A New World Awaits: Xenozoic by Mark Schultz

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Toward the end of the 20th Century, comic book creators began to balk at the way they were compensated. The companies paid them flat fees for their work, and they had no control over, or revenue from, the product they produced. Even if they developed a best-selling character, or a storyline later used in a movie, they had already been paid for their work, and that was that. Some creators started publishing their own work, and companies like Dark Horse, while printing the comics, allowed creators to retain control of their work, and share in the profits.

One artist who stood out from the crowded field of independents was Mark Schultz, who created a comic called Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and later called Xenozoic (legal issues having created difficulties in the use of the brand name Cadillac). The story is set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic world, where humanity has just emerged from underground bunkers to find the Earth lush with plants and animals that had long been extinct. The art is evocative, the characters larger than life, and the stories burst with energy, adventure, and most importantly, lots of dinosaurs.

While I had seen Cadillacs and Dinosaurs in comic stores back in the 1980s and 1990s, my lifetime focus had always been on Marvel Comics, and I was not paying too much attention to the independent books. My first close encounter with Schultz’s work was in the Del Rey book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, a collection that for the first time in years, printed Robert E. Howard’s tales in their original, unedited format. In addition to illustrations, Schultz also provided a written introduction. I was impressed, and started using Google Images to find his work (something I would recommend to everyone). I also started searching for reprints of his Cadillacs and Dinosaurs books, but didn’t have a lot of luck. There was a collection called Xenozoic that looked promising, but it was out of print. And then I saw an announcement Xenozoic was being reprinted by Flesk Publications. About a month ago, I finally had the book in my hands, and it was worth the wait.

 

About the Author

Mark Schultz (born 1955) is an American writer and artist most widely known for the independently published post-apocalyptic comic book tales known under the names Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and Xenozoic Tales. He cites some of his early influences as old jungle movies shown on television, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs (including both the Tarzan and Pellucidar series), Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and EC comic books. Wikipedia lists his artistic influences as “Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel, and Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Howard Pyle and Joseph Clement Coll.” Schultz has also read extensively on science, evolution, and paleontology, which is clearly evident from the depictions of prehistoric creatures in his books.

The Cadillacs and Dinosaurs comics first appeared in the 1980s, and became popular during the next decade. In the 1990s, a Cadillacs and Dinosaurs video game and animated cartoon appeared, and there were colorized reprints from Marvel Comics. In addition to the stories done by Schultz, there were backup stories in the comics by the late Steve Stiles. And while he did not finish it before his death, famed comic book artist Al Williamson worked on a story set in the world.

Schultz has also done work for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, often using company-licensed characters, but sometimes his own creations. In recent years, he has written and drawn Storms at Sea, an illustrated prose book, which might be considered a kind of prequel to the Xenozoic world. And he has produced the Carbon series of art books, which includes not only pen, ink, and brush work, but also pencil illustrations and watercolors.

Schultz currently works on the venerable Prince Valiant weekly comic strip, following in the footsteps of its famous creator, Hal Foster. Schultz worked first as a scripter with Gary Gianni, but since then has taken the lead on the strip, working with Thomas Yeates.

 

Serials and Stand-Alones

The nature and formats of graphic storytelling imposes some interesting constraints on how the tales are told. In newspapers, there are standalone strips, generally comic in nature, which tell a different story or joke each day. Then there are the serial comic strips that tell a continuing story in installments. They must by nature be repetitious, as you can’t count on a reader to see every strip. This format requires stories to play out over weeks, if not months. And because Sunday papers often have a different readership, the Sunday episodes, while larger and in color, either end up recapping what went on during the week, or are used to tell a different story altogether.

Comic books, generally about twenty pages once ads are removed, allow a little more time for a story to develop and breathe. You can tell a coherent story within a single issue, which for a long time was the standard format. Or you can tell a story in serial format, with individual issues ending on cliffhangers. These stories can go on for months or even years. In recent years, because graphic novels have become popular, the standard has shifted to arcs that are five or six comic book issues long, with the stories then being collected and reprinted in graphic novel format.

Television series have some of the same constraints as comic books. When I was young, both television shows and comic books with individual stories were the most common format. By the end of each issue or episode, the cast and setting had returned to the status quo, and issues and episodes could be enjoyed in any order. But then comic books began telling longer form stories, which continued from issue to issue. And I started seeing the same thing on television. I remember watching the show Babylon 5 in syndication, and being surprised when it went from being the normal episodic format, and became a story with a strong arc that carried from episode to episode. And soon more TV shows began to follow suit.

The first tales in Xenozoic followed the episodic format, although Schultz created a whole and consistent world of characters, settings and creatures that underpinned those individual tales. As the series continued, the plotline or arc that connected the tales became more apparent, and when the series ended, it did so on a cliffhanger. And for over two decades, fans have waited to find out what happened next to heroes Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee.

 

Xenozoic

The book opens with a forward by Schultz where he talks about his influences, followed by an introduction by fellow comic artist J.G. Jones, and then a short prose piece introducing the heroes of the Xenozoic stories, Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee. The stories are not presented in order as they first appeared, but instead by their internal chronology.

The first story, “An Archipelago of Stone,” introduces us to a partially sunken city on the Eastern Coast of North America. It is the 30th Century CE, and humanity is just emerging from years in underground bunkers where it fled to escape some sort of apocalyptic event. The city is not named, but I imagine it being New York City. An ambassador is arriving via sailing ship from the city of Wassoon (and from the description in a later comic of the tidal flats that surround it, and the marble ruins beneath it, I suspect it is Washington DC). There are gangs who have been poaching on Wassoon territory who decide they need to assassinate the ambassador. Adventurer Jack “Cadillac” Tenrec is enlisted to protect the visitor, and leaves his garage on the other side of the harbor to gather friends to help him. One of the “friends,” who takes out a sniper, is a trained raptor dinosaur. To Jack’s surprise, the ambassador turns out to be a young, beautiful, raven-haired woman named Hannah Dundee.

