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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Flesh The Dino Files review


This hefty collection contains the original series of Flesh, Book II and the recent revival series Texas, as well as a few extra that we shall come to presently.

So, we start off with something from the very first issue of 2000AD.
Reading this now as an adult, it is hard to imagine the impact it must have had on me at the time I first read it at the age of eight. The very fact that I can still remember it so clearly decades later says a lot about the powerful storytelling.
The first episode is nothing short of lunacy. It bombards the reader with an incredible amount of ideas and visceral imagery. In the six pages of the first episode we manage to get introduced to the main characters, have the premise of the story told to us, witness a herd of dinosaurs stampede over a cliff, see a man eaten by a giant crocodile and are treated to the brain searing sight of a headless T-Rex, blood spouting from the stump of its neck, trample to death a group of unlucky cowboys.
Of course this is merely a taster for what follows. We still have Claw Carver and Old One Eye to meet yet.
Flesh Book I is a brilliant slice of comics.

Such was the popularity of the first series, it was rather inevitable that a sequel would be along.
Book II is essentially the same thing as Book I, only the action has been shifted from the Creatatous Era to the Triassic and relocated from dry land to a massive factory rig in the middle of the prehistoric ocean.
This series is not as powerful as the first, mainly because it retreads a lot of the same ground plotwise and some plot points are nonsensical or even contradictory. But it does have a number of saving graces.
Chief amongst these is the art, which is provided in each episode except the final one (and even then, one of his panels is cut and pasted in) by fan favourite Massimo Belardinelli. His idiosyncratic art style is perfect for depicting the alien world that is the Triassic.
The other main saving grace is this:

Which is unquestionably one of the best comic book covers ever, and I am here to tell you that Beri’s giant scorpions truly are the stuff of nightmares.

Then we have a brief stop gap in the shape of the Claw Carver tale Hand of Glory. This was originally in prog 1526 and marked the return of Ramon Sola to comics after many decades away. It was received coolly at the time, but rereading it here, it is a very good tale, well told and not anywhere near Sola’s best, is still very good. It’s just a pity he didn’t continue to draw comic strips after the reception this one got.

Then comes Texas, in which writer Pat Mills cleverly harks back not only to the fairly recent Carver tale, but to the events in prog one over thirty years, or thirty million years, before, and does so seamlessly.
That’s not to say that this reboot does not have its problems.

Like most modern comic strips, it suffers too much from decompression. This may seem like a strange thing to be saying about a 2000AD strip, and it is – compared to American comics this is still a tale told at a break-neck pace - but compared to the pace of the original series, it is slow!
There are some strange ideas in here that don’t quite come off for me – like the paraoralophus having a cry that will kill everything around them. I can’t quite see how this would work from an evolutionary point of view.

However, this kind of issue is more than balanced out by the big bad dinosaur from this series: Gorehead.
Gorehead is a survivor of the events that took place in the original Flesh series and as a consequence has become unstable in time. Yes, that’s right. He is a giant, indestructible, time travelling T-Rex!
The art from newcomer James McKay is, for the most part, very good. He can certainly draw dinosaurs and he can certainly draw people. The dinos are realistic looking and the humans well realised.
What he can’t do as well though, is draw a comic strip. There are times that the inking is too thick and the panels too complicated, leaving the reader peering into a panel that at first looks like a collection of thick black lines.
The series ends on a nice cliffhanger, and I for one am looking forward to seeing it come back, and I’m confident that McKay will be a much more accomplished comic artist by then.
The rounded off with  stories from a couple of old 2000AD annuals. They are glaringly out of place in the Flesh universe and seem to have been written and drawn by a team with only a passing knowledge of the strip, but they are interesting for historical reasons.
And finally, there are a number of pages of James McKay’s character and dinosaur sketches. These are brilliant, and show what this artist can really do when he puts his mind to it!
Now, when’s Texas Book II coming?

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