Dinosaurs are the New Superheroes: 10 Dino Comics to Make Everyone Rich
Jurassic World, the fourth film generated from Michael Crichton's 1990 novel Jurassic Park, continued to dominate the box office this past weekend, four weeks after claiming the best worldwide opening weekend of all time. It also stomped over Avengers: Age of Ultron to become the fifth biggest movie of all time, and may yet overtake the original Avengers movie as well.
You know what that means, right? Superhero movies are over! Forever! Why, we wouldn't be surprised if Fantastic Four and Ant-Man went straight to DVD and studios pulled the plug on the dozens of superhero movies already in production. Dinosaurs are the new superheroes, and in the future we expect all big-budget, would-be blockbuster films to be dinosaur movies.
Does this mean that comic books and graphic novels will lose their coveted place as the breeding ground for Hollywood's favorite source material? Not at all; there are plenty of dinosaur comics, ripe for film adaptation. Let's take a look at some of the more popular ones, and how likely it is that they may be coming to a theater near you... instead of Wonder Woman, Doctor Strange, or Justice League.
In the post-apocalyptic future, extinct creatures like the dinosaurs have returned while humanity was riding out the end of the world in underground cities. In this new era, old-school mechanical skills are highly-prized, so automobile expert and man-of-action Jack Tenrec is pretty well-suited for a full and adventurous life.
That's the basic plot of cartoonist Mark Schultz's lavishly-illustrated Xenozoic Tales comics, which were published under a variety of names and for a variety of publishers starting with a 1986 short story in Kitchen Sink Press anthology Death Rattle, then followed by a 14-issue Kitchen Sink series. Parts of it have been republished in collections by Kitchen Sink, Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW since.
Schultz's Xenozoic Tales is better known by the alternate title Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, the title used for its 1993 animated series adaptation and various video game adaptations. As grabby and clever as the word "Xenozoic" might be, it's maybe a little too scientific, and it lacks the marketing power of the D-word. Given Schultz's comics track record of past adaptation, it seems well-positioned to serve as source material for a feature film. And the potential for product placement should be obvious — it's right there in the title, after all.
If dinosaurs are the new superheroes, Marvel Studios should still be okay, thanks to this creation of the late, great Jack Kirby, who created or co-created about 90% of all superheroes you see in the movies anyway. The crimson-colored, T-Rex-like theropod Devil Dinosaur starred in a short-lived, well-loved nine-issue series from 1978.
A smarter, tougher, more heroic than average giant carnivore, Devil palled around with an early hominid named Moon-Boy, with whom he shared a special bond, having adventures that involved fighting vicious hominids from the "Killer-Folk" tribe, other dinosaurs, and occasional space aliens.
Devil and Moon-Boy originally hailed from "Dinosaur World," which was either an alternate Earth where humans and dinosaurs briefly co-existed, or the distant past of the Marvel Universe, depending on who you ask. They're often seen stomping around The Savage Land, a Land That Time Forgot-style prehistoric world located in the Antarctic. It's also home to Marvel jungle heroes Ka-Zar and Shanna The She-Devil, and thus easily exploited for future Marvel Studios dinosaur pictures, although it's possible that Fox has dibs on The Savage Land, as it was originally a setting visited by The X-Men.
If Marvel Studios insists on making more superhero movies instead of switching their focus to dinosaur movies, they could at least hedge their bets, and add Devil Dinosaur to the Avengers line-up in future films. They've already used all the good Avengers anyway; who wouldn't rather see Devil Dinosaur in an Avengers movie than Wonder Man or Starfox?
Ryan North's long-running webcomic is one of a the better not-Achewood webcomics, and it certainly delivers the promise inherent in its title: It is indeed a comic, and it stars dinosaurs. Specifically, it stars a green T-Rex, named "T-Rex," who has long, drawn-out funny conversations with a Dromiceimimus and a Utrahraptor... and the occasional, unseen guest-star, most often God, whose voice emanates from somewhere off-panel. (In the strip above, it's the personification of the Uncanny Valley that guest-stars off-panel.)
