“But ABC!” I hear you say. “Dinosaurs aren’t monsters, they’re fascinating animals that are still with us today in the form of vicious brain-eating backyard predators!” Rubbish, I say. The dinosaurs I’m about to show you are true monsters that crawled from the fevered minds of 50s children’s book illustrators.

photo-12-14-16-7-20-35-am

Specifically, they came from this book The Wonderful World, written by James Fisher in 1954. I suppose it’s okay for a book from the 50s, the information in it is as dated as you’d expect, but the main draw here is the two-page dinosaur spread. The cover gives you a glimpse – okay, a major spoiler of the horror to come.

photo-12-14-16-7-20-48-am

This is the bit where the book talks about dinosaurs. The entire prehistory bit was obviously cribbed from the vastly superior The World We Live In (still the best science series/book ever made, 50s or not), with some images directly copied from it. But the dinosaurs look like they started with Zallinger’s mural before getting seriously mangled in translation.

photo-12-14-16-7-21-03-am

The sauropods in the background aren’t so bad, even if they do have microscopic heads vanishing into the distance. The true horrors are the two foreground figures.

photo-12-14-16-7-21-28-am

By now you know this Tyrannosaurus from the cover. Someone please explain to me the anatomy of this thing, because I’m quite sure it’s impossible on this planet (and several others). The artist must have been playing Starsiege or Mechwarrior prior to painting. I don’t know where its right leg went eithe – oh , nevermind, there it is pinning its food down. It’s munching on Stegosaurus for extra irony (the two never lived together, much as Fantasia would have you believe otherwise. In fact, there’s more time between Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus than there is between Tyrannosaurus and us).

photo-12-14-16-7-21-15-am

It’s hard to top the Tyrannosaurus, but in my opinion the hadrosaur is at least as horrifying, if not even worse. Look at it. Look. Its eyes stare into your very soul. Its hand is distressingly human. And it appears to be phasing into the mud (the dreaded Shadowduck of the X-Men). That or it has no hind legs to speak of.

No wonder some people complain about feathered dinosaurs. They must have grown up on these abominations.

cover

I swear this is the last postapocalypic robot animals post I make in OMM, but I had to dedicate an entry to Metalzoic, an absurd and highly entertaining story told by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, and published by DC Comics and 2000 AD. If tales of amoral robotic gorillas beating up tank-elephants are your bag, you can buy this stirring saga in stores, including here and here.

I will try not to give away too much plot, focusing only on the creatures, but if you were planning on reading this someday, spoilers are inevitable.

untitled-11

Metalzoic is set on Earth during the, well, Metalzoic period. The above timeline explains it far better than I ever could, but suffice to say the Earth belongs to metallic, naturally evolving robot and plants that evolved themselves from prior machinery. There are still pockets of humanity eking out a Mad Max-esque life, but it’s the robots that run this show.

untitled-9

While the story focuses on Armageddon, Amok, and their respective tribes, it is arguably the Traffids that are the true dominant species. These are the mechanical equivalent of plants. Some grow to huge sizes and form dense forests through which other robots seek their food.

One interesting thing about Metalzoic is that it appears that all the robots are sapient and have names. Even the traffids. The specimen above, the equivalent of a pitcher plant, has successfully replicated a human building, down to the details of the interior, and uses this appearance to trick humans into coming in and dissolving in acid. Our heroes realize something is off when the pages of the books inside are blank.

untitled-5

The hero of the story is Armageddon, a robot gorilla and leader of the Mekaka*, a tribe of assorted robot primates. Armageddon, as the header image makes clear, operated on his own brain to remove such trivialities as emotion and compassion, making him ruthless, amoral, and highly respected by the other Mekaka. He even manages to pick up a squishy human and keep her alive somehow.

Armageddon’s special power, and a main plot point and deus ex machina, is to call on the power of Inti, the robot god, and start PUMPING IRON. It is as awesome as it sounds.

untitled-12

Opposing Armageddon is Amok the god-beast, the patriarch of a herd of wheeldebeasts – robo-elephants, the mightiest creatures of the Metalzoic. He’s pictured above with his calf, the little Buboc, next to him. The caterpillar treads and scoop mouth (just above them) strongly suggests ancestry in digging equipment.

