Dinosaurs In Comics

It will come as no shock to those of you who have been paying attention to learn that I am a paleontologist. And while I have touched up on the occasional extinct critter in my columns before I have neglected the one group of animals that people most closely associate with my science: DINOSAURS. Why the neglect? Well honestly I don’t study dinosaurs, I’m a mammal guy. Keep it milky and covered in fur, I say. (I’ve never said that.) This doesn’t mean I don’t like dinosaurs. I especially appreciate their power to inspire the public and get them interested in science, which is kind of my jam. I also enjoy comics, which have had a long and fruitful relationship dinosaurs, rivaling even that of the mighty Silver-back Silver Age Gorilla, and today is the day I finally give in and just talk about some dinosaurs.


Click to embiggen.

First things first, what is a dinosaur, exactly? Dinosaurs are a group of terrestrial Archosaurs (the branch of reptiles containing Crocodiles) that evolved during the Triassic and were the dominant group of land animals up until 65 million years ago. They were extremely diverse and included two major branches based on the structure of their hip bones, the ornithischians (bird-hipped) and the saurischians (lizard-hipped). The ornithischians were all herbivores (plant eating) and include some of your favorites like the stegosaurus and triceratops. The saurischians include the super-giant dinos with the long negs, all the meat eaters, and eventually the birds (yes, the birds evolved from the lizard-hipped guys, I agree it’s confusing). The flying pterosaurs are the sister group to Dinosauria but are not themselves dinosaurs. Furthermore, any ocean-dwelling reptile from that time period is something completely different. All that being said, I get that comics ascribe to the more popular definition of “big scary Mesozoic reptile monsters” which is fine, just inaccurate. People think I’m this hyper-critical monster out to destroy all that is fun, but I contend that you can know the truth and still enjoy the fantasy.

savage_land_spider-manI think the fun thing about dinosaurs in comics is that they show up in so many different genres. Super hero books, obviously, but also war comics, adventure comics, or just straight up historical fiction comics. I think the first experience I had reading about dinosaurs in comics was probably the Savage Land, which is one of those ideas that as a scientist I could tear to shreds but it’s fun so who cares? The Savage Land is filled with a hodgepodge of prehistoric life, including dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and even much more recent mammals like saber-toothed cats. If such a place did exist it would be a gold mine of data for someone like me. As it stands in the comics, it seems to be a refuge for the weird and whacky, where planes always seem to crash. I like that the Savage Land is represented as a mostly natural ecosystem where the presence of humans seems to do more harm than good for the animals just trying to get by. But one criticism I do have about the Savage Land is that in a recent issue involving Spider-Man the dinosaurs he was fighting were NOT covered in feathers. That needs to be fixed across the board. I’ve heard some people claim that feathery dinos can’t be scary. Well 1) they’re just animals, they don’t have to be scary, and 2) they’re wrong, they can still totally be scary. Clearly those people have never seen a hawk or been attacked by a goose.

Over in the DC Universe, both the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave, arguably the two most iconic superhero hideouts, have giant dinosaurs as part of their trophy collections. Then there’s also the aptly named Dinosaur Island, which I will admit having no familiarity with beyond what Darwyn Cooke showed me in The New Frontier and did so basically as a war comic.

And speaking of things I only know from recent re-uses of them, how about Devil Dinosaur? I know exactly 3 things about Devil Dinosaur: he has a Moon-Boy, he was created by Jack “King” Kirby, and was in Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. A quick search reveals that he’s actually from an alternate reality where earth is Dinosaur World. So there’s that. I really should go back and read the original Kirby stuff. Would anyone listen to a Katers-esque podcast of me talking about Devil Dinosaur? It will not take many commenters supporting that idea for me to legitimately consider it. Just saying.

Then there are the books that just try to talk about dinosaurs using actual science and history. There’s Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards, which I reviewed once upon a time, as well as Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles books from Dark Horse, which were a beast to track to down but presented some really beautiful wordless stories all about the trials of tribulations of life in the Mesozoic.

