Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #082: The Return

Friday, November 6, 2020 at 8:00 am Comments Off on Dinosaur Hunter Diaries #082: The Return

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #25

Turok makes amends.

You might notice a new company logo on this issue’s cover, with text along its side: “Acclaim Comics Inc.”
Around this time in July 1995, Valiant Comics had been acquired by the video game studio Acclaim, and the Valiant brand would slowly be absorbed into Acclaim’s own comic output. This’ll mean more in the long run, but at this point in time it only means a change in publishing practises — see the end of this post!

His timely arrival in the Lost Land might make it seem like Turok is the saviour its oppressed people have prayed for…

… but Keth doesn’t think so. He and the rest of the Lost Land are still upset at his stint serving Mothergod, contributing to the decimation of their home and people; it is not something easily forgiven. Chichak is gung-ho on murdering the old man, but to Turok, Keth is like family. Merely regretting his actions cannot mend the trust he’s severed in his old friend… and Keth sees no redemption that a laser blast to the skull can’t accelerate. It’s good thing Andy’s here to break the tension by vomiting all over the place.

Keth may be like family to Turok… but to Andy, he is family! Turok attempts to explain the timeline hullabaloo that occurred to all who left the Lost Land; Andar had married Keth’s daughter Sharma, and Andy is his grandson, making this a family reunion! The old man refuses to believe it…

But Mari sees the family resemblance — the pigheadedness, for one — and welcomes Andy to the fold. Besides, they’ve already lost their entire village to the Campaigner; there’s no time for squabbling. Keth admits his forgiveness to Turok, and even to Chichak.

They can’t spare much generosity to their new friends, on account of their village getting demolished and all. There are no survivors, and not even anything worth salvaging. While they bury the dead, Keth explains the sitrep–

Campaigner, one of Mothergod’s underlings, is carrying on her legacy by amassing an army across the Lost Land, enlisting whoever he can into his slave forces and destroying all who refuse. Continuing to use her old rainbow tower as his base of operations, he forces his captives into slave labour repairing the tower’s electronics, feeding him its energy and increasing his strength. Soon, nothing can oppose him in his dream to conquer and ‘unite’ the Lost Land!

While recovering a buried cache of weapons (a trick he passed onto Andar in the old days), the Seer appears before Turok and co.; once another of Mothergod’s underlings, before that a seer among the Celts, and now forever doomed to his cursed visage, lost in the Lost Land evermore!

He is not alone in the Lost Land being his fate — he proclaims it holds the same significance to Turok, the so-called “prodigal of Lost Land”. He claims our hero’s goal awaits in the rainbow tower, but implies Campaigner is not what he appears, nor is Turok’s destiny so immediately obvious, all before disappearing as dramatically as he appeared.

The group move on in search of shelter, Keth guiding them to the winged men’s village, but they’re snapped up in an unexpected net trap. This is a blow to their ego — not just falling for this ol’ trick…

… but for having been caught by the blowhard brigand himself, Captain Red!

The bulk of this issue is little more than setting the scene, but after the front-loaded history lesson last ish, it’s just nice to digest everything through simple dialogue. It helps that all the revelations are parsed through their relation to Turok: he and Keth were old buddies, and Campaigner’s just gone and murdered all of Keth’s tribe. Easy to connect the dots, isn’t it?
Chichak remains hostile to any conflict despite his conceding to Turok, but given the circumstances, they need al the help they can get. Andy gets his first taste of the Lost Land, after only rogue dinosaurs and time-travelling pirates to contend with so far. Speaking of, I confess it’s hard to get hyped about Captain Red. If “pirates vs. ninjas” were still the peak of meme culture he might have gotten a second wind, but instead I only lament this is who we have to accept instead of Mon-Ark. There could be hope for him yet!

Alongside the new Valiant logo, you might have noticed another curio on this issue’s cover: “Birthquake.”
What is Birthquake?
If you ask around on comic book forums, the most common answer you’ll hear is: “a mistake.” Pithy, but in no way informative!

from Advance Comics #75 (March 1995)
For all intents and purposes, Birthquake was an attempt to liven up the Valiant Comics scene. Facing flagging sales, they chose to cancel half their lineup and double their efforts on the remaining series, now bumping their release schedules from monthly to bi-weekly. This coincided with a prolific shake-up of the creative staff, introducing brand new blood or re-introducing fan favourite talent, advertised as revamping the various series and shaking the dust off… though mostly to allow multiple teams to juggle the workload.

In the comics themselves, this was represented by sudden swerves in a lot of ongoing storylines. Many series — Magnus: Robot Fighter and Solar: Man of the Atom among them — saw new cast members and agendas thrust upon the heroes, to mixed reception and credibility. X-O Manowar saw the long-awaited return of Bart Sears on art, but also tore down the long-established status quo, practically salting the earth and thrusting its hero into brave new ventures.

You could say this arc of Dinosaur Hunter somewhat ties in with those ideals. Fan-favourite artist Rags Morales returns, Turok’s entire schtick on modern day Earth is flipped on its head, and a bevy of new allies and villains are introduced. For Turok, this simply feels like a logical path to take, addressing issues that are long overdue answers, and finally returning him to his original stomping grounds. The changes enacted in other series, meanwhile, might simply have been unexpected and unappreciated.

from Wizard Magazine #46 (June 1995)
It can’t be said Acclaim didn’t put their weight behind it; according to David Vandervliet’s The History of Valiant Comics, the creative staff were being paid fat stacks per issue, and ads in comics and comic-adjacent magazines hyped up the new dynamics. Wizard Magazine even ran a contest asking readers to identify the artist’s self-portrait in a unique illustration of their trademark character… and if you guessed correctly, your prize was the opportunity to hang out with a Valiant artist for the day! I’ve yet to find out if the winners wrote a report on their day together, but I hope to god it was wholesome, and not just bitching about Deathmate.

Despite their efforts, common consensus is Birthquake was a wrong turn, a demonstration of how the comics biz was a tightrope even in its comparative boom period. Jason Sacks’ American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1990s sums up the major points; namely, if readers aren’t buying series once a month, why should they buy them twice a month? Especially after the series have been shaken up into unrecognisable new entities? Valiant’s claim to fame was its long-running serialised stories, and to wash away continuity and familiarity in hopes of appealing to new fans ran the risk of losing their own identity as well.

Birthquake would unfortunately be the death knell for Valiant, ushering in the cancellation of their entire line in just a year’s time, and typically remembered by fans as “the time the writing turned to shit.” Don’t go thinking it’s the end just yet; we’ve only just crossed the halfway point of Turok, and blah fill-ins aside, the series remains as strong as ever in my (probably biased) book. Stick with us!

This issue introduces “Tribal Writes”, a glorified letters page where Turok himself communicates with the reader… but in anticipation of actual letters, we instead get some artist’s reference from Rags Morales. In addition to outlining Turok’s facial structure and his trademark fashion, he makes a point of respecting the customs of the Kiowa-Apache first and foremost. “If it’s fashion you want, drop Turok and go to Marvel and draw Barbie!” Marvel was publishing Barbie during this time, see! Once I start giving history lessons I can’t stop!

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