Tag Archives: Walter Simonson

JURASSiC PARK #4: BACK UP SYSTEMS

With issue four the UK version of Jurassic Park was evolving. In the midst of all the hype surrounding the film, Dark Horse International’s monthly was proving a hit. As such, changes were afoot over the next few issues to bring it more in line with the company’s other comics, and to ensure it would be around for a long time to come after proving itself with its initial editions.

The front page doesn’t reuse one of the American covers, instead recolouring a panel from the strip inside (and I love the font they’ve used). The reason was simple. Despite #3‘s checklist stating this would be the final chapter of the adaptation it’s being split in two, so the original cover was being kept in reserve for the following month. This split was to make way for Xenozoic Tales, the first back up strip which I’ll get to later. This was a familiar concept across British action adventure comics (in everything from Transformers to The Punisher) but Jurassic would go even further as you’ll see in #6.

The sequence in the tree with Tim trapped in the Explorer has been completely excised!

Check out this month’s comics checklist and you might get an idea of what’s to come, but for now we’ll concentrate on the issue at hand, which begins with a competition for The Making of Jurassic Park. I actually bought this book at the time and it was a heavy tome, full of details on the making of the film and stands up today as one of the very best of its kind for any movie. You’ll also see an advert for Manga Mania, which fed off the new craze to hit these shores. Ultimately it’d also be a very important title for Jurassic Park fans. But that’s a story for another time.

Our freshly chopped final chapter is still a lengthy 16 pages so regular readers wouldn’t have felt short changed, at least with the page count. Unfortunately, the actual strip itself is another thing. Yes, this is the first time in the comic’s young life when I’ve been left disappointed.

Last month the Tyrannosaurus rex attack was perfectly handled with plenty of tension building and atmosphere so I was looking forward to seeing how the final act would begin. The opening is great, with Mrs Rex towering above Dr. Alan Grant and Lex, both trying to keep completely still.

It’s all going so well until those final couple of panels. The sequence in the tree with Tim trapped in the Explorer has been completely excised! So it plummets to the ground instead and then he’s just unbelievably pulled out and off they go. Alan even has a map at hand to make their trip back to the Visitor’s Centre quicker which is a rather cheeky shortcut. In previous issues scenes had been moved about, moments edited, others added to, all in order to properly adapt the film to the comic page and I’ve been really positive about it. But all throughout this issue huge swathes of story are just missing or reduced to a shadow of their former selves.

Case in point is the fatal encounter between Denis Nedry and the Dilophosaurus. The movie scene included plenty of misdirection and humour, putting the audience at ease before the shock, and that wouldn’t have been easy to translate here but they could have tried. Instead this very famous scene only gets two pages. It’s a very basic sequence now; the dinosaur may as well be a lion. Denis gets attacked as soon as he steps out of the vehicle, he jumps back in and we actually see the Dilophosaurus jump in after him (ruining the final moments of the original) and… well, that’s it.

This truncating happens to basically every major moment, whether it’s the nighttime meeting with the Brachiosaurs, rescuing Dr. Ian Malcolm after the T-rex attack, even the electric fence scene (as you’ll see below) and Robert Muldoon‘s stalking of a Velociraptor. Each are reduced to fit on a page or two and basically follow a set pattern of only showing the first and last moments of the scene and erasing everything else, including almost all the humour.


“Think they’ll have that on the tour?”

Dr. Ian Malcolm

Right back at the beginning of this adaptation I stated how I didn’t usually like comic versions of films and this was the reason why. But up to this point Jurassic Park had been the exception to the rule, with a proper restructuring of the film to suit the format and it was working a treat as a comic in its own right. Maybe if they’d had five chapters instead of four it would’ve worked out differently, but then again maybe the pacing could’ve been plotted out better by writer Walter Simonson and story editor Jim Salicrup. Yes, having all the dino action in the final chapter would, in theory, make for a big climax but there’s just too much to fit in.

