Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New book: Learn how to hunt dinosaurs this September

Have gun, will time travel? Then there is a soon-to-be-released book you may want to pick up before heading to the Mesozoic.

Dinosaur Hunter: The Ultimate Guide to the Biggest Game is billed as a field guide for time travelers seeking to hunt dinosaurs in their native habitats. I don't know much about the book other than it is labeled as science fiction and the author – Steve White – was the editor of an excellent book about modern-day dinosaur art. Here's the cover blurb:
Congratulations - your application for a Mesozoic hunting license has been successful!

Before you travel back in time and charge headlong into a teeming pack of prehistoric big game, we strongly advise that you read the following guidebook. It will provide you with information crucial to success - and survival! You will learn the basic facts of geography, climate and environmental conditions of the three periods that make up the exciting Mesozoic era. Then you will uncover the startling variety of fauna that populates this ancient earth, as well as the specific information on tracking, spores and behaviour so essential for the field sportsperson. Remember, in this time, these monstrous beasts rule the earth, so arming yourself with the facts is vital. Let the hunt begin!
Dinosaur Hunter comes from Osprey Publishing, which is best known for its detailed military histories. However, the company also publishes a line of mock “nonfiction” histories about fantastic subjects, such as werewolves, alien invaders, or the Nazi occult.

Dinosaur Hunter will be released Sept. 22. In the meantime, feel free check out my two essays about dinosaur hunting: “T. rex in my sights: the ethics of hunting dinosaurs” and “Gunning for dinosaur.”

(Note: This post has been updated to incorporate the most recent version of the cover art.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dinosaur Rex by Jan Strnad and Henry Mayo (1987)


Dinosaur Rex is two comics in one. In the title story, Hempsted Grenville is a rich playboy living in an alternate 1920s where dinosaurs still exist. Most of his money comes from his uncle, who went missing several years ago during a hunting trip in Africa. Hempsted soon learns that the family fortune has been depleted, so his aunt charges him with finding his uncle and the treasure he allegedly found during his time in the Dark Continent. Hempsted teams up with his attractive cousin Flavia and his uncle's manservant Duubadah – actually an intelligent species of dinosaur with psychic powers – on an adventure that will lead them to a lost city and a mythical dinosaur graveyard.

The second story - “The Dragons of Summer” by William Messner-Loebs and Dennis Fujitake – is set several hundred years in the future after humanity spread to the stars and mutated into different species. However, space colonization didn't work out, so the various types of humans returned to Earth where they live in uneasy co-existence. Chester Franks is a regional director in a bureaucracy that helps former space colonists reintegrate into Earth society. Other than the paperwork, Franks' greatest challenge is battling the racism that “normal” humans feel toward their mutated cousins. Then there are the dinosaurs that start mysteriously appearing throughout the city.

My thoughts

Dinosaur Rex is a three-issue comic book series that may have the dubious distinction of being the most obscure comic I have reviewed on this site. It was published in 1987 by Upshot Graphics, a division of Fantagraphic Books, a U.S.-based publisher of alternative comics. The comic didn't sell well: After the first issue, the creators switched from color to black-and-white illustrations to save money. Don't let that dissuade you from hunting down Dinosaur Rex because it actually is pretty fun.

The title story is a satire of Victorian adventure fiction. The two lead characters couldn't be more incompetent, bumbling from one misadventure to the next. They only survive thanks to the efforts of their dinosaurian butler, who proves more capable than any human in the series. The writer, Jan Strnad, explains in an afterword that Dinosaur Rex was inspired by the works of P.G. Wodehouse, a British humorist whose most famous creation was a butler who looked after a dim-witted aristocrat. I haven't read any of Wodehouse's works so I can't say how the comic compares, but Dinosaur Rex stands on its own as a fun little adventure that packs a surprising amount of story in three issues. The art is very nice and actually looks better in black and white than it does in color. The dinosaurs look a little strange given they are often drawn with oversized cartoonish eyes - and they are of the tail-dragging variety - but Dinosaur Rex was never meant to be a comic aiming for scientific accuracy.

“The Dragons of Summer” isn't as much fun by comparison, although it still works as a nice filler story. The mystery of the dinosaurs' sudden appearance drives the plot but the terrible reptiles only play a minor role. What makes the story is notable is its sympathetic portrayal of a government bureaucrat, a job that usually doesn't get a lot of love in fiction. Franks, the main character, is a good guy just trying to do the best he can with the limited resources he has available. The writer, William Messnet-Loebs, also tries to make a point about racism, but the message comes across as heavy handed. The art by Dennis Fujitake is quite good and, like in Dinosaur Rex, looks better in black and white.

