July 12, 2012
A few months back, I mentioned a comic-movie tie-in that sounds like a shameless cash grab – Dinosaurs vs Aliens. Sadly, the titular extraterrestrials are not the parasitic, acid-spitting ALIENS of horror movie fame – imagine what a Triceratops chestburster would have looked like! – but super-intelligent robo-squid who want to wrest control of the earth from the indigenous dinosaurs. Up until yesterday, I had only seen the promotional hype for this monstrous mash-up. Then Part 1 of the comic arrived at my door.
The front matter makes the origin and intent of the story crystal clear. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of the comic-book adaptation Men in Black and its sequels, wanted to organize a graphic novel as a dry run for a feature film. (Rumor has it that there are big plans to turn this story into a cgi-filled blockbuster.) The dinosaur-meets-alien idea came out of the director’s interest in manifest destiny and the atrocities visited on Native Americans by white settlers and explorers who took western North America for themselves. The equation is simple. Sonnenfeld’s aliens are the equivalent of white settlers, and the dinosaurs – daubed with war paint and feathers – are the Native Americans in this alternate history tale.
Scribe Grant Morrison fleshed out Sonnenfeld’s idea, and artist Mukesh Singh brought the tale to life. The result is a glossy detailed book that sets the stage for this prehistoric war of the worlds.
The first chapter is tight and well-executed. Morrison uses a recorded message from one of the alien explorers – discovered in the aftermath of the epic battle the comic describes – to simultaneously explain the alien plan and characterize the primary dinosaur cast. As the alien regretfully describes their plans and hopes for the new world, the dinosaurs act out their own drama according to the narrative. In this first part, the stories of the aliens and dinosaurs dovetail. Since the dinosaurs don’t speak, though, Singh is mostly responsible for telling their story. His scary, osteoderm-covered dinosaurs are further augmented by feathers, paint, and fancy headdresses, and while not totally accurate, each kind of dinosaur that appears is immediately recognizable. Big, sharp-toothed tyrannosaurs, spinosaurs, and allosauroids are the dinosaur leaders, but there are sauropods, ankylosaurs, pachycephalosaurs, and others in the background.
Singh maintains the sharp, beautiful contrast between our Mesozoic heroes and the technologically superior aliens in chapter two, but the narrative starts to slip. Morrison shifts from the taut, straightforward storytelling he established in the first chapter into a purple, flowery style. “When we sounded the arrival horns, it must have seemed as if the sky tore open and rained cathedral bells,” one panel gushes, and another describes how the invading aliens trailed “flags of rainbow vapor, on streamers of cloud.” It’s all a bit too much, especially when Singh beautifully illustrates the scenes on his own.
Even the art eventually falters. Singh’s illustrations in chapter 3 aren’t anywhere as crisp or details as in the first two sections, and here we start to meet awkward, poorly-drawn dinosaurs that look as if they were dashed off in a race to meet publication.
Despite these issues, Dinosaurs vs Aliens is not as corny as I expected. The ‘manifest destiny’ metaphor feels a little heavy-handed at times, but, so far, the parallel with human history keeps the story moving forward at a brisk pace. Since the Part 1 is primarily concerned with filling in background and setting the scene, though, the real test of the graphic novel will be when Sonnenfeld, Morrison and Singh do with the conflict they have created. The premise is in place, and both sides are poised to strike at each other, but the war is yet to come.
April 20, 2012
Dinosaurs will fight just about anyone. That’s what movies and comics have taught me, anyway. No surprise, then, that we will soon see a science fiction mash-up that has been due for some time now: Dinosaurs vs. Aliens.
The graphic novel’s premise is exactly what it sounds like. Aliens visit the Mesozoic, and the dinosaurs don’t take too kindly to the invasion. To level the playing field, comic creator Grant Morrison made the dinosaurs extra intelligent. A smattering a preview art even shows dinosaurs that apparently decorated themselves with bone weapons and feather headdresses. Mercifully, though, Morrison’s dinosaurs don’t talk. Instead, much like the creatures in Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles series, the dinosaurs communicate through body language. In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Morrison said, “In fact, imagine The Artist, but with bloody, razor-sharp fangs!”
And that’s not all. Even though the graphic novel hasn’t even hit shelves yet, the story is being transmuted into a screenplay for a feature film. Multiple reports and interviews mention that Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld is working with Morrison on a big-screen adaptation, although there is no certainty that we’ll ever see a Tyrannosaurus chomp into a flying saucer in the theater. The “versus” hook is already pretty worn, and last year’s Cowboys & Aliens—also adapted from comics—was not the awesome blockbuster that Hollywood executives were hoping for. I think dinosaurs have a bit more cultural pull than cowboys, but silent dinosaurs versus alien hordes might be too silly and contrived to make it to the big screen. Might this be the next great dinosaur film? I’m skeptical.
