From the Comic Books: The Secret Dinosaur War

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They don’t make comics like The War That Time Forgot anymore, and after reading the complete run of the series, I can see why!

Published by DC comics from 1960 to 1968, the series followed the exploits of American World War II soldiers as they faced dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters. With titles such as “Dinosaur D-Day!” and “Doom Came at Noon!” and “Tidbit for a Tyrannosaurus!,” the typical storyline involved a group of soldiers being dispatched to face “the enemy” (Japanese soldiers, who rarely appear and are horrible stereotypes when they do), only to be attacked by ancient beasts. One way or another the soldiers inevitably kill the creatures, but somehow always neglect to tell their compatriots to stay away from “Island X” lest they want to be dino-chow.

To critique how the dinosaurs and monsters were drawn would be a futile exercise. Many dinosaurs were super-sized and given human-like arms, while other creatures were just made up by the artists. The artwork improved in some of the last comics, but for the most part, The War That Time Forgot pits soldiers against B-movie monsters, and like many B-movies, it is often unintentionally hilarious.

Particularly in the early comics, the writers overused quotation marks to a nearly astonishing degree. In Part III of “The Frogman and the Dinosaur,” a set of scuba divers are threatened by a marine predator when one of them figures out how to dispatch it:

When I “explained” with gestures the wild scheme I had hatched, the Lieutenant and Zack grinned at me and… I guess practically brushing up against one of the T.N.T.-laden mines gave me the idea! “Here’s the ‘power’ if we could put it to work!”

They then present their foe with a “bracelet of floating mines” and make fish food of it. This kind of storyline quickly got old, however. Before long the comic started introducing regular characters like the Flying Franks, a trio of airman acrobats that taunted the dinosaurs with flips and somersaults before blowing them away. G.I. Robot, a mechanical solider, also starred in a number of story lines, and later issues featured a suspiciously King Kong-like giant gorilla named The Great White Ape.

After years of churning out these stories, it seems that writers were starting to run short on excuses for soldiers and dinosaurs to be in the same place at the same time, and if it had not already done so, the series seemed to have jumped the shark with introduction of the heroic Baby Dino (actually a pterosaur) and Caveboy, a helpful wild child. The series continued on for a few more years, but if you had read one comic, you had generally read them all.

It seems hard for comic writers to resist pitting soldiers against dinosaurs, though. Even I played army vs. dinosaurs in mud puddles when I was a kid, and the appeal of the idea has caused the series to pop up now and again over the years. This year, in fact, DC comics resurrected a bevy of forgotten comic characters like Enemy Ace, Golden Gladiator, and Firehair to face dinosaurs in a new "War That Time Forgot" storyline, which is still running. Will the new story be better than the old ones? Keeping watching this blog for future dispatches on the Dinosaur War to find out!

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