Throughout the story Amok leads his herd of wheeldebeasts through various landscapes for a strange, unknown purpose. He is opposed in this by Attila, a younger male seeking to usurp him as leader of the wheeldebeast herd.

untitled-10

Amok is to the left here, Attila to the right. Why are they destroying the Mekaka village? Is this part of Amok’s mysterious goal? Read the book to find out!

untitled-1

Mekaka and wheeldebeasts are far from the only creatures shown, and a good deal of attention is granted to various predators that attack our heroes. Skimiteks are the lions of the Metalzoic, with saber teeth and chainsaw tongues, and they get around on skis, flying through the metal jungle at high speeds.

untitled-3

In this idyllic Metalzoic scene, a skimitek pride (bottom) is at an oilhole, with a girane and her calf (left) and  other assorted creatures of the open land.

untitled-2

Polarisaurs are found underneath the frozen poles. Clearly the descendants of submarines, they use periscopes to sight prey on the ice before launching a torpedo at them. They then smash through the ice, grab their victim in their jagged teeth, and sink back into the depths. One of those claims the life of a wheeldebeast before Amok could intercede.

untitled-6

The mirrodillo above has an interesting hunting strategy. It works symbiotically with an airborne helicock, and they share the spoils. The mirrodillo attracts prey with its beautiful shining shell…

untitled-7

… prompting its helicock partner hovering above to fire a beam that reflects off the mirrodillo’s shell, causing indiscriminate damage to everything around it. The mirrodillo can then vacuum up its share while the helicock comes down to partake of the feast.

untitled-4

Mugger bugs are the descendants of car crushers, and have massive, crab-like bodies with powerful claws and huge mouths. The underbelly of a mugger bug is a powerful electromagnet that it uses to capture and disable prey before eating it and compressing it into a cube. Its back is covered with the remains of kills, effectively camouflaging it in plain sight. As you may have guessed, this is indeed something used in real life by assassin bugs, not to mention other insects as well. Technology imitates life. Or something.

untitled-8

Loco-constrictors, finally, are enormous snake-robots that evolved from trains, and still use the ruined rail system to get around. At least one of them, Nikku, was capable of generating paralyzing electrical shocks from the plates on her sides. She tries to eat Buboc, and gets chomped through by Amok for her trouble.

Metalzoic is © Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, DC Comics, 2000 AD, et al.

*Mekaka!

extranimals-logo

The last time we discussed a short-lived car toyline with a biotechnological post-apocalyptic plotline, it was in the mid-90s. This time our story takes us to the late 80s, when French toy car manufacturer was in a bit of bind.

As mentioned in the Carnivores entry, superhero toys – I mean, action figures were all the rage, and more traditional toy companies such as die-cast car makers were losing the battle. Majorette, founded in 1961, was in decline, shutting down branches and cutting corners by replacing die-cast chassis with plastic and hinged doors with fixed ones. The company went out of business in 2000 and was bought by Smoby, but not before it tried to reinvent its brand and appeal to the modern demographic.

The Extranimals were one of those ephemeral experimental lines, designed to alleviate Majorette’s problems in every way. These car/animal hybrids were both cheaply made and had a (flimsy) plot set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, meant to attract action-oriented children while being easy to manufacture. They even got two commercials on TV, and an audio cassette (little more than a dramatic retelling of the first commercial). The American release was called Wild Wheels, but I’ve never seen those. Unfortunately the Extranimals suffered from low advertising, lack of backstory, and no cartoon, which is why they lasted for two years before vanishing into obscurity. Today they can be found in the dystopian hellscape of Ebay, where they command monstrous prices.

Image below taken from this excellent French site.

sam_1324-600x492

The brilliant idea behind the Extranimals was that they required very little work on Majorette’s part. The car bits were taken directly from models already in production, allowing them to repurpose surplus die-cast stock. The chassis, monster truck wheels, and animal parts were plastic, with the animal parts vacuum-metallized in chrome or gold.

The main gimmick of the line was that the wheels could be adjusted into different positions, allowing the vehicle to tackle different forms of terrain. As far as toy gimmicks go, this was a very lukewarm one, especially considering the competition in the form of, say, car that transform into robots. Do note also that the cardback below, for the Mustang, also makes sure to advertise the Elephant, the biggest and most expensive toy in the line. The makers took no chances.

cardback

The plot cast our vehicular animals in a not-so-distant future where humanity has gone extinct and the world has become a jungle of concrete, twisted rebar, and encroaching vines. In this world animals have melded with vehicles – or is it vehicles that have evolved animal features? – and wage endless battles for survival in the wasteland. There is no characterization besides the commercials suggesting that the Mustang and Elephant are the good guys.

basics

The original line (1988) consisted of 4 “basic” Extranimals and the “jumbo” Elephant. The basics were 4 variations on a theme, coming in several colors at the same size and with the same adjustable-wheels gimmick. The Mustang was made out of a Ferrari and Taurus was a Lamborghini (and if you have no idea why, look up the Ferrari and Lamborghini logos. Go on, I’ll wait). The Rhino was evidently an armored truck, and the Panther for some reason was an Excalibur (maybe it was meant to be a Panther de Ville?).

