When we were planning this 100th birthday celebration and retrospective of Jack Kirby here at Biff Bam Pop!, fellow staff writer and friend Justin Mohareb made the comment as we were picking assignments, “If I did Devil Dinosaur it would probably come out as ‘you know, they can’t all be winners.'” He meant it in good fun, but I was kind of shocked. Even though I hadn’t read the stories in decades, I remembered liking the series. It reminded me a bit of Kamandi, which I loved. So I decided I had to take Devil Dinosaur, and prove to myself, and to Justin, that Devil Dinosaur rocked. Or not.
Devil Dinosaur, as I recall, was originally designed to be a comic strip Jack Kirby was trying to sell, and finally it went to Marvel Comics, who gave it a fair nine-issue run. Later the titular beast would face Godzilla, at the time licensed to Marvel, and then fade away into obscurity before reemerging recently as a player in the present day. While Devil was certainly the star of the book, the protagonist was his friend, an early man/boy named Moon-Boy. In tales written, drawn, and edited by Jack, they wandered through the Valley of Flame in what Kirby called the X-Age, an era of mystery between the time of the dinosaurs and the time of man.
Moon-Boy was an outcast, one of a tribe slightly more evolved than most out there, the Small-Folk, the Dawn-Men. Sneaking away alone to see a volcano erupt, Moon-Boy witnessed the more savage Killer-Folk slay a tyrannosaurus rex, a mother, and then attempt to kill her young. One young dino would not go easily. So the Killer-Folk, using the fire gained from the volcano burned the beast, turning him red. Once the volcano scared the Killer-Folk away, Moon-Boy helped the beast, and a bond was forged. The two became friends, and inseparable.
The Killer-Folk and the Big Ones
As Devil grows larger, he and Moon-Boy have the run of the Valley of Flame, which infuriates the Killer-Folk. A leader comes from among them, Seven Scars, and he plans to first set the valley afire, then bury his enemies under rubble, and feed Moon-Boy to a giant spider. Kirby does do action well, you know. Though vanquished, they remain a threat to both Moon-Boy and Devil, but of course the threats do not end there.
A giant stalks the Valley, one of the Big Ones, wearing the skull of a triceratops on his head, searching for his boy. In his frustration he fights and destroys until Moon-Boy brings them together. In this episode though we get to see a thought process going on in Devil’s head, in captions only, no thought balloons like Krypto over at DC Comics. And Moon-Boy, well, he just talks too much, and three issues in, although we are loving Devil, we just wish Moon-Boy would shut the hell up. Justin might be right on that one count, this kid is not a winner. No wonder Devil is still around nearly forty years later, and Moon-Boy isn’t.
The Sky Demons
Prefaced by a trippy doomsday revelation from primitive texts, we next have the tale of the invaders from space, the dark holes in the sky. Very distinctive and visually stunning aliens in armor, or maybe just robots come to the Valley in a huge ship and start taking specimens, among them, Moon-Boy, probably trying to figure a way to shut him up. Devil makes an uneasy alliance with White-Hair and Stone-Hand of the Hill-Folk to get their people back. This idea was quite timely at that moment as “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Daniken was still very hot, as was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
These aliens have decided that Moon-Boy as well as Devil display intelligence far too advanced to be allowed to survive, that eventually they will evolve and pose a threat to the aliens so they decide to destroy the Valley. Devil, showing his smarts far beyond what they should be, leads them into a giant ant hill and set an army of giant ants marching toward their ship. Just like the comic strip this was designed to be, this is episodic and thrilling with action at all the right beats. This is one of the things that Kirby does best.
The longer the series goes on, the more complex this seemingly simple comic feature gets. Ants versus aliens, demon trees that are in reality alien computers, Moon-Boy and Devil separated, and early men fighting over independent early women – there was a lot packed into those last few issues. After the defeat of the Sky Demons and the Dino-Riders, Moon-Boy returns to the Small-Folk as a protector, but even as things begin to go back to status quo, a new threat awaits.
In the final issue of the series, Moon-Boy and Devil come upon the Hag of the Pits, who opens gateways to other times in a swirl of Kirby dots. Misunderstood from both sides, Devil is thrown into Zuma City of 1978 for a short adventure in our then-present time. His first encounter is with a hunter who looks suspiciously like Jack Kirby. Eventually the Hag brings Devil back home and the Boy and Dinosaur live happily ever after as the comic ends.
Well, I don’t know what Justin was talking about, I think Devil Dinosaur was a winner and wish we’d had more of it. I liked how we saw Devil’s thought processes, and how each tribe had body hair of different colors, and how pulpy the episodic nature of the series was. I also dug the expressions of Devil’s face throughout, conveying emotions without words or captions. I also noted in re-reading these comics that the title character is never called by the name Devil Dinosaur, only by the affectionate Devil or the feared Devil-Beast.
The series may have only lasted nine issues, but the characters did pop up again from time to time, proving their popularity and longevity. Although later appearances did not have the advantage of having the great Jack Kirby at the helm. There is much to be said of the boy and his dog parallel of Moon-Boy and Devil Dinosaur, their friendship and strong bond, more advanced than any other in their world in the X-Age. I really dug this comic, as good now as it was then. Long live Devil!