Monday, February 10, 2014
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter vs....Evil Christians?
Ah, Turok. I've been a fan of this all my life. If you're not familiar with the original concept, this was a comic series that began in the early 1950s and lasted all the way until the early 80s. The comic was published by Dell, and which later become Gold Key. At the time of its inception, back when Life ran their famous World We Live In issue, with sprawling prehistoric murals by paleo-artist Rudolph Zallinger, dinosaurs were all the rage, as were American Indians (now called Native Americans). So this comic combined the tow to great effect. The story had Turok and his younger and more foolish brother Andar discovering a huge cavern whose roof had collapsed ages ago, filled with prehistoric life. The two fought their way through menacing dinosaurs and cave tribes always searching for a way out, but never apparently finding it.
I missed the earliest, and perhaps best issues of the original series in the 50s and 60s, but I certainly loved them in the seventies, had a great time finding the the previous issues at comic conventions. Younger folks may be familiar with Turok primarily because of the game, or the 90s Valiant comic series that took him out of Lost Valley and into a future where he fought cybernetic dinosaur called "bionosaurs." Later, the series returned Turok and Andar to Lost Valley, no slightly renamed "lost land," which was now revealed to exist in a dimensional nexus where beings and creatures form all times could show up. This may have been necessary for an update, as a genuine undiscovered region filled with dinosaurs had become starkly implausible by then. This series did, however, attempt to connect with original, as it followed from Turok's appearacne in a crossover issue of Magnus: Robot Fighter (another Gold Key Revival). More recently, Dark Horse acquired the rights to the Gold Key line of characters, including Turok, Magnus, and Mighty Samson. At least in the case of Turok, the series was a complete reboot this time, the stories written by one-time Marvel Comics editor Jim Shooter. The story had Turok saving Andar (now a boy from another tribe) from becoming a blood-sacrifice for a band of Aztec warriors, then fleeing said warriors into the lost land. This series was looking good, and future issues were to involve Amazon warriors with trained velociraptors, among other cool stuff. It had a lot of potential, by the way, that did not have to do with the whole dinosaur concept, and you might have had an engaging series with the two braves finding adventure in ancient America; I remember one interview with the writer where mentioned that Turok possessed a steel knife he a gotten by trade from a Viking settlement in the north, and perhaps a future flashback would explore that story in detail. Unfortunately, the series only lasted a total of four issues. Two covers exist from issues 5 and 6, but he stories within, sadly, will likely never see the light of day.
Now Dynamite comics has acquired the rights to the Gold Key lineup. Once again, it's an entire reboot, but not nearly as promising, in my opinion. This time around, Turok himself is ostracized from his own tribe, though technically he still lives with them. He wears his hair differently, and has a strong kinship with nature, which marks him as "weird" to the other young members of his tribe. Andar, strangely enough, is here cast as one of the teens that bullies Turok. How did that happen? Also, we learn form a flashback that Turok's parents were killed. I can't very well argue that these new comics have more depth to their characters than the old Turok did; but what I'd really like to see would be a new comic virtually indistinguishable form the old Gold Key series, complete with painted covers and the same style of artwork, only with new species of dinosaurs and new adventures. But that's just me.
Still, this new comic has a couple of innovations that I really just can't swallow. One is is total absence of a lost land. Sure, this series promises loads of dinosaur action and will no doubt deliver in the months ahead. But there is no prehistoric enclave, either in a secluded valley or another dimension. Instead, the dinosaurs just start starting showing up out of nowhere. It's a dinosaur invasion not a prehistoric world. The author of the series, Greg Pak, alludes to world building, but it's world-building of a different sort. There is nothing of Skartaris, Pellucidar, Pal-ul-don, or the numerous other lost worlds in fiction, complete with with primeval flora, topograpy, and their own unique races here. No--what he's talking about is alternative history, something I'm a bit of a fan of, but not in a series like this. It's probably a good enough story, just not the direction I'd have wanted to take.
But the real issue with the new Turok is this:
Much has been made in reviews and interviews of the "big twist," at the end of the first issue. I encountered it first hand the other day when I took a loom at the first issue in a local store. I did not buy the issue, but "real evil" mentioned in one of the issues turned out to be (stop reading if you don't want to know).....
Displaced crusadars in 12th century Manhattan. Now, originally Turok belonged to one of the plains tribes, and the Valiant series precisely identified him as a Kiowa.
But what matters here is, of course the depiction of religion. The author takes pains to avoid making stereotypes of the Native American characters, even the more positive stereotypes like the "wise shaman", as one of the interviews I read showed. But the Crusaders? They speak in stereotypical Medieval dialect, and are shown putting the thumbscrews on some poor victim while quoting the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, that shadowy figure at left in the picture above is the series' true villain.
That's the thing about Political Correctness. It's goal is not to offend certain groups, and yet it goes out of its way to tar certain others--specifically those that perceived of as powerful and/or privileged, even though Christianity in the West is on the decline these days.
Anti-Christian propaganda? In Turok, of all places?
But is this truly what it appeared to me at first glance? I don't know who Pak is, and he could be not criticizing the Christian faith per se, but showing the hypocrisy of supposed "Christians" during a dark time in the history of the faith. There have been lots of people who like our Christ, but not our Christianity. To admit my own bias, when the previous Turok series made villains of the Aztecs, I didn't give that much thought--and they, too, were religious fanatics, just not of a faith that is relevant to today. It's easy to jump to conclusions after reading a lot of the attacks on faith by secularists these days.
So is the author attempting to shed the light on a dark past so we don't repeat it, or is he indeed attacking Christianity itself , using the evils perpetuated long ago in order to influence the way readers regard the Christian faith today?
Only time will tell.