Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #001: The World Below

Monday, January 27, 2020 at 9:00 am Comments Off on Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #001: The World Below

Turok: Son of Stone #596

The humble origins of Turok, published by Dell Comics all the way back in December 1954, presented in the pages of Turok: Son of Stone… issue 596? What the?! We’ll get to that in a bit, don’t panic.

Every issue of Turok: Son of Stone features a lavishly-painted cover, depicting our heroes in the throes of some prehistoric predicament. This first cover is comparatively tranquil, all things considered, with Turok finding safety in the mouth of a cave and scoring front-row seats to a tyrannosaurus tussle. Later covers would portray all manner of high-octane scenarios, spurring the imagination of any child bearing witness to it… and more often than not depicting events that don’t even occur in the story.

And so begins Turok and Andar’s unlikely adventure – by casually namedropping ways of cooking outdoors, reminding each other of the danger of wildfires, and discussing the lack of watering holes on the Guadalupe mountain range. It’s a bit of heritage that got lost in later revivals, but Son of Stone is very much an adventure comic in the classic definition: when adventure meant finding ways to survive in the wilderness, and simply not knowing what tomorrow may bring.

The pair investigate what looks to be an enormous plume of smoke, but is in fact a huge colony of bats – “All the bats in the world!” In desperate need of water, they voyage into the bats’ lair. The cave is far larger and deeper than they anticipate, and besides the bats, the only sign that there was once life here is an unbroken human skeleton – perched next to a well of suspicious water.

The search continues, and Andar fears they may never find their way out of this cave… when they find a running stream! It’s not only safe to drink, it’s the closest thing they have to an exit. They’re not alone in the waters, though – it’s full of eyeless fish, their sight long since abandoned having lived in the cave for generations…

… and a big stinkin’ bear! They’re in no position to fight back or make a quick exit, but the fish do the job for them – they’re also vicious vicious meat-eaters!

They follow the adjacent trail to a vast opening, and soon find themselves in a vast new world: “A world below the desert!” For all intents and purposes, it’s a sprawling, immeasurably huge wild land, but implied to still be part of the fateful cavern. “Some of the roof has fallen in,” Turok comments, a visual that is never actually depicted in the comic’s artwork, but paints an uncanny atmosphere of the sprawling, endless land still being ominously enclosed.

Its sheer size isn’t the only uncanny thing about it: there’s all manner of curious wildlife, including giant dragonflies and even bigger reptiles, snatching up prey in its giant maw. The fin-backed creature turns its sight on our heroes, who high-tail it into the water and seek safety behind what appears to be a rock…

… but is actually an even bigger creature! The two throttle each other in some Looney Tunes shenanigans, allowing the pair to sneak off and bag themselves a rabbit, one of the land’s less volatile denizens. If a rabbit can survive in these lands, then so can they!

Welcome to the Sunken Valley. This is, for all intents and purposes, Turok’s trademark stomping grounds throughout most of the franchise. Its name changes a few times throughout the run; it’ll later change to the Lost Valley, and in later adaptations the Lost Land, but I’ll stick with what terminology is used in the moment.
The description above is how it’s depicted in Son of Stone. Although strange and uncanny, an unexpected den of flora and fauna lost to time, it’s little more than a canyon buried within the earth, found only by those who stumble unsuspectingly into it. Later versions of Turok would apply a more fantastical aura to it, depicting it as a land entirely distinct from Earth as we know it, but for now, it’s just a hole people can’t get out of.

Turok and Andar don’t get to enjoy their rabbit, as it’s gaffled by a passing ankylosaurus.
This is the issue’s second story, titled “Turok and the Terrible Ones”. Nearly every Son of Stone comic is split into two strips, and although relatively standalone, there is a loose continuity to the series; these early issues in particular often pick up immediately where the first one left off. If anything, it made life easy for reprinted collections or foreign markets; they can grab any 16-page story they want and run it wherever!

They go hunting for breakfast yet again, and discover they aren’t the only humans in this canyon: a group of hunters capturing an antelope with nets and clubs! The pair use their bows to save them from a group of wolves stalking them unawares…

… but the hunters want nothing to do with them, clobbering them with sticks and stones when they follow them to their home. They figure the best way of making peace is to supply them with food, and they’ll have an easier time of it with their bows and arrows.

The next day, they witness another native of the valley scoring free fish by mashing up some herbs and chucking it in a river, whatever it secreted knocking them all unconscious. He’s scared away when Turok and Andar introduce themselves–

— but the unknown man has shown them a valuable tool: poison! By soaking the herbs and dipping their arrowheads into the residue, they’ve made themselves a weapon that can take down something as big a horse in just one strike.
Also, Turok has a wicked mohawk. Enjoy it while you can, he ditches the look once this issue is over. If you want to be pedantic, tribes commonly associated with the hairdo lived pretty dang far from the Carlsbad region, so who knows what Turok’s doing with it. Who’s to say he isn’t a trendsetter?

They return to the camp with hocks of procamelus meat, and make fast friends. The two lead them out on another hunting trip to show off their new toys, bagging another antelope for them.

But a tyrannosaurus rex suddenly attacks, drawn by the prospect of a free lunch! It’s easily the biggest thing Turok and Andar have seen so far, but with their secret weapon, they’re able to down it with only two arrows, the poison sinking it to the ground in no time.

The tribe are thrilled to bits with the strangers’ power, and although they have no common tongue, they ask to be taught the ways of the bow. This might be the start of a beautiful friendship!

And that’s the humble beginnings of Turok: Son of Stone. As far as first issue’s go, it basically hammers home Turok’s ethos to a T – a warrior skilled in surviving in the wilderness, now lost in a whole new world with the “wild” factor scaled up to 11, but no less eager to help people in need, most of all his young but eager companion, Andar.

As a comic from the 1950s, this is pretty old-fashioned. It’s older than your Spider-Mans, your Justice Leagues, and most of the modern comic book staples. Characterisation isn’t exactly shining, nor is the dialogue sharp or memorable. What it is, though, is a charming enough adventure comic for kids. It’s very rooted in western adventures of the era, of men living wild in the wilderness, using their wits to traverse dangerous environments and outsmart vicious beasts.

It’s a different kind of comic than we’re probably acclimatised to now through superhero comics. There’s no villains to overcome, and barely even a three-act structure! Turok and Andar simply roam around, see a bunch of sights, and hopefully a story manages to form along the way. The art is presented in almost uniform 6-panel pages, but the straight-forward action is easy to follow and the art, even when crammed into tiny panels, boasts a great deal of detail and colour even with the low-grade printing.

So, why #596? Are there hundreds of stories I’ve already skipped over?! Before you scream “This was meant to be an exhaustive chronology, you son of a bitch!” and throw entire poleaxes at your computer screen, the funky numbering is down to Dell Comics’ curious publishing standards.
Turok was not yet its own comic, but instead a one-off try-out in Four Color Comics, a weekly release (possibly even multiple issues per week?) with a different theme every issue. Typically adaptations of cartoons, serials and westerns, including John Carter of Mars, Daffy Duck, Buck Jones, and so on. No matter the content, they’d all follow the same numbering; Turok just happened to pick up from where Bozo the Clown and Pluto the dog left off, while Otto Siglow’s The Little King would lay claim to issue 597. The next issue of Son of Stone would keep up this unorthodox numbering, before resetting to #3 once it got its own slot on the comics rack.

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