Flesh: The Dino Files by Pat Mills, et al. (1977-2016)

FleshCover blurb

FLESH – THE FOOD OF THE FUTURE!

So you think that a meteorite collision with Earth was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs? Well, you’re wrong!

By the 23rd Century, man has drained the planet’s resources bare, but thanks to time-travel technology, the Trans-Time Corporation send rangers—such as cowboy Earl Reagan—back to the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The rangers round up these magnificent creatures and blast them back into the future so real flesh stays on the menu… only sometimes the dinner bites back!

With stories by Pat Mills (Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine) and amazing art by Massimo Belardinelli (Ace Trucking), Ramon Sola (Blackhawk) and James McKay, Flesh is a book you can really get your teeth stuck into!

My thoughts

Do dinosaurs taste like chicken? I imagine so given chickens are dinosaurs, but as far as I remember that question is never answered in Flesh, a black-and-white comic published periodically over the past four decades. In the series, cowboys from the future travel to the prehistoric past to harvest dinosaurs for their meat. Things go to hell in spectacular fashion, and before long dinosaurs are eating people rather than the other way around.

Flesh was published as series of vignettes in the weekly British anthology comic book 2000AD, most famous for its Judge Dredd stories. In fact, Flesh is set in the same universe as Judge Dredd, although Officer “I am the law!” never makes an appearance. The series was collected in the 2016 graphic novel Flesh: The Dino Files, which brought together the three main story arcs as well as a few standalone stories further fleshing out (ha!) the world of comic. Five writers and seven artists worked on the comic over the decades.

The backstory is that in the future, humanity has killed off and eaten up pretty much every other species in existence. Instead of going vegan, our descendants invent time travel and send cowboys to the Mesozoic era to round up plant-eating dinosaurs and process them in gigantic machines called “Fleshdozers,” which grind up the still-leaving creatures and package their remains for shipment. The first story arc concerns what is essentially a carnivore rebellion led by a Tyrannosaurus rex named “Old One Eye.” Turns out predators get very angry when you take away their prey. The second story arc is set on a city-sized sea rig harvesting fish and other sea life in the Triassic period. One of the survivors of the first arc shows up to make trouble, but he makes the mistake of angering a super-sized Nothosaurus called “Big Hungry.” The third arc returns to the setting of the first and focuses on the exploits a small team of outcasts tasked with getting the meat-processing operations back up and running. The third arc also is the only arc not to have an ending, as I’m assuming the series was canceled before the story could be concluded.

Being part of a weekly anthology of stories, each episode of Flesh was only a few pages long, meaning the writers had little room for subtly. Someone or something gets killed or eaten every couple of pages, and most dialogue is either the characters describing the action taking place on page or explaining their motivations. Much of the violence is suggested rather than shown, with panels depicting humans just as they are about to get eaten or trampled, although the art becomes noticeably more gory the closer in time the publication date gets to the modern day. The depictions of the dinosaurs also evolve, with the animals portrayed as tail-dragging behemoths in early episodes and as fast and feathered creatures in the final story arc.

Your enjoyment of Flesh will depend on your tolerance for B-grade entertainment. The comic isn’t brimming with complex characters or logical plot development. The black-and-white art can be downright ugly at times. But if you are in the mood for senseless dinosaur violence, then Flesh delivers. The first arc is by far the best of the three, being a not-so-subtle commentary on consumerism and the exploitation of native peoples, with the dinosaurs standing in as the “Indians” in what is essentially a cowboys and Indians story. (The series creator, Pat Mills, acknowledges this in the introduction to the graphic novel.) The latter two arcs largely rehash the story of the first. Flesh provided me a few evenings of mindless entertainment, so I have no regrets purchasing the book even though I probably won’t revisit it in the future.

Trivia

  • Old One Eye, the anti-hero of the first arc, is the mother of the Judge Dredd villain Satanus, a Tyrannosaurus rex that rules a park populated with cloned dinosaurs. Interestingly, 2000AD used this plot device roughly 12 years before Michael Crichton published Jurassic Park.
  • Old One Eye appears as a character in the 2017 board game Escape from 100 Million B.C., where she is the most powerful dinosaur players can encounter.
  • BoardGameGeek notes that a Flesh card game was produced, with the cards printed over four issues in the original comic.
  • The series writers are Pat Mills, Ken Armstrong, Studio Giolitti, Kevin Gosnell, and Geoffrey Miller. The artists are Boix, Ramon Sola, Felix Carrion, Massimo Belardinelli, Rufus Dayglo, James McKay, and Kevin O’Neill.

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