I spent a few days last summer reading the Showcase reprint volume of Robert Kanigher’s “War that Time Forgot” stories from the 1960s “Star-Spangled War Stories.” Army men vs. dinosaurs? How could I not enjoy such tales, I thought? Here’s how: every story was practically identical, as each issue would feature a branch of the military finding out, to their great surprise, that there was a strange island in the pacific full of dinosaurs. Didn’t they radio back and warn anyone else, ever? Was each visit to the island such a shock? In Kanigher’s stories, yes. At least, for the first year of adventures, until Kanigher decided to spice things up by adding some variety to the mix, like a trio of acrobatic brothers, and/or the strange relationship between man and robot. They were stories written for a more innocent time, when children were the primary audience for comic books and the expectation was that readers wouldn’t necessarily buy two consecutive issues of anything. Even so, those “Star-Spangled War Stories” never rose above the initial conceit of modern man vs. crazy dinosaur. Read one, you read them all.
Since that’s the inherent problem in “The War that Time Forgot” franchise (such as it is — a concept dormant for decades except for the use of Monster Island as the antagonist in Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant “New Frontier” series), writer Bruce Jones has taken a new approach: he takes the title literally. “The War that Time Forgot,” in this case, isn’t just a bunch of dinosaurs vs. WWII soldiers, it’s a bunch of dinosaurs vs. soldiers from throughout the time stream. These displaced soldiers are fighting dinosaurs, but they are also fighting within themselves, since they come from a variety of eras, nations, and ideological viewpoints.
That isn’t to say that this is a political comic book. It’s about dudes fighting dinosaurs, first and foremost, as that pretty Neal Adams cover can attest to.
But by snatching characters from throughout the ages and slapping them in the midst of a crazy dinosaur battle, Bruce Jones has added some spice to Kanigher’s old recipe.
Plus, the characters in this series aren’t just original creations — they also include long-forgotten or not-recently-seen characters from the DC Universe. Firehair. Tomahawk. Hans Von Hammer. Imagine this strange trio banding together in the name of anti-dinosaur action. That’s what this comic is all about.
The dialogue is a bit wooden and inconsistent at times. I have no problem with a WWII-era pilot using the now-deemed-incorrect “brontosaurus,” because that would be a historically accurate usage, as far as I know, but I do have a problem with a Revolutionary War character using the politically-correct term “Asian.” I doubt that term was in common use two hundred years ago. But it’s a dinosaur comic, so I’m not too worried about logic.
The story is basically what you’d expect: a lot of running from dinosaurs. But it also has the strange dynamics between the characters from different eras, some of which having been taken out of battles in which they were fighting the very types of people they now work alongside. And Jones implies that their newfound camaraderie is filled with an undercurrent of paranoia and hate. It’s an interesting set-up for these characters, and the visuals, by Al Barrionuevo, complement the story nicely.
This is just the first issue in a twelve-issue series, but I’m looking forward to reading more about these characters. They have set up their own warped society already, and we’re just getting started.
Plus: army men vs. dinosaurs! The concept still has its appeal, forty years after Robert Kanigher drove it into the ground.