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Andy’s Read Pile: Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur

Hey there kats and kitties! It’s your old pal, GhostAndy, back with another installment of my never ending read pile! Yep, that big ol’ laundry list of books from past and present that I have decided as a comic book fan deserve to be fished out of the drink and either mounted on the wall as a shining example of a great catch, or thrown back in the pond like so many bottom suckin’ catfish.

This week’s book was actually teased on a post I made weeks ago while I was on my summer vacation to Charleston SC. I had put it up to the readers to decide which of three books I had brought with me should make the cut to be included in a recent read pile review. Yep, Jack Kirby’s complete 9 issue original Devil Dinosaur series was one I picked up in trade at this year’s free comic book day, and as I mentioned in that previous post was the one that I secretly hoped most of the readers would end up choosing. I even went as far as trying to subliminally impact the vote by including a picture of me holding the trade in the post’s featured image like some sort of backwoods Svengali. However did it work?

Technically…no. It did not.

The book that won the Twitter poll and got a decent amount of votes on our own website was Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan. Devil Dinosaur actually came in third on Twitter, but was boosted into second place thanks to the votes here on gotstratosphere.com.

However, before you get your panties all in a knot over the fact that Ex Machina is not being reviewed here as the overall winner, rest assured gang, that will be my read pile book next week. I just wanted to do Devil Dinosaur so much after reading it that I called an audible. It’s my prerogative as the person the primarily reads most if not all of these blogs.

Plus, I mean, c’mon look at the below splash page from Issue #4 of the series and tell me that doesn’t peak your interest. That’s Kirby at his most cosmic, most mind shattering, most original. From the eyeball heavy page layout to the black light demonic space age dino dragon monster straight out of a 70s college dorm room to the insane amounts of Kirby dots everywhere, man, that’s why we read comics! That’s why Kirby is the King, right? Can I get an Amen from the congregation?!?

Regardless, the basic premise of Devil Dinosaur is sort of a weird one. In some valley, primitive half ape/half human creatures coexist with all manner of strange dinosaur type creatures in a constant battle for survival. Whether or not it was Jack Kirby’s intention to imitate Alley Oop by historical inaccurately portraying any kind of a world where  mammals even remotely close to manlike would have existed at the same time as terrible lizards is unclear.

However, its some what easily remedied by the fact that this is the Marvel universe, and pockets of the Earth still to this day contain dinosaur type creatures, like the Savage Land. If you start putting yourself in this mindset, that these aren’t really dinosaurs, nor proto humans, but some weird mutant offshoots of those races created by left over Celestial tech or Kree monkey business or plain old fashioned inbreeding mixed with radiation or whatever, then the entire yarn becomes just another great little side story of that diverse and wonderful Marvel universe!

And what a wonderful little story it is. As someone that’s watched pro wrestling in his life, I couldn’t help but think of this entire series through that lens. Either that or the Rocky movies, you pick your boxing/wrestling story of choice. But that’s all it is. You got this big red powerhouse of a T-Rex in Devil Dinosaur, who basically fights off everything that dares question his rule of this weird little valley, like he’s the world champion or something. Most of those fights involve stomping or kicking or giving the “big boot” to his opponents like some sort of finishing move.

And on his back at all times is Moon Boy, the little ape/human creature who isn’t as much of a sidekick as Devil’s manager/promoter. He talks all the smack for the two, pumping up Devil’s ego, hatin’ on his enemies, yelling about how Devil is going to “crush” them and so forth. And then after the battles, he makes sure Devil’s fed, bathed, and prepped for his next match, whether that be that local triceratops jabroni that keeps on running his mouth, a pack of dumb cave brutes ready to poke Devil to death with pointy sticks, or that crazy bigfoot style “Giant” who can’t swim worth a damn.

And seriously for about 5 out of 9 issues of the series, that’s all that goes on. Sure, Kirby is a very creative guy, so all the set ups for those fights are really original and keep you interested, but at the end of the day, this is book about slobberknockers and no holds barred slug matches between monsters, like so many late night Godzilla flicks my older brother, Dave, used to watch as a kid.

Now, among the various grudge matches and donnybrooks, there is a singular multi issue story arc that does take place in this series. It starts in the aforementioned issue #4 and runs through issue #7, so a nice little 4 issue run that I’ll spend the rest of this article discussing. I’ll call it the Colonizer robot saga for the sake of making this easy, since I don’t believe Kirby actually names the robotic alien invaders in the story proper. Yes, I know there is another group of Kirby aliens called “Colonizers”, and they aren’t actually this same race. I’m not a complete idiot…I have read some funny books, thank you. I just didn’t know what else to call them other than “shiny green faces”.

