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Friday, June 12, 2015

Panel Vision - Jurassic Park Raptor Saga

With Jurassic World hitting theaters and setting the world abuzz with this latest installment to a franchise that’s never really shown long term viability I thought it’d be fun to look at the first ever attempted Jurassic Park sequel; the Jurassic Park: Raptors saga. 

First, a little back-story; back in 1993 Topps Comics decided to make a comic adaptation of the hit film Jurassic Park.  Comic adaptations were actually pretty common throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, hence why 2001: A Space Odyssey, Toxic Avenger, and G.I. Joe are all proud parts of the Marvel cannon.  The big reason for this was that in the days before home media was a wide spread aspect of American life comic and novel adaptations of films were the only ways people could re-experience them.  I’m not sure why Jurassic Park was chosen for adaptation, given that VHS was a pretty common aspect of ‘90s life. 
I’d hazard a guess it has something to do with the creative team involved; Walt Simonson, Gil Kane, and George Perez.  In case those names don’t mean anything to you they’re all giants of the comic medium.  Walt Simonson is the most influential Thor author only eclipsed by Jack Kirby himself, George Perez basically invented the Teen Titans as we know them today, and Gil Kane is the artist who helped give us Green Lantern, the Atom, Iron Fist, and drew the death of Gwen Stacey.  To have so much amazing talent concentrated into a single 4 issue series is simply mind blowing, it’s certainly more than a film adaptation comic really deserves. 

It’s just a shame that whenever I revisit this series it’s just not very good.  Part of this comes from the mistake of adapting the screenplay rather than the novel itself as the screenplay was written with different expectations than a comic.  A screenplay can rely on performances, music, and sweeping editing but a comic is much more limited.  Where the Jurassic Park comic adaptation absolutely shines is in the artwork.  All three creators are artists and it’s my theory that none of them actually penned new material for the comic, simply throwing up comic panels to the draft of the script they were adapting.  The artwork is just a phenomenal blend of styles, sometimes falling back on dramatic splash pages to evoke scale and scope while other times utilizing incredibly unique and affecting panel construction.  It’s a feast for the eyes if nothing else. 
In any event in the aftermath of the Jurassic Park film people were hungry for a continuation of the story as the book version of Lost World hadn’t been written yet.  So Topps Comics decided to commission 3 new mini-series set to continue the story of the film.  There was Raptor, Raptors Attack, and Raptors Hijack and yes they do need to be read in that order.  Once again Topps managed to assemble some incredibly high caliber talent for the series, specifically SteveEnglehart wrote all three mini-series.  Englehart has a prolific body of work including major runs on Doctor Strange, Justice League, Batman, and co-creating Shang-Chi.  Armando Gil does the artwork on the first two mini-series and he’s pretty prolific in his own right.  Most of his credits revolve around barbarian fantasy for Marvel like Conan and Ka-Zar, though he also drew the Marvel comics Toxic Avenger comic that I’ll probably get to down the line.  The final artist involved was Neil Vokes, Vokes is probably best known for his working adapting Bruce Timm shows to comic format but to me he’ll always be the man who penned the amazing early ’90 Congorilla mini-series that, again, I’ll probably get to down the line.  Also Chaz Truog worked on several issues, an artist you might know as the guy who drew Grant Morrison’s Animal Man comic.  Like I said a lot of talented creators worked on the Jurassic Park extended universe comics. 

The Raptor Saga as it’s come to be called is odd bloodshot-eyed duck.  As you’d expect from the title the story revolves heavily around the raptors due to their success as villains in the first film.  What makes it so strange is that it actually deals with the immediate events following the conclusion of Jurassic Park.  Specifically it opens with Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler consulting military forces trying to contain the dinosaurs that are now roaming free on the island.  That concept alone could’ve served for a complete comic but instead they spread it out across this larger saga of people struggling to claim the raptors for their own.  There’s a drug lord who wants the raptors for a hit squad, a Jane Goodall type scientist who learns to speak to the beasts, the evil company who was after the dinosaur embryos in the first film returns now named Biosyn, and they even bring back Muldoon, the game warden who was killed in the first movie.  
It’s all very surreal but enjoyable, a big part of this comes from how much the film follow-ups to Jurassic Park fell back on repeating the first film.  There are no kids to tag along, nothing to do with theme parks or amusement, the only thing that holds continuity with Jurassic Park are the characters and that dinosaurs exist.  That still doesn’t make it very good per say as the artwork has a lot of mediocre pages and the characterization is non-existent but it’s still nice to see a push towards something new.  However new doesn’t necessarily equal good in this case.  All of this weird craziness is novel and enjoyable but it’s ultimately shallow fun that can’t elevate the comics from the enjoyable curiosity of seeing big name creators tackle such a strange assignment. 

It might be worth it to consider this as sort of a controlled experiment in sequlization.  Neither these comics nor the film sequels to Jurassic Park have ever actually worked all the way, and I think there’s a key lesson in that.  Where the Jurassic Park film sequels focused on recreating story beats and a strict continuation of theme these comics are more about crazy narrative experimentation that lacks any sense of meaning behind it, I’d hazard to guess the solution to the Jurassic Park problem is somewhere in-between these two approaches.  A sequel that shakes up the narrative, ditching the island setting, children, and entertainment aspects of the story but keeps on emphasis on dinosaurs as living avatars for the destructive nature of man’s unchecked hubris and greed.  Something more in tune with Attack the Block.  As for now though, I’d actually recommend picking up all of these mini-series if you’re a Jurassic Park fan who’s always wanted them to do more than just show off dinosaurs in petting zoos.  

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