So I’ll be honest, I can’t really describe this as a comic review, it’d be rather cheeky of me. But then again, it was a bit of a cheat for Marvel UK to call this the Visionaries Spring Special too. Don’t get me wrong, when I spotted this on the shelf back in 1989 I was thrilled! I hadn’t initially known there was a monthly comic the previous year, having only become interested in them through the cartoon which aired here in the UK after the comic had already ended. I received the Annual for Christmas and then in April their origin story (which I’d just read in the Annual) was reprinted as a back up strip in The Transformers, which I’d just started collecting a few months prior.
Through these I discovered there had been a regular comic, albeit a very short-lived one and I was sad I’d missed out on the further adventures of these characters. So this Spring Special was all new to me. A brand new strip featuring two of my very favourite characters from the cartoon, whose toys I owned and whose origin story I was now (very) familiar with. I was in comics heaven. But readers of the monthly may have felt somewhat shortchanged. Have a look at the ‘Special’ next to #5, the final edition of their comic.
They look somewhat similar, don’t they? This continues inside. In fact, this is an exact copy of #5 bar only a few exceptions. Obviously the issue number has been changed on the cover (although the incorrectly coloured Darkstorm remains) and the editorial on page two has been rewritten, aimed now at more casual readers rather than those who had following along. The layout and images originally created by the monthly’s editor Steve White remain the same, however.
The strip, Dream Maker, is presented once again in its entirety and makes up the remainder of the comic’s interior. Written by Gerry Conway, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Romeo Tanghai, letters by Janice Chiang and colours by Julianna Ferriter it’s a great strip, that much is true. Altogether there are 24 pages here with the exact same external gloss paper making up the outer eight pages and the regular Marvel UK stock for the rest. On the last page of the strip, page 23 of the comic, the final message has been edited to include the new logo for Transformers and the issue number and date of the original merge has been removed.
At this time Transformers was changing to a three-story format and to mark the first seven issues of the new look they were reprinting the first Visionaries story (this would mark the third time we saw it in one year). It kicked off with this lovely cover promoting the new look, including the return of the Knights, drawn by John Stokes.
The reason behind this was to let the G.I. Joe story get ahead and create a buffer between the monthly US publication and their weekly UK printings. So really, to say at the end of the Spring Special that fans could “Follow the further adventures of the Visionaries” wasn’t exactly true. Instead, anyone picking this up and then buying Transformers would be met with one reprinted story and then nothing new, no further adventures at all.
So, as I’m sure you can understand there’s no point whatsoever in me reviewing this story all over again when I did so in depth in July last year. It is a great story though and if you see this edition on eBay and want to dip your toes in I’d highly recommend it, although it appears to be a very rare item and I was very lucky to spot it. I only bought it myself to complete the set. We do get a nice new advertisement on the back for something of an experiment by Marvel UK to launch their own humour comic in competition to Beano and The Dandy, which had something of a surprising mascot.
The Visionaries Spring Special comic brought me so much joy as a kid. It gave me a glimpse into the world of the Visionaries as presented in their comic form and I loved it. It was read several times and felt so mature, so grown up compared to the other toy-based comics I’d collected previously, something I’ve gone into throughout the series on the blog.
Nowadays though, as the final comic we’d ever get it’s clear this special was nothing more than a bit of marketing to get some additional readers to buy Transformers. Even the advert for it in the pages of other Marvel UK comics was exactly the same as that used one year previous (almost to the day) to promote the monthly, with only the issue details changed.
A curious addition to the series but it does complete my set. I’d already come to terms with the fact there’d be no more new stories after the Annual at Christmas but seeing this story again just reminds me of the potential the Visionaries had to become one of the very best licenced comics stories ever.
This is the first comic series on the blog so if this is the first you’re seeing the Knights of the Magical Light there are ten other posts just waiting to be read. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them! As clichéd as that reads, it’s still true.
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 Grantkilling 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.”
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 artworkneeds 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.
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 JackTenrec 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.