In the 1990s, Warner Bros. and Tim Burton secured the rights for both Mars Attacks! and Dinosaurs Attack!, the 1962 and 1988 Topps collectible bubblegum card series, the premises of which is screamed aloud in their titles.
With both the commercial and creative success of Steven Spielberg’s 1993’s Jurassic Park scaring away others from tackling dinosaurs, Warner Bros. and Burton opted instead for Mars Attacks, ironically releasing their alien-invasion movie the same year as Independence Day, which, despite the wildly different tone, is nearly beat for beat the same movie, to the extent that Mars Attacks scans like a parody of ID4.
Dinosaurs Attack! may not have made it to the big screen (yet, he typed, with his fingers crossed), but it did get adapted into an unfinished Eclipse comic series … which was completed, cleaned up and re-released by IDW last year for the 25th anniversary of the card set. And it’s now available in graphic-novel form.
The comic adaptation is written by series creator Gary Gerani, and is an expanded version of the parody of an unlikely B-movie plot: The world’s greatest scientist has invented something called “Timescan,” a process that will bombard the Earth from an orbiting space station with a special ray that will allow he and those aboard to see into planet’s past using a huge view screen.
The world’s second-greatest scientist, who just so happens to be his ex-wife and the mother of his child, doesn’t think the process is safe and is virulently opposed to it.
It turns out she’s right, as when the beam is activated, dinosaurs begin to materialize on Earth and go on a rampage, killing the humans who have inherited the planet in as over-the-top and as gory a fashion as possible. And if there’s a way to stage a dark gag in the killing, the creators go for it (like, for example, a triceratops interrupting a wedding ceremony, impaling the groom on one horn, the bride on the other, and their cake on his middle).
The artwork is provided by Herb Trimpe, Flynt Henry and J.K. Woodward, with George Freeman credited with inks, and Earl Norem with paintings. The look of the artwork transitions in and out of styles, as much of it looks like traditional pen, ink and colorist artwork, while several passages boast the painted look of the cards (particularly images of dinosaurs, um, attacking).
The look of these dinosaurs is decidedly old-school and dated—“I knew it! No feathers!” a man shouts as a theropod of some kind breaks through a wall in a New York City museum to attack a mounted skeleton labeled “Brontosaurus.” Many of them don’t resemble any actual dinosaurs (diminutive versions of Gorgo and Godzilla appear amid one crowd of dinosaurs), and all are sharp-toothed and decidedly carnivorous, with sauropods and stegosaurs munching on humans just as eagerly as the tyrannosaurs.
Paleontological accuracy isn’t the point, though; these dinosaurs, after all, are sent to re-conquer Earth at the behest of a dinosaur god, who has hijacked the experiment and organized his followers into an army.
The artwork is a blast, bearing a child’s drawing approach to death and dismemberment, and an over-the-top cartooniness in the killings of both man, who almost always loses an eyeball upon dying, and dinosaur, many of whom explode into piles of organs and limbs upon their deaths, which is most often brought about by bazooka or tank fire.
There’s a curious subplot about the lead scientist’s belief in God, as he became a devout atheist at an early age when he lost his brother, and tried to fill God’s shoes, performing miracles of science. This experience, however, in which he is faced with the god of the dinosaurs, converts and convinces him — he even gets a glimpse of the afterlife he didn’t think existed before the end of the book.
Conceived in the 1980s, Dinosaurs Attack! probably wasn’t meant to offer any sort of commentary on the current debates about creationism being taught in school and strange temples to anti-science like the Creation Museum (which didn’t open until 2007), but makes for rather interesting reading in that light in 2014.
Provided you’re interested in the book’s surprising subtext in modern context at all, of course. Either way, it offers a heady, potent mixture of classic 1940s animated visuals, 1950s monster B-movies, and late-’80s horror movie gore, making the Dinosaurs Attack! graphic novel a celebration of loveable trash culture of several different media.