August 16, 2011
A few months ago I took at look back at Jim Lawson’s dinosaur-centered series Paleo. This wasn’t like Disney’s Dinosaur, but a bloodier collection of tales about survival in the Late Cretaceous of North America. The comic’s run ended a few years back, that is, until Lawson started posting pages from his previously unpublished story “Loner” on the web.
As you might guess from the title, “Loner” is the tale of a solitary tyrannosaur. He is one hate-filled beast. In the first few pages alone our star contemplates devouring the young of a nearby female tyrannosaur for no other reason than to quell his inner turmoil. Not exactly a sympathetic hero.
I won’t say more about the story here—you can check it out for yourself as the the tale continues. In regard to the artwork, though, “Loner” gets off to a rough start. The artwork is not as detailed as that in the original run of the series, and there are a lot of odd, sharp angles on the dinosaurs. The tyrannosaurs look pointy in places they shouldn’t. It’s also difficult to tell the individual animals apart—the book is filled with tyrannosaurs, each looks almost the same as any other. Thank goodness there are text panels to explain who’s who. Given the general lack of new dinosaur comics lately, though, I’m still glad to see Paleo back for another round.
[Hat-tip to Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs for tipping me off to Lawson's blog.]
May 26, 2011
According to Robert Mash, author of How to Keep Dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex is the antithesis of everything a good pet should be. “Literally awful and almost certainly needing a special insurance policy” to keep, the king of the tyrant dinosaurs would be nothing more than a bloody catastrophe waiting to happen. That hasn’t stopped dinosaur fans from imagining what it might be like to keep a pet tyrannosaur, though, and that childhood fantasy was played out in Doug TenNapel’s 2005 graphic novel Tommysaurus Rex.
TenNapel’s story starts out with a sadly familiar tragedy—a young boy named Ely loses his best friend when his dog is struck and killed by a car. In an attempt to take the boy’s mind off the accident, his parents send him to stay on his grandfather’s farm for the summer. Insult is added to emotional injury when a gang of bullies assaults Ely, but he quickly finds a new friend and protector. Locked away in the recesses of a cave is a Tyrannosaurus rex—a friendly dinosaur that just happens to have the same mannerisms as Ely’s lost dog.
Naturally, the Tyrannosaurus immediately shows off why big, carnivorous dinosaurs would not make good pets. The predator gobbles up a cow, plows through fences, gives a few houses some impromptu remodeling, and leaves king-sized piles of dino scat all over the local park. Fortunately for Ely, though, the mayor and other townsfolk allow the dinosaur to stay, as long as the boy provides some better training for the prehistoric beast. Almost everyone seems mollified, save for one spiky-haired bully who has it out for Ely and his dinosaur.
But the story is not really about what it would be like to keep a Tyrannosaurus as a pet. The dinosaur is one big MacGuffin—an object that keeps the story moving along as the main characters develop. The dinosaur is there to teach Ely about loss, responsibility and, ultimately, sacrifice as his relationship with the town bully changes. There are a few cute moments specific to the dinosaur—legendary stop-motion film artist Ray Harryhausen makes a cameo to sketch the tyrannosaur—but the story is about Ely beginning to gain some emotional maturity more than a fantastical tale of a life with a dinosaur.
Drawn in black-and-white, TenNapel’s art is closer to that of Calvin and Hobbes than dinosaur-focused comics like Paleo or The Age of Reptiles. That doesn’t mean that TenNapel traded accuracy for a more distinctive personal style, though. The story’s Tyrannosaurus isn’t a plodding, Godzilla-like monster, but a lithe and agile creature that fits modern restorations of the famous dinosaur. Of course, a few embellishments were needed to make the carnivorous dinosaur a sympathetic character; for instance, the eyes and brow ridges of the dinosaur move to give the gargantuan pet emotional depth.
Tommysaurus Rex is not a detailed exploration of what it would be like to keep a pet Tyrannosaurus. It is not meant to be, and that’s a good thing. If Ely’s tyrannosaur had acted like the genuine article—one of the largest predators ever to walk the earth—the boy’s relationship with the dinosaur would have probably ended very abruptly. A flash of teeth, a crunch, and the book would have been finished. I am glad TenNapel took a different route!