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Sunday Slugfest: The War That Time Forgot #1

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Bruce Jones
Al Barrionuevo (p), Jimmy Palmiotti (i), Mike Atiyeh (colors)
DC Comics
“Arrival”

Steven Bari: 2.5 Bullets
Robert Murray: 3.5 Bullets
Thom Young: 3 Bullets




Steven Bari 2.5 Bullets

Plot : On a mysterious island, a ragtag group of survivors from different places and times fight dinosaurs, a mysterious group of enemies, and themselves.

Commentary : The island time forgot, but remembered to translate into English, is interesting ground for what could be an above average adventure. You have a group of people who have arrived on this island from different times in history, each with a different cultural and historical significance. Can the WW II fighter pilot get along with the WW I German officer? Or even how the American army officers from different wars (WW I, WW II, and Vietnam) interact with one another. There's a lot more in this book to play with than Tyrannosauruses and people in glowing spheres from the future.

Although I don’t think the writer will go there, we do have an entertaining revamp of the 1960's comic that premiered in Star Spangled War Stories. The series ran 137 issues before being canceled in 1968. Yet, the island itself was returned to numerous times, including Tim Truman's Guns of the Dragon mini-series, which gives some elucidation of what is happening on this island. My first interaction with this story was in Darwyn Cooke's DC: New Frontier , where the characters from The Losers epically fight for survival against the prehistoric beasts.

This new series follows Lt. "Jockey Boy" Carlson, a World War II fighter pilot who intercepts a Japanese transmission on plans for bombing Pearl Harbor. As he tries to relay the information, he gets into a dogfight with a Japanese fighter plane. The lieutenant shows his flying chops before being waylaid by a giant pterodactyl. He crash-lands onto the island and joins a pale-faced, red haired Native American, a Vietnam solider, and an American western hero.

The story is energetic and action-paced. Literally, something is being fired on, blown up, or attacked, every three pages. After the dogfight, we get a short meeting of the characters than a two-horned rhinoceros attacks. They gather up some food, eat, walk over to their secure base (all of which succinctly laid out onto three pages), and then **THUNK** a mysterious group of enemies start lobbing spears. I was really impressed how the creative team crammed so many character moments, plot, and action into this issue without anything seeming rushed, out of nowhere, and ridiculously paced. We get to see the Vietnam solider display his disregard for killing living things on two separate occasions, giving the characters and the reader a chance to make an substantive judgment.

The real drawbacks to this series is the number of times it asks the reader to suspend belief. We're asked to accept that island can capture people at different points in time and bring them to a single temporal plane. We're asked to accept the island can still preserve the existence of dinosaurs, despite the fact that they would have been wiped out in the Ice Age if the island were indeed ON earth. We're asked – and this is the worst request to ask a reader – to accept that the island can make everyone (the German officers, the Native American, and Vietnamese girl) speak perfect English. That's a little much.

So if you can't accept any of these, don't bother with this series. If you can, you'll enjoy this nice piece of science fiction/adventure.




Robert Murray: 3.5 Bullets

It's been a long time since I've been able to utter the following statement, so I am going to take a deep, soothing breath before I do so. Whooo! Okay, here goes: Bruce Jones' latest comic is a winner. True, WTTF #1 is not a first issue that will blow you away with originality or a superior storyline, but it is a noticeable step up from the recent works written by Mr. Jones. Deadman was purely dreadful through and through, and OMAC was saved only by Renato Guedes' wonderful artwork. I've always held out hope that Jones would recapture the same magic he brought to his wonderful run on The Incredible Hulk, but that dream has never come to pass. The War That Time Forgot is not at that high level either, but it does have something going for it that the two aforementioned series don't: a campy, nostalgic sense of fun that makes this first issue an enjoyable read. No, this isn't a convoluted story with tons of revelations and implications apparent throughout, nor will it ever be. This is a "Land of the Lost" for some of the old-time fringe characters of the DC Universe, just like the old series of the same name. Now, I won't pretend that I know anything about that older series (I'll leave that to the other brilliant minds writing reviews for this Slugfest), but I will say that Jones has captured the feel of a classic comic book, one that I might have read as a kid. Meaningful dialogue and realistic character situations are not nearly as important as moving the story along so we can see our assorted characters take on dinosaurs and all sorts of other craziness. If you buy this comic thinking this to be another in the multitude of Crisis/52/Countdown connections, you'll be gravely disappointed. However, if you simply are on the hunt for an entertaining ten minute read, you can't go wrong with this first issue.

