Monday, November 19, 2012

Return of the King: Devil Dinosaur 1

Devil Dinosaur #1 (April 1978)
"Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy!"
Written, edited, and drawn by: Jack Kirby
Inker/letterer: Mike Royer

Karen: Here we are with numero tres of our Kirby comics cavalcade. And as much as Kirby's Captain America rankled me, his Devil Dinosaur gave me a chuckle. It's remarkably silly stuff, but goofy fun, at least if one is in the right mood for it.  I completely by-passed this book as a teenager, so this was my first time reading it, as a part of the Marvel Firsts collection. I got the impression reading this that Kirby was really enjoying himself on the book. It seems to me after Kirby left Marvel, he moved away from the super-hero genre and was drawn to science fiction concepts. Both the New Gods and the Eternals allowed him to explore ideas that were in vogue at the time (such as the 'ancient astronauts' idea that was popularized by Erich von Daniken). Kamandi let him run wild with a post-apocalyptic world (supposedly inspired by Planet of the Apes). Kirby also crafted Marvel's adaptation of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which clearly was in synch with his own ideas.So this tale of a prehistoric proto-human and his companion dinosaur seemed right up his alley.

Doug:  Like you I recall seeing this title on the stands and spinner racks back in the late '70's; also like you I took a pass.  I am positive that I never even opened an issue to peek inside.  As I've said in the past, I really had a bad attitude toward Jack Kirby in my pre-teen years.  But you know what?  I'm glad I've matured and broadened my tastes, because as you stated, this is sort of a fun issue.  There's not really a lot of commitment of brain power necessary to enjoy this -- no hidden agendas, major plot twists, etc.  It's straightforward all-ages fun.  You're right -- Jack must have been enjoying himself.

Karen: I think my closest comparison would be watching a 50s or 60s dinosaur movie, like Gorgo or even early Godzilla, or One Million Years BC (minus the 'talents' of Raquel Welch, of course).

Doug:  Karen mentions the Marvel Firsts trade.  The editors at times included letters pages when said pages contained essays from the creatorsI noticed that such a page follows the Devil Dinosaur story, written by Jack Kirby and inviting readers to tag along.  Did you happen to notice that any correspondence about the book was to go to Kirby at home in California?  So he did, indeed, have complete control over this book.  

Karen: That page was so striking I decided to drop it in at the end of our post. You're right, Kirby certainly wanted control over it all. Although I have read that at least on some of the titles -- Cap, maybe -- the letters pages were handled by Marvel. Our story opens with a splash page of a huge red dinosaur, probably a Tyrannosaurus Rex  rushing toward the reader. Sitting on his shoulders is a hairy human-like creature encouraging him forward. In a double-page spread, we see the red dinosaur, "Devil," rush forward at the urging of "Moon Boy," the ape man, to attack a triceratops. This spread is like looking at one of those dinosaur books you had as a kid: just about every dinosaur you can think of is pictured here -triceratops, ankylosaurus, stegosaurus, pterodactyl, etc. I apologize for the quality of the scan -the middle has come out blurred no matter how many times I try to flatten it out and scan it, but I still wanted to get it in here. Moon Boy says that Devil  must beat "Thunder-horn" to prove his superiority. The two gigantic dinosaurs clash and shake the entire valley. Ultimately, Devil winds up knocking Thunder-horn over the edge of a canyon where he disappears far below. The enormous red beast bellows his victory and Moon Boy swings around in the trees in celebration, happy knowing that his 'brother' has won again, ensuring food and safety for another day.

Doug:  The first three pages of the story were indeed bombastic!  I thought it was interesting in this battle scene that Kirby seemed to foreshadow later paleontological research that shows some dinosaurs formerly thought to be short-legged actually may have had longer limbs and would have been able to rear up on their hind quarters.  However, I think Jack grossly overestimates the usefulness of the "arms" of a tyrannosaurus rex...  When I read these pages, I thought of the old Little Orphan Annie exclamation "Leapin' Lizards!"

Doug:  You know, I'd have thought when I started to read this that the film Quest for Fire might have been an influence on Kirby.  But, in running a quick search I found that it didn't hit theaters until 1981.

Karen: As the two buddies stroll off into the moonlit night (in a nice little panel by Kirby), Moon Boy looks at the sky and recalls how the two met. It seems that Moon Boy, a member of the Small Folk, has always been unusually inquisitive. One night he wandered away from his camp to go look at the fire mountain. He watched it spew balls of molten fire as he cautiously moved closer. Suddenly, he came upon a group of brutish ape men, the Killer Folk. He hid and watched them. They had killed a large female devil beast (aka tyrannosaurus), and were now killing her young. I thought it was interesting that as Moon Boy watches them, he thinks, "It is told that all living creatures are food for the bellies of this folk!" I wondered if that might not be a hint that the Killer Folk were cannibals too?

Doug: I guess, by the way Kirby wrote that, it wouldn't be out of the question.  Those were savage times.  But -- they were times certainly not devoid of more modern concerns, such as male pattern baldness!  I cracked up when I saw that guy!

