The first issue of Turok, Dinosaur Hunter is now 30 years old, having been released by Valiant Comics in late April 1993. I’m going to take a look back at the first year of that series, which had some incredibly talented creators working on it.
Turok, like the characters Magnus, Robot Fighter and Solar, Man of the Atom, was a pre-existing character that Valiant licensed and integrated into their own comic book universe. Turok had previously made his debut in Four Color Comics #596 from Western Publishing / Dell Comics, cover-dated Oct / Nov 1954. Turok and his young friend Andar were Native Americans who wandered into a mysterious hidden valley occupied by dinosaurs, cavemen, and other inhabitants from eras long past. The ongoing series Turok, Son of Stone ran from 1956 to 1982.
In the Valiant continuity, Turok and Andar became trapped in the other-dimensional “Lost Land” which was eventually conquered by Erica Pierce, a woman from an alternate reality who had gained godlike powers and taken on the mantle of Mothergod. Pierce transformed a number of the dinosaurs in the Lost Land into cyborg “bionosaurs” that possessed near-human intelligence.
After Mothergod was defeated in the epic Unity crossover, the Lost Land disintegrated, and its various time-displaced inhabitants were deposited back on Earth, albeit in eras much different from the ones they had originated. Turok found himself in Columbia, South America in the year 1987, a century and a half after his own time. He soon discovered that the bionosaurs led by the vicious Mon-Ark, as well as large numbers of regular, unenhanced dinos, were also materializing around the globe. Even though Turok was now a man out of time in an unfamiliar world, he nevertheless felt compelled to protect it by hunting down the bionosaurs, who were making humanity their prey.
Turok’s arrival in the 20th Century was set up in X-O Manowar #14-15, published by Valiant in early 1993. It took me years to find those two issues because they immediately sold out everywhere I went, and Wizard: The Guide to Comics then began promoting them as “hot” issues, resulting in them selling for some really crazy prices.
I didn’t have any such problem with Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #1, though. That first issue, with its chromium-enhanced cover, had a print run of over a million copies, which meant it was everywhere! Valiant editor-in-chief Bob Layton had written, with co-plotter Jon Hartz, the two-part X-O Manowar story that served as a lead-in to Turok, Dinosaur Hunter. Layton brought in his friend and longtime collaborator David Michelinie to write the series’ first three issue story arc. Pencils were by Bart Sears, inks by Randy Elliott, and colors by Jorge Gonzalez, all of whom had also worked on those X-O Manowar issues. Tony Bedard & Ken Lopez did the lettering. Bernard Chang penciled the second half of Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #2 over Sears’ layouts before contributing full pencils for issue #3.
I was already familiar with Sears’ work from Justice League Europe. He had this style that was simultaneously hyper-detailed and somewhat cartoony, and he specialized in extremely muscular men and well-endowed women. Sears’ work was definitely of the time, fitting in with the early 1990s superhero aesthetic. I always found his art to be fun & distinctive.
I was disappointed that Sears’ didn’t finish penciling the initial Turok, Dinosaur Hunter arc. However, the work by Bernard Chang on the second half was very good. Chang had only just gotten started in comic books a few months earlier, but he was already contributing quality penciling to several Valiant titles, and later in 1993 he became the regular artist on The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, where he did great work.
Michelinie’s story chronicles Turok’s activities immediately following his arrival in South America in 1987. Seriously outnumbered by Mon-Ark and his bionosaurs, Turok is forced to ally himself with a drug lord who provides him with the weaponry and men needed to wipe out the creatures. Although Turok ultimately succeeds in defeating Mon-Ark, he discovers the bionosaurs have begun to reproduce and spread out across the globe.
Since I hadn’t begun reading most of the Valiant titles until after Unity and I’d missed those two X-O Manowar issues, I was appreciative that Michelinie had spent the first few pages of issue #1 recounting Turok’s background. As I’ve observed before, that sort of “bringing new readers up to speed” feature unfortunately really isn’t done by most publishers any more, since most stories are intended to be collected soon after they’re completed.
I remember back in 1993 I found the first three issue arc on Turok, Dinosaur Hunter to be somewhat underwhelming, and I almost didn’t pick up the next issue. However, re-reading it this past week, I enjoyed it quite a bit more. That said, I still feel there was a serious uptick in quality in subsequent issues.