Finally, dinosaurs for comedy. My only real example here, besides Nextwave, is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin often imagines himself as a rampaging prehistoric beast and Waterson really nailed the look, feel, and dynamism of dinosaurs, at least as I imagine it. Yet even with that realism he still delivered a satisfying punch line to give Calvin his comeuppance. Age of Reptiles was intentionally trying to capture the look and feel of how dinosaurs would have existed in their environment, and Waterson manages to just as good a job while ostensibly trying to tell a joke. Plus there is just something so pure about his dinosaurs being birthed out of the frantic imagination of a young boy, an all too accurate a depiction if you ask me.

Now comes the part where you tell me in the comments which dinosaur I left out and why that was a terrible oversight unbefitting a comics-loving paleontologist. Be gentle.


Ryan Haupt gets to see dinosaurs every day at work, which never gets old, even though they are. Hear him talk about dinosaurs and other science goodness on his podcast.


  1. I also want feathered dinosaurs to be the norm in works of fiction, if only because it’s such a dramatic change and I have no idea how it will play out to the masses

    • I agree. But wasn’t there like an Avengers comic or something from Marvel where they fought feathered dinosaurs? I think they were in the Savage Land. Or maybe it was “Dinosaurs vs Aliens” by Morrison. When is THAT being made into a movie?

    • They encountered feathered dinosaurs a few months ago in Avengers #13

  2. You forgot “Super-Dinosaur” by Kirkman. It’s a dumb book IMO and I hate it but that’s the only one I can think of.

    When I was younger I was all about dinosaurs. No idea why. Never learned about how bone structure differentiates them or that they had feathers or even that different groups evolved into other stuff. I thought they all either died off or became smaller lizards or birds.

    Is it an accident that this article is more lighthearted that the last 2? Those had important topics to be sure, but this week did you just want to write about something fun?

  3. Yeah, and how did they get the nerve to re release Jurassic Park in 2013 without correcting the feather discrepancy? It is total B.S.

    • I think it’s more BS that they felt the movie needed to be in 3-D. You’re re-releasing old movies because your out of ideas, why go the extra mile and make them 3D too? Shameless.

    • Another vote for Dr. Dinosaur, particularly the issue where he had the T-Rex mounted with all that weaponry. Fantastic stuff.

      And of course Dinosaur Neil from The Tick.

      As a dad, I will say that nothing makes my heart melt like watching my 2-year-old daughter pretending to be a dinosaur and butchering all the names.

    • Oops, didn’t mean to reply here. Weird.

  4. Dinosaurus from Invincible!!

    C’mon, Ryan! Not only is he a dinosaur, he’s also a scientist! So that’s a double oversight for you! You’re fired!

    How’s that for gentle? 🙂 But seriously, great character. Check him out if you’re unaware of him. Sounds right up your alley.

  5. My favorite dinosaur in comics is Dr. Dinosaur.

    If you haven’t read anything with Dr. Dinosaur check out any of the Atomic Robo Free Comic book day issues on Comixology.

    Also Ryan, just the concept of your Devil Dinosaur podcast is fantastic. Do It!

  6. What about Dr. Dinosaur from Atomic Robo. The issue he was introduced in is maybe the funniest single issue of a comic I have ever read. I mean come on, he uses crystals… that’s scientifically accurate. Right?

  7. I’ve just started reading Half Past Danger from IDW digitally. If you’re looking for dinosaurs in comics, this comic has dinosaurs.

  8. I definitely saw a feathered dinosaur in a comic recently, but damned if I can remember where.

    Also, consider this official support for a Ryan vs Devil Dinosaur podcast, that sounds fantastic!!

  9. Probably the most interesting of all is Tyrant by Steve Bissette. Four issues, published in the 90s, that was going to be an ongoing series telling the story of a t-rex from birth to death.

    • Also most disappointing (and for Bissette, embarrassing…he laid out these grandiose plans in the letters pages and then never even got close to following through)…Tyrant could have been one of the greatest comics ever. So sad.

    • I’m guessing this is Ryan’s [find title] above btw…

  10. +1 for the Devil Dinosaur podcast — +2 if the co-host is Moon Boy.

  11. Devil Dinosaur podcast? Do it. Do it now!

  12. Add me to the list of Dr. Dinosaur fans. His first appearance (which I think was in a Free Comic Book Day issue) was one of the few comics that made me laugh out loud multiple times. I joined twitter just to follow him.