An extremely constrained comic using even less clip-art that David Rees' Get Your War On, Dinosaur Comics is an excellent dinosaur comic, but it's hard to imagine it ever being turned into a 90-minute film. Granted, I'd love to watch that movie, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to be the studio executive responsible for green-lighting Dinosaur Comics: The Movie, which many moviegoers might start to find repetitive after the seventh conversation between T-Rex and his two pals.
That emphatic title first appeared on a 1988 trading card series from Topps, in the vein of the similarly named Mars Attacks! It told the story of a research project on a manned satellite meant to allow researchers to peer into the prehistoric past, which of course went horribly wrong. Herds of dinosaurs began pouring into the present, all of them — herbivores included — intent on killing as many human beings as possible in as many gory but ironic ways as possible.
These dinosaurs were extremely well organized, as well they should be: Their attack was orchestrated by a dinosaur deity popularly referred to as "Dinosaur Satan" (Not to be confused with Devil Dinosaur, of course).
Defunct publisher Eclipse started a comic book adaptation of the storyline, but only published a single issue. In 2013, IDW re-printed Eclipse's issue and finished the story in a five-issue miniseries, which has since been collected into a graphic novel.
Oddly enough, the card series-turned-comic was almost made into a film in the early '90s. Director Tim Burton was planning on making it... at least until a film called Jurassic Park scuttled those plans, as it was feared the films might be too similar. Burton made Mars Attacks instead, another Topps trading card adaptation, which had a plot almost identical to that of Independence Day. I detect the hand of Dinosaur Satan at work.
The title character is covered from head-to-toe in a tight-fitting black ninja outfit, the only clue to his dinosaur identity being the green scales around his eyes. Well, that and the long tail ending in spikes, and the plates that run all along his spine. Ninjasaur appears to be something from the stegosaurus family. The absurdity of Horn's comic — how does Ninjasaur fit that outfit on over his plates? — is its great strength, but as funny as a Ninjasaur movie might be, I'm not sure it would have mass appeal, for two reasons.
First, film fans are definitely on Team Carnivore when it comes to dinosaurs, herbivores generally only starring in family-friendly movies like Baby: Secret of The Lost Legend, the zillion Land Before Time cartoons, or Disney's Dinosaur, and even in such films there are usually some carnivores playing the heavies. Were Ninjasaur a T-Rex, he might have more broad appeal — although he'd lose his striking profile, and his tiny arms would make holding nunchucks pretty hard.
Second, while people love to see dinosaurs fighting, they generally prefer those dinosaurs do so with their jaws, claws, horns and tails and not, you know, sweet ninja moves.
There's no arguing the appeal of that title, which manages to take one of the English language's most awesome nouns, and modify it with one of the most awesome adjectives. The creation of writer Robert Kirkman and artist Jason Howard, Super Dinosaur is the story of a super-smart T-Rex who uses his tiny little natural arms to control giant robotic arms. With these, SD can punch, chop, lift, carry and hold things, all in an effort to help his heroic human friends Doctor Dexter Dynamo and 10-year-old Derek Dynamo, defend Inner Earth, a lost world of dinosaurs located inside the Regular Earth. (Obviously a good place to look for lost worlds of dinosaurs, according to dinosaur comics.)
Its naked attempt to blur the lines between dinosaur and superhero might make this comic a good bet for feature film source material... as would Robert "Guy Who Writes The Walking Dead" Kirkman's involvement. People sure seem to like live-action adaptations of that guy's comic books, after all.
The dinosaur-fighting Native American hero Turok is probably best-known for his early '90s Valiant revival, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, or his more recent revivals at Dark Horse and Dynamite, but the character is a particularly long-lived one. Turok debuted way back in 1954 in Dell/Western comics, quickly earning his own series entitled Turok: Son of Stone.
In these original Turok comics, the basic premise was established. Warrior Turok and his youthful friend Andar become trapped in a "lost valley" of dinosaurs, which they refer to as "honkers," and by other weird nicknames. The stories could be a bit repetitive, but that was to be expected given the run's long-life — it lasted right up until 1982. Like most of Dell and Western's adventure comics, Turok boasted some gorgeous painted covers, and a large swathe of these comics are still available via Dark Horse's Turok Archives collections.
Future revivals tweaked the premise here and there, in ways big and small, but the essentials remained the same: Whether the Son of Stone or a Dinosaur Hunter, Turok was a Native American hero fought his way through a lost world of dinosaurs.