elephant

The Elephant, on a truck chassis (only the red cab is die-cast), was the largest and doubled as a car carrier for the smaller vehicles. In addition to the wheels, it also had a spring-loaded head that could knock over anything in its path, allowing for plenty of play value and hours of fun smashing things. With the second color variation in blue and red, the Optimus Prime parallels are even more striking.

naja

By the second wave of Extranimals of 1989, Majorette had apparently figured that they couldn’t sell the same sort of toy four times even with different animal heads attached, so the “medium” newcomers were a diverse lot with unique gimmicks. The Naja (cobra) above, for instance, was chromed in green and had a movable tongue and doors in addition to 6 configurable wheels. Its base was Majorette’s stretch limousine.

shark

For the Shark, Majorette used their submarine truck as a base, kept the submarine, and added deployable floats. I always wondered why the submarine itself wasn’t shark-themed, and that was because it was unchanged from its original release. No idea why – I always thought it was some sort of symbiotic sentient organism dependent on its larger host for survival. Or something. I used to make stuff up as a kid.

scorpio

The Scorpion had plenty of play features, with a ball-jointed stinger tail, a scoop that can be raised or lowered, and swiveling pincers. This one evolved from a loader.

eagle

Finally, the Eagle is the odd one out of the group, swapping its trademarked wheels for spinning feathered helicopter blades and grasping talons. Its ancestor was a Gazelle helicopter.

I still have memories of seeing those in toy stores, and I always wondered if I hadn’t fabricated the memories out of a deep-seated desire for post-apocalyptic vehicular beasts. It took a while to find them. I still think they could have been an interesting series had Majorette invested more into plot, characters, and production quality, but the series is long gone now.

Extranimals are © Majorette.

carnivores-logo

Ah yes, the 90s, back when men were XTREME, women were XTREME, and toys were THE KOOLEST EVER. Toy manufacturers were constantly outdoing themselves in making XTREME action figures, and in a post-Transformers landscape, the importance of a storyline to enhance the play pattern was recognized.

Makers of toy cars in particular had to reinvent themselves. Making die-cast toys was becoming increasingly expensive, forcing them to cut corners (more on that in a later post); worse, they were losing in popularity to the XTREME newcomers. That’s when increasingly bizarre lines of “cars” were produced and died with a whimper. They were not huge sellers, but they were pretty cool- sorry, I mean XTREME. This post is dedicated to one such short-lived line.

Matchbox’s Carnivores (Carnivores, get it?) were short-lived and obscure by any account. There was only one wave produced in 1995, and nothing else after that. The backstory was fairly flimsy – car-monsters battling each other in an XTREME post-apocalyptic landscape – and the marketing was half-hearted (Skull Shooter, for instance, didn’t even get advertised on the back of the packaging). They did make a catchy ad for them with a bit of claymation, though. Nowadays they lurk in the dark recesses of eBay.

What connection do I have with them? Back in 1995, I was presented with the opportunity of having either a Carnivore or The Illustrated Book of Myths. I chose the latter, obviously, but the toys and their box art remained etched in my young mind. It wasn’t until years later that I found out what those things were.

There were seven Carnivores in total. All of them had “Ax-L Action”, which is to say that the wheels made their legs move around like they were crawling forward. Two of those were “deluxes” slightly larger than the others and with more action features. As for the creatures themselves, well… let’s see what they have to offer. I will be using the box art because it’s even more gloriously monstery than the toys.

iron-claw

Iron Claw is fairly typical of the “basic” line, with crawling legs and a simple action feature – in this case, pressing the back claw causes the front claw to stab downwards. Iron Claw himself (only male pronouns are used, because girls aren’t allowed to play with XTREME car monsters) appears to be some kind of slug (or at least a mollusc), with a round sucker mouth, the eponymous iron claws, and an engine block in his back uncomfortably surrounded with tubercular tumorous tissue. He’s beautiful.

buzz-off

Buzz Off is much easier to narrow down: a giant car-wasp, with ragged membranous wings and three pairs of legs. And bull horns, apparently. But what’s with the chains? You will note that almost all the Carnivores have broken chains on their legs. Were they once tied up? Are they a top secret government experiment gone wrong? The world may never know.

