Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Moon-Boy And His Dinosaur

It's hard to thumb through issue #1 of Jack Kirby's Devil Dinosaur without wondering if and when it will kick in for you. A comic book hopefully gives a reader satisfaction by being, at the very least, an interesting distraction. It doesn't necessarily have to be fun--but it should draw you into it and make you curious about what happens in it. And if it's a series, it certainly should make you interested enough in its story to want to pick up the next issue after you read the last page.

Yet this one panel pretty much sums up what you're going to get out of this book:

That leaves the characters to grab you. In a world of dinosaurs, that doesn't give you many options. This isn't Jurassic Park, after all. Basically, you've got dinosaurs, and you've got prehistoric man. At least you do in Jack Kirby's reasoning, addressing the general notion that dinosaurs died out long before man appeared:
"...[I]t's not too far-fetched to imagine a friendship such as that shared by Devil and Moon-Boy. After all, just where the Dinosaur met his end, and when Man first stood reasonably erect, is still shrouded in mystery." -- from Kirby's introduction to the series in the "Dinosaur Dispatches" letters page

The tribes of men that we encounter even speak reasonably well--otherwise, this comic would be filled with just artwork and narrative. They're all pretty angry, as well as superstitious--always recoiling in fear or worry over whatever they can't comprehend, which is just about all the time. (Gee, I guess we haven't evolved all that much, have we?) And they have a grudge against "Devil," who got his name from poachers who trapped dinosaurs and then slew them. Apparently Devil was a little too fierce for them, so they tried to torch him--which turned his skin red, but still didn't kill him.

That's when "Moon-Boy" came on the scene--named thus because, well, he liked to look at the moon at night and let his mind wander. That was sort of a let-down. A comic book name like "Moon-Boy" is the kind of a name that leads you to think there's more to him than there appears to be--when really he just likes to gaze at the moon. Just to stack the deck, Kirby felt we needed to be sold a little more on this otherwise unremarkable character, so he stamped this caption on the cover of the first issue:

Yeah, about that. You'll probably notice, if you read the issue, that if there are other prehistoric people throughout the story--all older than Moon-Boy--he's not the "first human" by a long shot. Not even the second, or third. The first human to ride shotgun on a dinosaur, probably.

Moon-Boy nursed Devil back to health (about as well as you can nurse a dinosaur, anyway), and the two formed a bond. Unfortunately, Moon-Boy's own tribe didn't take too well to seeing one of their own riding toward them on a snarling dinosaur, and they fled in fear. (There's a lot of fleeing in fear in this comic.) So he cast his lot with Devil, and the two of them went off on their own.

Hopefully that was enough to get a reader to take an interest in this comic. As for that last page which is supposed to hook you into getting the next issue--well, there honestly wasn't much material to use at this point. A tribe of these pissed-off men had set a trap for Devil and were luring him to it, and here's the cliffhanger we were given:

In all fairness, the next issue is a little more exciting than that. Here's one of Kirby's double-page spreads, where Devil hurdles (yes, hurdles) the initial trap:

And look, we even got a tidy explanation as to why these guys appear to have picked up on English pretty well.

Devil, by the way, not only hurdles traps--he's a regular prehistoric Daredevil, ducking his foes and kicking them. No wonder he usually wins his fights with other dinosaurs--there aren't many triceratops that know how to kick you in the gut or the face. I doubt Moon-Boy trained him--his main function seems to be to urge Devil to take on his enemies, then leap to safety before the battle begins. He may not be the first human, but he may be the one to thank for our instinct of self-preservation.

Devil Dinosaur ran for nine issues before the plug was pulled--the same year that Kirby left Marvel Comics for the final time. Both Devil and Moon-Boy were brought back by other writers, this time to mingle with elements of contemporary Earth (and, of course, the Savage Land)--there was even a one-shot where Devil battled the Hulk. I didn't read that story, but let's see--the Hulk against a dinosaur. I imagine it would look something like this:


Kid said...

I imagine that if Kirby had never returned to Marvel, Kamandi would have wound up befriending some kind of Devil Dinosaur-type creature. I get the impression that this was a pitch for an animated TV show that became a comic. Sadly, Jack never seemed able to match his accomplishments in the '60s once he left Marvel for DC - or ever again.

Comicsfan said...

Well, I suppose it depends on how we'd define "accomplishments." I've mentioned before how many of Kirby's concepts and characters from his later work at Marvel lived on under other writers and titles; and from the various forums I've read on the subject, his New Gods series also had its share of good things said about it.

I think Kirby mainly stumbled in execution while, at the same time, excelling at creativity. He simply may not have had his finger on the pulse of his reading audience. You once mentioned words to the effect that his strengths were best reflected in his collaboration with others, and I think that puts his later work in fair perspective.

Kid said...

As you say, some of Kirby's later creations lived on after him, both at Marvel and DC. However, in quite a few cases, I suspect this was because of the affection he was held in by later creators who were nostalgic for the things of their youth, regardless of whether they were commercially successful or not at the time. Most of what Jack co-created at Marvel in the '60s has more or less had an unbroken and successful run to this day. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for anything he created on his own after leaving Marvel, despite sll the relatively short-lived attempted revivals of some of his concepts and characters from time to time.