Friday, February 19, 2021


By Mark Schultz

As I mentioned briefly last week, I picked up XENOZOIC BY MARK SCHULTZ a few years back, around the time I was jumping into newspaper adventure strips. But unlike a lot of the strips that I've read since then, XENOZOIC sat on my bookshelf until just recently. But as I read it, I'm kind of sorry I waited!

Set in the far-flung future of the thirtieth century, XENOZOIC is clearly influenced by old pulp stories, movie serials, and so forth. Our main characters are Jack "Cadillac" Tenrec, a rough-and-tumble mechanic/transporter/guide/anything else he needs to be, and Hannah Dundee, a beautiful ambassador from a far-off land. The setting is the City in the Sea -- what's left of Manhattan in this world where man has been decimated and dinosaurs once more walk the Earth. Hannah arrives in the first story, from her state of Wasoon, to open relations with the the City in the Sea, and soon decides to stick around for a while. This leads to her getting involved in Jack's frequent adventures.

The stories, at least early on, are all fairly short, running ten to fifteen pages or so for the most part. The very first ones present small snippets of life in this world. The first chapter sees Jack rescue Hannah from an assassination attempt before he's even met her. The second focuses on Hannah as she helps the Governor of the City in the Sea with a fishing problem. The third and fourth chapters form a two-parter in which Jack escorts a group of men to the Calhoon Mines to begin work there. In the first part, we see Jack's adherence to the laws of nature, as he gets a poacher killed for daring to attack a dinosaur. This theme continues into the next story, which finds Jack and friends arriving at the mine, where once again, an uncivilized man meets his end when Jack lets him loose to face the wrath of a Tyrannosaurus after the fellow has killed its mate.

The fifth story finds Jack and Hannah leading an expedition into the swamp in search of a missing scientist and his team. This one ventures into some serious horror territory as Jack uncovers a mass graveyard and eventually learns that the scientists all spliced their DNA with the mutated swamp ceatures.

In the next installment, Hannah has decided that mammoths can be domesticated as beasts of burden, and talks Jack into trying to catch one. But their mission is interrupted by a fellow whose brother Jack killed a while back, resulting in Jack injuring his leg and the mammoth chasing our heroes across the plains in Jack's Cadillac. The bad guy is dispatched, but the story ends with Jack and Hannah fleeing from the mammoth.

A lot of these stories have those sorts of endings, by the way. They typically either begin or end en media res, but for the most part there is no follow-up when they result in a cliffhanger. This is basically Mark Schultz giving us little vignettes from the Xenozoic world. We don't need to see how Jack and Hannah get away from the mammoth, for example, because it doesn't matter. We know they will get away, but the story Schultz wants to tell has already been told, so there's no need to go into detail beyond a certain point.

That said, the next chapter does pick up from the prior one, but there's no mention of the cliffhanger. Instead, "The Rules of the Game" opens with Jack and Hannah back inside Jack's garage as the mammoth pounds on the door outside. But eventually it gets tired and wanders off, and Jack offers to take Hannah for a ride in one of his vintage cars. This chapter reveals a bit more about our protagonists' characters and motivations than we had seen up to this point. Jack fancies himself the liaison, so to speak, between civilization and nature, and also considers himself a conservator of sorts over the wilderness. He is the city's go-to guy for trips out into the wild, and in return, the citizens gift him any ancient vehicles they find buried in the city. Jack spends most of his free time restoring and modifying his fleet of twentieth century cars.

Hannah, meanwhile, is a thrill-seeker. We never learn why she's chosen to remain in The City in the Sea rather than return to Wassoon, because she dodges Jack's question on that topic. But while out and about with Jack in his car, when a storm appears on the horizon (which Jack warns is extremely dangerous), she eggs him on to wait for it to reach them and then race it back to the City. Jack eventually agrees, but the storm proves too much and overtakes them, crashing his car and knocking Hannah out. Jack and Hannah spend the night in shelter (inside the carcass of the mammoth, which had an unfortunate encounter with some dinosaurs after it left Jack's warehouse) before emerging after the storm has passed.

I've read that Schult'z original XENOZOIC TALES comic ran a total of fourteen issues over several years, but there are twenty stories in the XENOZOIC collection I'm using for this series. I assume, therefore, that the shorter stories were published two to an issue or thereabouts. I mean, it's possible I'm totally wrong, but in any case, I'm just speculating. How the stories were published originally doesn't any bearing on my enjoyment reading them now, decades after the fact, in one big book. Though it does occur to me that if I'd been reading these in real time as they were released, the wait between installments would've been excruciating! The stories are a lot of fun, and they're very fast-paced reads, so getting only fourteen issues over the course of something like eight years would've been torture!

Anyway, next week we'll move along to our next segment of the Xenozoic sage.

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