In “The Opportunists,” the mayor shows Hannah how a gigantic aquatic mosasaur is destroying fishing boats. Hannah finds pteranodons, pests driven out of the city, can sense the presence of approaching mosasaurs. Hannah works with the local man to lure them to an abandoned building near the fishing grounds. The mayor is upset with her meddling, but when the pests warn the fishing fleet of approaching dangers, he can’t argue with success. This tale establishes Hannah as not simply an old-fashioned love interest, but a character with as much agency as any other.

“Law of the Land” shows Jack leading an expedition into the uncharted wilds. It becomes clear from this and other tales that only pre-electronic devices survived whatever destroyed civilization, as all the vehicles are from the era before 1960. One of their party is poaching, which stirs up the already dangerous dinosaur population. Jack not only warns him to stay with the party, but replaces his bullets with blanks. The man ignores the warnings, and ends up dead, the victim of rough frontier justice. The next story, “Rogue,” has Jack helping miners deal with jungle threats, with the problem again being a poacher who once more ends up a victim of his prey.

“Xenozoic!” is a flat-out horror story, complete with disembodied brains running around on tentacles. Jack and Hannah visit a lost research expedition, only to find they have fallen victim to their leader’s twisted experiments.

“Mammoth Pitfall!” takes Jack and Hannah on hunt to capture a woolly mammoth, only to be hunted by one of Jack’s enemies. This story is the first to feature one of Jack’s beloved Cadillac convertibles that he loves to drive around the plains. The next story, “The Rules of the Game,” continues the tale of Jack and Hannah’s driving adventure.

“Benefactor” introduces readers to the mysterious race called the Grith, who are known to Jack, but unknown to almost all the other humans. The Grith are not verbal, but can communicate in English by using Scrabble tiles, and they take a liking to Hannah.

In “History Lesson,” Jack introduces Hannah to the library that has been unearthed beneath the city, although many of his compatriots do not like a Wassoon being given access to their secrets. And there is also an atomic bomb in the underground passages. The pumps that keep access to the library fail, however, and it is lost to them. It is around this point the reader starts to realize there is a longer story arc being revealed to us.

“Excursion” takes Hannah and Jack on a long sea journey where she reveals to him some of the secrets of the end of civilization in an ecological disaster, and information on her own people, the Wassoon. “Foundling” tells the story of an infant saved and raised by the Grith. Now that he is growing up, his fate has become a dilemma. “Green Air” tells the story of a man who has watched the pteranadons, dreaming of joining them, and builds a glider, becoming the first human aviator to fly since the apocalypse.

“The Growing Pool” has Jack and Hannah discovering an old scientific outpost, and accidentally releasing an organic substance that makes its way to a local pool, where there is an explosion of new life and organisms. It seems they have found the secret of what transformed the flora and fauna of the world while humanity was hiding underground.

Jack and Hannah take a road trip in the story “In the Dreamtime,” only to find themselves surrounded by mysterious deaths and troubled by strange dreams. Is there a scientific explanation for what happened, or is nature trying to give them a message? “Last Link in the Chain” finds Jack stranded in the wilderness and fighting to survive in the dog eat dog (or dino eat dino) chaos of the jungle.

“Lords of the Earth” has Jack and Hannah cast out of the city by a hostile change of government, with only the beautiful and mysterious Governor Dahlgren being a possible ally. There is not a lot of subtlety in the artwork here, as the vilest members of the new government, Scharnhorst and Nock, are ugly and dress in militaristic uniforms. And in the next installment, “Primeval,” Jack and Hannah head out by boat for Wassoon, having to fight their way through hostile wildlife and past pirates employed by the new government.

In “Two Cities,” Hannah and Jack collapse short of their goal, only to have the forces of Wassoon rescue them in a nick of time. But the new city is just as dangerous and fraught with division as the one they left. A mysterious woman named Aduwa visits Jack and wants to work with him. In “Dangerous Grounds,” after dancing around their growing feelings for so long, Jack and Hannah finally share some intimate moments among the skullduggery that surrounds them. And in “Another Swarm,” Jack, Hannah, and Aduwa find that a giant spidery creature called a harvestman has been captured and brought to the surface, something that might disrupt the delicate balance of power between nature and man that most are not even aware of. Jack and Hannah decide it is time to return north to Jack’s home city. And that’s where the story ended, on a cliffhanger, over two decades ago. But there is good news on the horizon; in an interview with The Comics Journal in March of 2022, Schultz reported he is working on a graphic novel that will continue the story of Xenozoic, although he doesn’t want to promise when it might be done.

 

Final Thoughts

The world Mark Schultz created in Xenozoic is wonderfully imagined, rich in fascinating details, and handsomely presented in his evocative illustrations. Those who like exciting adventure stories based on well-researched science will find much to enjoy in this collection. The stories hearken back to the pulpy tales that influenced Schultz, but also have a depth and maturity not always associated with those tales.

Now I’m eager to your thoughts on Xenozoic, or other works by Schultz. And I’m also curious to hear what other comic book or graphic novel tales of science fiction have caught your eye over the years.

Alan Brown has been a science fiction fan for over five decades, especially fiction that deals with science, military matters, exploration and adventure.

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