The result is a clichéd comics adaptation where it feels more like a way for people to reminisce about the movie they saw in the cinema months previous, rather than working as a good comic book. If I sound overly critical it’s only because the team had been doing such an amazing job so far, even adding in extra dialogue from either the original novel or earlier drafts of the script. So it’s more disappointment than simple negativity.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still things to enjoy here. It’s all on a lovely high quality gloss paper stock this month, some of the best lines from the film are still intact and the art in the first half here is top notch. However, in the second half even legendary artists Gil Kane‘s pencils and George Perez‘s inks start to feel a little rushed and Tom Smith‘s colours feel unfinished and flat, leading me to believe they were working very close to the deadline of getting the original US series out in time for the movie.

The chapter is cut off with a superb cliffhanger though. The view of a Velociraptor‘s feet as it chases Dr. Ellie Sattler is just as unnerving as it was in the film. It’s a shame then the terrifying Velociraptors, when viewed in full, are reduced to looking like miniature T-rexes. Below is this final scene with its positives and negatives, alongside that fence scene with the dramatic resuscitation of Tim also taken out.

I also noticed Ray didn’t volunteer to go to the maintenance shed as he did in the original story, where he met his grisly end. Instead Muldoon and Ellie head off while Ray looks on silently. This means he’s still alive, a big departure from the film. It’ll be interesting to see how that effects the rest of the story next month.

With 16 pages to the main strip I assume there’ll be roughly 12 or 13 next month unless the final chapter was given a few more pages in the original American Topps Comics publication of course. Either way there’s a lot of the film left to cover in half a chapter. The kids and Alan are still out in the park which means their return, the kitchen scenes, the chaos of the Velociraptors in the Visitor’s Centre and the heart-stopping climax are all to come.

I’ll still hold out hope things can be turned around because so far it feels like spending 90 minutes being completely engrossed in a film only for its ending to let you down. Which of course is not what happened with Jurassic Park! For now, the sun sets on the adaptation as we move on to something else entirely.

In the early days of Marvel UK‘s Transformers its back up strips were in some way related to the robotic theme, such as Machine Man or Iron Man. It wasn’t long before it became a way of bringing some of Marvel’s other US characters to these shores for the first time instead, but Jurassic Park kept its strips dinosaur-themed, much to the delight of the teenage version of me. The second back up would appear in my first issue (#6) but here readers were introduced to Mark Shultz‘s Xenozoic Tales.

Later adapted into a cartoon TV series called ‘Cadillacs & Dinosaurs’ it was an independent, alternative title Mark wrote and drew himself, running for 14 issues irregularly released between 1987 and 1996. Most of the strips were printed in black and white but Jurassic Park chose the colour ones from each issue, coloured by Ray Fehrenbach. This issue’s complete story was the first one written by Mark and what an introduction to something brand new this first page was.

Set in the 26th century global warming has resulted in sea levels across the globe forcing humans to initially build underground. After 600 years they’ve reemerged to find their cities flooded, technology virtually non-existent and strangest of all the world is populated by dinosaurs once more. Anyone capable of mechanical work is seen as invaluable and this is where Jack Tenrec comes in, a car mechanic with a penchant for Cadillacs. Thanks to these skills he acts as an unofficial head of security and advisor to his tribe’s leaders and lives on an outcrop (formerly high hills) not far across the water from An Archipelago of Stone, the home of the tribe and in reality the remains of New York City.

I love that first page, cleverly written from the point of view of a Pterodactyl. In the story a neighbouring tribe’s ambassador, Hannah Dundee arrives at the City in the Sea and a team of poachers who had stolen from her Wassoon Tribe want her dead. It’s up to Jack and his men to stop them. All the way through this strip, knowing he’s about to get in way over his head, Tenrec keeps telling his men to send someone called Hermes to help. Then, just as it seems he’s doomed a surprise arrival bursts in. That’s Hermes!

Well I certainly didn’t expect that. Hermes the Allosaurus disposes of the villain, munching on his head and throwing him out the window, before Tenrec thanks him, revealing who this is. That doesn’t mean he’s a pet of course and the usually cool and collected Jack knows it.

It’s brilliant stuff. Original, fun and surprising, introducing the main protagonists, the unique setting and the cast of regular and semi-regular guest characters all in 12 pages while maintaining an interesting story and racking up tension is rather a phenomenal feat. No wonder Xenozoic Tales is so highly regarded even to this day. It may at first seem like a strange choice for Jurassic Park’s back up but it works perfectly and as a teen I remember being engrossed with the slowly developing back story that would become more apparent in later issues.

