Xenozoic Tales Vol. 1: After the End

By Mark Schultz
Additional inks by Steve Stiles
160 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

If you asked most newcomers to comics what Mark Schultz has done in comics, chances are they’d be able to point out his four year run as writer of Superman: The Man of Steel. Hopefully, though, soon they’ll learn about a much more interesting creative work of his; a little series called Xenozoic Tales.

A natural disaster sent mankind underground for shelter… and when they were finally able to come back to the surface, things had changed a great deal! The world is now a much more dangerous place, both in terms of terrain and with the wildlife. A wide variety of dinosaurs once more roam the world, and humans band together in loose confederations and tribes to survive in a land they once ruled. One of the few that still seems to be in charge of his surroundings is Jack Tenrec, who’d really rather spend his time tinkering with guano-powered cadillacs instead of having to save the others living around him. What Jack doesn’t realize, though, is the one person he’ll never be able to stay in charge of is Hannah Dundee of the Wassoon tribe… and that the two of them are about to discover all sorts of things about their world that might have better been left unfound.

Reading Xenozoic Tales is like a trip back in time to when classic adventure comics were still being published. Schultz mixes science-fiction and pulp fiction into a wonderful creation where Jack Tenrec is the gunslinger who keeps an eye on the fold even as he itches to get back home. There’s a nice building of character and plot in the stories collected here; each story stands on its own, but at the same time they all build on each other, forming a carefully threaded story that moves through Jack’s and Hannah’s world. The world itself is practically a main character in Xenozoic Tales; with old-fashioned cars powered on dinosaur waste material roaring through half-buried cities and the wilderness, it’s quite unlike anything else out there. Every time you think you’ve gotten to know this Xenozoic Age, Schultz is ready to introduce a new concept or place that sends things spinning in another direction. There’s definitely no lack of ideas ready for the reader here.

Schultz’s art reminds me at a casual glance of the old EC Comics, with its depictions of people struggling through a wilderness and slowly seeing triumph come over their faces. I don’t remember EC Comics having such beautiful detail, though, in their art. In especially the later stories in this first volume, Schultz’s inks are delicately laid down onto the page, letting him create and added sense of realism to his characters and their surroundings. Buildings are carefully constructed, and as people walk among them, you can almost see individual strands of hair blow in the wind. The real attraction in many ways, though, is how Schultz draws his dinosaurs. They look nothing short of fantastic; in this comic that was created well before the “Jurassic Park” movie dictated how dinosaurs would stalk people, it’s great to see them move across the page in such a natural manner. The dinosaurs of Xenozoic Tales are an important aspect of the book and have to be easily believed in, and Schultz makes them seem like something he just saw in his back yard. Seeing the ancient lizards alive and rustling through the grass or soaring through the air is a great visual, and Schultz delivers the goods.

Imaginative enough to have spawned a cartoon on CBS in the early ’90s (“Cadillacs and Dinosaurs”), Xenozoic Tales was one of the comic book gems of the ’80s. I’m thrilled that Dark Horse is collecting the entire series into two volumes; this is a book that really deserves to be perpetually in print. If you’re looking for a belated Father’s Day gift, look no further than Xenozoic Tales.

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