Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Book Review: Xenozoic

book cover for Xenozoic
A global ecological cataclysm has forced mankind underground to ride it out. Five hundred years later, they return to the surface to find it greatly altered. Now dinosaurs, Pleistocene mammals, and things never seen before are roaming the Earth. The survivors have rebuilt old cities or built new ones on top of the ruins of the old. Will they survive in this new age or repeat the mistakes of the past?

I first heard about Xenozoic from the old RPG Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, though I admit that I'd never played it. Still, it looked pretty cool. It was decades later before I found this collection, and it collected dust on my nightstand for a few more years after that. I can't offer a good reason why.

The artwork is all done in black ink. Schultz's talent improves with age, going from very good to fantastic over the course of this collection (1986 - 1996). And if you don't believe me, he won five Harvey Awards with this series, three times for Best Artist or Penciller.

There are two main characters: Jack "Cadillac" Tenrec and Hannah Dundee. Jack has chiselled good looks and a physique to match. He's a mechanic very much in love with 1950s era automobiles (preserved among other things in vaults beneath the surface) and has figured out how to run them on dinosaur guano. He lives in a large garage complex on the mainland and assists the people of the "City in the Sea" (a flooded Manhattan) when he can. But he also has a bit of Tarzan and Henry David Thoreau mixed in. He concerns himself with the balance of nature in this new world, but rather than taking a thoughtful approach, he charges into action because he thinks he knows what's best. Outside of his faithful team in the garage, he tends to alienate others (and annoy this reader).

Hannah Dundee is an ambassador from Wasson (built on the ruins of Washington D.C.). She arrives in the City in the Sea to address a matter of poachers and to foster better relations between the two cities. While she is incredibly attractive, Schultz never stoops to cartoon proportions that are often seen in works tailored for a cis-gendered male audience. She's smart, keenly interested in the scientific potential locked away in the city's library, and politically savvy. She's no damsel in distress either. She rescues Jack from peril just about as often as he rescues her. Their relationship is full of friction as they butt heads over which actions to take in this world. Of course there's also the sexual tension, and one wonders if they're ever going to hook-up.

The world building has some holes in it. For example, dinosaurs in just 500 years? Schultz tries to explain this and other oddities, but the answers don't really work for me. I'd recommend not looking too much into these conundrums and just enjoy the ride. The stories are good, but the artwork is the main attraction here.

Unfortunately, just as the overall storyline was building to confrontation, it went into hibernation. Schultz went to work on other comics and has been working on the Prince Valiant comic strip since 2004. Schultz is 65, so I'm hoping that he returns to Xenozoic someday soon, but there is the possibility that we may never know how it ends.

4 stars.