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 creators. I 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.
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.
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?