This review was due on 22nd February, click here to find out about the delay. More catch-ups to come this week.
The cover for issue nine of Dark Horse International‘s Jurassic Park is a strange beast, showing what appears to be Dr Alan Grant killing a Tyrannosaurus rex! Drawn by Gil Kane it’s completely uncharacteristic not only of Alan but for the comic too, which so far has stayed true to the book and movie. Seeing one of our heroes with a massive gun taking down one of the animals like a clichéd action hero, while a second T-rex comes up behind has nothing to do with Jurassic Park!
The cover is taken from the US comic series’ preview issue which contained two small prequel strips. It had two different covers, neither of which reflected in any way anything that happened within the stories (a pet peeve of mine). They were also seemingly drawn long before the artists even knew what the script for the movie contained. A bizarre thing to begin with then, even more so to choose it for the UK comic when so many other more suitable ones were available in the US series by now. But the real news was those prequel strips had arrived.
In fact there are no less than four strips this month, but with no extra pages some of our regulars have a little less room to breathe. Things kick off with the eight-page prequel story Genesis which shows us the moment ill-fated lawyer Donald Gennaro is shown the secret heartbeat (as John Hammond describes it here) behind the island, which up to this moment Donald thought was simply a luxurious tropical adventure park. Much of the movie adaptation team are back including writer Walter Simonson, Gil is pencilling, Renée Witterstaetter is on colours, John Workman‘s speech balloons are back and they’re joined by new-to-JP inker Mike de Carlo (Crisis on Infinite Earths, Legion of Super Heroes, Animaniacs).
Ground is being broken for Jurassic Park and Gennaro is there for the first of his many visits. Set several years before the movie there’s obviously going to be a distinct lack of dinosaurs for the most part, but this is all about the background to the story, which already had such a solid grounding thanks to Michael Crichton‘s original novel and from which writer Walter is choosing individual scenes that he thinks could have happened. There is however a baby T-rex and some lovely foreboding imagery, such as the use of an excavator’s clamp digging a deep trench beside the dirt road. It’s clear what this represents to the reader. A nice touch.
Hammond takes Gennaro to a small cabin and shows him some old monster movies, full of stop-motion dinosaurs and the like (a simple trick to get them into the comic), and gets really excited as he explains how these thrilled audiences and the advances in technology have made them more realistic and thus more exciting. Gennaro doesn’t care and soon the two men are on their way to the famous hatchery where Dr Henry Wu has summoned them to see the birth of InGen‘s very first dinosaur! It’s a tiny T-rex but Gennaro is still unimpressed.
He’s a numbers man, he wants to see the final product, the things that are going to get people spending money on over-priced tickets to get here. While that much is in keeping with the movie character, I still feel he would’ve had some form of awe towards the first living, breathing dinosaur baby in millions of years! The fact he’s actually disgusted by it seems a bit too much. For me there are also too many instances of movie dialogue being used. It’s meant to come across as clever foreshadowing, but with the amount that’s used it just feels forced and unoriginal.
Because of the overuse of this dialogue for all three characters these final scenes come off as plain silly. Gennaro saying he wouldn’t walk out of a men’s room to see the T-rex is an oddly specific thing for someone to say, and of course it’s only written here because of how he’d memorably meet his fate in the film. Perhaps without all the other movie dialogue (and especially without Hammond’s retort!) it would’ve been a nice touch to end on. All-in-all, it’s a strange little strip. It adds nothing to the Jurassic Park story and does a bit of a disservice to the characters involved.
Much better is the next chapter of Age of Reptiles. The ongoing Jurassic Park sequel is still in here but 11 pages of Ricardo Delgado‘s incredible creation is next up, breaking the comic up a little. After the cliffhanger last issue there are no prizes for guessing the pack of Deinonycuses are down another member. After one of their friends has his head bitten off and his body dragged back into the water we get a funny moment of the fish (which distracted him in the first place) wriggling its way across the rocks and plopping back into the lake and safety.
The two remaining members of the group, leader Dark Eye and Quetzal are spending their day stalking a giant T-rex called Long Jaw, the same one we got acquainted with last time. What are they hoping to find out? That’s for another episode. This time however, they witness from afar the ‘rex challenging the leader of a herd of Triceratops, each one beautifully and individually coloured by James Sinclair. The leader of the herd isn’t backing down and roars at the ‘rex, the giant predator remaining silent, the small bird on his nose responding instead.
However, as you can see from the second photo above, after many cries from his mate the male Triceratops takes a look at the Tyrannosaur‘s slowly opening mouth and decides to heed her warnings, leaving a miffed T-rex behind in a moment that did make me laugh. It was a fight for the sake of a fight, it was never about predator and prey, but that panel with the little squiggly line above Long Jaw’s head depicting his annoyance is a great comedy moment after a few pages of tense build up.
We rejoin our two smaller dinosaurs as they return to their nest only to find that while they’ve been following one of the Tyrannosaurs, Blue Back (who they originally ran into back in #6 when all this began) took advantage of their absence and has killed everyone else in their pack in revenge for the theft of his family’s eggs in #7. Once he sees the shocked look on their faces he simply drops the final body and leaps across the chasm in an echo of their escape from him, disappearing into the jungle. The war is on.