  • As far as I can tell, Dinosaur Rex was only one of three titles published under the Upshot Graphics brand. The others were Flesh and Bone and The Miracle Squad.
  • None

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Return to the Age of Reptiles this summer

Jurassic Park isn't the only dinosaur-themed media property getting its fourth installment this summer. Dark Horse Comics announced Monday it will release the next chapter of Ricardo Delgado's excellent Age of Reptiles series on June 3.

Age of Reptiles is a comic book series told from the point of view of dinosaurs living in different periods in the Mesozoic. It isn't a realistic take on the subject as dinosaur behavior is anthropomorphized to the extreme, but the stories are fun and the art is beautiful. Delgado kicked off Age of Reptiles in 1993 - the same year as the first Jurassic Park film - with Tribal Warfare. That effort was followed three years later by The Hunt. After a long hiatus, the series returned in 2009 with The Journey (which I have yet to review here, a situation I plan to soon rectify).

The fourth installment is titled Ancient Egyptians, but don't expect pyramids and mummies. Rather, the story is set in Cretaceous Africa and features a Spinosaurus as the protagonist. The preview art indicates Delgado will incorporate recent discoveries suggesting the dinosaur spent much of its time in the water and walked on all four limbs. I, for one, am intrigued: I recently visited the National Geographic museum to see the Spinosaurus exhibit and attended a lecture by the two paleontologists responsible for the new interpretation of the animal. I love it when writers and artists incorporate the latest discoveries from paleontology into their work. (Hear that Jurassic World! Yeah, I'm talking to you and your naked raptors!)

I'm sure it's no coincidence Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians will debut a week ahead of the theatrical release of Jurassic World. Anyway, for a preview of the comic and an essay by Delgado on his inspiration for its story, check out this article over at Comic Book Resources. And if you want to catch up on the series, the first three installments have been collected in a single volume available as both a digital download and paperback book. (The cover picture above is from the collection.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rip in Time by Bruce Jones & Richard Corben (1986)


Off-duty police officer Rip Scully (hence “Rip” in Time) and his fiancĂ© Maggie are on their way to a party when they stop at a liquor store to buy wine. As Rip is making his purchase, a street thug, Sid, and his girlfriend, Darlene, barge into the store to rob it. Sid shoots the clerk, causing Rip to draw his own gun and shoot back, but he misses. Sid runs outside, grabs Maggie as a hostage, then flees the scene with her in Rip’s car. Rip figures two can play that game: He grabs Darlene - who Sid has left behind – hotwires a car and pursues Sid. Their chase leads them to a secret military base that is conducting time travel experiments. Sid and Maggie go racing through a time portal leading to the Mesozoic, with Rip and Darlene in hot pursuit. Rip is determined to save Maggie from Sid and the dinosaurs, but the military personnel who run the base don’t want anyone coming back alive.

My thoughts

Rip in Time was a five-issue comic miniseries first released in 1986 and later published as a single volume in 1990. The artist, Richard Corben, is somewhat famous in the comic book world, mostly for his work in Heavy Metal magazine. There is no denying his talent as most of the art in Rip in Time is fantastic. It’s the writing that leaves much to be desired.

Rip in Time is an adult comic heavily influenced by 1970s-1980s action movies. These movies were far from politically correct, often featuring gratuitous violence, racial stereotypes, and the occasional rape scene. Sadly, Rip in Time has all three. The story doesn’t get off to a good start when one of the first scenes involves a male scientist sexually harassing his female boss, which includes the revelation he has been secretly filming her in the shower room. The whole thing is played for laughs as the scientist is actually one of the good guys. (Oh that lovable scamp!) The sexism doesn’t stop there. Later, when Sid kidnaps Maggie, he is constantly threatening her with rape. Fortunately when the rape comes, it isn’t shown. Unfortunately, we get to see Sid beating Maggie right before he violates her, and it is implied she enjoys it. And did I mention Sid the violent rapist is the only dark-skinned character in the story? Ugh.

The writing is terrible all around, with silly dialogue and character motivations that don’t make sense. The bright spot is the comic’s black-and-white art. Corben’s drawings are stylized yet extremely detailed. (You can see examples here, here, and here.) He sometimes tries to squish too much action into too small a space, resulting in deformed people, but for the most part the art is very atmospheric. The Mesozoic is portrayed as a Skull Island-like prehistoric wilderness that, while not scientifically accurate, sure is pretty to look at. The dinosaurs were obviously inspired by Charles R. Knight paintings, almost to the point of plagiarism: Corben’s T. rex and Triceratops come straight from this painting. That said, he nails the style so well it’s hard to hold it against him.

I love the art and Rip in Time has a few good action scenes, but I can’t recommend the comic. The horrible writing holds it back. The series is interesting only as a failed marriage between prehistoric adventure stories and violent 1980s action flicks. Call me a prude, but I like my dinosaur stories to be a little less rapey.