Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #004: The Bridge to Freedom

Friday, February 7, 2020 at 9:00 am Comments Off on Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #004: The Bridge to Freedom

Turok: Son of Stone #4

Despite appearances, Turok will not encounter a mastodon in this issue.

While sleeping rough with their buddy Lanok, Turok and Andar are woken by dinosaurs snooping about their camp and making off with their breakfast! Although a rude awakening, everybody’s limbs and faces are accounted for, so at least they’ve got their health.

The gang relocate to a clifftop cave so they’ve not sleeping rough in the flats, and it’s a good call – the next morning the ground is trampled flat by feuding dinosaurs trying to scoff each others’ eggs.

The fights take the dinosaurs so far away they’re totally oblivious to a third party making off with their stash. Talk about a free lunch! Eggs are fine, but a varied diet is essential. Why don’t they go fishing?

Let’s not.
So… the story never stops to address why Lanok is hanging out with our heroes. Did he intentionally travel downstream to regroup with them, or was that just a happy accident? The folk of the Sunken Valley are a simple lot whose motivations rarely extend beyond surviving another day or rising up the social ladder, and if you’re bosom buddies with Turok and Andar, both of those goals are usually accounted for.

The trio follow the river in hopes of a way out, and find a high bridge on the canyon’s rim… if they can make it up there, do they think it’ll lead them home? Not there’s any reason to suggest it would, but it’s given them a short-tem goal to work towards. Using Turok’s axe to create hand-holds, they begin scaling their way up the mountain — only for a hopper to follow their scent! Why do they call them hoppers anyhow?

Because they hop.
The creature’s big giant legs are interpreted not as stomping implements, but as powerful muscles intended for scaling high ledges, not unlike a cartoon kangaroo.
Palaeontology is a funny old business. Experts have been studying and researching unfathomably old remains, interpreting the same skeletons in many different ways, and making all manner of assumptions regarding their behaviour and capabilities. I haven’t a PHd in bone-ology so I’m in no place to say what’s legit and what’s not. I just think it’s fascinating seeing how the mascot of pre-history has been depicted in media throughout the ages: a tail-dragging Neanderthal, a ferocious predator, a scaly menace, a feathered behemoth… or a beast who’d kick ass at the Olympic high jump.

The hopper follows them to the top, chasing them across the narrow bridge… and promptly crushing it with its weight, plummeting all the way to the foot of the canyon.

Turok and Andar are thrilled to bits – they’re free! They’re going home! I love these two panels. The two are normally depicted so stoic in the artwork, and to see them jumping for joy at the thought of escaping this place is genuinely heart-warming. They seem to handle every new threat with relative calm and composure, but to return to a land where the fauna isn’t ten times your size and bristling with fangs would have anyone dancing in the streets. There’s hope! There’s finally hope!

Lanok doesn’t share the sentiment, though. He can’t bring himself to leave his tribe behind… and Turok won’t let his chance for freedom come before a friend in need. He doesn’t stop to weigh up his options, that’s his immediate conclusion. The only way down is a ledge beneath the rim of the cliff, and from there they can scale down the cliff face. There’s no way back up from this side, and the t-rex did a number on that bridge, so they’ll never know if that was truly the way home or not.

If you’ve been waiting the whole issue for the mastodon encounter shown on the cover, here it is: taking the spotlight in an establishing shot. To all the mastodon-heads in the audience, there’s better stories coming soon, trust me.

Before the trio reach the bottom, a smilodon nearly gets the jump on them, but only succeeds in tumbling off the cliff. Unlike the bison, however, it survives the fall… and it’s miffed!

The trio backtrack all the way to the island of Lanok’s tribe, and all they need to do is cross the river. One of the tribesmen paddles across in a bull-boat, but the smilodon’s not far behind… and there’s other threats lurking in the wings!

An incoming buffalo, and even the stick throwers return! The smilodon strikes down the buffalo and sends the stick throwers crying for momma. Not even an alligator has what it takes to take down this cat!

The boat makes the return journey with Lanok and pals, but the smilodon has made the journey as well! A few strikes of poisoned arrow, however, and it’s curtains for kitty. Lanok’s back home safe and sound, and Turok and Andar are heroes once more!

The story’s kind heart and improvisation under pressure shines through in these early issues; Lanok just kind of bumbled into our heroes’ company without so much as an explanation, but Turok and Andar are quick to declare him a friend and do whatever they can to help, even sacrificing an apparent chance at returning home for his happiness.

One thing that’s strange to revisit as someone who didn’t grow up with this era of comics, is how ‘dense’ it feels. Everything’s so wham-bam. The gang secure some eggs, and in the very next panel are commenting on their newly cooked meals. Every single panel has text on it, be it dialogue or narration. Modern comics feel like they more intentionally ‘pace’ themselves through use of empty panels as “beats” or simply structuring the action to flow in such a way.
It requires a different way of reading from modern comics, as if you don’t acquaint yourself with the pace, it almost feels there’s rarely a chance to stop and breathe. To be fair, these early stories are wham-bam. There are so many run-ins with killer animals that have no relevance to the main story…!

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