Sometimes the 22 page comic format can be a real pain, though I'm not advocating doing away with it. I love plunking down three bucks for one chapter of a larger story, and that will never change. However, in this day and age of starting a series quickly to retain the short attention spans of most readers (me included), writers feel a need to cram as much as possible into a first issue. The War That Time Forgot #1 is no exception, as we're introduced to our five main protagonists in rapid fire fashion. The reader is left just as breathless as Lt. Carson when he crash lands on the island, since all of the actions explode fast and furious across the pages, leaving no time for any explanations or character development. But you know what? That didn't bother me at all. Normally, this kind of "action followed by story" gets my goat, but the classic feel to the artwork, the setting, and the dialogue really allowed me to capture the mood that Jones was seeking, and that is always a winning proposition for a writer. In fact, the smug German presence of Enemy Ace and his superior only added to the overall atmosphere, creating a playful arena that will test the time-wandering inhabitants. Is this high art? Heck no! But, I don't think it's pretending to be, either. Jones is celebrating the Silver Age of comics with this mini-series, presenting a type of comic book that is nice to see once in a while.

In regard to the artwork, I thought that the lines by Al Barrionuevo were a little too realistic-looking for the written material. However, this kind of work does make for a pleasant viewing experience, particularly with some quality inks by Jimmy Palmiotti. Pterodactyls, rhinos, and a T. Rex all appear big and bad, including eye details that make the two dinosaurs appear sinister, which is the way it should be. I've always liked Barrionuevo's facial expressions, and this comic is no exception, as every characters' emotion comes off nicely. Though the final page might not have had the visual impact I would have preferred, it did give the issue a solid cliffhanger that will have me looking for Issue #2.

While WTTF isn't perfect by a long shot, it's a breath of fresh air, particularly with DC's current fare. It's a 1950s tale updated for present audiences, and it's the kind of read that many fans look forward too. I think we found Jones' niche for the future...




Thom Young: 3 Bullets

The best thing about this comic is the cover by Neal Adams, but even that isn't flawless. Adams shows Hans von Hammer (a.k.a. "Enemy Ace" and "the Hammer of Hell") with an expression that is either one of shock or fear. However, the character that was created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert in 1964 (and drawn by Neal Adams in Detective Comics #404 in 1970) was renowned for not showing fear--or any emotions, really, so the expression on his face is entirely out of character.

It's an admittedly minor quibble on my part, but it's the first thing that I noticed as soon as I saw the cover. Yeah, I know, he never faced a Tyrannosaurus rex before now. Still, that's not the character I recall from the reprints of my youth.

Okay, so enough about the cover. What about the story?

Well, it's competently illustrated by Al Barrionuevo, whom I had never heard of before now. He's certainly a good draftsman who seems to know his way around dinosaurs and World War II aircraft--probably from reference guides, of course, but that's okay. However, the best part of the visual presentation of the story is the coloring.

It's not that Mike Atiyeh is a great colorist. He might be. He seems extremely competent anyway. What I noticed, though, is just how much the technique of comic book coloring has advanced in the past 40 years.

As I looked at the colored illustrations in this book, I wondered what Ross Andru's illustrations in the original "War that Time Forgot" stories from the 1960s would look like if Atiyeh (or any competent contemporary colorist) could re-color them. In fact, I thought a lot about those original "War that Time Forgot" stories from the 1960s' issues of Star Spangled War Stories (which is where "Enemy Ace" ran as well, albeit as a separate feature).

The original premise was that different groups of World War II American soldiers kept stumbling onto "Dinosaur Island" (as it's since come to be known) while warring with the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. It wasn't the same soldiers in every story, just the latest group to find themselves on this island.

