Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Terrifying Than a Tyrannosaurus!!!!

Turok and Andar, the two American Indians who spent many comic book years trapped in the Lost Valley, had more than their share of dinosaur encounters. Fortunately for them, they had learned how to coat their arrow points with a virulent poison, making them effective Weapons of Mass Destruction against even the largest saurian killer.

But, though taking on the average T-Rex was all in a days work, there were at least two issues from the mid-1960s when Turok was forced to go one-on-one against particularly nasty meat-eaters.

The first instance was in Turok, Son of Stone #46 (November 1965). Turok and Andar find a giant stone wall and decide to climb it to see if it leads to a way out of the valley. But they inadvertently cause a rock slide that weakens the wall. This soon allows a legendary monster named Karalak to burst through.

The local cave men had described Karalak as a fire-breathing, multi-armed creature. Well, it turns out to be a really, really big carnosaur. And I mean REALLY BIG—this guy can strangle a brontosaurus and apparently consider the ensuing meal to be just a light snack.

Sentenced to death by the cave men unless they kill the monster, Turok and Andar go hunting.

Karalak turns out to be annoyingly hard to kill. It’s immune to their poison arrows. So they try to lure it off a cliff; set fire to it; and dump an avalanche on it. It’s only when Karalak chases Turok into a swamp that the Indian is able to improvise a last-minute plan to lure it to its death.

Well, you’d think one particularly nasty carnosaur would fill poor Turok’s quota for awhile. But only a few months later (Turok #50—March 1966), the same darn thing happens again.

Well, almost the same thing. While exploring a high-altitude section of the valley, they see a large carnosaur frozen in the ice. This particular beasty seems to be a mish-mash of several different species—he’s got the basic dino meat-eater shape, but the carapace and tail of an anklyosaurus.

An earthquake changes the landscape enough to let direct sunlight hit the frozen area and the monster is soon running loose. It soon proves to be a pretty nasty creature, able to mop the floor with gangs of more conventional carnosaurs.

Turok finds some cave paintings that indicate this creature will soon lay a large batch of eggs. Both it and the eggs will need to be destroyed or this powerful species might overrun the whole valley. Basically, they opt to finish off an endangered species—PETA would hate this story. 

The trouble was is that the Indians were currently out of poison arrows (a situation left over from the previous issue in a rare instance of between-issue continuity). That means escaping the monster long enough to find a poison berry patch and make some more of their WMDs.

But that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is getting rid of those darn eggs. The monster lays them on the bottom of a river that seems to be infested with countless meat-eating monsters—everything from over-sized piranha to a hungry plesiosaur to the traditional multi-tentacled giant squid.  Our heroes make several attempts to get to the eggs without becoming lunch for something before they finally figure out how to succeed.

Most Turok stories were written by Paul S. Newman (no, not THAT Paul Newman) and drawn by Alberto Giolitti. In past posts, I’ve often praised the dynamic painted covers from this series, but been a little bit critical of the artwork. As I look at these stories again via the current Turok Archives reprints, though, I become more and more appreciative of Giolitti’s art. I’ll always think of his figure work as a little bit stiff, but his jungle designs are often magnificent and his sense of composition was really sharp.

And Newman was a skilled writer in the best pulp/comic book tradition, a man able to churn out a huge volume of quality work—never producing a true classic, but always telling a entertaining story.

One thing I really like about the Turok stories is how the protagonist is presented as an intelligent and quick-thinking man. Turok and Andar were given an effective anti-dinosaur weapon pretty early on, but Newman and other writers were always placing them in situations where simply firing another barrage of poison arrows wasn’t enough to get the job done. They had to THINK—as well as fight--their way out of dangerous situations.

Well, that completes our visit to the Lost Valley. Next week, we’ll return to the Marvel Universe.

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