What if I were to tell you that Walt Simonson, Gil Kane, and George Perez–three of the most beloved names in comics–made a book together? “It’s almost too good to be true,” I hear you cry aloud! Yes. Walt and these two great G-monikered men working on a book you’ve probably yet to read. What a lovely discovery you’ve just made as you read these words! Well, I hate to break it to you, but despite having all of these comics greats working on it, Topps Comics’ Jurassic Park is one of the most boring and ugly licensed books of all time.
First off, I’m a huge Jurassic Park fan. It was one of the first films I truly loved, and as I grew up that never changed. I read the source material, I played the video games, and I bought the really bad licensed comics. But comics licensing is a very strange thing. Depending on what exactly the publisher gets the rights to, you can wind up with anything from a comic book that just uses the seeds of an idea to a comic book that directly adapts the full property, characters and likeness and all. Jurassic Park falls into the latter category and boy does it phone it in.
Closely following the plot of the movie, this book is a one miniseries argument for how mismatched inking can ruin a solid looking book. Perez’s inks over Kane’s iconic blocky linework leave the characters with a strangely agonized square appearance, as if they’ve all been squashed into a cube-shaped vice and left there for a very long time. As a kid, I fucking loved this book, but in hindsight it is objectively terrible.
Licensed comics fit into an odd place in the landscape of the industry, sitting somewhere between quick cash grab and beloved property that fans can’t get enough of. There are plenty of good licensed comics, but sadly for everyone involved, Jurassic Park isn’t one of them. I would love to know what exactly Topps licensed with this book, as the story arc is pretty much exactly the same as the movie, yet as is often the case with franchises from the early ’90s–specifically pre-MCU and actor likeness licensing–the characters look decidedly different from their celluloid counterparts.
Gone are the diamond sharp–COMIC BOOK PUN–cheekbones of Jeff “Hot dad” Goldblum, and here to stay are the strange puffy angles of Ian Malcom’s sketchy face. Laura Dern’s all-American beauty is lost to the strange roundness of Perez’s inks. Her nose often beginning half way down her face only to stop at what seems to be almost her chin. Perhaps some of the strangest art is in the face of Alan Grant himself. Meant to be a curmudgeonly uncle, in the first issue he takes on a terrifying darkness with heavily shaded eyes and a rictus grin as he tells a small child how a velociraptor will surely devour him alive. In the movie the kid is perturbed; here Kane and Perez go for all out trauma as the cherubic face of the boy is drenched with fat tears. He will never sleep again Alan, how could you?
Aside from the ever-changing sinister face shapes of our paper protagonists, this book relishes Walt Simonson’s dedication to adapting the script in the most mundane and confusing way possible. Recognizable moments take on a surreal other-worldliness as Walt tries his best to use the most inane and pedestrian language to explain the magic of prehistoric creatures revived from the dead. Welcome to the over-expository beige of the Jurassic Park Topps script, where half of the first page of dialogue is dedicated to stiff cage door. “It’s pretty tight, maybe the door is stuck.” Well, Jose, maybe if you were less bothered by the door and more bothered by the dinosaur you might not be about to get eaten.
Ever wanted to know the intricacies of InGen’s corporate woes? Lucky for you, Walt Simonson is here to tell you all about them. “Wait until the underwriters yank his funding,” says the nefarious lawyer who will later get eaten on a toilet. There’s also some classic pillow talk, like the moment were Elle embraces Dr Grant, saying, “It frustrates me so much that I love you, that I need to strangle you right now,” to which Allen replies, “Anytime you’re ready.” These two are obviously up to some kinky shit, and to be honest, on this point I am here for it.
In later issues Alan “terrifying Luke Skywalker from the ’80s Marvel comics” Grant continues his battle to have the most terrifying face with Judd-Nelson-in-the-Breakfast-Club-but-puffier Ian Malcolm. As moments in Walt Simonson’s script begin to resemble more of the iconic moments from the film, we can also appreciate the things that are great about this unwieldy cash grab of a book.
There are two main selling points in Jurassic Park. And they were both the work of John Workman, whose letters and sound effects elevate this book from a simple bad adaptation, to a bad adaptation with great lettering and onomatopoeia. There is a moment that I still think of years later, when Yung Pieface Hammond tells Ellie and Alan that he can fund their dig for three more years Ellie simply has a speech bubble with a huge exclamation point in it. Like what the fuck Workman? That’s incredible. I live to steal that and put it in my comic. His dynamic and imaginative sound effects bring every page to life, and you can hear the gnashing of InGen’s DNA disturbed dinosaur with every technicolor word. I suppose we can assume that these boys were all just cashing a check here, but sometimes I like to imagine that they were actually creating some kind of subversive dual statement about the emptiness of licensed books and the power of good letters.