The Greatest Dinosaurs in Comic Books
Recently, Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard released the first issue of their all-new Super Dinosaur, where the creative team behind The Astounding Wolf-Man reunite to add robot arms, rocket launchers and shoulder-mounted laser guns to the grand and wonderful pantheon of comic book thunder lizards.
And what a pantheon it is. While they've never had quite the enduring popularity in comics that was enjoyed by gorillas, there have been plenty of super-villain and super-hero sauropods running around in comics over the years. That's why today, we're figuring out just what Super Dinosaur's up against in the lizardy legacy by running down a few of Comics' Greatest Dinosaurs!
When you're talking about dinosaurs in comics, the obvious place to start is Ryan North's appropriately titled Dinosaur Comics, starring a chatty green T-Rex named (again, very appropriately) T-Rex. Along with his friends Dromiceiomimus and Utahraptor, T-Rex explores some very complex issues with surprising insight and clarity.
Also, sometimes the Devil shows up to talk to him about video games.
What's really great about T-Rex, though, is that Ryan North writes him so well that he's still good after eight years of doing the exact same thing in every single strip. For other characters, stomping on that log cabin and the poor woman in Panel Four every day would get tiresome after five, six years tops. T-Rex, on the other hand, keeps things fresh, and he does it in a way that I think we can all relate to: By talking a lot about Batman.
The only downside is that it makes me wonder if the Batman who exists in the world of Dinosaur Comics is himself a dinosaur, and if so, why can I not read about him every day of my life?
While we're on the subject of webcomics, if there's one thing I've learned from my years on the Internet, it's that people absolutely love it when there are ninjas who are also other things. Doctors, GI Joes, Teenage Mutant Turtles, they're all part of the beloved genre of "ninja who is also." But there's always room for more.
Created by cartoonist Jason Horn in 2007, Ninjasaur is exactly what his name implies. What sets him apart from the other eight million permutations of "ninja who is also" and "dinosaur that is also" characters floating around the internet on cheap t-shirts is that Horn's work is actually every bit as good as you want a story with that title to be.
For one thing, when he kicks a dude in the face, he's also smacking him with his rad stegosaurus tail, nature's most perfect ninja weapon. And for another, he's surprisingly well-developed as a character. For instance...
...a look at his apartment shows that he enjoys both ninja weapons and cats. It might not sound like a lot, but it puts him well ahead of the curve.
Unlike their heroic cousins on the web, dinosaurs in mainstream super-hero comics are most often portrayed as villains. Now, I'm not saying this is technically racist, but it's certainly disrespectful to our Saurian-American friends, like Spider-Man's old foe Stegron.
Stegron -- who was pretty much cursed to become a villain when he was born with the name Stegron -- isn't just a half-dinosaur monstrosity, he also has the incredible ability to mentally control any nearby dinosaur. And that is, without question, the most useless super-power of all time.
Or at least, it would be, if Stegron did not live in a universe where there was an entire continent full of dinosaurs, or where he could just break into some dude's office at Empire State University and walk about with a laser beam capable of turning fossils on display in a museum back into their living, breathing, stomping former selves. In that case, yeah, it's actually pretty handy. I will definitely stand by my assertion that his goals are not that great:
A new age of dinosaurs? C'mon, Stegron, haven't you seen The Land Before Time? Look around, man! There ain't enough tree-stars to go around! Think it through!
When I was compiling my picks for this list, I initially didn't include Godzilla because I wasn't sure if he actually counted as a dinosaur rather than just a giant monster. A friend of mine then set me straight with the knowledge that Godzilla was, and I quote, "an atomically mutated Godzillasaurus." And who am I to argue with science like that?
Good thing, too, because Godzilla is awesome, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the comic book version is actually better than the Godzilla of the movies. I mean, for one thing, it wasn't the comic book version that was in a mind-blowingly wretched Matthew Broderick movie, now was it? Although now that I say that, I am willing to accept that Godzilla would have been pretty amazing as Max Bialystock opposite Broderick's Leo Bloom in The Producers. Somebody oughtta get on that.
Anyway, the Godzilla of the comics starred in a Marvel series that saw him yelled at by J. Jonah Jameson, traveling through time and shrunk down to six feet tall so that he could wander through the streets of Manhattan incognito with a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses. Really.
More than that, though, G to the Z also has the distinction of starring in what may in fact be the single greatest example of the comic book art form ever produced:
Godzilla vs. Barkley.
