By James Farr, Jon Sommariva, Serge Lapointe, Kevin Patag, Sean Parsons, Camila Fortuna, Dustin Evans, and John Rauch
Dinosaurs! In Space! Chances are those three words should be enough to pique your (very refined) interest, but in the very bizarre event that they did not (weirdo) rest assured that Rexodus is a genial, all-ages romp that puts the emphasis on action-adventure. While it’s tone and execution skews a little closer to a Saturday morning cartoon than it does the apex of Pixar’s classics, Rexodus should sate its target audience (10 year-olds and up) with its lush, lively visuals and can’t-miss conceit of a tough teenage girl teaming up with a band of science-fiction dinos (or Disaurians, rather) with the fate of two worlds on the line.
Keeping that aforementioned target audience in mind is important as Rexodus definitely operates on a surface level, if not fully fleshed-out, plot structure that does occasionally read like a movie pitch more than as a standalone comic series. Rexodus is the product of a Steelhouse Productions development team working off of original ideas by Eric Lee & Paul Wizikowski and brought to life by no less than ten creators; so, yes that’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Fortunately, it rarely feels as though it’s being pulled in too many different directions, but there is an underlying sense of this work being created specifically to launch a franchise. That’s not to say it’s without merit because Farr and Sommariva deftly steer this gorgeously rendered ship and there are a plethora of fun, large ideas at work: The Black Blood, lava-powered technology, a corrupt dinosaur government within an advanced society, etc. There’s a lot there as far as world building and mythology building, but the heart of the story unquestionably lies with its array of archetypal characters and the bond between Kelvin and Amber.
Farr’s script opens with a high-octane, 64.9 million-year old flashback that sets up the Father/Child dynamic that will be echoed a few pages (and several eons) later. We see that Earth’s early inhabitants, the technologically advanced Disaurians were never wiped out, but rather driven off-planet by a mysterious and fearsome entity known as the Black Blood. Their leader, and Kelvin’s father, K’Vark, sacrifices himself so that his people can survive; except that unbeknownst to him, Kelvin went back to rescue him only to find himself lost to the ages. Farr provides us with a straightforward, heroic set-up of an admirable man-out-of-time character (or dinosaur, whatever) and then pairs him up with our modern-day, smart-alecky (is that redundant?) teenager, Amber.
The two clearly mirror each other in their goals of wanting to save their fathers, though it’s an impossible task for one, and in their fish-out-of-water circumstance. Farr then surrounds them with easy to identify character types that each fill a specific need while never feeling forced, but Amber and Kelvin remain by far the most dimensional of this fun cast (of course, Swoop is pretty endearing as well). It’s a delight to see a young female character be given such a well-rounded personality, as far too many entry-point characters often fall into helpless witness roles or the one-dimensional acting for the sake of acting position. She’s smart, occasionally vulnerable, occasionally tough as nails and all around recognizable as an active participant and hero in her own right that provides a much-needed “in” to this world. Villains are villains, heroes are heroes (be they reluctant or not) and Kelvin is the one with the most discernable arc buoyed by an empathetic companion and equal partner.
As fun as many of the details are, and keeping in mind both the audience and the amount of room to work with, one could forgive quite a few of the unexplained elements to the story. Farr skillfully walks that tightrope between withholding enough to entice a reader’s return and confounding the reader with a dearth of reasons to buy into the premise. Terros Secundus is ripe for further investigating and the arc sets the stage for an even more vast status quo, but some aspects are left frustratingly unexplained such as what exactly the Black Blood’s origins are. There’s some ominous dialogue about “the crimes of the ancients” and “hiding from your sins” that’s more confounding and tonally discordant than it is compelling. Is it a metaphor for environmentalism? Is it a biblical allegory as the title possibly suggests? It’s unclear and admittedly, not terribly important in the large scheme of what this introductory tale has set out to do; namely, a fast-paced adventure to find inner strength against impossible odds with some hearty laughs and creative designs. Farr certainly succeeds at the front, especially for a younger audience.
With all that said, Rexodus’ greatest strength is the energetic art of Sommariva. With hints of Joe Madureira throughout, Sommariva’s cartooning is simultaneously frenetic and refined. Exaggerated figure work with some killer design, the art is richly elastic and expressive. Importantly it also feels animated, with motion conveyed with requisite oomph both in the action scenes and in the more subtle facial expressions from maniacal grins to desperately wide eyes to stoic frustrations. Sommariva’s world is immersive and unthreatening, despite the well-rendered monstrosities that are to be found therein.
When Farr holds back on directly informing the reader of the situation and/or a character’s mindset, which is frequently if not quite enough, Sommariva delivers the perfect summation with far greater impact through a confident, clean line and appropriate heft. The designs of not only the Disaurians themselves, but the myriad of clothing’s and armor are also clearly well thought out in how they relate to this fictional society and evolution. Sommariva is occasionally guilty of overcrowding the page to the point where it’s overwhelming and incongruent with the narrative. There’s just so much loaded onto some pages that the nuances of his character work are lost in a mass of exuberant creation and the storytelling hiccups as a result, specifically with the vast array of panel border designs that hinder more than they enhance. Let that take nothing away from the immense talent and contribution to the final work that Sommariva puts on display; at the end of the day, he’s easily the best reason to pick up this book.
Kudos to the coloring trio of Fortuna, Evans and Rauch for maintaining a consistent application throughout the work despite their triumvirate status. Rexodus is a lush and vibrantly colored work with rich saturation and subtle shading that thoroughly enhances Sommariva’s work with careful attention towards texturing, especially on the contours of the surface of the Dinosaurians…skin? Scales? Whatever. It’s incredibly enticing and never once feels overly digitized; remaining as refined and sharp as any cel-shaded piece of animation you’ll see.
Rexodus may not pull on your heart-strings or wax philosophically about the larger tribulations and mysteries of existence or have you pass it around from family member to family member regardless of which generation they hail from, but it never set out to do any of that. No, Rexodus is all about big, indulgent fun; the kind that everyone’s inner ten year-old yearns to have when someone asks what happens if dinosaurs could talk and we gave them space guns. You know, awesome fun! It’s far more worried about delivering on that promise through the lens of two familiar yet developed characters and a band of merry space adventurers, than it is trying to be the next Happy Feet or Wall-E. It’s not executed perfectly, and its group IP-developed origins show themselves from time to time, but Farr and Sommariva’s enthusiasm and craft are undeniable and infectious, particularly for the fifth grader in your life. Or sure, even for the fifth grader in you.