Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Amber Atoms and Johnny Monster

In my very first article for this column I mentioned how much I was looking forward to Amber Atoms and Johnny Monster from Image. One stars a raygun-toting, sword-swinging, jetpack-wearing space-girl and the other is about a hunter of giant-monsters who just so happens to be related to his prey. They pretty much embody everything that Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs is about so, since they both came out last week, let’s see how they are.

Amber Atoms is written and illustrated by Kelly Yates and it opens very promisingly with a spaceship full of ape-warriors. It’s never made perfectly clear who they are, but I think they’re bad guys, working for the evil ruler of the planet Dar-Tongo. They only appear in this one panel until much later (“generations” later, we’re told) when we see a couple of them hanging around another king of Dar-Tongo. If they are bad guys, they’re fighting a ragtag army of diverse aliens put together by a nameless Flash Gordon-like hero to overthrow Dar-Tongo and free what will eventually become the United Worlds.

Apart from my having to think harder than I wanted to about the allegiances of ape-warriors, the rest of the issue is fairly strong. Dar-Tongo’s fall is just a prelude to the rest, which takes place the aforementioned generations later and is divided between two stories.

The first story is about the current ruler of Dar-Tongo’s attempt to run for the office of President of the Galactic Council. His seeking the position is a bold move considering that the rest of the United Worlds are still distrustful of his supposedly now-peaceful planet. King Yamoon seems friendly enough, but Yates very effectively gives us good reason to wonder right along with the UW. We’re never told that Yamoon is a power-hungry, would-be despot, but we do know that (for good or ill) he has a plan and that so far it’s playing out just as he wants.

The second plot is about Amber. There’s more than a hint of Star Wars at work as Amber works in her father’s junkyard, but has dreams of leaving for a life of adventure. Or at least being able to attend University. Her father – a portly, surly fellow – won’t hear of it though. I fully expected to see her storm away from the dinner table scene and to hear her folks talk about how she was just like her “real” dad. It didn’t happen, but that was definitely the vibe. (And some of the character designs are also heavily inspired by Star Wars.)

Not that Amber’s a clone of Luke Skywalker. She’s a lot tougher than he was and she doesn’t whine when she’s arguing with her dad. There’s yelling and sulking, but no whining. Unfortunately, the arguments don’t ring true to me. Amber tells herself a couple of times that she can’t believe her father talks “like that” to her. “Nobody talks to me like that,” she says. Well, obviously someone does, and he does it enough that she’s formed a mantra around denying it.

I don’t know. Maybe there’s something deeper here than what I’m seeing. Maybe Amber has a reason to think that she’s above being criticized by her dad. He seems generally disagreeable enough though that I can’t imagine his ever being anything but gruff and rude to her. Why does she act shocked that he talks to her like he does?

I’d be interested in seeing if Amber’s got friends and – if she does – how she interacts with them. Does she also think she’s above criticism from them? Do they defer to her? I don’t think we’re going to get those scenes though. Once Amber’s introduced, Yates quickly throws her into the adventure.

And that’s more than fine, obviously. I didn’t buy the book hoping it would be an interstellar high-school drama. But like with those ape-warriors at the beginning, I had to think harder than I wanted to about this stuff. With a little tightening, I’d be able to spend that time doing what I came to do: bask in the awe of outer-space ape-warriors and a new, kick-ass heroine.

Johnny Monster (written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by JC Grande) has a similar ratio of Awesome to Needs-Some-Work. The concept is great. Because of the way it unfolds in the comic, I feel like I need a spoiler warning here, but I’m not telling you anything that wasn’t in the marketing. Giant monsters are starting to appear all over the world and Johnny Monster is one of many hunters who’s making a living out of taking the beasts down. Unlike Count Rawke and his men who kill the monsters as brutally as possible, Johnny insists on trapping the creatures and disposing of them away from the public eye. We come to learn though that Johnny was actually raised by the monsters, speaks their language, and is actually trying to rescue them on those occasions when they stumble into populated areas. It’s a clever twist to an old genre and sets up a nice bit of drama between Johnny, the monsters, Rawke, and the public.

The public is mostly represented by a reporter named Sally Meyer who’s putting together a documentary on the monsters and those who hunt them. I like Sally, but it’s her sections that make the issue drag. She gets saddled with all the exposition and world-building, for one thing. But more than that, I have a hard time getting my head around her as a character.

It’s obvious that Williamson wants her to be more than just a narrator, and he does a good job of showing that she’s a nice person. But her motives aren’t clear to me and it’s frustrating. She’s unenthusiastic about covering the monster-killings, but seems desperate to score an interview with the reclusive Johnny Monster in order to complete her story. That’s not contradictory; she’s just a good reporter who’s being professional about a story she’s been assigned. But where she loses me is when she learns that Johnny is protecting the monsters and has a crisis about whether or not to report it.

If she’s professional enough to stick with a story she hates and to be bothered by her inability to get the one interview she needs to make it work, why does she balk at uncovering an interesting scandal in the piece? Earlier, she refers to Johnny as a “little punk” and records a bit where she asks the camera what he’s hiding by not doing any press. Now that she knows the answer she’s squeamish about reporting it? I don’t get it.

Even though I have problems with both of these first issues, I liked them enough to want to see more. I don’t want to excuse their rough spots, but I do want to acknowledge their fun and joyfulness. The problem is, at $3.50 an issue I can’t justify staying with either in periodical format. But assuming they get collected, my curiosity is piqued enough that I’ll look forward to revisiting them in the less expensive version.

For my money, the most fun comic of last week was easily Marvel Adventures Avengers #33. Not only does Spider-Man try to teach Ka-Zar how to drive and Wolverine get eaten by multiple T-Rexes, but Writeosaurus Paul Tobin and Drawphodon Ig Guara discover something even better than gorillas riding dinosaurs.

Seriously, you are reading Marvel Adventures Avengers, aren’t you?

Batman Runs an Assassin Gauntlet on New Creative Team Covers

More in Comics