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We’ve followed Tor from his Golden Age roots in “One Million Years Ago”, his own series soon after, to his 1990s miniseries, which had both beautiful art and serious issues when it came to depiction of women.
Now we come to the 2008 miniseries, collected by DC into a hardcover and softcover edition. These books are regular sized, having originally been published as standard comic issues. But the price point is much more reasonable, 160 pages of lovely comics easily found at under 10 dollars used – and only half the price of the archive books for the brand new hardcover.
With his Tor stories, Kubert has taken an approach of reinvention and retelling each time. This isn’t often done with a comics character by the same creator, when it happens it is usually a new person’s take on an old property.
There is an aching beauty that accompanies watching one man constantly refine an idea that is obviously so close to his heart and psyche.
These projects have had ups and downs, with many proposals conceived never to reach their potential audience, but Tor has also been born again through the ages, a character that history has not yet forgotten.
It’s possible that these stories are all of the same Tor, but the story is never the same, much like a campfire legend or oral history passed down through tribal generations.
The A Prehistoric Odyssey collection, like the previous archives, has a small gallery in the back, this time focusing mainly on the work in this book without the idea sketches for all of Kubert’s other hopeful revitalizations of the character (children’s books, animated television shows, even glimpses of live action features, none of which were fated to come about.)
We’re indeed lucky that Kubert has dreamed so often of his caveman, because he seems to have reached what he was striving for all this time. The book is almost unique, telling story in ways that Kubert can best – the art leading, of course.
Traditional dialogue and wordballoons have been eschewed entirely, with Kubert instead lending his narration in descriptive phrases accompanying the art.
He attempts no poetry – the language is plain and straightforward, a mix of Tor’s inner dialogue and musings along with clarifications of the action.
This narration makes the book easy to take in, with some text adding extra layers of meaning, but it also feels optional – not to be thrown away, but the style of scripting invites us to enter a word before clear language, before characters made their meanings known with the phonetical sounds we understand today.
The book can be read without words, understood through the art alone. Kubert’s art is clear and powerful, open to humans of any language or background.
It’s an amazing thing.
The story contained is likewise refined. Kubert has taken the dinosaurs and given them a place in his world that feels firmly in context, even understandable in terms of motivation. The fantastical is still present, with strange creatures and monstrous humanoids, but feels less pulpy and contrived.
Every tribe and group here has intricate ritual practically evolving on the page before us. It’s a world that is learning and shifting along with our protagonist, a world in flux – battle for survival, battle to become something more.
Tor has become a deep being, no longer a clear representation of modern man placed into a brutal world, but perhaps the first step towards true humanity slowly breaking the bonds of the past.
His companions (and he does grow enough to finally have a family of sorts in this volume) have their own intelligence and motivations, for the first time leaving me moved at their struggles.
The female lead has taken great steps past stereotypical portrayal – she is still beautiful and topless, but no longer in any crude fashion. She is a strong character, possessing of the will to survive, and when she does cower it is in situations where cowering seems to be quite the logical option.
Kubert’s art isn’t as plain as his Golden Age work nor as sketchy and explosive as the art he created in the early Modern Age stories. It isn’t a loss, perhaps, but further refinement. Things seem more subtle overall, but Tor is still able to spring into dynamic action, all of Kubert’s amazing grasp of anatomy rippling off the page.
He colors the work along with Pete Carlsson, and together they craft jungles of relaxing greens that hide threats in their shadows, caves of deep purples and blues, and scenes of action punctuated with the necessary bolts of red.
As one ongoing story for the entire book, things flow together seamlessly, with Tor’s musing on events (from issues previous) taking the form of early man’s first steps to self understanding. While clearly designed to catch up readers following the story in tabloid format, the brief sequences also serve to show that our lead is no longer acting purely on instinct but constantly exploring inside his mind.
In this volume, Kubert has finally managed to tell Tor’s story. It’s an odyssey literal and figurative, containing new heights of adventure and fantastic places accompanied by the depths of personal discovery.
I feel that this is the story he has been trying to tell us all along, the character he always knew but sometimes struggled to portray. The strengths and weaknesses from past volumes all have had some role to play in building this story – but this is a very solid book.
Kubert’s Tor masterpiece.
5 out of 5. If you buy one Tor book, this should be it. Especially if you’re more interested in a solid story with amazing art instead of the history of comics.
This is the final Tor book, and he doesn’t appear expressly anywhere else in the DCU. If you want to know his story, this volume will fill your need.
If you are following along with my chronology of the DCU, Viking Glory: The Viking Prince will be the next book. This book isn’t actually Kubert’s creation of The Viking Prince, though, which is probably a more direct step if you are following the creator.
Those tales are collected in Viking Prince by Joe Kubert, a recently released hardcover.