Karen: A group of the Killer Folk surround the last surviving young devil dinosaur. They decide that rather than clubbing him to death, they will burn him, as thanks to the mountain god. But suddenly, there is an explosion and a burst of fire from the ground. The savages flee, believing that the 'Night Spirits' have turned the mountain against them. Moon Boy runs out to the little dinosaur and sees that he is hurt; in fact, the fires have turned his green hide a bright red. Moon Boy tells the injured creature he will help him when suddenly he is attacked from behind by a 'leaper' - a man-sized, long- necked dinosaur who lunges at Moon Boy. The injured Devil manages to clamp down on the leaper's neck and hurl him across the plain. Moon Boy pledges to take the weakened Devil to the forest where he will help him to heal. The two companions find water and food and Devil soon heals and grows strong. The odd twosome become fast friends.But when they return to Moon Boy's village, his people run in fright from Devil. So Devil becomes Moon Boy's only friend, and vice versa. Devil has become the top dog in the forest and the two are pretty much at the top of the food chain. Again, a nice illustration here by Kirby.

Doug:  "Odd" would have been the understatement of 1978.  Has there ever been an odder couple?  OK, maybe Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett.  Did I miss it somewhere why the fire turned Devil's hide red?  For a carnivore, he was pretty accepting of young Moon Boy, and conversely.  Ol' Moonie could have been lunch once Devil healed up.

Karen: I am assuming his skin was burned red, but yes, you'd think the poor bugger would be in so much pain that he'd die, or at the very least, be incapable of moving. But I guess Devil is a tough cookie. But yeah, why not eat the hairy kid? It'd be a much shorter series, I suppose. But the Killer Folk have not been idle. They are busy fighting amongst themselves for leadership of their murderous little group. They want to find a leader who can take down Devil. Once he's out of the way, they can control the valley. The old leader of the tribe is beaten by a challenger, Seven Scars, who claims he has a plan to trap Devil. He stirs the tribesmen up and they head out to build their trap. First up: set fire to the forest! These guys don't seem like the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Doug:  Mindless brutes would be a good description.  Did you notice that there are no females in the story at all?  Given the looks of the men-types, I'd hate to see the dames that contributed half of that DNA...  whoo-boy!  Question -- what exactly would be the goal in controlling the valley?  I'd think these fools already had enough to eat, and although territorial, they didn't seem to lack for space.  I'm thinking that by having Devil around, the situation in the valley was at least controlled.  Careful what you ask for...

Karen: Pure vengeance? Hate? Who knows. Again, not the brightest guys...Moon Boy awakens to the smell of smoke. He realizes the forest is on fire and gets Devil. The two of them see the woods ablaze and Moon Boy quickly figures out that it is not a natural disaster. Hundreds of dinosaurs go running from the flames as Devil instinctively heads for the mountain home of the Killer Folk. As they climb up the winding mountain path, Seven Scars and his ape men wait, with a pit filled with sharpened stakes ready to greet Devil and Moon Boy.

Doug:  I thought Moon Boy showed a pretty evolved mind to go through a litany of potential causes of the fires.  Kirby did a nice job of leaving us with a cliff-hanger ending.   

Karen: So what would happen next? I guess we'd have to get issue number two, or the Devil Dinosaur Omnibus (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing) to find out. Granted, this wasn't anything Earth-shattering, but it was a fun little story that I didn't mind reading.

Doug:  I don't know that I feel as strongly about seeking out future issues as I did with last week's look at the Eternals, but I suppose if someone stuck issue #2 under my nose I wouldn't be upset.

Karen: Kind of funny isn't it? I know I'm thinking about digging out some of my Eternals, and yeah, if I could find Devil Dinosaur on the cheap, well....

Doug:  Dare I say, too, that our look at Jack's return is getting stronger reviews by the week? 

Karen: I am very curious to see how our final subject, Machine Man, will fare next week! Can he keep things going?


William said...

Unlike you guys (Karen and Doug), I did pick up this series when it was originally on the spinner racks starting with issue #1. I was a huge dinosaur nut when I was a kid, to the point that I even wanted to be a paleontologist at one time. So, this series definitely caught my fancy, and I stuck with it until the end. I really loved the characters and the story and I thought that Kirby's art was perfect for this kind of project. Probably my favorite Kirby solo series ever, in fact. I don't still own any of the original comics, but I did buy the hardcover Omnibus at my LCS when they had a bunch of them on sale for the incredible price of $4.99.

As much as I enjoyed this series, I always had a slight problem with the origin of how Devil got to be red. Kirby could have written it so that he'd just been born that way. (Then he could have supplanted Namor as Marvel's first Mutant). Instead Jolly Jack came up with the highly improbable scenario of him basically getting what amounted to a permanent sunburn. Wha? The series got even weirder in later issues when Moonboy and Devil battled hostile aliens from another planet who landed on Earth. I forget who they were, they might have been the celestials or something, I'll have to dig out the Omnibus and check when I get a chance.

All-in-all this was a really fun and whacky series from a time when comics didn't take themselves so seriously, and I'm sure we'll never see the likes of it again.