We basically could've shut down the entirety of civilization after that comic came out, because there was nothing left to conquer. Except for Godzilla on Broadway doing battle against Julie Taymor, I mean. Make it happen, Toho.
And then there's this guy. Ugh.
Not to be confused with the gigantic eyeball that somehow manages to menace Middle Earth while actually being on fire, Sauron the X-Men villain is one of those characters that I've just always reflexively hated. His origin story is that he's a scientist who somehow turned himself into a Pteranodon that was also a psychic vampire, and that's about as far as I get before my eyes glaze over and I fall asleep from boredom.
I just don't get it. I mean, a were-dinosaur? That should be awesome, even if the whole psychic vampire thing is a classic case of gilding the scaly lily. Maybe it's the loincloth.
I imagine that a lot of people my age were introduced to Sauron in the same way, through a comic given away at Pizza Hut circa 1993...
...and while it certainly did the job of killing time while I waited for my delicious reward from a successful grade of the Book It! reading challenge, it never really did a great job of explaining why he wanted to kill the X-Men. And really, if you can't get an 10 year-old waiting for a pizza to want to learn more about a flying dinosaur man, the problem ain't on my end, buster.
While we're on the subject of things that I've never had any time for, I'll be real with you guys: It is literally impossible for me to care less about the Transformers. It could be that I just invested too much in G.I. Joe and MASK when I was a four-year old, but Optimus Prime? Cybertron? Starscream? Can't be bothered.
Grimlock, on the other hand, I can totally get behind.
Robots who turn into cars or planes and fight over crystals or whatever? Eh. Robot who turns into a Tyrannosaurus and only wants to smash everything? Yes.
My only problem with Grimlock comes from the whole thing where he's a Transformer. I mean really, if you were a robot that had the option of being a dinosaur, why would you ever want to be anything else? Opposable thumbs and arms that aren't hilariously tiny are way overrated.
Everything you need to know about Tyrannosaurus Reich can be found in the following picture:
He is a dinosaur that is also a Nazi, complete with a gigantic Mauser and a Baron Strucker scar across his eye. And he has one of the best pun names in comics history.
Created by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke in Major Bummer -- which is getting a trade paperback release from Dark Horse later this year -- T-Reich emerged into the world from a dimensional portal opened by an anti-matter explosion, and while that's a perfectly acceptable origin in the world of super-hero comics, it also raises so many questions. Is he the product of Nazi super-science gone wrong, or is he somehow from a dimension where evolution somehow allowed for the rise of white supremacist dinosaurs? And is he still mad about the Thor movie's casting?
Either way, Marvel's Swarm may still hold the title of being the most over-the-top villain ever created for being a Nazi made of bees, but a Nazi dinosaur who only speaks German has got to be a close second.
Speaking of the horrors of super-science, I would be remiss if I didn't throw the spotlight onto the sensational character find of 2009, Dr. Dinosaur, a villain so great that I imagine the most difficult task in the entirety of comics is not making him the villain of every Atomic Robo story.
Despite Atomic Robo's insistence that this is not the case, Dr. Dinosaur believes himself to be a time traveler from pre-history who holds a serious grudge that leads him to try to kill Robo as often has he can. As a result, his appearances tend to play out like Wile E. Coyote cartoons, except that the coyote is a dinosaur and the roadrunner is an indestructible robot who gets blown up and has his car stolen.
In other words, he's awesome.
Finally, we have the undisputed master of pre-history, the greatest thunder lizard to ever stomp across the comic book page: Devil Dinosaur!
Often overlooked as one of the Jack Kirby's lesser works, Devil Dinosaur is in fact fantastic, mostly for reasons that really need no further explanation than "dinosaur comic created by Jack Kirby." The one that always cracks me up though -- and the one that I mention every time the character comes up -- is the text piece in #1 where the King waxes philosophically about how since no one knows exactly what the age of dinosaurs was like, then his goal was to present a story that very well could have happened in what he termed "The X-Age." He was presenting readers with facts.
Which is why in the fourth issue, Devil Dinosaur totally stomps the living crap out of the aliens who came to Earth to build the Garden of Eden.
We live in a big world, folks, and it's entirely possible that somewhere out there, there's something I might grow to love more than I love that last panel and its hilarious BONK BONK BONK sound effects. But that is not likely.