Spinosaurus roams the marshes of prehistoric Egypt, and must fend off attacks from both rival predators and a herd of herbivores none-to-keen on becoming lunch. But is all the Mesozoic mayhem good?
Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Full Disclosure: While I grew up on cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series, and the ’90s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons, my first experience with the comic book medium was the trade paperback of Age of Reptiles: Tribal Warfare. In many ways, Age of Reptiles helped develop what I expect from artwork, not just in the comic book medium, but as a whole. And so I’m ecstatic to see the series return this summer in the form of Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians.
Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians begins as our protagonist, a scarred Spinosaurus aegypticus (made famous by Jurassic Park III), returns to the marsh from a trek through the desert. Majestic as it walks, the Spinosaurus pays little attention to a pair of theropods (Deltadromeus agilis) that fight over a scrap of meat.
Entering the swamp, the Spinosaurus gently glides through the water, picking up smaller prey items as it continues its journey home. Things are relatively peaceful when one of the Deltadromeus bursts into the scene, followed by a herd of aggressive long-necked sauropods. The herbivores violently attack the predator, killing it before staring down the Spinosaur. Cornered, the Spinosaur is forced to defend himself using his clawed hands to injure the lead sauropod’s foot before making an escape.
The climax of the issue occurs the next day. As the Spinosaurus captures its prey, a large crocodile (I believe it’s an Aegisuchus) tries to steal the catch. The two battle it out in the water before the Spinosaurus is able to use its hind limbs to kick away the would be thief and swims to shore to enjoy its kill.
Ricardo Delgado serves as both storyteller and artist, and while the comic is brilliantly colored by Ryan Hill, the color concepts for the series come from Delgado as well. Delgado’s resume as a storyboard artist and designer in Hollywood is prolific, featuring films such as WALL-E, The Matrix Reloaded, and How to Train Your Dragon, as well as television work like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That experience makes him exactly the right choice to tell the story in Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1. This is a story that is told with no words and no sound effects. The only letters are those of the titles and credits.
Yes, that means that the comic can be read quickly, but Delgado imbues so much detail in the art that one has to pay attention. One could easily miss the shoal of plesiosaurs hunting through the waters or the delicate lines of motion left in the wake of the pterosaurs plucking fish from above. The world Delgado brings is rich and nuanced, and while each panel pushes the narrative forward, there’s often details that get missed the first time around and makes a second reading all the more rewarding. Colorist Ryan Hill does a fantastic job providing mood here. I know Ricardo Delgado provides color concepts for the dinosaurs, and I’m not sure how detailed he gets in the concepts of his backgrounds, but Hill delivers spectacularly. These are not dull animals, but they’re not overly flamboyant in their appearance. There’s a synergy between the dinosaurs and their environments and the use of earth tones creates a lived-in atmosphere that makes the exotic world feel all the more real.
That being said, beautiful artwork is nice, but without a story, it would fall flat. And Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 delivers a nice narrative. The use of the long-necked sauropod Paralititan stromeri as the antagonist for the first issue is a nice reversal of roles for predator and prey. Throughout almost a century of popular depictions, sauropods are almost universally depicted as peaceful giants, incapable of violence, let alone aggression. To have this ubiquitous portrayal subverted here is a pleasant surprise and allows for Delgado to display Spinosaurus, a carnivore, in a more serene and graceful way.
I’ll leave it to actual paleontologists to go over any scientific inaccuracies in the depictions of the flora and fauna of this particular scene. I know Spinosaurus went through a pretty dramatic and thoroughly debated makeover in the third quarter of 2014, but otherwise I didn’t notice anything that stood out to me as particularly egregious. It is nice to see Delgado focus on the environment of Cretaceous North Africa. Most dinosaur media focuses on the late Cretaceous North America, in order to feature T. rex, Triceratops, and various hadrosaurs. Here we have a very different environment, one that has a number of carnivores prowling its land and waters. Featured here in issue one are the lead Spinosaurus, the aforementioned Deltadromeus, and Rugops. Notably absent is Carcharodontosaurus, a predator that rivaled Tyrannosaurus rex in size, though I can’t imagine future issues will pass up the opportunity to use Spinosaurus’ number one contender for top predator.
Is It Good?
Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 is a comic unlike any other in the stands, offering a slice-of-life tale about one of the Mesozoic’s most fascinating creatures while simultaneously setting up a longer thread for the rest of the mini-series. Each panel tells its own story and while the issue can be read through quickly, it offers much more to the reader that lingers on each image, discovering the detail and nuance within. Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 is a fantastic comic, and dinosaur fans would be foolish not to pick it up, as would anyone who enjoys purely visual storytelling.