Review: Indiana Jones Omnibus Vol. 1 trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics)

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King. Don’t miss his recent Archaeology August review series of the Indiana Jones movies, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at the site.]

I never had a dog, but I’ve got a lot of fond memories of my father bringing home Raiders of the Lost Ark from a McDonald’s promotional VHS giveaway. Judging by the dates (Christmas 1991), I may even have seen the Indiana Jones movies before I saw Star Wars – which is a huge revelation for me. Unlike Star Wars, however, Indiana Jones didn’t seem to have a comparable afterlife in merchandise and expanded universe material. We’ve only gotten a smattering of novels, a handful of video games, and the occasional Lego set.

With 2021 marking the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m grateful that Collected Editions is taking a moment to consider Indy’s comic book legacy – but it’s a real tragedy that we seem to be the only ones who noticed. Indy had his fair share of comics, published first by Marvel Comics and then by Dark Horse, but neither publisher seems to recall that these books exist. After these comics got the omnibus treatment circa 2008, collected to capitalize on the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, these five collections fell out of print, persisting as holy grails for comics collectors. (I’ve only ever found two in the wild.) It’s not clear whether the rights are tied up between Disney/Lucasfilm and Paramount, or between Marvel and Dark Horse, but someone has clearly dropped the ball. (Compare to Marvel’s fanfare in acquiring the Aliens and Predator rights, even tying into the 35th anniversary of Aliens with a one-shot by Benjamin Percy and Dave Wachter.)

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Dark Horse began its reprint line in 2008 with two volumes collecting their Indiana Jones comics to date. (Four issues of Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods were published contemporaneously and were collected in their own volume.) Three volumes followed, collecting Marvel’s film adaptations with The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, which included artwork by no less than John Byrne, Howard Chaykin, and Steve Ditko; meanwhile, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles never found itself collected.

Dark Horse’s Indiana Jones Omnibus Vol. 1 collects three Indiana Jones miniseries: Fate of Atlantis, Thunder in the Orient, and The Arms of Gold. As Indy adventures go, these aren’t exactly my cup of tea; they’re entertaining enough but never quite exceed “serviceable.” They are, I suppose, in the vein of Temple of Doom, not quite as exceptional as Raiders or The Last Crusade, but still a good sight better than most adventure yarns. The tones of these three tales are wildly different, hampered by the pacing of a comic book page and the curious collection strategy that reprints the comics in publication order, not chronological order. For example, companion Sophia Hapgood appears in Fate of Atlantis and Thunder in the Orient, though you’d need to consult the Indiana Jones Wiki to know that Thunder takes place a year before Atlantis; Arms of Gold, meanwhile, is the earliest of the three but the last in the book.

It might be heresy to admit this in certain parts, but I never played the Fate of Atlantis video game. Of the three stories in this omnibus, Fate of Atlantis is the strongest and the closest to the conventional Indy formula, with sequences of high adventure in pursuit of an epic artifact. It’s also the only story in this collection to feature Indy fighting Nazis, which is certainly my favorite flavor of adventure. (See also The Rocketeer.) Even without playing the game, one can intuit which moments were retold in cutscenes and which gave the player control; “Sandbags, Sophie! Start dumping them!” must have been a fun start to one level.

The script by William Messner-Loebs, Mike Richardson, and Dan Barry (who pulls double-duty as artist) streamlines the game’s multiple narrative paths and eliminates its alternate endings. Indeed, the pacing of this adaptation, and the thought of what was left behind, is enough for me to want to log onto Steam and buy a copy of the game. What’s more, Barry’s artwork is a vision, especially when ably colored by Lurene Haines; Barry’s colors on the fourth and final chapter are less painterly and more abstract, a fine match for the climax’s descent into the myth of Atlantis. For many fans, Fate of Atlantis was (and may still be) the true fourth Indiana Jones film, and with this adaptation it’s not hard to see why.

