This might end up my most controversial review. For the six of you that follow my writing, it is no surprise that I do not tend to hold back. If I think that Peter Parker’s story was essentially over in 1994, well, I will say that. If I think that Jason Todd was better dead, and that Red Robin is a stupid name, I will say that, too. And so, having begun today with a high-stakes declaration, allow me to continue with another one: whoever thinks comics as a medium have historically suffered from a LACK of diversity has never seriously read comics.
Now, there are lots of examples of minority characters in comics, and some have been done poorly or seem poorly done (such as Ebony White in the Spirit). There are always writers that don’t write everything well, and those that just don’t do their research. There are writers that lean on stereotype rather than treat their characters as full individuals. I am not denying any of that, but in all of those cases, behind them all is a writer that WANTS to give voice to a minority culture. Whether we are talking about Moon Knight or Black Lightning or Tsunami or my own creation El Hidalgo, comics have been replete with characters from across the melanin spectrum.
But what I really want to talk about today is Turok, Son of Stone #106. Now, this is not the first time I have written about Turok , but it is the first time I have had a chance to read the original Turok. Most folk who are familiar with Turok are so from his later “Dinosaur Hunter” days; but in the original story, Turok was positioned as a lost brave, and a dinosaur survivor.
In the original Western Publishing/Gold Key series, Turok was a pre-Columbian native, lost deep under the earth in “the Lost Valley” a forgotten land full of dinos and cavemen, where, with his kid brother Ando, he seeks for a way home to what is today the American South-West. #106 begins with “Forbidden to Kill”: Turok and Ando, while on the run from a hostile tribe of cavemen, are building a raft to make it across a river and put the cavemen in the dust. What should they find at the river’s edge, but solitary caveman Jorl, who has tamed a duckbill and calls it “Kraal” after its cry. Jorl warns the braves that they are forbidden from crossing the river, as Jorl has claimed it as his, and enforces it with muscle from Kraal. Turok and Andar continue to work on their raft until both Jorl and his dinosaur are gone, then they head on to the water
Our heroes make it to an island in the middle, where they are accosted by Jorl. The caveman slaps the water to call Kraal over, all the while threatening to command the dinosaur to kill the brothers. Turok, having realized that Kraal was trained with food, attempts to give the beast a treat. Jorl, insisting that he be the only “friend” for the creature, steals Turok’s bow and, tries to kill him, only managing to shoot Kraal with a poisoned arrow. It is then that Jorl breaks down. Having slain his pet, Jorl admits that he has no other friends; and Turok and Andar continue their search for a path home.
The comic continues with “The Saviours.” In this tale, we are presented with two intersecting narratives. On the one side, we follow Turok and Andar’s continuing quest to find a way home. Meanwhile, a nearby volcano has begun rumbling and creating all manner of seismic upheaval. A tribe of cave-folks decide that the mountain god is angry and must be appeased with an entire and newly dead T-Rex. This daunting task requires the arms and backs of all the tribes men, of course, and as the tremors worsen, the women folk and children are left to fend for themselves, which translates in to sitting around and waiting for the men to get back.
Turok spots the caves, and decides they might protect them from the falling debris, and they enter to find a tribe’s worth of the aged and the fertile. Even greater the tremors become until they begin to tear the cavern apart. Turok takes the lead, and finds a path to safety, and the women beg him to stick around. Turok and Andar slip away just as the men of the tribe return.
I really enjoyed this book. It is simple and straight-forward, true, and not possessed of any overt nuance or complexity; but it presents an honest if fantastic action/adventure. All the while it hints at issues of fraternity and citizenship, and of the moral responsibility of duty. And that brings us back around to my initial statement.
Both Turok and Andar are dealt with seriously, as Indian Braves. I do not use that lightly, but mean to refer to the implicit warrior’s code of honor that Turok clearly displays. Every warrior society has has some sort of warrior code, and while I do not mean to imply that each of these codes are equivalent, there are certainly commonalities among many: that there is a difference between the warrior and those that are not; that the warrior is there to defend the interests of the tribe. Turok is himself this noble warrior–though in a foreign land, he is not a hostile, fighting only to defend himself or the defenseless—and he encourages that in his brother. Turok here stands juxtaposed to the cave-men, who are all more concerned with territorialism than honor, with brute force than with justice. Turok is a reflection of the very best of the American Indian warrior. The un-credited author(s) may not have been expert in Native history and culture, but there is nothing but respect in this portrayal. And Turok: Son of Stone ran at Gold Key for 26 years!
There is a grim contrast, too, in the awkward analog of Turok to the cave-men and of the Americans to the Indians. The Indian Wars were wars and there are always injustices in war. (I do not say this to excuse any party, merely to state an observable fact.) But Turok remembered something that many Americans of the past forgot—humans are born into ignorance, and they cannot be enlightened either by force or by violence.
This comic is the only Turok : Son of Stone issue that I have been able to get my hands on, but I will be sure to grab some more as I see them!