A little trivia. Devil and Moonboy actually traveled through time and were members of a modern day super team called the "Fallen Angels", that also included other unlikely members like The Vanisher, Ariel, Sunspot, Siryn, Multiple Man and Warlock (the New Mutants version). There was also a kid named Gomi who's power was that he controlled two cybernetically enhanced pet lobsters named Bill and Don. Devil accidentally stepped on Don (the super intelligent lobster) and killed him. This caused some tension among the team. As strange and beautiful as Kirby's original Devil Dinosaur series was, I think Fallen Angels may have one-upped it in the whacky comic department.

Edo Bosnar said...

Personally, I think this is probably the best series Kirby did for Marvel in the late '70s. It just seems to hold up better than all of the other stuff, even the often-lauded Eternals, just because it's such outrageous, silly fun.
By the way, William, speaking of one-upping the whacky vis-a-vis Devil Dinosaur, I think Nextwave has them all beat - I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't read it, but Devil shows up in the last issue of that series ... with a gun...

dbutler16 said...

Is Devil supposed to be a T-Rex? T-Rex has two "fingers" and Devil has three, so this looks more like an Allosaurus to me. Anyway, this isn't something that appealed to me at all back i nthe day, but now I'd consider it worth a look as a pleasant diversion.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I missed this series completely when I was a kid DESPITE being a huge dinosaur nerd. Don't know how I managed to do that. Pity too, because the art in the scans looks great -- Kirby had found a context that perfected suited how his style had evolved in that period.

The first time I encountered Devil Dinosaur was in the pages of ... Godzilla! It seems big green was sent to the past via Dr. Doom's time machine and some how ended fighting alongside Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy against some primitive reptile-worshiping cult. Why if they worshiped reptiles they were against Devil Dinosaur and Godzilla, I couldn't figure out. But the issues were a lot of fun and Herb Trimpe drew a neat-looking Devil Dinosaur too.

Also, anybody else note the irony that this was Marvel's second title featuring a red devil with the initials DD?

Comicsfan said...

That's an interesting observation about Jack directing the mail to California and bypassing the Marvel middleman. Now I'm curious about his responses to future letters--outside of what we've seen of his opinions in interviews, it would be an intriguing glimpse at his personal interaction with readers.

If your curiosity gets to be too much about Devil and that spear trap, have a look at your convenience. This dinosaur hurdles like Liu Xiang.

Fred W. Hill said...

I bought the first issue, perhaps in part due to my geeky thing for dinosaurs. The purist in me, however, was turned off by Kirby's depiction of creatures clearly meant to be ancient ancestors of humans co-exixting with dinosaurs as I knew that (not counting birds) dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, and our ancestors of that time weren't much bigger than an average rat and more the size of a shrew. Yeah, I could take a foursome who gain scientifically absurd abilities via cosmic rays, a guy who gets the abilities of a spider after one gets radioactivated and bites him, etc., etc., but this particular bit of silly sci-fi bugged me. Maybe if Jack had clearly set it in the ancient pre-history of Ka-Zar's "Hidden Jungle" it would have been more palatible to me. Well, I did enjoy Kirby's collaboration with Steve Gerber, Destroyer Duck, over the top absurdity with an agenda.

Anonymous said...

Well, Kirby really looked like he was having fun when he created this series. No heavy stuff about the possible origins of Man like in the Eternals saga, just straightforward prehistoric action-adventure.

Dbutler16, you're anatomically correct about Devil Dinosaur being an Allosaurus instead of a T-Rex but I highly doubt Kirby knew the difference. Most likely, he drew it with 3 fingers because it just looked better!

Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur teaming up with a vastly shrunken Godzilla was perhaps an editorial attempt to combine two dinosaur stories together. Possible scenario : "Hey guys, we've got the license for Godzilla, let's write a story with him and that other dinosaur,er, what's his name, Dumbo Dinosaur or whatever. What's better than a comic with one dinosaur? TWO dinosaurs! The readers will love it!"

- Mike 'Godzilla should stomp the Kardashians' house' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

Fred, as a big-time dinosaur geek myself at the time, I actually avoided the first few issues of Devil Dinosaur for precisely the reasons you stated. However, one my buddies in school - the only other kid in my class who was really into comics like me - was getting the series and let me borrow a few issues. In spite of myself, I thought it was pretty good. The thing is, I looked at it more like a sort action-packed funny animal comic rather than a straight-up SF or historical adventure book.

Inkstained Wretch said...

My understanding is Marvel later retconned Devil Dinosaur to say it took place on a another planet/dimension rather than in Earth's past to get around the issue that Edo & Frank raised.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I remember Kirby saying in an interview he created Devil Dinosaur in the hopes of it becoming a Saturday morning cartoon. Too bad it didn't because I think it had the potential to be a hot selling toy and animated film. It's too bad the people at Marvel didn't market this property properly. I regret that I didn't write to Kirby. I didn't know the mail went straight to him in California. I thought it all got filtered through Marvel and had absolutely no chance of being read by Kirby. If I had only known!

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