I have bad news: The world ended in the 1990s. It’s just that no one has told you yet.
That, at least, is the history of the world according to the comic book series Xenozoic Tales. First published in 1986, it postulated that by the then-future year of 1996, a cataclysmic series of geologic upheavals would begin to change the surface of the earth. Things get so bad that by 2020 the planet is no longer habitable and most of the human race is extinguished, along with the rest of life. A few groups of humans, scattered here and there, retreat to underground bunkers in a desperate attempt to survive. When they emerge 500 years later, instead of finding a wasteland, they find a lush ecosystem where every species that has ever walked the planet has been resurrected, from trilobites to mammoths. Also, there’s a second moon. A new geologic era has begun – the Xenozoic Age.
Xenozoic Tales is better known by its nickname, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and there are plenty of both throughout its pages. Mark Schultz published 14 issues of the comic before he stopped, mid-story, in 1996. Don’t let that turn you off though. Even half-finished, Xenozoic Tales remains the best dinosaur comic ever published, and in my view, one of the best adventure comics ever to appear.
The series owes a lot to the adventure comics of the 1940s and 1950s, and in early issues Schultz is clearly trying to imitate their art style. (EC Comics is often cited as his source of inspiration.) Set on the transmogrified east coast of North America, the story centers around Jack “Cadillac” Tenric, who is an odd cross between an auto mechanic and a forest ranger.
Tenric uses his skills to rebuild 20th century machinery – particularly Cadillacs – and to protect the surrounding wildlife from the predations of human poachers. Not much is known about the cataclysm that changed the world other than it was brought about by humanity’s mistreatment of the environment, and Tenric’s job is to make sure his “tribe” doesn’t repeat those past mistakes.
Trouble comes in the form of the beautiful Hannah Dundee, an ambassador from the neighboring city-state of Wassoon. The dangerous environment of the Xenozoic Age makes communication between the surviving remnants of humanity difficult, and while she is welcomed, the leaders of Tenrec’s tribe are suspicious about Dundee’s motives.
Tenric and Dundee have a rocky relationship, with Tenric a little too hotheaded for his own good and Dundee too secretive about her real mission among his people, but there is sexual tension between the two from the start. Together they explore the Xenozoic’s mysteries: What exactly caused the cataclysm? How did the strange ecosystem come to be? And who are the Grith?
Xenozoic Tales is a black-and-white comic that shows in the world of comics, color can be overrated. Schultz’s art style evolves over the series’ 14 issues, starting from simple-but-promising drawings in the first few issues to a fully organic and exquisitely detailed style by the last issues. His dinosaurs also evolve over the course of the comic. Science-literate readers will likely be disappointed with the tail-dragging saurians appearing in the first issues, but they will notice that in later issues his dinosaurs catch up to modern thinking, yet retain a Charles R. Knight-vibe at the same time. Steve Stiles supplies the art for the short stories appearing at the end of each issue that flesh out the invented world, but his own style is rather clunky compared to Schultz’s work.
The stories themselves are well-told, with better-than-average characterization and plenty of action. My main complaint with the series is that it ends mid-story, with no resolution to the mysteries it raises. Schultz recently announced he was working on a new Xenozoic Tales graphic novel, but whether it is a continuation of the series or a separate story set within the comic’s universe remains to be seen.
Don’t let that stop you. If you see this comic, get it. Sadly, it can be hard to find. Dark Horse Comics published the entire series in two volumes a few years ago, but they quickly sold out and now the individual volumes rarely sell for less than $70 each. More recently, Flesk Publications published the entire series in a single volume, but only the stories drawn by Schultz. The comics drawn by Stiles were omitted. Cross your fingers the unabridged series will be republished in its entirety some day.
- Xenozoic Tales, under the Cadillacs and Dinosaurs name, has enjoyed a good amount of marketing success. It was turned into a short-lived – and, unfortunately, a dumbed-down – Saturday morning cartoon; a fun beat-‘em-up arcade game; and a Sega CD full-motion video game. (You can watch a video of the open titles for the cartoon here.)
- Topps released a short-lived series of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs comics in 1994 that were a tie-in with the TV show. These are not the original comics.