Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert #1 (2011)
By: Tristan Jones on January 28, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Script: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Thank you, John Byrne.

To say I was pretty disappointed by IDW's first step through the gates of Jurassic Park would be an understatement. I hated it, and I really didn't want to. It could have been fantastic - it should have been fantastic, but everything about it was just frighteningly sub par. In the closing lines of my Jurassic Park: Redemption review I mentioned that I hoped the follow up story would redeem the travesty that book was, and now, having just closed the first issue of Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert, I can safely say that it does. So again, thank you John Byrne!

The Devils in the Desert picks up almost immediately after Jurassic Park: Redemption. Tim Murphy, the grandson of the original Jurassic Park's creator, attempted to carry on his grandfather's legacy by creating a new park in Glen Rose, Texas (a place famous for its Dinosaur Valley State Park, where large numbers of fossilized dinosaur tracks were discovered), but things got out of hand and a number of dinosaurs escaped. During Redemption, focus was given particularly to a Carnotaurus that attacked and devoured local wildlife and cattle as it roamed the surrounding wilds. Picking up on this thread, Byrne gives us a story that feels right at home in Jurassic Park continuity (surprisingly, it actually felt a lot like the novels did early on), while still feeling very fresh and new.

Like the novels and films, The Devils in the Desert has a perfectly ominous beginning. While investigating a sudden and horrific spate of cattle mutilations on an out of town ranch, Glen Rose Sheriff Will Tobias finds himself inadvertently wound up in a bizarre federal murder investigation, when a rancher turns up (well… part of him, at least) across state lines. To add to Tobias's confusion, footprints found at the mutilation sites have drawn the attention of paleontologists. We all know where it's going and we also know exactly what's going on, but Byrne manages to hit every beat as perfectly as you could ask for in a book like this.

I've been a big fan of John Byrne's art for a long time now, and regardless of how the man is presented online, it cannot be denied that he is an extremely capable artist. His run on X-Men from the late 70's through to the early 80's included the defining Dark Phoenix and Days of Future Past story arcs, and his seminal runs on both The Fantastic Four and Superman during the 80's are often cited as high points in both books, with visuals that have become the definitive aesthetic for many comic readers of that generation. So, it hardly needs to be said that The Devils in the Desert looks fantastic. It's a classic comic book look that manages to stands up much stronger than a lot of the intricate digital painting you get in comics these days (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that style of art) and never feels dated.

What I found perhaps most interesting about the art direction was the layout design. Here, the panels are always presented four panels per page, like storyboards from a film. It wasn't something I noticed right away, but I'm absolutely certain it was a deliberate choice. Every panel feels like a still from a film, and I'm glad Byrne decided to play things out this way. You still get all your wide shots and close ups and all the things you'd expect to see, only the book gives these to you as a series of widescreen shots, rather than risk confusing things with intricate layouts (something many new to comics often have a hard time following).

The story is also very easy to follow and get into, and Byrne manages to nail the tone and pacing of the films and novels perfectly, with a build up to things that allows us to get a feel for the characters and the world and get excited as more and more clues point towards the dinosaurs we all know are coming. It's an odd kind of "dangerous curiosity": we know there are dinosaurs and we want to see them, but seeing what these people make of things often proves to be just as interesting (if not more so), as the animals themselves. It also serves as a great build up towards the future issues, so as far as first issues go, this is absolutely on the money.

One thing that I'm sure many comic readers will find to be something of a stumbling block is the mere fact that this is a licensed comic. A lot of comic readers tend to be put off by that fact, because frankly, a lot of them are horseshit - especially the ones that've seeped out over the past few years. I read a lot of licensed comic books based on properties I love, but very rarely do they reach the potential they should, and this is one of those rare examples. It's of the quality of Dark Horse's licensed books from the late 80's and early to mid 90's - the Aliens, Predator, and Star Wars books. I also read a lot of indie and mainstream comics, it's still better, both as a product and an enjoyable read, than a lot of the flagship titles I've been reading at either of the "Big Two" lately.

If you're a newcomer to the comics, you don't need to have read Jurassic Park: Redemption, as I'm sure much of why the dinosaurs are around will be explained later in Devils. The book stands perfectly well on its own and the direct, cinematic approach to its presentation means even those unfamiliar to the format won't find themselves lost in following the story from page to page.

Great art, solid scripting; pretty much everything you could ask for in a decent comic. Oh, and dinosaurs…!
Movie Score
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