In between the two strips is this month’s look into the making of the movie, covering the famous disaster that hit Hawaii and the relief efforts the producers helped coordinate, plus the building of sets and the end of principal photography. At the very end of the feature is the teeny tiny box with the date of the next issue including a little tease that things were afoot for the future of the comic.

Thankfully they didn’t say “great news for all readers” or we’d have got the wrong idea. With these couple of pages, a long main strip and a back up it really does feel more like the kinds of UK comics we were accustomed to at the time. I may have enjoyed the extras more than the adaptation this time but I know from memory that what’s to come from Jurassic Park made this one of my very favourite comics growing up. So stay tuned for some terrific stuff from Isla Nublar, as well as from the far future and soon the distant past!

The fifth issue and the conclusion of the movie storyline will be stomping its way on to the blog on Tuesday 26th October.

JURASSiC PARK #3: CUDDLY CARNIVORE

Don’t let the rather playful, pet-like Tyrannosaurus rex on the cover put you off, this is not a sanitised version of Spielberg’s monster movie. Things really do kick off for Dark Horse International‘s UK version of Jurassic Park comic this month, as Dennis Nedry puts his plan into action just as the unfortunate coincidence of a tropical storm hits the remote island of Isla Nublar.

But before we get to that let’s take a look at some of the other bits and bobs from this issue. The full comics checklist returns, featuring all five of the publisher’s UK titles and an extensive list of imports. You’ll notice the next issue of Jurassic Park has no specific date and I’ll get to that at the end of the review. There’s also an advertisement for possibly the worst idea in clothing ever to grace anybody’s chest. It’s difficult to make out but those of us who are old enough will remember these ridiculous t-shirts with a horrible rubber dinosaur sticking out, Alien-style. I remember there being Yoda ones in the shops too and they were just as garish.

But the issue opens up with the biggest competition yet on page two and oh, how this takes me back. My friend had a Sega Mega Drive back then and, while we never played this game, I’m reminded of the weekly trips to the local video store to rent the latest games. The writer certainly seems just as enthused. (It’s definitely a step up from glow-in-the-dark stickers.) If only this kind of hype were evident on the editorial page every month instead of the straight contents list we got instead. It’s not like there wasn’t a lot of Jurassic Park news to get hyped about after all.

The constant presence of rain in the background and the subdued colours envelop the reader in the cold, wet nighttime scene.

Clearly there was an excited human team behind the comic. Readers who had seen the movie a few months previous in cinemas would definitely have been looking forward to this issue too. Things kick off with the sick Triceratops scene now playing out like the movie after last issue’s cliffhanger. As it turns out, the supposedly terrifying creature (which wouldn’t have harmed them anyway) just collapses when the story begins, which makes that cliffhanger a bit of a cheat.

The scene uses more dialogue from the book that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie, specifically the resolution of what made her sick in the first place, which really showcased Dr. Ellie Satler so it’s nice to have these details back in the comic.

While Nedry’s ultimate fate isn’t played out yet we do at least get some extra characterisation for the man whose greed would ultimately lead to the park’s destruction. He’s actually worried about turning off the park’s security before the tour gets back. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he actually cares and his intention is to sneak off to the boat, hand over the embryos and get back before anything bad transpires from the temporary deactivation of the electronic gates.

Of course, the storm would put a rush on things and we all know the outcome for everyone involved. Despite his worry he’s still an annoying hacker at heart and his “hacker crap” still keeps Ray out of the system long enough for his plan to be put into action.

The build up to the main event is superbly handled. The constant presence of rain in the background and Tom Smith‘s subdued colours envelop the reader in the cold, wet nighttime scene. Iconic moments such as Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ian Malcolm‘s chat and that famous moment the giant T-rex stares in at them, looking for a moving meal, are brilliantly captured.

Gil‘s and George‘s version of Ian continues to exude a darker presence, his humorous lines reading a little more cutting than Jeff Goldblum‘s perfect delivery. It’s such a shame then how Walt decided to change a key moment in a way which has a detrimental effect on the character, but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s back up a little to the first appearance of the issue’s big selling point.

