Friday, May 17, 2013

Recommended Reading for 5/17: Super Dinosaur

Robert Kirkman is probably one of the best known writers in comics right now, and his best known works skew in an adult vein. The Walking Dead is a horror comic of epic and intimate proportions at the same time, doused in large quantities if gore. Invincible is a superhero book that has its own share of gore, and its discussions of many topics are frank enough to make some people sensitive about letting kids anywhere near it. But Kirkman writes another monthly, one I've reviewed one or two times, but I'd like to spotlight today, since it is a great, fun, all-ages comic with the best name of any comic on the racks: Super Dinosaur.

Derek Dynamo pretty much has the life that every ten year old dreams of. He's a genius inventor himself, and the son of world famous genius inventor Dr. Dexter Dynamo. He doesn't go to school, but is tutored and spends most of his days inventing and saving the world. He's got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but at heart he's a really good kid who's trying to do the right thing. And best of all, his best friend is a dinosaur. A genetically altered, armor wearing, Tyrannosaurus Rex named Super Dinosaur who can talk, play video games, and help you kick the butt of any villain out there. What more could you ask for?

Hailing from a Inner Earth, a secret lost world deep within the Earth's core, discovered by Dr. Dexter Dynamo and his former colleague turned rival Max Maximus, Super Dinosaur (SD for short) was an experiment by Maximus to create and intelligent dinosaur, which succeeded, but as it turned out, SD wanted nothing to do with Maximus's mad plans, and sided with the Dynamos when Maximus's plan to use DynOre (or Maxinite, as Maximus calls it), a powerful ore only found in Inner Earth, to take over the world. Now, Derek and SD fight Maximus and his Dino-Men, as well as all manner of creatures the traditional military aren't equipped to deal with. It's an adventure a day if you're Derek Dynamo.

Super Dinosaur does a tremendous job of crafting an action adventure comic with heart that can be read by anyone. Sure there's action, and Derek and SD fight some real villains. There is a sense of high stakes throughout the series. But never does it cross the line into being something dark or too scary (frankly, I think as you become an adult, you do forget just how resilient kids are when it comes to what's scary, but that's another discussion). All of Kirkman's trademark characterization and worldbuilding is on display. In early interviews, Kirkman compared what he wanted to do with this book as being like, "a Pixar movie on paper," and he has succeeded. It has the same blend of elements that makes Pixar the success it is; smart writing that never talks down to its audience and plots that pull you right in.

The core of the series really is the friendship between Derek and SD. There are plenty of other characters, but the interaction between the two leads is one of the best friendships in comics. Neither Derek nor SD are normal, and they share a world that few other kids would understand. They understand each other, and have that simple shorthand that all best friends share. The relationship is easy and perfectly natural. There are problems, of course, especially when new people are tossed into the mix, but in the end, Derek and SD always have each others' backs. And that kind of friendship is perfect for a comic for all ages, it's something any kid who has a best friend can relate to, and can see themselves in.

Derek's relationship with his father, Dexter, is also central to the action of the series. When the series began, it seemed Dexter's mind was slipping away. He couldn't finish any projects, and was seemingly getting distracted by small things, requiring Derek to secretly finish the work so the world and the military, who provide all of the Dynamo's funding, wouldn't know what was going on. Derek so clearly loves his father, and was doing his best to help him. As the series progresses, and Dexter realizes what Derek has been doing for him, the scenes between father and son are touching. Recent issues have further shown the strength of their father/son bond with a plot involving the fate of Derek's mother, and the fact that Dexter will do anything to get his family back together. Dexter doesn't fall into the sci-fi cliche of the scientist who has no time for his family and is dedicated to his mistress, science. He loves his son and wants to have a life with him, and with his foster son, SD as well.

The opening arc of the series introduced new characters into the Dynamo Dome, the home of the Dynamos and SD that serves as both living space and lab, and these new characters caused a lot of the non-superhero conflict in the book for the first two arcs. The Kingstons are a pair of engineers who were hired to help out Dr. Dynamo, and came to live at the Dome with their two daughters, Erin and Erica. While Erin took to the new living situation well, and quickly befriended Derek, Erica wanted to go back home to where her friends and old life were. This caused problems in the Kingston family, as well as some more fantastic issues as Erica inadvertently led the Dynamo family's archnemesis, Max Maximus, to the Dynamo Dome, but also caused friction between SD and Derek, as SD thought that Derek was replacing him as his best friend with Erin. Again, these are all very human reaction, especially among kids, and Kirkman uses them well. Even in a world with intelligent dinosaurs and hidden civilizations, feelings can still get hurt.

Aside from our heroes and their supporting cast, Kirkman has created a great tapestry of villains to menace them. Max Maximus serves as the major villain, the Dr. Doom to Dexter Dynamo's Reed Richards, an archetypal mad scientist prone to monologuing and a superiority complex. Maximus has created many Dino-Men, some who remain loyal to him, and some who have their own plan, including a female three horned dinosaur with an axe named Tricerachops, possibly the greatest name in the history of comics. Squidious is a squid man who controls an undersea army. The Exile seemed to be an alien invader, or possibly another of Maximus's experiments before being revealed to be from a race of lizard men who live hidden in Inner Earth, hiding from the dinosaurs.

The art for the series is provided by Jason Howard, who worked with Kirkman before on the criminally under-rated Astounding Wolf-Man (werewolf superhero? That's got Matt written all over it). Howard's art is kinetic, with an amazing sense of motion. He draws the heck out of the crazy, big screen fight scenes that fill the book. I have never seen anyone draw such a great variety of armored dinosaur, and he draws excellent backgrounds and crazy tech.

Super Dinosaur is a comic that seems like the product of a child's joyful and wild imagination. Dinosaurs, super science, and a childhood friendship combine into a wonderful story about what it means to have a family and friends, and about kicking the butts of evil dinosaurs. It's great for any kid, or the kid inside us all.

There are currently three trades of Super Dinosaur, all of which are in print and available at your local comic shop. New issues come out from Image Comics.

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