Anyway, after the original series ended in 1967 (losing its pages to an expanded "Enemy Ace" feature that took over sole possession of Star Spangled War Stories), DC has revisited the island a few times--such as in Weird War Tales in the 1980s when the Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot (both from World War II) found themselves amid the dinosaurs.

Then, in 1998, Tim Truman set his Guns of the Dragon series on Dinosaur Island--but in 1928 rather than World War II--where he placed a number of Golden Age characters who might well have all been around in 1928--though Bat Lash would have to have been very old and Chop-Chop (from the Blackhawks) would have had to have been no more than a young teenager to make the concept work "realistically."

Now we have this new series in which Bruce Jones has decided to bring in characters from throughout DC's timeline rather than have them all be contemporaries in the same time period. Thus we have:
  • Tomahawk from the Revolutionary War,
  • Firehair from the American Old West (he appeared in three issues of Showcase in 1969 that were written and illustrated by Joe Kubert),
  • Enemy Ace from World War I,
  • an American World War II pilot named Lt. Carson who gets pulled in from the Pearl Harbor attack (I don't know if he's supposed to be a character from DC's past, but I wondered if he might be Calvin "Cave" Carson who was also published by DC in the 1960s),
  • and a host of other characters that are probably all from different time periods in the DC Universe.
Why the mishmash of characters, and how did they all find their way to the island?

I have no idea. Not much is explained in this first issue. The reader acquires information from Lt. Carson's POV--and I appreciate that approach.

I enjoy stories that don't provide exposition for the readers, and that force us to learn as we go along in the same way that the characters learn as they go along.

Yet it would have been nice if Tomahawk and Firehair could have told Carson how they managed to get from their respective American wildernesses to an island in the Pacific that is seemingly lost in time. Jones could have connected Tomahawk's appearance here to the 1958 story "The Frontier Dinosaur" in Tomahawk #58 in which Tomahawk discovered a frozen T. rex in a cave.

Perhaps Tomahawk went back to that cave and found that it somehow transported him to Dinosaur Island by way of Skartaris--the land of Mike Grell's Warlord that also contained a passage to Dinosaur Island, and which explained how all those dinosaurs could live on such a small island (they're migrating up from Skartaris).

That back story wouldn't have explained the time travel aspect, but it would have provided a partial explanation as well as a deeper mystery.

Anyway, this issue is competently written and illustrated for the most part, but it's not worth dishing out $2.99 a month for twelve months (unless you don't have anything better to spend your money on). Plus, if it turns out to be a great story when it's finished, I seriously doubt the collected paperback edition is going to cost $35.88, so that would be the cheaper way to go anyway.

As for my comment that the story is competent "for the most part":

There is one page where all the characters are sitting down to a meal after Lt. Carson has been escorted to their cave (hmmm), and Carson asks in the last panel about there being more people on the island than the few he's met thus far. The answer comes on the next page (yes, there are more), but that answer is not given at the stone dinner table in the cave.

Instead, the answer comes while Carson and someone named "Jarhead" Jones are hiking through a field to a fort built on the side of a volcano. That's just sloppy storytelling.

Changing scenes to move the plot along is fine. However, to have the transition between the scenes be a conversation that starts on one page in one scene and then continues to another page and another scene is either the sign of an amateur writer or a professional writer who doesn't care about the structure of a non-dreamlike narrative (a dream narrative could get away with it, of course).

Bruce Jones has been a professional comic book writer and illustrator for more than 30 years. He's written and drawn some of my favorite comic book stories over the years (though not for a while now), so I would not consider this incongruent scene shift to be the mistake of an amateur.

I will say, though, that the story piqued my interest on the last page when a silver-costumed woman appears in a Time Sphere that is similar to the type that Rip Hunter and Brainiac Five have used in DC's history.

I don't know who that woman is (though I'm sure someone in fandom does), or why all these DC characters are doing the Time Warp on Dinosaur Island. However, I am mildly curious to know what it's all about.

Not curious enough to dish out $35.88 over the course of the next year, but curious enough to read DC's promotional copy for each issue for the next year.

Maybe even curious enough to buy the eventual paperback edition when it's collected some time in 2009 (or 2010)--albeit through Amazon at a discounted price.



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