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Review: ‘Terrible Lizard’

terrible lizardTerrible Lizard
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Drew Moss
Oni Press; $20

The meaner, snarkier part of my critic’s brain can’t help but wish Cullen Bunn and Drew Moss’ comic book about a little girl and the Tyrannosaurus Rex she befriends was a great deal worse, if only so that it could legitimately be called “terrible,” and I could make some easy joke about the book being well-named.

It’s not a terrible book, not by any stretch of the most cynical imagination, but it’s not all that great a book either. Instead, Terrible Lizard lies somewhere in the vast space between the two extremes, a middling, mediocre book with some things to recommend it, and some aspects to warn against.

In all, it reads like a pitch for a good comic book, perhaps a first draft for a graphic novel that got drawn, lettered, colored and published before the writer went back for a few more drafts to flesh out the story. As is, it’s all premise and plot, with little of consequence regarding the characters or their story.

The title character is “Wrex,” a big, scaly orange Tyrannosaur brought forward in time by a scientist working for the military-industrial complex, with a very impatient colonel egging him on to work faster.

Our protagonist is Jess, the scientist’s skate-boarding pre-teen daughter, who is on-site during a test of her dad’s time machine, which brings the terrible lizard into the present. Despite being a fairly full-grown looking specimen, it imprints on Jess, and the pair form a bond.

While colonel and scientist argue over what exactly to do with their new dinosaur–shoot it or study it–other monsters begin appearing. These are apparently drawn to the time-displaced dinosaur, and they are being radically mutated by chronal energy during their own journeys through time and space.

So Wrex’s first opponent isn’t just a King Kong-sized gorilla, for example, but he has a huge crustacean claw for a left arm. The other monsters are even weirder, climaxing in one that looks a bit like one of last year’s Godzilla foes the MUTOs crossed with an anime monster, one that breathes out storms of smaller, cycloptic monsters.

The bulk of the book consists of Wrex on the run with Jess on his back, Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy style, while the army and police chase them, and they occasionally stop to fight a new monster. And…that’s all there is to it, really.

Monster fans should find enough in Moss’ designs and some of the peculiar aspects of the creatures’  abilities that he and Bunn have worked out to sink their teeth into these repetitive engagements, and while it’s clear Bunn had a plan for an emotional arc involving Jess and her dad, the middle seems missing. The action is relentlessly paced, but at the expense of the story, rather than in service to it.

Kids might not mind too terribly–certainly as a kid watching Japanese monster movies, I always wanted them to skip the boring human drama and just make with the monster fights–but then the creators don’t seem to be going for a super-sized slugfest here.

There’s enough time spent on the humans and their varying viewpoints and conflicts that it’s clear Bunn was shooting for something serious with some emotional content to it, but his bigger characters stepped all over that.

Giant monsters will do that.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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