♦Tripwire gave its Senior Editor ANDREW COLMAN the task of assessing IDW’s lavish Xenozoic Tales Artist’s Edition…
Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales Artist’s Edition
Writer/ Artist: Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales is a rare thing in comics – a work that wears its artistic forebears’ influence on its sleeve to such an extent that it essentially has to aim high, in order not to seem like a second rate homage. However, it is clear from Schultz’s foreword in this massive book that the efforts involved to reproduce not just the style but the heart of his predecessors’ canons have been forensically thorough, and crafted over a significant gestation period. From trying to ape his hero Wally Wood, through being guided by another E.C. legend, Al Williamson to learn about the illustrators who mentored him, such as Roy Krenkel, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and forgotten genius Daniel Smith, it all ends up on the page, and what pages they are.
Xenozoic Tales’s premise is fairly straightforward – in a dystopian future, main character Jack Tenrec, an archetypal loner and “blood mechanic”, remains a hero to the citizens of The City By The Sea (Manhattan), in a world where dinosaurs roam once again. With his love interest Hannah Dundee, from Wassoon (Washington) he battles poachers and sworn political enemies such as Wilhelmina Scharnhorst, a mole woman bent on wresting power from the City’s government while ridding herself of the maverick, incorruptible Tenrec.
In IDW’s book, which reprints issues nine to fourteen in full, Tenrec flees the City after being ousted in a coup by Scharnhorst, and ends up, after an extensive and exhausting voyage across the ocean with Dundee, in her hometown of Wassoon. Sequestered in this city, he comes up against Dundee’s former lover, the rather feral Balcluth, and a string of machinations, crosses, and double crosses ensues. The five issue story arc is a pulpy, Golden Age style saga, its retro-classicism comfortably familiar yet considerably more dynamically drafted than anything that came out of comics’ protean era. Conceptually it’s of course beyond what you might see in the pages of Fox, Fiction House, Quality, or E.C.’s output, with the characterization of the (somewhat old-fashioned) leads reasonably well developed. It obviously harks back to simpler comic storytelling, but (needless to say) it’s all done with wit, panache and artwork that is at times breathtakingly good.
The action sequences, mainly involving Tenrec and Hannah in flight from dinosaurs or other more eldritch creatures, are all deserving of IDW’s widescreen treatment – nearly all the artwork used is in an unusually immaculate state, with virtually no blemishes. Another excellent project from the Artist Editions series which can happily sit with the previously published and much in demand E.C. tomes – no doubt Mark Schultz would be content with such a valediction.