Once again Ricardo’s pacing is superb and his art is gorgeous, with James’ colours the perfect accompaniment. There’s action, an interesting story, individual characters and some genuinely funny humour. It was always a highlight of each issue and was the first strip I’d read every month. While it was originally released as a book I prefer getting little chunks of it at a time. It highlights the tension and obviously makes it last longer.
Every creature here is so full of character but where did I get those wonderful names from if there are no written words in the strip? Well, included in this issue is a bonus Cast of Characters page from the book. It would’ve been good to have had this alongside the first chapter but it’s better late than never. Also, there appear to be some interesting new characters to come! I can’t remember them so I’m excited to see where they fit in with everything I do recall. Exciting times ahead.
Our regular Jurassic Park strip has been cut down to only six pages but we can’t really complain when we’ve already had an addition prequel making a total of 14 pages for our title strip. Our regular sequel team return for the first (little) chunk of Dark Cargo; writer Steve Englehart, penciller Armando Gil, inker Dell Barras, letterer John Costanza and colourist/Story Editor Renée Witterstaetter. Confusingly, the story is called ‘Raptor – Part Four’ on the contents page because Dark Cargo was the second issue in the original American Topps Comics ‘Raptor’ mini-series, and the first (‘Aftershocks‘) was split across the three previous UK issues. This confusing decision to list the strip after the US comic’s individual series rather than the actual strips would continue all the way to the final issue.
Doctors Ellie Satler and Alan Grant awake locked in a cage on a cargo boat with big game hunter George Lawala in charge. The juvenile Velociraptors have been locked up separately right next to them, already wide awake and alert to everything going on around them. This is key (no pun intended for what I’m about to describe), as we see the ‘raptors in the background of nearly every panel of the humans talking, watching what they’re doing. Alan realises his belt is the one with the buckle he’s used as a substitute knife before on digs and perfect to pick the lock, before Ellie notices something happening in the other cage.
We also see the dinosaurs hissing and clicking at each other, Alan deducing they’re discussing them and how to escape. I can remember pieces of what’s to come and it’s definitely a story centred around the intelligence and learning capabilities of these juvenile creatures, and their instincts and observations of the various humans around them. I’m looking forward to reading it again after so long with a fresh set of eyes, especially after enjoying the four movie sequels (so far) which have really delved deep into this.
There’s a funny moment when Alan comments how these brothers and sisters are adolescents, the equivalent of human teenagers and says, “Not quite fully grown but wanting to take on the world! The absolute worst group to let loose!” But before they can warn Lawala of the lock picking he sprays them and the ‘raptors with a sleeping agent and off they all nod until next month. Before they pass out Lawala shows us he’s the atypical Jurassic Park villain (before there was such a thing); he’s never encountered a dinosaur before, but he’s a human, and a man, and thus is far more intelligent and can control them just like any other animal he’s hunted. We just know that’s going to work out well, don’t we?
“The necessary sacrifices were made.”Fessenden
It may be just one small scene on board the boat, but it’s atmospheric stuff and has plenty for readers to get their teeth into, building excitement for the chapters to come. I’m actually surprised at just how much of this was could’ve been the basis for some of the main stories in the sequels, especially Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World which both did a superb job of building on the themes presented here. It also doesn’t feel like we’re being short-changed with only six pages this month because it’s a perfect little strip in its own right and acts as a prelude to the disaster to come.
Mark Schultz‘s Xenozoic Tales rounds off the issue, once more beautifully coloured by one of my favourite Transformers colourists Steve White (whose current dinosaur artwork needs to be seen) but we only get a measly four pages this time. Obviously, editor Dick Hansom would’ve had this all worked out in advance to give us as much as possible every issue, knowing we’d have extra content this month. As such, there were only four pages left of this particular story to tell, and what four pages they are!
So Tenrec returns to Fessenden after the shock cliffhanger and demands a full explanation. The swamp had taken over body, mind and soul of his entire research team, everyone driven to the edge of nervous collapse. But Fessenden was getting incredible results from his experiments; he could solve the food shortage crisis. As you can see above he started performing autopsies on the local dinosaurs and experimenting on his own people, deliberately cutting them off from the outside world so they’d have no choice but to take part. Soon they were thriving in the swamp and even communicating with the animals. But then the physical changes began.
He doesn’t delve deeper, instead making a sudden run for the swamp. For the final page of the story and the comic we’re presented with this below. It not only solves the mysteries of that cliffhanger but also grosses us out a little on the way to its conclusion.
At its centre it’s a typical tale of humans messing with nature and suffering the consequences, so it’s quite appropriate for a Jurassic Park comic. However, it’s told in a very engaging way, is beautifully drawn and I’m so glad Steve was brought on to colour this particular story in the series; his colours take it to a whole other level. Any fans of Mark’s comic really need to hunt these down because these particular coloured versions are exclusive to Jurassic Park.
Despite the rather average headline story this month, this is still one of the best issues yet thanks to just how enjoyable the three ongoing serials have been. It bodes well for next month that’s for sure. The next issue’s review will be here from Tuesday 29th March 2022.