By Gaylord DuBois & various (Dark Horse Books)
Winâ€™s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for the wide-eyed kid in us all Â 8/10
By never signing up to the draconian overreaction of the bowdlerizing Comics Code Authority, in the late 1950s Dell became the company for life and death thrills, especially in the arena of traditional adventure stories. If you were a kid in search of a proper body count instead of flesh wounds you went for Tarzan, Roy Rogers, Tom Corbett and their ilk. Thatâ€™s not to claim that the West Coast outfit were gory, exploitative sensationalists – far from it – but simply that the writers and editors knew that fiction – especially kidâ€™s fiction – needs a frisson of danger to make it work.
That was never more aptly displayed than in the long-running cross-genre saga of two Native Americans trapped in a world of saber-tooth tigers, cavemen and dinosaursâ€¦
Printing giant Whitman Publishing had been producing their own books and comics for decades through their Dell and Gold Key imprints, rivaling and often surpassing DC and Timely/Marvel at the height of their powers. Famously they never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria which resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s and Dell Comics never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers.
They never needed to: their canny blend of media and entertainment licensed titles were always produced with a family market in mind and the creative staff took their editorial stance from the mores of the filmic Hayes Code and the burgeoning television industry.
Like the big and little screen they enticed but never shocked and kept contentious social issues implicit instead of tacit. It was a case of â€œviolence and murder are fine but never titillate.â€
Moreover, most of their adventure comics covers were high quality photos or paintings – adding a stunning degree of authenticity and realism to even the most outlandish of concepts for us wide-eyed waifs in need of awesome entertainment.
Dell hit the thrill jackpot in 1954 when they combined a flavour of westerns with monster lizards: after all what 1950s kid could resist Red Indians and Dinosaurs?
Debuting in Four-Color Comics #596 (October/November 1954) Turok, Son of Stone told of two Native Americans hunting in the wilderness North of the Rio Grande when they became lost in a huge cave-system and emerged into a lost valley of wild men and antediluvian beasts. They would spend the next twenty-six years (a total of 125 issues) wandering there, having adventures kids of all ages would happily die for.
Despite solid claims from historian Matthew H. Murphy and comics legend Paul S. Newman (who definitely scripted the series from #9 onwards) Son of Stone was almost certainly created and first written by Dellâ€™s editorial supremo Gaylord DuBois and this magnificent hardcover collection gathers both Four Color tryouts (the second originally appearing in #656, October/November 1955) and issues #3-6 of his own title.
Dell had one of the most convoluted numbering systems in comics collecting and successive appearances in the tryout title usually – but not always – corresponded to the eventual first issue of a solo series. Therefore FC #596 = Turok #1, FC #646 was #2 and the series proper began with #3. It isnâ€™t always that simple though: after 30-odd Donald Duck Four Colors, Donald Duck proper launched his own adventures with #26!
Go figureâ€¦ but just not nowâ€¦
Set sometime in the days before Columbus discovered America Turok is a full brave mentoring a lad named Andar (although the original concept called for two teens, with the mature warrior originally a boy called Young Hawk) and in â€˜The World Belowâ€™ illustrated by Rex Maxon, the pair become lost while exploring Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico (DuBois was a frequent visitor of that fabulous subterranean site) and after days emerged into a vast, enclosed valley where they are menaced by huge creatures they never dreamed could exist.
In â€˜The Terrible Onesâ€™ they encounter beast-like cavemen and discover a way to make their puny arrows potent against the colossal cats, wolves and lizards that make human life spans so brief in this lost world. In return they teach the ape-men the miracle of archeryâ€¦
One year later Four Color #656 opened with the morning after in â€˜The Mystery of the Mountainâ€™ as caveman Lanok helped Turok and Andar solve a grisly disappearance before the Braves became lost once more in the great caverns. Eventually emerging at a far distant point of the lush valley they were befriended by another tribe; one composed only of women and children. The pair helped the primitives recover their men-folk in â€˜The Missing Huntersâ€™ and came tantalizingly close to escaping the sunken world forever before their hopes were cruelly dashedâ€¦
The format was set and successful. With Turok, Son of Stone #3 (March-May 1956) the pair began decades of incessant wandering seeking escape from the valley, encountering a fantastic array of monsters and lost tribes to help or fight, illustrated by a team of artist which included Ray Bailey, Bob Correa, Jack Abel & Vince Alascia. â€˜The Exiled Cave Menâ€™ saw them find their way back to Lanok, whose tribe had since been driven from their home by a gigantic tyrannosaur. As well as helping them find a new digs Andar and Turok gave them a further short and profitable lesson in modern weaponry.
Of course the natives didnâ€™t call it a tyrannosaur. The absolute best thing about this glorious series is the imaginative names for the monsters. Cavemen might have called T. Rexes â€œRunnersâ€, Allosaurs â€œHoppersâ€ and Pterosaurs â€œFlyersâ€ whilst generally referring to giant lizards as â€œHonkersâ€ but us kids knew all the proper names for these scaly terrors and felt pretty darn smug about itâ€¦
Relocated to an island in a great lake Lanokâ€™s tribe marveled at the coracles and canoes Turok built to explore its tributaries. â€˜Strange Watersâ€™ followed the homesick bravesâ€™ to another section of the valley with even stranger creatures.
Issue #4 opened with â€˜The Bridge to Freedomâ€™ finding Turok and Andar escaping the valley, only to turn back and help Lanok, whilst â€˜The Smilodonâ€™ pitted the reunited trio against the mightiest hunter of all time when a saber-tooth tiger took an unrelentingly obsessive interest in how they might tasteâ€¦
â€˜The River of Fireâ€™ opened #5 as geological turbulence disrupted the valley, causing beasts to rampage and forcing Lanokâ€™s people to flee from volcanic doom, whilst â€˜The Secret Placeâ€™ saw Turok and Andar suffer from the jealous rage of the tribeâ€™s slighted shaman. Of course the witch-doctor turned out to be his own worst enemyâ€¦
Issue #6 (December 1956-February 1957) opened with an inevitable but delightful confrontation as the wanderers faced â€˜The Giant Apeâ€™; a Kong-like romp with a bittersweet sting and Turokâ€™s initial collected outing ends with â€˜The Stick Throwerâ€™ wherein a monkey-like newcomer introduced the Braves to the magic of boomerangs and the pernicious willfulness of mastodonsâ€¦
But thatâ€™s not all! For sundry commercial reasons comicbooks were compelled to include at least three features per issue at this period so this selection concludes with a text vignette â€˜Aknet Becomes a Manâ€™ and, just to be safe, â€˜Lotorâ€™ a natural history comic strip starring a wily raccoon looking to feed his brood, despite the best efforts of giant Bullfrogs and hungry Allosaursâ€¦
With a rapturous introduction from artistic superstar and dino-buff William Stout, plus the assorted fact-features that graced the original issues (â€˜The Dinosauriaâ€™, â€˜The Ichthyosaursâ€™, â€˜The Smilodonâ€™, â€˜The Mastodonâ€™, â€˜Turokâ€™s Lost Valleyâ€™ and â€˜Prehistoric Menâ€™) this is a splendid all-ages adventure treat that will enrapture and enthrall everybody who ever wanted to walk with dinosaursâ€¦ and Mammoths and Moas andâ€¦
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