Buzz Off’s gimmick is a “stinger missile”, a missile that can be spring-loaded and fired a short distance. It also appears to be sentient. Maybe they chat with each other in between dismembering prey.

chomper

A huge mouth, teeth, drool, wrinkly skin… Yup, this hits all the right buttons. Chomper’s gimmick is straightforward: he chomps stuff. This is the sort of thing that could keep you busy forever. Chomper seems rather toadlike, but I want to imagine that it’s a mutated horned lizard. And can also shoot blood from its eyeballs.

spitfire

Spitfire is apparently some kind of squid? But it also has a ring of teeth and tentacles with claws attached to them? Yeah, I don’t know either. This one’s gimmick is spewing “deadly venom” – OK, water – that you load up and fire by pressing the soft plastic engine block on the back.

skull-shooter

Skull Shooter, the zombie skeleton of the bunch, is the “secret” Carnivore, being largely unadvertised. He’s grabbing a pair of human skulls, so apparently the Carnivores share the Earth with us, and it gives us a sense of scale. He doesn’t seem to correspond with any known animal as far as I can tell.

Oh, and he shoots his own spring-loaded head off as a weapon. Metal.

venom-spitter

Venom Spitter is one of the two “deluxe” Carnivores, and is a large creature that’s mostly mouth and which has stolen Spitfire’s venom-spewing powers. It’s not clear what it’s mean to be, but the first thing I think of when I see that huge mouth and those tusks is a hippopotamus.

bite-wing

Bite Wing, finally, is the other “deluxe” and is the most unconventional Carnivore, being not a car but a helicopter that evolved from some kind of mutated bat. It also has what seems to be an insect’s thorax and abdomen, so it’s another one of those darn GMOs.

It comes with not one, but two “parasite bombs” that look like secondarily flightless vampire bats. And they too seem to have a mind of their own. Do they make small talk while being carried by their “parent”? Do they monitor Carnivore activity from on high?Are they good cops or loose cannons? Do they like lattes? So many questions, but the closure of the line in 1995 means that there will never be answers.

Carnivores are © Matchbox.

As part of the Wednesday Interludes, I will also be including paeans to certain creatures I believe are woefully underrated. These will all be fairly modern, pop-culture creatures, and so will not be part of ABC, but I’ll be darned if I don’t give them a deserving moment in the limelight. There will be no particular rhyme or reason to them, but a fair few of them will be from BD (that’s Franco-Belgian comics to you, you uncultured swine), which are less well known in the English-speaking world.

What better way to start than with the nameless Giant Purple Slug? This monster is quite possibly my favorite pop-culture monster of all time, and was responsible for some of the most wonderful, pleasant dreams I had as a child. It is the primary “antagonist” of the 1972 Tif et Tondu book Sorti des Abimes (“Out of the Abyss”, more or less). A bit of background… Tif et Tondu is a Belgian BD by Will and Rosy that follows the adventures of private investigators Tif (the bald guy) and Tondu (the hairy guy, amusingly enough). Their tales fall mostly on the science-fiction side. Today the series is mostly remembered for introducing Monsieur Choc, the urbane, well-dressed, knight-helmeted international criminal mastermind.

But in Sorti des Abimes, it is not Monsieur Choc but a gigantic gastropod that causes consternation for our heroes. The adventure is set in the docks of London, where their friend the Countess Amélie “Kiki” d’Yeu is looking for her confiscated Great Dane. She finds him in a pound, along with something big, tentacley, and drooling green slime. (All art by Will, buy his books!).

sorti des abimes 1.jpg

The “thing” escapes its confines and slithers into the Thames, where it is sighted swimming through the canals and generally making the most delightful floppery ooshy sounds.

sorti des abimes 2

Of course, Our Heroes (O. H.) find out about this and won’t have any of it. I mean, the slug does eat its way through the Thames, chews through a few ship hulls, and drives a steamer aground, but what’s a few fish and ships between friends? Nonetheless, they find out that it’s an abyssal slug brought to the surface by a misguided biologist at the pound. Turns out that, having never seen the light of day, ultraviolet rays cause the slug to grow out of control. O. H. track it down to a dock, where – have I mentioned how much I love/am terrified of the dark outlines of huge things under the water?

 

sorti des abimes 4

The slug is making a water-based beeline for the sea, and crushing everything along its path. After O. H. try to kill it with a WWII-surviving Junkers Stuka (!), the slug decides it’s had enough and hauls its mass out of the water, looking for all the world like an adorable purple cross of Aplysia and Glaucus.

sorti des abimes 5

It’s not malicious or anything, it just decides to take a more direct route for the sea – a route that leads it to noted landmark Tower Bridge.

sorti des abimes 6

 

Fortunately for Tower Bridge (what would the Queen say?), O.H. realize that if ultraviolet rays make it grow, infrared rays must clearly have the opposite effect (ignore the spectroscopic and biological problems here, this was a 70s BD). They pelt the poor slug with IR radiation…

sorti des abimes 8

… whereupon it melts into black slime.

sorti des abimes 9

sorti des abimes 10

All it ever wanted was to return to the sea…