A simple cover of an iconic movie scene by Dave Cockrum welcomes us to #8 of Dark Horse International‘s Jurassic Park. The cover is from the first issue of the American movie adaptation so really shouldn’t make sense here, after all the Velociraptors are no longer caged up, but it reminded us of the danger from the film that was now running loose. Inside we’ve less adverts and more comics, making for a very satisfying read this month and the title strip no longer has the least amount of pages.
The well chosen cliffhanger last month saw the original US strip cut out at the point Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Satler‘s theories were proven terrifyingly correct. Now they and new character, big game hunter George Lawala are faced with a fully grown mother raptor and her juvenile offspring and she isn’t happy. Grant pushes some boulders, causing a chain reaction, giving them just enough time to make their escape, but it isn’t long until she’s out and chasing Lawala.
Here we get a few action pages of a chase on the beach, ending with the raptor being shot. Lawala muses over the fact the injured animal isn’t what his employer wanted so he shoots it again to kill it. Surprised there are actual dinosaurs here, that it wasn’t some case of mistaken identity he lets his concentration slip, not realising she isn’t quite dead yet and with her dying breath she snaps her jaws around his ankles. He’s able to squeeze himself free and limps off in search of the others.
It’s hard to believe this is the same artistic team (penciller Armando Gil, inker Dell Barras and colourist Renée Witterstaetter) as those thrilling first few pages back in #6. This feels rushed by comparison and overly simplistic. To be fair this is only a problem for a few pages, but they’re the ones involving what should be the highlight of any chapter in a Jurassic Park comic strip, a dinosaur attack! It all feels rather muted as a result.
“He’s got us and the raptors! He’s won!”Dr. Ellie Satler
Things pick back up again as we rush towards the end of our first sequel story. Our heroes are captured by Lawala who had waited near the cave, knowing they’d return to make sure the dinosaurs were okay. Just as with the movies, while the Velociraptors are dangerous, it’s also important to protect them from the dangers of humans. A fight ensues and of course Alan and Ellie are outmatched, although they do give a valiant effort. Alan tries in vain to convince Lawala he must realise the animals can’t be taken off the island, that what happened to the park could happen to the world. But Lawala readily admits he’s too greedy to care.
Beaten unconscious, Ellie and Alan eventually wake to find themselves in a somewhat impossible position, just right for an almighty cliffhanger with suitably dramatic lettering by John Costanza. Although, it does unintentionally raise a few chuckles because it reminds me of the ending to Finding Nemo, which came much later. This story by Steve Englehart reminds me very much of where the Jurassic World trilogy has been heading. I’m writing this before the third movie (sixth in the overall series) is released, the previous movie having ended with dinosaurs out in the world among us. I’m really excited for that film and I think that’s the same excitement I had when I first read this back in 1994.
“The world swarms with the living evidence of a billion years of evolution!” Thus begins the next chapter in the ongoing Xenozoic Tales saga, the first of our two dino-themed backup strips. The story here (as ever written and drawn by Mark Schultz) is the classic sci-fi scenario of losing contact with a research outpost and going in to find out what’s wrong. We know it’s clearly going to be bad news but that’s not the point of the story, it’s all about what has gone wrong and exploring a little more of this strange new world, its dangers and having some action and excitement along the way.
The first thing I noticed was the bold colouring, which is a lot more colourful than in previous issues. This is because we have a new contributor and it’s none other than Transformers colourist and Visionaries editor Steve White. In the earlier years of Transformers the colours were all beautifully hand-painted, before a new system was introduced that produced much flatter (but still stunning in the right hands) results. The colours here remind me of those earlier issues. They really pop, bringing depth and excitement to a story that’s already fun to read.
I asked Steve about his time working on Jurassic Park and he told me that while it was a work-for-hire gig he was a big fan of Mark’s and of Xenozoic Tales. He produced these beautiful results with markers on photocopies of the art, which he’d travel to North London to Dark Horse International’s little (according to Steve) office to pick up and return the pages.