Dan Barry sticks around for Thunder in the Orient, and this creative continuity helps hold the book together. Barry got his start in adventure serial strips like Flash Gordon and Tarzan, and it shows; particularly in Thunder, Barry’s work is fascinated by exotic vistas and breakneck travelogue segues, and his consistent likenesses bear the unmistakable stamp of someone accustomed to drawing the same faces for weeks on end. Unfortunately, though, Barry’s scripting is marred by the kind of Orientalism that was commonplace for adventure stories of the 1940s and 1950s. In Thunder, every Arab is a pickpocket or a naïve dupe, while the Japanese villains are the very model of “yellow peril.” With characters unironically named “Dr. Kali” and “the Serpent Lady,” it’s the sort of stereotyping you’d expect to see in a Golden Age issue of Wonder Woman, not a comic from the '90s. There’s certainly an argument to be made that Thunder in the Orient is aping the same kind of problematic stories that Temple of Doom was homaging, though Temple of Doom at least cast the British colonizers as condescending and oblivious, too.

What’s more, where the other stories are four issues long, Thunder in the Orient takes up six, and the change in pace is palpable. It feels less like one unified story and more like three, with a key character not showing up until late in chapter five, at which point the story splits its focus between Axis Japan and the campaign for Chinese unification. Barry also did some work on Young Indiana Jones, which was always more overt about placing Indy into historical context, and subsequently Thunder’s climax feels as much like a history lesson as an archaeological action scene. This shift is also marked by Dan Spiegle replacing Barry on art duties; Spiegle’s lines are finer and more detailed than Barry’s broader work, yet both are surprisingly creative when it comes to experimenting with page layout.

The first omnibus concludes with Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold. Written by Lee Marrs and illustrated by Leo Durañona, Arms of Gold benefits from not having too many cooks in the creative kitchen. On the other hand, Arms of Gold is an unexpectedly confusing read, with information doled out to the reader in a seemingly haphazard way; for example, both the heroine and the villain of Arms of Gold are the children of one of Indy’s former colleagues, which he both remembers and seems to forget, depending on what the plot requires. Moreover, there are moments when Indy seems to possess an almost Batman-level ability to plan ahead and control his bodily functions, as when he uses “Hindi body control” to vomit up the poison he ingested just before being buried up to his neck in snow.

“Indiana Jones as Batman” is an intriguing take on the character, but making Indy almost superhuman takes away some of the fun. For my money, he’s at his best when he’s fallible, vulnerable, and making it up as he goes along. But there’s another comparison that Arms of Gold indulges, and that’s with Han Solo; as Indy treks alone through the snow, he encounters a llama and realizes the creature can keep him warm until daybreak. For a moment, it seems as though Marrs is teeing up an echo of “I thought they smelled bad on the outside!” but Indy spares the llama’s innards and stays warm just by snuggling. With this Han Solo connection, it’s a shame that no omnibus includes “Into the Great Unknown,” the apocryphal story by W. Haden Blackman and Sean Murphy (late of Batman: White Knight fame) in which Indiana Jones discovers the wreck of the Millennium Falcon while pursuing the legend of Bigfoot, who turns out to be Chewbacca.

Also not present in the Indiana Jones Omnibus Vol. 1 are the original covers by Dave Dorman, Hugh Fleming, and Russell Walks. While this presentation does give the sense of reading three stories rather than fourteen chapters, there’s no excuse for not collecting the covers at the back of the book. I’m a great admirer of these Dark Horse omnibus collections, because they included a large swath of material in an affordable and durable format; I even appreciate the slightly smaller trim size compared to some of the downright titanic volumes coming out of DC and Marvel these days. I can only hope that Dark Horse (or another publisher) takes a second pass at this material, reissuing the material in a more comprehensive and persistent edition. Unlike these collections, which go for exorbitant rates on the secondhand market, Indy doesn’t belong in a museum.

I’ll be back next time with the second omnibus collection of the Dark Horse material. Until then, I’ll be scouring eBay for the “Further Adventures” books!


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