Beginning with Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #4 Timothy Truman became the series’ writer. I had only begun reading comic books regularly in the late 1980s, and as such had been unaware of Truman’s work until he wrote a very unusual Wolverine serial that ran in Marvel Comics Presents in late 1991, which saw Logan fighting monsters in the Canadian wilderness in the late 19th century. I actually met Truman at a big comic con in NYC in January 1992 and got my copy of MCP #93 signed by him. I was peppering him with questions about that Wolverine story, and with the benefit of hindsight, now knowing about the critically acclaimed work he had already been doing throughout the previous decade, he must have thought me a bit weird to have only known about him because of that story.
Nevertheless, I remembered Truman’s name, and over the next year and a half I began discovering his older work via back issues. I realized that not only was he a great writer, but also an incredibly talented artist. So, when I learned Truman was to be writing Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, I decided to continue following the series.
I asked Kevin VanHook, who was the editor of Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, if it was his idea to bring Truman onto the title. He responded:
“It’s hard to remember for sure because Bob [Layton] and I worked very closely together. I had worked with Tim on a book for Innovation called Newstralia. I was aware of his love and knowledge of Native American culture and history.”
Whoever was responsible, it was a brilliant idea. Truman possesses a great interest in American history, especially the 19th Century, and he has a genuine love for & knowledge of Native American culture. I feel as if he invested the character of Turok with a real sense of authenticity.
Issue #4 jumps forward to the then-present of 1993. Turok has returned to North America to discover his people had been driven to near-extinction by the European colonists, and the remnants of the once-great tribes have been sequestered on reservations, their cultures almost forgotten. The government assigns Dr. Regan Howell, a cultural anthropologist & paleontologist, to serve as Turok’s guide in the modern world. Regan is incredibly sympathetic to Turok’s plight, but even she, a product of 20th Century America, cannot fully understand what he is going through.
Turok is reunited with Andar, his old friend. After the dissolution of the Lost Land, Andar had been deposited by a time portal back in the early 1900s. The now-elderly Andar asks his old teacher to look after his angry, impulsive grandson, who is also named Andar. Truman does a good job writing the relationship between Turok and the hotheaded young “Andy.” The former is very much the mature, knowledgeable, experienced figure who hopes to teach the young man about his forgotten heritage, while the latter has a pragmatic understanding of the modern world that Turok is lacking. I feel that the ensemble of Turok, Andar and Regan really helped to solidify the appeal of the series.
Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #4-6 were penciled by Rags Morales, paired with returning inker Randy Elliott. Morales had previously done some solid work for DC Comics. I really liked his penciling on Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, where he did a great job drawing the real-life settings of the American Southwest, the Native American communities, and the dinosaurs. Morales also showed some quality storytelling abilities here, making the extended conversations between the characters interesting. It’s the hallmark of a great penciler if he can render a “talking heads” scene to be dramatic, and Morales definitely succeeds.
As much as I liked Morales’ work on these three issues, I was thrilled when Truman not only wrote but also penciled Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #7-9. He was paired up with acclaimed, veteran artist Sam Glanzman on inks. The work by Truman & Glanzman on the three-part “People of the Spider” is absolutely gorgeous, with rich coloring by Bill Dunn.
In this arc Turok, Andar and Regan are brought in to investigate dinosaurs that are appearing in the New River Gorge in central West Virginia. The trio soon discover that a neolithic tribe that became trapped in the Lost Land has also been deposited in the present day.
Adding a bit of humor to the proceedings, Truman introduces Professor Challenger, the loud, ill-tempered grandson of the protagonist from the classic Arthur Conan Doyle novel The Lost World published in 1912. Just imagine Brian Blessed as a paleontologist charging across a hostile handscape, bellowing at the top of his lungs, and you have Professor Challenger.
I appreciated the comedy, because it added a certain levity to an otherwise-grim narrative. There is a genuine atmosphere of sadness & mourning to the issues written by Truman. It was previously established that the bionosaurs needed to be killed specifically because they were too much like human beings, making them cruel and power-hungry. The ordinary dinosaurs who are turning up in the modern world, even though they are undoubtedly dangerous, are nevertheless only operating according to their own instincts. The Clan of the Spider are also, in their own desperate way, attempting to survive in a world that is alien to them, and Turok perceives the very real threat that their culture will be wiped out just like his was.