Like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Turok would seem to have a decent chance at live-action adaptation some day, having already generated a video game and a direct-to-DVD animated film. In fact, feature film has been in various forms of development for years now. Let's just hope they cast a Native American in the lead role, rather than Johnny Depp or Rooney Mara.
Tyrant was a 1994-96 comic book series written, drawn and self-published by Stephen R. Bissette, telling the life story of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was a naturalistic comic, and told as realistically as a comic book about an animal no human being had actually ever seen could be. Incredibly well-made and well-received by readers and critics, the series only lasted four issues, and remains incomplete.
Bissette's approach to dinosaur comics mirrored that of Ricardo Delgado, whose Age of Reptiles consists of a suite of four Dark Horse-published miniseries: Tribal Warfare, The Hunt, The Journey and the just-launched Ancient Egyptians. Each is a silent, "realistic" story featuring various dinosaur species in their original setting, although Delgado has a tendency to come up with dramatic, almost operatic plots for his dinosaur characters, particularly in his first two series, 1993's Tribal Warfare and 1997's The Hunt, both of which are essentially inter-species revenge stories.
Long-time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artist Jim Lawson produced similar dinosaur comics under the title Paleo. Written and drawn by Lawson (with occasional inking from Mirage studio-mate Peter Laird and painted covers by Michael Dooney), each story in Paleo followed a different dinosaur on a different adventure. It began as a webcomic, but has since been collected into a trade.
These are all great dinosaur comics by great artists, but it's hard to imagine any of them being made into feature films, as they lack the one thing audiences look for above all else in their dinosaur movies: Human beings to be chased, killed and eaten by the dinosaurs, before eventually fighting back and winning the day with good old-fashioned mammalian ingenuity.
Lawson has written and drawn a comic book featuring people and dinosaurs together, the Mirage-published, 1993 two-issue miniseries Dino Island, in which an Amelia Earhart-like pilot finds herself on a mysterious island populated by dinosaurs, human castaways and a weird alien structure.
Writer Robert Kanigher collaborated with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito on the earliest installments of this incredibly long-lived feature from the pages of DC war comic Star-Spangled War Stories. Between the years 1960 and 1968, Kanigher and company invented endless riffs on a simple scenario.
At the height of the second world war, various American soldiers in the Pacific theater would crash, beach or wash ashore of a mysterious island populated by dinosaurs... with the odd giant gorilla here and there.
In other words, it was soldiers vs. dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs always made a very good showing. Much of this was due to the element of surprise and the home court advantage, although the fact that Kanigher and company weren't exactly rigorously studying paleontology between issues to make sure the stories were 100% scientifically accurate didn't hurt any (Pterosaurs were big enough to fit airplanes in their beaks, right? And dinosaur hide is bulletproof, isn't it?).
DC resurrected the feature several times over the years (in the pages of Weird War Tales and a 2008 12-issue series entitled The War That Time Forgot), and so-called Dinosaur Island became an occasionally visited setting in the DC Universe.
World War II-era soldiers encountering dinosaurs on a remote island in the pacific has already been done several times in film, but often badly. But maybe it it were pitched as Saving Private Ryan meets Jurassic Park, well, that sure sounds like dollar signs, doesn't it?
Mike Grell's signature sword and sorcery comic series for DC, the original iteration of which launched in 1976 and lasted the bulk of the 1980s, featured Air Force pilot Travis Morgan finding another Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired lost world, this one in the center of the Earth. Among the wizards, warriors and monsters of Skartarsis were, of course, plenty of dinosaurs.
While never the main focus of Grell's Warlord series, various species of dinosaurs wandered in and out of the stories, often simply providing something cool in the background for Grell to draw, or something menacing for the scantily-clad hero to fight.
Given its roots in popular pulp fiction, drawing inspiration from Burroughs' John Carter and Pellucidar novels and Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, it's probably not too terribly likely that Hollywood would want to make a Warlord movie instead of just making a Pellucidar movie, but the silver-haired, goatee-ed Morgan would make for a great action hero role for a male actor of a certain age.
[gallery galleryid="622:139313" showthumbs="no" enablefullscreen="yes"]