Review by Frank Plowright
Turok’s property trajectory is unlikely even by the standards of comics. The New Mexico-based Native American who stumbled on a lost world populated by dinosaurs starred in a long running series during the 1950s, was incorporated into Valiant’s character portfolio in the 1990s, and then developed into a video game when Acclaim acquired the property. The game has a sustained audience, and has been reformatted and improved in the 21st century.
It’s the first half dozen of those 1950s stories presented in this handsome hardcover, unseen other than in obscure reprints since their original publication. There’s sense in supplying the series from the start for collectors, but Turok would improve considerably. Nevertheless, novelty and adventure is present, but it’s relatively crudely drawn, with experts attributing the opening story to Rex Maxon, with Bob Correa credited for the remainder. However as William Stout’s introduction notes, an even more primitive artistic hand is evident on the fifth issue. Furthermore the idea of mixing Native Americans, then referred to by the inaccurate and outmoded term of “Indians”, with a world of dinosaurs isn’t as high concept as it was in 1954, all of which combines to aim this at ageing nostalgists rather than anyone born since 1970.
Maxon is the superior artist, and his opening story is the best here. Writer Gaylord Dubois takes a relatively realistic approach to Turok and his companion Andar running short of water, so descending into a vast cavern system. They explore it, facing danger over a dozen pages before emerging into sunlight high above an unfamiliar land. Here dinosaurs mix with cavemen and threats Turok knows from his own world like big cats. A sense of awe transmits across the decades, and instead of rushing in like action heroes, Turok and Andar are shown as cautious and canny in working out solutions such as developing poison-tipped arrows.
Turok’s second outing rather over-eggs the idea with the discovery of a second hidden valley, this one leaping evolution forward several million years by hosting mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. The dinosaurs are back for the third story, which continues the pattern of Turok and Andar befriending the more primitive people and teaching them how to construct tools and hunting weapons. By the final story the threats have been expanded to encompass a giant ape.
That Turok’s life is a daily struggle for survival with ever-present danger is well transmitted, and while the language might be of the times, Turok and Andar are portrayed with dignity and intelligence, which was hardly common for Native Americans in other media or other comics. Look to Volume 2 for more consistent writing.
Each story includes the educational spotlight pages giving more information about the creature Turok and Andar face (as was known in the 1950s), and thankfully also included are the alluring painted covers to the original comics, artists sadly unknown. It’s odd to realise some pages were randomly printed in black and white. However, given that Dark Horse aim this at an audience who’ll pay a premium for hardback packaging, it’s a shame they couldn’t go to the extra expense of restoring the art. It looks just scanned and barely retouched from old comics.