Three issues in the comic team finally get to have the big reveal and their first bit of proper dinosaur action, something they’ve only been able to hint at thus far. This was a key scene to get right and just as the tension rose to its crescendo in the movie, here we’ve got pages of rain, booming sound effects and progressively more frightened characters until we turn a page and are confronted with this next image.

Timing is everything and editor Dick Hansom made sure to add an additional advertisement page after the editorial so that later in the comic this would work as intended. Of course, on closer inspection you could critique this image and say the size of the T-rex means she could easily chomp down on cars even with the fence electrified (and also, that’s one huge goat), but then we’d be missing the whole point of this glorious splash page.

Sure there’s some artistic licence at play here but you can’t deny its impact. Those proportions are corrected for the rest of the attack scene and to be honest it was only upon the second reading that this reader picked up on it, such was the impact of this atmospheric rendering.


“It is a beautifully-designed killing machine!”

Panel caption (Walter Simonson)

What follows are an intense few pages which I believe would work just as well on their own merit even without the memory of the movie. In the film the juxtaposition of the giant predator and the kids Lex and Tim made for a genuinely terrifying moment in cinema history. Conveying that to comics panels was never going to be easy but the simple addition of descriptive captions ends up being the perfect solution.

With the attack in full swing, every few panels we get a direct, to-the-point fact about the T-rex‘s size and strength. The attack spans four pages and each of these little captions brings another level of tension until they culminate in “It is a beautifully-designed killing machine” as it stands on the upturned car, its weight squashing the metal down into the mud, Tim still trapped inside. It’s a genius move.

What comes immediately after these superb pages is the first big disappointment in this adaptation.

As you’ll remember, in the film Ian lights a flare to get the T-rex‘s attention away from the kids and only starts running once he knows he’s being hunted down. This gives Alan the chance to rescue the children. But here he just runs away, leaving everyone else to their fate. There’s no indication he’s doing it as the foolhardy yet heroic gesture of the film. It’s completely out of character and if this had happened in the movie it probably would’ve turned the audience against him for the rest of the story.

A very odd choice and one I definitely do not like.

The end result is the same however, with Malcolm being tossed through the walls of the public toilet where lawyer Donald Genaro ran earlier to hide when he abandoned Lex and Tim. The ending to his particular story happens out of frame with only a scream in a speech balloon pointing off the page (in letterer John Workman‘s unique style). This seems like another rather odd choice seeing as how the vast majority of readers will have witnessed the scene play out in the film. Why censor it?

A couple of dubious choices by Walt and story editor Jim Salicrup aside the story rockets towards its cliffhanger. In America this would’ve been the penultimate chapter in a four-issue mini-series but here in the UK we actually still had two parts to come. How so? You’ll find out next month. (I have to try to get you back here somehow!) In the meantime this final page brings things to an end but the issue has more to give before we place it back on the shelf.

Last month the behind-the-scenes feature introduced us to the various special effects departments and their roles in bringing Michael Crichton’s creation to the screen. This time the focus is fully on the mechanical dinosaurs themselves created by Stan Winston and his team in Building a Better Dinosaur.

We all know how the film led the way in its use of computer graphics, but what can’t be forgotten are the wonderfully lifelike creations that the cast actually got to interact with. As a huge fan of Jaws (which gets a humorous mention here), Jurassic Park always felt like a descendant of that original mechanical predator movie and this brief write-up is an interesting look at how they were created and operated. It’s just a shame it doesn’t contain any accompanying design or set photos of the details covered in the text.

The back cover is a double whammy of information on Dark Horse’s range, beginning with a subscriptions page and then a colour advertisement on the back. The company was making real inroads into the UK comics market, bringing international comics to our shores on bigger, better quality paper, chock full of strips and features. It’s unfortunate that the whole market was shrinking rapidly and ultimately there wasn’t much time left for the imprint and its titles. But we’ve got plenty of issues of this comic to go so we’ll not get bogged down with endings just yet.

