The intelligentsia of our society scoffed at a great many things in that era. I remember a professor scoffing at the "Hardy Boys" series of books for kids. Let's not forget "Tom Swift" too. If something was commercially popular, it was scoffed at. The voices of common sense seemed muffled in the 1970s.
Perhaps my criticism is directed mainly at college campuses. But perhaps our whole society was adrift to a degree, burned by the Viet Nam War and other troubling things (stagflation?).
In the current age in which we're all empowered by tech and the Internet to impress our own ideas, we can unabashedly state what we like. I'd like to trumpet the quality and imagination behind "Turok, Son of Stone." It was an adolescent delight of mine to follow this Gold Key comic. I can't quite shake some of the old defensiveness talking about this. A comic book? To heck with the defensiveness. Comics like "Turok" and "Magnus, Robot Fighter" did a lot to advance my literacy in my youth. Such entertainment outside the classroom was indispensable.
A progressive college teacher from those old days should actually have been impressed by "Turok." Let's examine why. We see Turok, a wise father figure type of man, with his youthful brother Andar, trapped within danger. Somehow these Indians have ended up in an isolated valley that is a total world apart. It's Jurassic Park many years before the novelist Michael Crichton gave us that story. Jurassic Park totally captivated us with the concept of humans among dinosaurs. That story theme was anything but new.
Many kids became fascinated as Turok and Andar made their way among creatures they called "honkers, hoppers, flyers and sea demons." The velociraptor which came to be so well-known through "Jurassic Park," was called a "screamer."
College teachers of yore would admire the resilience of Turok and Andar who are pre-Columbian Indians. The indigenous civilizations are as-yet undisrupted. Turok and Andar are Kiowa Indians.
In total contrast with traditional popular entertainment which has Indians disadvantaged because of their "primitiveness," Turok and Andar are actually more advanced than the other humans they come upon. The Lost Valley has humans that are early in the ladder of development. They are dangerous. While I'm not sure they were actually cannibals, they remind me of the cannibals in the Robinson Crusoe story. You get the feeling that even though Crusoe is seeing other humans, he isn't, really. He's still isolated.
Turok and Andar get no comfort being around these other humans. The two have wandered into a savage prehistoric land they call Lost Valley and are cut off from their homeland and people. They wander, encountering cave men and hungry prehistoric creatures, trying to get out.
Our heroic Kiowa warriors adapt, discovering toxic berries which they can smear on the tips of their arrows, stunning and killing even the nastiest dinosaurs. The berries seemed to work almost too well, becoming a magical, almost instant way of stopping those big, dangerous beasts.
I have stated before that the artwork for many comic book covers, "Turok" a prime example, was terrific. It would be effective as stand-alone art. Of course, college art teachers, at least the ones I remember, would be harrumphing and even laughing. The profs I remember laughed at a lot of things, especially if it came from popular culture like Leroy Nieman. I think today, those instincts have lessened. Our teachers have changed through either pressure or enlightenment, to respect art and culture that may have been parlayed into profit for the creators.
Artist Alberto Gioletti did a lot of the work with "Turok, Son of Stone." We can credit Paul S. Newman, not to be confused with the actor, for a lot of the writing. Newman was a wellspring of creativity for the comic book industry. "Turok" was his longest-running series, of 26 years.
I am most familiar with the Turok storyline as it existed in the 1960s. It did get some major tweaks or revising through the years. Gold Key was one of several publishers handling Turok, the others including Dell, Whitman, Valiant, Dark Horse and Acclaim. The whole story had such staying power, I'm disappointed it couldn't leap onto the big screen with the same acclaim as what greeted "Jurassic Park."
"Turok" is a story empowering Native Americans, showing them at the top rather than lower down on the developmental ladder. It shows them industrious and resilient as Native Americans having no distraction of Europeans around them. This is North America in its proud, unadulterated, long-ago incarnation. Whites not only had an invasive effect, they spread disease, wiping out huge swaths of the indigenous people.
Turok and Andar are pure heroes. They come across as compassionate too.
How did the seeds get planted for this story? Why come up with a premise of two Indians in a "lost world" of dinosaurs? The mind of Gaylord DuBois can be credited. He visited the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico and became intrigued. He came to envision his "lost valley" which he in fact placed in New Mexico.
DuBois was an early writer for "Turok, Son of Stone." My, his idea had staying power. By the 1990s, when I of course had become detached from comic books, "Turok" had taken on quite a different tone and backdrop as a "Valiant" publishing line character. Now our heroes are surrounded by demons, dinosaurs and even space aliens! The concept of time itself is different in this land. Time has no meaning! We learn of a cosmic anomaly that has time moving in a self-contained loop. Millions of years pass in the outside world, while inside, time barely moves! There's a villain called "Mothergod" who operates out of the "lost lands."
The story seems to get a little crazy, as this "mothergod" outfits dinosaurs with intelligence-boosting implants! They become "bionisaurs" (the actual term used, not passing spell-check of course). At this point I might not blame a college prof or anyone else chuckling a little. But this is not the "Turok" that I came to know and enjoy.
The Valiant comic incarnation has a "final battle" between Mothergod and the Valiant Universe heroes. The lost lands begin to fade away. Our friends Turok and Andar are tossed into a post-apocalyptic "future Earth," and a group of bionisaurs makes this transition with them. If you think all this sounds like a drug-infused fantasy, I won't blame you. Perhaps a whole new generation of youth - and of course, generations think differently - understands and was captivated by the new premise. I'm left behind, I guess, preferring the more conventional framework of storytelling as represented by the 1960s Gold Key chapter.
Continuing with the Valiant incarnation, Turok and Andar become hunters contending with demons and aliens that exist in the future world. We also see "high-tech future warriors." Mothergod has succeeded to a large extent and is trying to hunt down our heroic Turok and Andar. Amazing imagination! The college profs who always used to admire literature that was socially uplifting and enlightening, should have seen merit in the comic book. But it was a comic book. The knee-jerk reaction among them would be to show derision. A pox on them.
The likes of Turok and Andar along with Magnus of the "Magnus, Robot Fighter" comic series, enriched my youth and greatly advanced my grasp of writing and the English language. This went light years beyond any "suggested literature" put forth not only by college teachers but by public school teachers. How else would I know the definition of "snafu" or "doomed?"
Another favorite of mine was the "Sergeant Rock" series based on World War II. Remember the machine guns that would go "rat-tat-tat?" I'm a little ashamed remembering Sergeant Rock because WWII reflected so much of the dark side of human nature, and it was real, not the wild product of a writer's imagination like "Future Earth" with bionisaurs.
Comic books were an essential, actually indispensable part of the literacy strides I made as a kid. I am unabashed talking about it. And I don't give a darn about what the intelligentsia in our society (less empowered today) thinks about it. Turok and Andar were amazing. "Turok, Son of Stone" remains impressed on my mind.
Trivia question: What sound did the dinosaurs often make? Answer: "Runk." Oh, and what sound did the robots in "Magnus, Robot Fighter" make when they were being beaten? Answer: "Squeee!" Sometime in the future I'll write about "Space Family Robinson" too (similar but distinct from "Lost in Space").