Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Comics Review: DinoWars



DinoWars Volume 1, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2007. Full color. $14.95. ISBN: 978-0-9787725-4-3.

I realize it's been a little while since we had a real honest-to-goodness book-without-pictures review on this blog, but bear with me. When a new Rod Espinosa comic comes in the mail, I drop everything and read it.

Espinosa, if I haven't made clear, is one of my favorite comic author/illustrators. His artwork is incredible and detailed, his stories are imaginative and wholesome, and his heroes (and even moreso, his heroines) are likable and entertaining.

That being said, I admit DinoWars is a disappointment. Although it delivers exactly what it promises--robotic dinosaurs shooting lasers out of their mouths--it doesn't deliver a lot else. The elements I expect in an Espinosa comic either aren't present or are unusually underdeveloped.

At least part of the problem is the story's heavy and obvious dependence on Transformers and Independence Day. The comic opens with a dashing astronaut hero, Hank Armstrong (first rule of comics: all astronauts will be named Buzz or Armstrong), whose mission to the moon is interrupted by the appearance of deadly dinosaur cyborgs. Though Hank manages to get his crew home safely, it isn't long before a gigantic spacecraft appears in the sky and begins disgorging legions of armed dinos, apparently bent on wiping humanity from the face of the planet.

Meanwhile, in the town of Nowhere, Texas (yeesh), Hank's old flame Debra McDonald gets home from her job at the diner to find a couple of small dinosaurs in her living room. She quickly learns that the dinosaurs left Earth 65 million years ago to escape the Ice Age (I assume Espinosa skimped on the research here) and have been hibernating in the asteroid belt. The dinosaurs have two factions: the Protosaurs, who want to make peace with humanity, and the Megasaurs, who want to destroy humanity.

You get the idea.

Perhaps the greatest drawback of this miniseries is that it's too short. It's not paginated, but it can't be much over a hundred pages, and most of those pages have three panels or less. As a result, most of the war promised in the title happens in the background. We have a few good shots of Hank, who smoothly transitions from astronaut to warrior, fighting street battles against armored stegosauri, but most of the war happens through set-up panels and narration.

The brevity not only means much of the action is backgrounded, but also means the plot itself is rushed. Hank and Debra run into each other and fall in love again with unnatural speed, and the story ends with a swift deus ex machina. Given the dependence of the basic storyline on Transformers, I would at least have expected to see a good battle between the Protosaurs and Megasaurs, but alas, it was not to be.

The story has at least one serious plot hole: Debra somehow manages to walk into a top-secret, heavily guarded meeting of the U.N., and nobody notices the two dinosaurs with her until she introduces them.

Most of Espinosa's comics happen in lavish otherworlds, which give him space to display his significant prowess at designing elaborate costumes and buildings and introducing fun fantasy characters. The real-world setting of DinoWars seems to limit him. Although the detailed artwork in the few battle scenes is incredible, it isn't nearly as impressive at the skirmish that climaxes The Courageous Princess or the massive battle that fills the fourth volume of Neotopia.

At least a few of you are thinking I'm asking too much of a comic book about a dinosaur-alien invasion, but I've learned that even goofball ideas--or perhaps I should say, especially goofball ideas--have plenty of dramatic mileage in the hands of an expert. Although Espinosa shows the same superb visual talent here that he has shown elsewhere, the story is disappointingly flat.

The robotic dinosaurs shooting lasers out of their mouths are still awesome, though.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for DinoWars:

Myth Level: Medium-High {good premise, large-scale battle of sorts, some grand ideas)

Quality: Medium (superb full-color art coupled with ambitious but weak writing)

Ethics/Religion: High (nothing objectionable; some possible mild fanservice)
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