But anyways, the colonizing robots land and immediately start either capturing or killing anything that moves for no other reason than the vague “we’re aliens and we need a new golf course, so SCRAM!” mentality found in all kinds of ’50s era sci-fi. In fact, a lot of this little arc reminded me of the old “monster of the month” stories Kirby used to draw with Stan Lee in Tales to Astonish before it became an Iron Man book, so maybe old Jack was pulling some of his plot points from those, eh…whatever. Long story short, Devil ain’t having none of these tin plated playas trying to muscle in on his turf, and sets out to give them the business.

But, Devil severely underestimates the swagger of these flame thrower wielding wind up toys, and after getting his butt whooped by these robots, Devil and Moon Boy are separated. Moon Boy spends the next couple of issues hanging out in a glass tube worried about whether he’s gonna get anal probed or worse, while Devil joins forces with a trio of  proto human ape people, which I’ll name Elvis (due to his Pompadour hairdo), Marge (thanks to her equally impressive beehive hair tower), and Gramps (because…well…he’s older than sin).

That’s when the arc really starts getting interesting, as you start seeing a side of Devil we haven’t seen before: the military genius. Yep, it’s almost as if relying on Moon Boy to come up with the plans was just a ruse to give his little ape sidekick something to do, as our crimson carnivore displays tactical prowess that would make Hannibal blush (both the Carthaginian general and the A-Team colonel).

His plan is simple: Go piss off a bunch of ugly lookin’ super ants that devour everything in their path and sick them on the robot’s spaceship!

It’s a plan so ingenuous that even the proto humans have to stand back and marvel at it’s cold blooded efficiency. And boy o boy does it work. You’d think those robots would have packed some Raid in their cargo holds for such an eventually, but nope. They end up being grade “A” snack food for Devil’s hungry army of killer insects. It’s a sobering reminder that whether he beats you with his fiercesome feet or lets his ant armada to the dirty work, Devil Dinosaur is a one Stone Cold, Stone Age BAD ASS!

But by far the strangest issue of this entire arc is this one called “The Fall” that happens in issue #7. After the destruction of the Colonizer’s space ship, a sentient portion of the ship’s computer system survives and becomes what they refer to as the “Demon Tree”. The tree decides as it’s prime directive to protect the small band of proto humans that were helping Devil wreck havoc on its former robotic overlords. It does this by constructing a impenetrable dome around the three to “keep them from harm”, and then proceeds to give them all the food, water etc. they need to live.

Of course, this is viewed as sort of a mixed blessing of sorts, as although the humans are well cared for in this paradise more than they could anywhere else in the incredibly hostile world they live in, they view themselves as prisoners, unable to leave the dome or choose any path of existence other than the Demon tree’s protection.

In the end, the humans plead with Devil to destroy the dome that has kept them prisoner in this glorified zoo, which he happily obliges with by ramming the joint with his big ol’ red noggin. Free from the tyranny of their gilded cage, the remaining humans thank their reptile savoir and promise to past this story down to their children and their children’s children.

So what do we have here: A garden paradise, A tree of knowledge, man & woman, and a reptile that wrecks the whole set up. And it’s a story that will be passed down through the generations. Yeah, you don’t need to be Bernard Cumberbatch to pick up the clues Kirby was droppin’.  I know the guy was obsessed with that Chariot of the Gods book where ancient humans were supposedly influenced by creatures from space, but he took it one step further with this little play on the Genesis story. Not that I cared, mind you, it’s not like I took religious offense or something. It was bit corny, but you gotta love Kirby for trying to tell stories like this. Maybe it doesn’t fire on all cylinders, but it’s nice that he took some risks with his books and thought outside the box.

And in closing, I think that’s the saddest thing about Devil Dinosaur. The fact that it’s only 9 short issues. Trust me, Kirby has had his share of clunkers that I had wished only ran for 9 issues, like his god awful run on Machine Man. But like New Gods, Eternals, or Omac, Devil Dinosaur was over well before it should have been. I would have easily read 20 or 30 issues of a series like this, and I would have liked to have seen more multi issue arcs from Kirby with these characters as I feel that’s where he really shines.

Sure, this book isn’t for everyone. It’s simple at times, ridiculous at others, but like I said, at least it’s original. It tries tell a story about a Red Dinosaur and the Moon Boy that coached him to greatness, which I think says everything you need to know about this book right there. There aren’t a lot of other comics out there that will stake their literary reputation on a statement like that. And when it’s drawn by Jack Kirby with his unbelievable flair and ability to craft a tale visually, I think it’s the kind of comic everyone should read at least once before they pass from this valley and become one with the dinosaurs.

Andy’s Read Pile Rating: B+

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