The Turok comic series always flew under my radar until recently when the original series, from way back in the ’70s, was brought out in larger volumes by Dark Horse. But the series never really vanished, being picked up by various companies and given new runs, along with new takes on the basic storyline, even spawning an animated straight-to-DVD movie and a video game.
Dynamite has decided to give Turok a try again, this time with the (so far misleading) title Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I had thought this new version of Turok was going to be a return to the original idea—a pre-Columbian (meaning before Columbus) North American native trapped/lost in a part of the world where dinosaurs never went extinct. Instead, what we get is, well, an alternate, if fantastic, history.
We’re pre-Columbian alright: the year is 1210 according to the Christian calendar because, guess what? The Crusaders have come west. And, in a move that would warm the hearts of Bible Belt fundamentalists, they’ve brought their pet velociraptors. The logistics of transporting caged velociraptors on ships for weeks-long voyages is not addressed here, because, well, who cares?
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1: Sanctuary spends most of the issue establishing the character, meaning without dinosaurs. This version of Turok is a teenager who is part of, but not really belonging to, a tribe of natives living on what is now Manhattan Island. His parents were killed when he was a baby, by this very tribe, because, though at first appearing friendly, if from a distant tribe, they were actually supernatural monsters—according to the tribe’s head man.
So, young Turok tends to keep to himself, where he is teased by the other native boys – teasted not least because he seems to be better at everything than them, including hunting, and survival, turning into a sort-of native Rambo. His mantra is “Alone is better,” which I think many people — including myself — who had a dismal high school life can relate to, though we’re never sure he quite means it since, well, he never really leaves. Turok claims he remains because he wants to stay where his parents were killed, but we sense that if someone was just a little bit nice to him, and/or appreciative, that he’d be willing to stick around. He’s drawn by Mirko Colak to even look different from the rest of the tribe, with a comb-over mohawk that makes him look ’emo-native.’
Writer Greg Pak was an exclusive writer for Marvel for a while, writing a lot of different characters, including X-Men and the World War Hulk series. He’s now branching out to DC (Batman/Superman) and Dynamite (Battlestar Galactica). I’m a little weirded out about the Crusaders being included in this storyline, which makes me think the whole story could have simply have been a new story idea and not Turok, but OK, fine. The thing that kept pulling me out of the story is the dialogue: Pak has Turok and the other tribesmen (women hardly appear) speaking like modern American teens. Which reminds me the approach that Brian Wood took with Conan, and which I also didn’t like.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: Andar (who in other incarnations was Turok’s brother but is now the leader of the gang of youths bullies) comes after Turok and kicks him in the face. The dialogue, spanning some panels, goes like this:
Andar: What? You think it’s funny? I’m done with getting punished for your crimes. You’re gonna walk into those woods. And you’re never going to come back.
Turok: This is where my parents died. I’m not going anywhere.
Andar: Yeah about that [sic?]…not really much left here for you.
The first thing that sounds weird, and very American, is the elision—the adding of apostrophes to slur the subject and verb. Do the native tribes of 1200 Manhattan have an equivalent way of speaking? I kinda doubt it.
Second, the very American slangy use of “gonna,” made even more weird sounding when Andar uses “going” in the very next sentence/panel.
Third, the very very American slangy use of the phrase “Yeah, about that.” (I’ve added the comma that should actually go there). (Also note that there are other American-isms in just this small sample that I’m not even mentioning).
I think what Pak is doing is 1. trying to be more accessible, and 2. non-racist. Because, am I being racist by expecting pre-Columbian natives to sound more native? And are my expectations of what ‘sounds’ native based on, say, Tonto from the Lone Ranger, or the characters in Dances With Wolves? Maybe, a little, unfortunately, but on the other hand, as a wildland firefighter for thirteen years, I worked with Native Americans from California to New Mexico, and none of them sounded like this.
On the third hand though, some of National Book Award-winning Sherman Alexie’s characters do. (Dear Dynamite Editors: Get Sherman Alexie to write this series!)(or any series!) But if the Manhattan natives get a modern, slangy, translation, why then do the European Crusader characters sound pseudo-Shakesperean and/or like characters out of any Hollywood Crusades movie? At least with Dances with Wolves the natives were speaking the actual language, and the sub-titles translated them literally, without making them sound like Beverly Hills 90210.
I say all this knowing some readers won’t care. It’s all about the dinosaurs, right? Except, it seems to be building to be all about the alternate-history mash-up of The Crusades meets non-metal-technology-using natives. Or, once again, all about white men. I am curious to learn how medieval knights were able to domesticate dinosaurs, though the way the story is developing, I’m not sure Pak is going to go there.
I like that comics companies are exploring other possibilities besides the super-hero genre, though maybe the problem i
s trying to do re-makes of classics? Attaching the Turok name gives a guaranteed sales base, at least at the beginning, but this Turok feels like Pak feels forced to include dinosaurs, when really the story he wants to tell is the ‘what if?’ alternative-history meeting of two very distinct cultures.