Months previous, a great scientist by the name of Fessenden had asked Jack Tenrec to take him and his team out to a swamp for their research, explaining he’d discovered a secret to saving their crops. Now returning with a rescue team, Jack faces off against vicious, overgrown versions of dinosaurs that are usually tiny and docile. They start to show hunting skills they’re simply not meant to have, circling the team and attacking systematically. Eventually they make it to the station which is now a crumbling wreck and discover the shocking transformation of Fessenden.
His team are nowhere to be found, he isn’t doing any of the work he was there to accomplish and his head has become a strange elongated shape, covered in what looks like pulsating veins, like his brain is trying to push itself out through his skull. Jack sets out to find the missing researchers, only to literally stumble upon creepy blob-like creatures not dissimilar to his old friend’s head, then a mass grave in the final panel.
While so far there’s nothing particularly original here, these little blobs are intriguing and having read Mark’s other tales printed in this comic so far I know the payoff will be excellent. Its pacing is perfect and I can’t overemphasise how much Steve’s colouring adds to the rich atmosphere.
While this is listed as ‘Chapter Five’ on the contents page it’s actually the first strip in the series, originally published in Death Rattle magazine in the States in 1986. It acted as a kind of pilot, a testbed for a possible series. This explains why this particular chapter is simply called Xenozoic. It was clearly well received because Mark would go on to sporadically release more stories in his own comic. Not sure why Jurassic Park editor Dick Hansom decided to include it here instead of at the beginning, but it did mean we could enjoy it coloured this way so I’m happy he waited.
Moving on to Ricardo Delgado‘s Age of Reptiles (coloured by James Sinclair) and it takes up less space this issue to make way for much more of the title strip, but it’s no less enthralling. We were left wondering what was going to happen next after the Deinonychuses stole the unhatched eggs from the Tyrannosaurus rex nest, but this issue the battle of the species takes a back seat, the pace slowing down and showing the dinosaurs going about their lives as dawn breaks. It begins with a pack of Parasaurolophuses lazily drinking by a waterfall, unaware they’re being watched.
I don’t think I picked up on this until a later issue when I was a teenager, but this is clearly a different T-rex than the one we’ve seen in previous issues. Only when both appeared together in a later chapter did I notice the completely different sets of markings, probably because I didn’t go back and read the previous issues back then, so when I saw this ‘rex I incorrectly assumed I knew who it was. I love the little bird picking out a borrowing critter from its head and the dark shadows obscuring the hunter as he stalks his prey. The Parasaurolophuses are so delightfully drawn I can’t help but feel sorry for this one.
We see the predator begin to feast before cutting away to the silhouettes of the Deinonychuses making their way through the thick jungle. We’re not sure where they’re going yet and we don’t find out this issue, but what does happen here is highly entertaining and builds to a surprise cliffhanger. One of them gets distracted by a fish flopping about on the ground near a body of water and wants to stop to feed. You can see the distinct head markings of each character here, their leader not impressed with being slowed down and this little silent exchange did make me laugh.
That little red wiggle and that glare are comedy gold.
In the panel before it you’ll see some little bubbles appearing in the water beside them. Ignoring their leader, the hungry dino picks up the fish and opens wide, presenting us with a full page of this action, panel-by-panel, the shadow of the mouth engulfing the fish, saliva dripping from its mouth as it moves the fish closer, only for us to turn the page over and be confronted with this image below.
This was such a surprise ending. I’d forgotten all about it in the intervening years but seeing it now brings back the memory of having a feeling of impatience at having to wait a month to see the next part. I think you’ll agree that’s understandable.
So this is where my monthly dive into this favourite comic comes to an end once more. Three superb cliffhangers (even though only one was originally intended as such), interesting stories, plenty of action, loveable characters in all three strips and the surprise addition of a favourite Marvel UK colourist. It’s been an absolute joy yet again. It will continue in this format for a little while yet, so there’s much to look forward to over the coming months and the next bit will be here on Tuesday 22nd February 2022.