Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians
Colors: Ryan Hill
Design: Sandy Tanaka
Digital Production: Christina McKenzie, Chris Horn
Popular interpretations of the Mesozoic Era have leaned so heavily on North American dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus rex or Apatosaurus, that most people might even believe that the entire Cretaceous was populated by the same dozen species. So it's a bit off the beaten track when the focus moves elsewhere. In Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians, award-winning artist Ricardo Delgado shines the spotlight on North Africa. This gives him an excuse to draw a completely different ensemble of prehistoric creatures, which he portrays in his characteristic obsessively-detailed fashion. At this point, anyone who follows Age of Reptiles is primarily there to look at pretty art portraying some rather vicious animals locked in a life-and-death struggle.
Delgado's art hasn't significantly changed since working on The Journey, but the new setting allows him to expand his visual vocabulary. In contrast to the vast open spaces with its parched minimalism found the earlier work, Ancient Egyptians takes place in what looks to be a lush rainforest. The comic is positively bursting with life in every panel: Trees tall enough to hide the largest sauropod. Rivers teaming with coelacanths, freshwater sharks, rays, turtles, mollusks, and a wide variety of early crocodile species. All this gives colorist Ryan Hill more opportunities to explore a richer color spectrum, though he still ties everything together with the usual earth tones. Hill lends a much needed clarity to Delgado's art as the extra amount of detail can sometimes obscure the action. He tends to render everything with the same fine line, whether it's a cloud in the sky or an adult theropod, and this can flatten the perspective when all the reader has as a reference point is the dense underbrush.
Delgado's approach to storytelling also remains the same. His overt inspirations are spaghetti westerns and samurai tales, in this particular case Yojimbo. The hero of Ancient Egyptians is a wandering male Spinosaurus (the only dinosaur he positively identifies in the afterword. I'm guessing the species of the rest). Shortly after entering the forest, he runs afoul of its largest denizens, a very belligerent Paralititan herd. These are a species of super-sized sauropod, FYI. He tries to steer clear of rival gangs of Carcharodontosaurus and of Afrovenators. And he finds time to mate with a female of his species. The story culminates in a bloody showdown that alters the local power balance.
Whatever his creative influences, Delgado has become too devoted to the naturalistic mode to apply a lot of anthropomorphic attributes. His eschewing of any dialogue eliminates any distraction from his art, but it renders opaque the interior lives of his subjects. There isn't anything that could be recognized as conscious thought or character development in the conventional sense, though it's still apparent that dinosaur actions are compelled by a tangle of powerful drives which are either satiated or thwarted. This straightforward behaviorism is reinforced by a linear approach to storytelling and deliberate pacing. The one thing Delgado does to break up the monotony is to shift attention away from the Spinosaurus at regular intervals. The narrative simply moves through the course of several days as the cast eats, hunts, fights, kills, sleeps, or copulates. Ancient Egyptians is about as Darwinian a comic being sold right now.