paranoid Rafael thinks it’s a trick but in reality we’ll find out the reason soon enough. Meanwhile the government’s leader is planning to announce new indictments against him in the murder of dozens of law enforcement officials, and the next day as the judges leave the courthouse a van pulls up and out of the doors rush Alf and Betty!
During the attack an electrical cable is damaged which ends up zapping one of them. As the two animals looks quizzically at the electrical sparks they come to realise something and they run off. Rafael’s men can’t take control, somehow the ‘raptors realised the collars were no longer being controlled, the broken power lines causing interference. Free of their painful, torturous shocks they immediately run back to free Celia, taking out with relish the men who previously had all that power over them.
They kick in the large metal doors holding their sister and in no time at all everything has changed. Rafael had thought he was in control, but during the execution of his own plan something unpredictable happened and within minutes all three of the dinosaurs are free to roam and hunt, killing Rafael and the remainder of his men as they unsuccessfully try to shock them into submission once more. Another perfect example for Ian Malcolm’s Chaos Theory.
We see Celia wince from the shocks, but the others’ collars no longer work well enough to stop them. When Alan and Ellie come out to see what’s happening and make their own escape they’re cornered by the three ‘raptors. Alf and Betty prepare to pounce, after all these two humans are just another part of all this, but in a surprising moment Celia steps up to stop her sisters, even though she isn’t the alpha herself.
I remember this aspect of the story. Celia stopping her sisters from attacking Alan and Ellie would resurface and emphasised (once again) how the Jurassic franchise treated its dinosaurs as real animals rather than simple movie monsters. Was this also why she wouldn’t ‘kill’ the hay dummies? Does she no longer see all humans in general as prey? Either way, it’s clear the ‘raptors saw Rafael as a means to an end, to get out of the compound to freedom. The sly looks at each other and the development of their own characters over previous issues now clear with hindsight.
The story ends on a superb cliffhanger as they take off into the jungle; three Velociraptor out in the wild, on the loose! Of course, this is now the conclusion to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and the starting point for the final film in the series, Dominion, but this was published in 1994! As a teenager this was even before the Tyrannosaurus rex got off Isla Nublar to run amok through San Diego looking for his baby in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, so I can’t emphasis enough how excited I was for the next issue back then.
Despite the unnecessary return of Muldoon this was a hugely enjoyable adventure strip for Jurassic Park and one of the best so far, reading like the proper sequel to the original film it was intended as. It’s certainly a worthy follow up, continuing to build upon its story month after month and now, with the new art style bringing a freshness, a larger sense of excitement and better representations of the characters, I’m looking forward to seeing where it all leads.
After a huge chunk of dino action the issue is rounded off with Foundling, our nine-page back up Cadillacs and Dinosaurs strip. A quick glance at the first page will show regular blog readers this is actually Xenozoic Tales (second back up in six issues from #4) under a new name. The Cadillacs and Dinosaurs cartoon series was based on creator/writer/artist Mark Shultz’s cult comic and had just started broadcasting on the Cartoon Network in the UK, so while the strips were still the same, the cover and contents page changed the name to try to entice fans of the cartoon.
Christine Courtier is back on colouring duties and while I miss Steve White’s colours, in an episode told mainly in flashback Christine’s darker, more atmospheric palette perfectly suits the story. Again Jurassic Park is selective about which stories from the original comic series to reproduce (page count could be a major reason) and in this case we jump forward to #6 of Xenozoic Tales, missing out a handful of tales from the last time we saw Tenrec and Hannah.
“I could feel his hot breath on my neck, then he galloped past me as if I wasn’t even there.”
The story is actually a flashback within a flashback at points. Hannah is telling Tenrec about Maia Abrelatas, a lady whose son went missing years before when he was only three-years-old. She’d begged the governors to renew the search but they’d refused as Tenrec apparently just looked on. Within this flashback we flash back again to the time when the boy went missing out the back of her home. Later they’d found hyena tracks and blood and concluded he’d been dragged inland, where it was too dangerous for humans in this future world populated by dinosaurs.
Back to the original flashback and Hannah went out to track him after Maia saw him at her window. The governors dismissed this claim but Hannah found a child’s footprints and tracked them. She was almost about to turn back after a day when she eventually found him. Unable to speak, the boy instead drew using stones, each letter inside a square. This instantly reminded Hannah (and me) of the Grith using Scrabble tiles to communicate with Tenrec. Just like them the young lad can understand her but can’t speak.
The dinosaur that charged her was just a distraction (she does comment how this was strange for that animal) because she then lost the boy in the think forest, but spotted him latter with the Grith far off in the distance. Continuing to track them to the entrance of a cave the scene below is terrifically designed by Mark, full of atmosphere and thrills. The story ends with Hannah confronting Tenrec, his association with the Grith and apparent nonchalant attitude earlier leading her to the conclusion he knew about the boy all along.
It turns out the Grith saved the boy after he was mauled by the hyenas and raised him, but now they can’t let him return home because he knows too much about them, even thinks like them. However, he’s at that age where his curiosity is putting him in a dangerous position as he tries to find out more about his origins, so the only solution is for them to take him far away from his mother and for Tenrec to continue the lie. What started out as another adventure strip ends on this heartbreaking reveal, a complete surprise.
Then, so it doesn’t end on too much of a downer the last two panels reveal all that horror faced by Hannah was actually the Grith trying to make sure she found her way back home, all finished off with Tenrec being his usual casual self, asking about food. I’m sure any child buying the comic after watching the cartoon would’ve got a bit of a shock at the tone and the mature storytelling. Not sure what they would’ve made of this, but as a Jurassic Park comic reader this is a great return to the unique and original Xenozoic Tales, no matter what name the editor gives it.
The last three pages are all advertisements, beginning with the latest issue of Manga Mania which I mentioned earlier and the first issue of a new comic based on the Street Fighter II videogame which was all the rage. I saw this and thought that couldn’t have lasted long but I was wrong, Manga Publishing in the UK released 16 issues altogether, the same as Jurassic Park in the end. I know which one I thought deserved to run longer though.
Finally for this month there was big news for fans of the movie on the back page.
I love the way the Velociraptor‘s eye is made to look like the amber that was so important to the film’s plot. Even though I visited our local rental store every single Saturday (because it was closed on Sundays so you had the tape for twice as long for the same price) I never rented Jurassic Park. The reason was simple, I knew I was getting it for Christmas to own so I wanted to wait for my own copy before seeing it again for the first time since the cinema. So I waited (im)patiently instead.
While getting a much lengthier main strip was exciting I still prefer the comic’s three-strip format. To this day my favourite issues belong in that first handful after the sequel began in #6. But with hindsight, knowing we’ve only two issues left I’m very glad it changed so we could get three more full stories before the rug was pulled. The next of those stories, inside Jurassic Park #15 will be reviewed here on the blog on Thursday 6th October 2022.