For now, we’ve got a bit of a wait until the next issue. As explained last time the comic’s schedule was changing. Initially releasing on the last Thursday of each month, this issue came out a week early for some unknown reason and then from September onwards it would be out on the last Tuesday of every month. With all this jumping back and forth is it any wonder the comics checklist didn’t have a finalised date?

So Alan and Lex will have to stay completely still all the way until Tuesday 28th September 2021 and the review of Jurassic Park issue four! Will it be worth the wait?

JURASSiC PARK #2: BUiLDiNG THE PARK

Welcome back to “Isla Nubar” (misspelled like this on the contents page) and Dark Horse International‘s UK version of Jurassic Park from 1993, edited by Dick Hansom. A rather strange cover by Gil Kane and George Perez, given how no dinosaurs have escaped yet. It’s a mishmash of named characters and extras, including a rather red-faced man in the middle. Maybe the raptor is holding his nose.

Inside is the second 28-page chapter of Topps Comics‘ adaptation and a few extras, something we were accustomed to this side of the pond. First up is an advertisement for John Williams‘ soundtrack album. I owned the CD at the time and have been listening to it on Apple Music while reading these. There’s a competition for glow-in-the-dark stickers, a somewhat unimpressive prize compared to later ones I remember. No comics checklist this month, instead a glance at the other titles currently in publication.

The strip continues adding to existing scenes while moving others about in order to adapt the film to the format, something I discussed in more depth last time. This chapter starts off where we left off in the midst of that iconic brachiosaur scene and there’s quite a lot of additional dialogue from Michael Crichton’s novel, such as Dr Alan Grant‘s and Dr Ellie Satler‘s further observations.

One part lifted directly from the book involves a little bit of background on the park itself. To achieve something of this magnitude would require more people than just those on the island, so John Hammond explains others were involved across the globe, knowing only their specific part of the puzzle. To maintain secrecy they were never let in on the bigger picture. The novel goes into things like this in a lot more detail to ground the fantastical story in the real world and if you haven’t already you really should read it yourself (or get the audiobook which is expertly brought to life by Scott Brick).

From here we make our way to the Visitor’s Centre, our characters excitedly discussing what they’ve seen, trying to take it all in. After the Mr. DNA sequence we find ourselves in the lab where we meet Dr. Henry Wu, who was played by BD Wong. In the novel Wu was a central character and certainly not the affable person we saw in the movie.

Crichton’s Wu was ruthlessly ambitious, believed the success of Jurassic Park was solely down to him and never saw the dinosaurs as real; they were engineered adaptations of the originals. He even argued with Hammond about the ability to create any dinosaur they wanted, even new breeds, tailoring them to exact requirements to bring in the most money from paying tourists. All of this would of course form the main plot of the fourth movie, Jurassic World. However, in the comic his role is reduced even further than in the first film, appearing in only three panels with most of his dialogue given to Hammond.


“I’m simply saying that life finds a way.”

Dr. Ian Malcolm

One character who definitely doesn’t suffer this indignity is Dr. Ian Malcolm, so memorably encapsulated by Jeff Goldblum that you can’t help but hear his voice when reading one of his many quotable lines. In the novel Malcom’s fascinating monologues ran to several pages and for the film their essence was broken down and brought to life by Goldblum’s very natural delivery, becoming the very backbone of the story.

This continues in the comic although his characterisation is a little different thanks to Gil and George. Overall he’s still the cool mathematician but his facial expressions make the character a little darker in tone, lending his predictions a more sinister feel. This actually suits the medium. Scenes here don’t have the luxury of playing out over several pages to build tension, so this little tweak in tone works a treat instead. Below is an example as he delivers his most famous line, used as marketing for later movies in the series.

While the Tyrannosaurus rex was the biggest dinosaur and the most publicised the stars were the Velociraptors. Apart from a baby their existence is merely hinted at and talked about for much of the film in an expertly crafted script that built tension for their final reveal and dominance in the latter acts. But young comic readers wouldn’t want to wait three issues to see them on the page.

So, just like last month we’re treated to prehistoric flashbacks to these great hunters in their natural environment (highlighted by Tom Smith‘s change in colours) when game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) introduces them during that memorable dinnertime cow scene. With a graphic novel it’d be easier to follow the movie more closely, but writer Walter Simonson and story editor Jim Salicrup had to give readers a monthly dose of the ‘raptors and I think these scenes are a great solution and a natural fit.

