Colorado, 2033. Decades of war and environmental degradation have left the Earth’s surface a wasteland (i.e. the “Dreadlands” of the title). One of the last beacons of hope is a U.N. science facility tasked with finding a means of restoring the planet’s biosphere as well as developing clean energy sources. The scientists get more than they bargained for when an experiment with ball lightning gives them the key to traveling through time. Before they can tinker further with the technology, an army of wasteland raiders overruns the base, forcing the surviving scientists and military personnel to cram into a makeshift time machine in hopes of escaping into the future. However, an ill-timed lightning strike instead sends them hurdling back to the Jurassic Period, where giant carnivores turn out to be the least of their problems.
Dreadlands is a four-issue comic book series published in 1992 by Epic Comics, a now-defunct imprint of Marvel Comics. Epic was a vehicle for writers and artists to tell more adult stories than were allowed in Marvel’s mainstream titles at the time. Like most Epic titles, Dreadlands is largely forgotten today, which is a shame because the comic combines decent writing with terrific art.
Dreadlands mainly is the story of a group of castaways trying to eke out a living in the Mesozoic. I say “mainly” because the first issue is concerned with how the group became stranded in the first place, while the third issue takes a turn into more traditional comic book sci-fi fare. Upon arriving the Jurassic, the survivors quickly split into two factions: Military types led by the hot-headed Lieutenant Trask, and civilians led by the much more reasonable Lieutenant Jeff McClure. The factions go their separate ways, encounter hungry dinosaurs, and build the fabulous tree houses that pop up in nearly every story about people trapped in a prehistoric wilderness. (See Land of the Lost, The Lost World, Dinosaur Island, etc.)
I’m avoiding going into detail about the plot because there is a surprise twist in the middle that steers it in a totally different direction. Sadly, the twist actually hurts more than it helps. Before it occurs, Dreadlands is a pretty good tale about people trying to make the most out of the horrible situation they find themselves in. Afterward, the comic quickly devolves into little more than a series of gun battles and chase scenes, with the dinosaurs taking a backseat to all the other action.
That gripe aside, Dreadlands still boasts above-average characterization and a storyline that entertains despite its missteps. Helping immensely is the comic’s detailed art and the artist’s portrayal of dinosaurs as active animals with their tails held high off the ground. That may seem like faint praise these days, but Dreadlands came out a year before the first Jurassic Park movie, when most dinosaurs in the popular media were still being depicted as tail-dragging lizards. The comic’s creators also did a reasonably good job of making sure only dinosaurs appropriate to the Jurassic Period populate the setting. There are allosaurs and stegosaurs but no T. rexes or Triceratops.
Dreadlands was never collected in a single volume, so you will need to hunt down the four issues individually if you want to read the series. Fortunately for your wallet, the lack of interest in the comic means they are pretty cheap to find these days. (I purchased all four issues for $3.47, which couldn’t buy you a single comic now.)
- A cover gallery can be viewed at the Marvel wiki.
- Dreadlands was written by Andy Lanning and Steve White, both of whom are still active in comics. White also was the series colorist.
- The penciler, Phil Gascoine, was a British comic book artist best known for his work in girls’ comics. Sadly, he died in 2007, according to his Wikipedia page.