Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Richard Delgado's Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians

I have been a fan of Richard Delgado's Age of Reptiles series for a little while now. If you are unfamiliar with the series it is a comic that focuses on recreating the prehistoric world. Delgado has looked at the Morrison and Clovery Formations in the past with his previous volumes but it has been several years. Now he takes aim at the paleoecosystems of North Africa in the Late Cretaceous.
The cover of Issue 1. Copyright Dark Horse Comics.
 The story follows, so far, the exploits of a lone Spinosaurus as it cruises around the mangroves and deltas of what is now Egypt. The first thing that jumped out at me is that the animals in Ancient Egyptians are far more accurate than in some of his earlier works. For example:
What is happening here? Anatomy? Physiology? MAKE THEM FIGHT! Copyright Dark Horse Comics.
While the artwork has always been pleasant to downright gorgeous in previous installments of Age of Reptiles, I find the accuracy and beauty of this latest outing is commendable. I will state that I am not someone who works on Cretaceous vertebrates from North Africa, but looking at the animals and scenes presented in the first two issues of Ancient Egyptians I don't see anything that immediately jumps out at me as being horrendously wrong either paleontologically or behaviorally. I am impressed at the care that Delgado has put into portraying his animals and scenes.
Scene from Ancient Egyptians, copyright Dark Horse Comics. Holy cow, look at the difference between the earlier work and now! Blood, poop, backgrounds!
Ancient Egyptians does suffer one setback. This series doesn't fully take into account how recent work has changed our understanding of what Spinosaurus looked like. The sail is shown as one uninterrupted convex bulge. The forelimbs are long but the hind feet show three functional digits and no webbing. Both of these are contra Ibrahim et al. (2014). To his credit(?), Spinosaurus is shown on all fours multiple times...but that may not be reasonable considering it is a theropod. And Delgado does like to pronate his theropod hands.
The cover of Issue 2. Copyright Dark Horse Comics. The two back animals show pronated hands.
 Regardless, Delgado does a great job of making Spinosaurus seem alive and an actual animal, not like a monstrous killing machine (I'm looking at you Jurassic Park III). His Spinosaurus seems real. It poops. It fights. It sleeps. It fails at hunting. It hides. It tries to mate. It has the wounds to prove it.

The scarred protagonist Spinosaurus. Copyright Dark Horse Comics.
It isn't just the main character that seems real. Herbivores are violent and protective - not dumb domestic cows with scales. Mating and rearing rituals are brutal but also in line with what we know about modern animals. It may be hard to look at some of the illustrations later in Issue 2 but on the other side they are in line with what we know about how some modern adult males act in the presence of unrelated juveniles.

Issue 3 just came out at the end of last week and Issue 4 comes out in September. I am looking forward to picking them up and finishing the tale which Delgado likens to Samurai and Western classic films. The absence of narrative text might put some off but for myself I find it adds to the immersion. Where will the lone Spinosaurus find himself at the end of his journey?
The cover of Issue 3. Copyright Dark Horse Comics.
Delgado, Richard. "Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians" Dark Horse Comics. (2015).

Ibrahim, Nizar, Paul C. Sereno, Cristiano Dal Sasso, Simone Maganuco, Matteo Fabbri, David M. Martill, Samir Zouhri, Nathan Myhrvold, and Dawid A. Iurino. "Semiaquatic adaptations in a giant predatory dinosaur." Science 345, no. 6204 (2014): 1613-1616.

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