There’s an unsettling scene at the beginning of issue #7 where Turok views the exhibit of Native American artifacts held by the university where Regan teaches. Truman really brings across just how distressing and sacrilegious it is for Turok to discover the bodies of his ancestors on display. It really does make me have second thoughts about all of those exhibitions of ancient civilizations held by institutions such as the Museum of Natural History and the British Museum. Are they preserving the past… or are they looting it?
I was disappointed when Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #10 came out to find that Mike Baron was now writing the series, because I really had been enjoying Truman’s work. I suppose the blow was softened somewhat by the return of Morales, Elliott & Dunn, all of whom were still doing quality work on the art & coloring. I also didn’t like that Andar and Regan were nowhere in sight, although at least Baron did pick up the plot threads of Turok’s dissatisfaction from the conclusion of issue #9. Baron’s story has Turok tracking down a ruthless crime lord who is slaughtering endangered species to sell their body parts on the black market.
Looking at Turok, Dinosaur Hunter #10-12 again, I was genuinely surprised to see that Baron demonstrate a great deal of sensitivity for the Native American position and for the importance of environmental preservation. It’s shocking because Baron is one of those comic book creators who in the last decade or so has really taken a hard-right turn politically. I definitely find it depressing to look back on the past quality work of writers like Baron who seemingly used to be sane & empathetic, but who now spend their time ranting about transgendered people and drag queens on social media.
Whatever the case, Baron did write a good story, with a lot of fantastic action. It just wasn’t quite what I had come to expect from the Truman issues. That’s probably why I ended up dropping the series with issue #12. Of course, years later I learned that Truman returned the very next issue, and that he wrote Turok, Dinosaur Hunter on and off for the next few years straight through to the book’s cancellation with issue #47 in 1996. Well, there’s always back issues!
I did end up picking up one other Turok, Dinosaur Hunter issue, though. Turok Yearbook #1 was released in May 1994, featuring penciling by legendary artist Dave Cockrum. I had discovered Cockrum’s art on X-Men and The Futurians via back issues and immediately became a fan, and I was disappointed that he was hardly receiving any new work in the 1990s. I suppose that was one of the earliest occasions when I learned just how difficult it could be in the comic book industry, how the artist on a bestselling series might end up scrambling for work a decade and half later.
However it occurred, in 1994 Cockrum did get the jobs of penciling the Turok Yearbook and Harbinger Files #1, the latter of which revealed the origin of the Machiavellian master villain Toyo Harada. On both stories Cockrum was inked by Peruvian artist Gonzalo Mayo. I felt Mayo’s inks were a bit on the heavy side, but when I met Cockrum at a store signing around that time and asked him about it he told me he liked Mayo’s work. So I’ll defer to Cockrum’s judgment on this.
“Mon-Ark Lives” was written by Baron, colored by Wanderlei Silva, lettered by Adam Niedzwieki, and edited by Tony Bedard, with a painted cover by Eric Hope. The deceased bionosaur Mon-Ark’s cyborg brain case is acquired by the ruthless Omen Corporation, who transplant it into the body of a human being in order to access the highly-advanced data stored on it. This reckless procedure results in Mon-Ark returning to life, and even though he’s now inhabiting a human body he’s still the same ruthless would-be tyrant. Turok has to return to South America to once again battle his old foe.
Turok Yearbook #1 was an enjoyable story. Looking at it now, I really wish Valiant had given Cockrum additional work. He was a very talented artist and would have been a quality asset to their books.
Nowadays I expect Turok, Dinosaur Hunter is best known as a highly-popular video game series released by Acclaim Entertainment between 1997 and 2002 following their acquisition of Valiant. Following the bankruptcy of Valiant / Acclaim in 2004, Western Publishing licensed Turok out to Dark Horse comics in 2010 and then Dynamite Entertainment in 2014. Western was eventually acquired, via a succession of corporate sales, by NBCUniversal, who are apparently the current owners of the character of Turok. Given all of this, it’s unlikely the Valiant run of Turok, Dinosaur Hunter is likely to be reprinted any time soon, if ever. Fortunately, most of the early issues had large print runs, and so back issues can be found for affordable prices.
Back Issue #144 from TwoMorrows Publishing has the theme of “Savage Lands” and will be shipping in late June. One of the articles, written by Bryan D. Stroud, will be on the 1990s revival of Turok. So if you found any of the stuff I discussed in this blog interesting, I highly recommend purchasing a copy.