Ian Malcolm‘s quotes aren’t the only ones to survive the transition to comic form. Jurassic Park is a very quotable movie, with a surprising amount of dialogue taken directly from the novel. Some would have to be excised for this shorter form of storytelling but here are a small selection of those to be found in this second issue.

For some reason the comic changes the recorded in-car voice to James Earl-Jones from the film’s Richard Kiley. Maybe Earl-Jones was better known to the comic audience? On a side note, Crichton chose Kiley’s voice in the book so I thought it was funny how Speilberg actually got Kiley to play the part!

The story rolls along until we find ourselves at the T. rex paddock complete with a very worried goat and an almost gloating Malcolm. He knows the park can’t work, knows the natural systems in play are too complex to control and as far as he’s concerned chaos theory proves it. Unfortunately we lose the lovely butterfly effect scene between him and Ellie, but then again without Jeff’s delivery it would probably fall flat.

Maybe this is just a way of speeding the story along, because we’d never have bought Alan [Grant] doing this in the movie.

However, after the others jump out of the vehicle we still get to laugh at him talking to himself about talking to himself, John Workman‘s speech bubbles pointing away from the action, highlighting the fact he’s chittering away on his own. It’s a very funny way to present this moment in a different way, I actually laughed when I read it despite seeing the film countless times already.

At this point we see more evidence of changes to the comic’s pacing in order to fit it all in. In the film Alan jumps out of the moving car when he sees and hears something in a field beside them. Here, he’s out of the car before it’s even started moving away from the T. rex paddock, climbing through a gap in the fence simply because he’s fed up of not seeing any dinosaurs.

It’s not exactly the safest of places to go for a dander! So maybe this is just a way of speeding the story along because we’d never have bought Alan doing this in the movie. It’s the first time I’ve questioned a change made by the comics team. Yes, the very next page is the last but come on, they could’ve simply added a caption to indicate they’d moved away from the T. rex first!

This isn’t a case of going back to the book either because in that they see a vet with a sick Stegosaurus and walk over in a safe environment, whereas here you can see they get surprised by an apparently healthy Triceratops. Same species as the film but this isn’t how the encounter played out. Could there be a major change of plot here? Or just a quick cheat for a cliffhanger? We’ll find out next month.

If chapter one was the introduction to the story, the setting and the characters, this month has been the build up. We all know next month will include the elements all coming together to create the disaster that befalls the park so I’m interested to see how that will be adapted for the comic and how successful it will be.

Straight after the strip is the second of the behind-the-scenes features, explaining the differences between the four special effects teams and what each of their roles were. Miniature photography for animatics and choreography, the full-motion live-action creations, the mechanics for those beasts and of course the CGI. It’s easy to forget these days just how far ahead of anything else Jurassic Park was in 1993. The fact it looks just as spectacular 28 years later is testament to the hugely talented individuals who worked so hard to create Spielberg’s vision.

I saw the film in a Glasgow cinema with my dad and then devoured the novel that summer, after which I bought a fantastic book called The Making of Jurassic Park by Don Shay and Jody Duncan. There had been such books for movies before but the level of detail in this one was second to none. Fascinating stuff but lost when I moved out of home years later. These features have me eager to read it again, so I might just add it to the Christmas list this year.

On the back cover was another advert with that timeless logo and the island sunset. More a tease, it announced the inevitable video game coming to multiple formats in three months’ time. More memories are flooding back because I owned the Nintendo Game Boy game and spent many a late night in bed before school playing it under the covers with that massive, heavy light attachment on top of the little monochrome screen. Happy memories indeed.

For reasons now lost to time the third issue of Jurassic Park would only take three weeks to arrive, releasing on 19th August, the penultimate Thursday of the month rather than the last like the first two issues. Oh well, it just means there’s less time to wait. But, from #4 it changes again to the last Tuesday of every month, so there’ll be a longer gap between the next two! Why this happened is anyone’s guess.

But the main thing is that #3 is here in just 21 days’ time on Thursday 19th August. Until then, don’t move. It can’t see you if you don’t move.