Bizarro Back Issues: Dinosaurs vs. Aliens vs. Ants! (1978)
I think I speak for everyone when I say that the most anticipated new comics release this week is the paperback collection of Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur. It’s one of my all-time favorite comics, and while there was a nice oversized hardcover put out a while back, it’s been out of print for far too long. It’s one of the most underrated and exciting comics that the King ever produced, and while it’s not exactly hard to find — most of Kirby’s later work is shockingly cheap if you’re willing to flip through quarter bins for it — the convenience of being able to snag it in paperback is a great thing for the world of comics.
If nothing else, it’s never been easier for readers to experience the thrills of the story where a bright red dinosaur kills aliens by tricking them into being eaten by giant ants. And really, I think we all need that in our lives.
I’ve written about this before, but one of my favorite things about Devil Dinosaur is the way that Jack Kirby sets it up in the first issue. In lieu of a letter column, he offers up an essay about how this isn’t just a story, but a chronicle of history — a history that can never be fully known, because with the sheer amount of time that has passed between the age of dinosaurs and now, anything could’ve happened. He dubs this period “the X-Age,” and claims that while science has declared that dinosaurs and man never coexisted, “it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a friendship such as that shared by Devil and Moon Boy.” It’s enough to make you almost believe that what he’s doing here isn’t just a simple story of dinosaurs kicking each other to death (which is awesome), but that it’s actually how Jack Kirby saw pre-history itself.
Which makes it kind of surprising when the alien robots show up to build the Garden of Eden in #4.
That’s where we’re joining up for today’s selection, “Journey To The Center Of The Ants,” in Devil Dinosaur #5, and what it lacks in an imaginative title — c’mon, Jack, that’s not even really a pun — it makes up for by having one of the strangest battles in comics history.
The setup, as you might have already gathered, is that Moon Boy, the erstwhile sidekick of the title T-Rex, has been captured by robot aliens who want to experiment on him in order to find out more about this bold new species called humanity.
Or at least an extremely hirsute version thereof.
Obviously, Devil Dinosaur, who was born in a volcano and actually does spend the first issue kicking other dinosaurs to death, is not going to brook this extraterrestrial effrontery, so he teams up with badass caveman Stone Hand and totally old caveman White Hair to mount a rescue mission. The problem, however, is that even the world’s toughest dinosaur is slightly outgunned by robots that are capable of intergalactic travel.
Fortunately for the good guys/dinosaurs, Devil’s powerful kicking is not his only asset. As it turns out, he’s not just the mightiest monster of them all, he’s also one of the smartest, and knows exactly how to apply that kicking. As Stone Hand complains in the true fashion of a physically powerful blowhard in a Jack Kirby comic, Devil leads them to a nearby geyser and starts booting rocks into it, thus weaponizing the land itself against his airborne pursuers:
The dinosaur is rude.
As clever as it is, though, this strategy only takes out one of the armored pursuers, and it’s at this point that Devil Dinosaur and his running crew decide to take drastic measures. See, the world of the X-Age doesn’t just play host to dinosaurs and alarmingly hairy cavemen. There an entire roster of bizarre gigantic threats that Devil and Moon Boy have to deal with in this extremely hostile environment that’s something like 94% volcano, and that’s the one big advantage that they have over they far more advanced assailants.
With that in mind, Devil silently leads his comrades into a valley full of the bones of fallen dinosaurs that have been picked clean by “the swarmers.”
Also, there’s the Tower of Death, which sounds like the sort of place that is generally best avoided.
At this point, Devil has already cost the aliens two of their number, and so they decide that it’s time to get serious about taming this wild new planet called Earth. To that end, they roll out the big guns — and I mean that literally, they have a very large gun that they are going to use called the “land crusher,” designed to hand out “precise devastation [...] on a planetary scale!!” They start flying around and just busting up the ground, leveling anything in their path, leaving the Swarmers as Devil & Co.’s only hope.
So just what are the Swarmers? Well, you may know them as THEM!
That’s right, y’all: GIANT ANTS.
Oddly enough, this is the second piece of media that I’ve consumed in the past few days revolving around heroes battling against giant ants, and, even more oddly, neither one was THEM!. Instead, I was playing Earth Defense Force 2025, a video game that’s all about shooting giant insects while people recite amazingly terrible dialogue, some of which is about how their special unit of flying “victory goddesses” with laser swords and jetpacks will give them a prime advantage because giant insects can’t fly. It’s a weird game, but that seems to be a pretty accurate statement. Which, I suppose, is why it’s so handy that the aliens are curios and/or stupid enough to drop down for a closer look at these ravenous monsters that have already killed at least one of them.
Thus, the alien forces are severely weakened, but they’re not quite done yet. Even though Devil, Stone Hand and White Hair have managed to direct the Swarmers at the aliens (and gotten the aliens to take out a big chunk of the Tower of Death in the process, which I assume is a pretty good thing for everyone), the “Sky Demons” are going to stick around for a few issues, and, oddly enough, end up becoming the most notable antagonists of the short-lived series.
In fact, the next issue sees them constructing a gigantic talking computer shaped like a tree that issues pronouncements of knowledge, and features the introduction of a cavewoman named Eev who is trapped in the technological “garden” alongside Stone Hand. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’re all pretty familiar with how that particular story ends, but as for how Kirby gets there… Well, you really just need to read it. Even in this column, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.