The first issue of Tyrant, Steve Bissette’s short lived fictional biography of a T-Rex, came out in September of 1994. The series was published by Bissette’s own company, SpiderBaby Grafix. The story lasts 21 pages, with eleven pages of additional material. All ads are on the back cover and are either for something Bissette wants to sell, or something a friend of Bissette’s wants to sell (the exception being dinosaur related items). The inside of the back cover features a newspaper style comic strip by Mark Martin called Bless the Beas,t which details the comical adventures of the dinosaurs on Noah’s ark (pre-flood). The inside front cover features a drawing by Bissette and a quote from a scientist named Edward Hitchcock:
I have experienced all the excitement of romance as I have gone back into those shores along which these enormous and heteroclitic beings walked.
This quote is a fairly strong opener for the series, it relies a little heavily on scientific terms (heteroclitic is hardly a poetic word) but does help capture Bissette’s goal, the mixing of bombastic, operatic drama with science and realism.
The almost Kirbyesque tone begins immediately. Steve Bissette’s opening image is a bold, captivating one. A massive, shadowed planet, presumably earth, dominates the page. White misty stars edge the planet, giving it definition. White, rustic letters sit on top of these planets. The title reads “Knock Knock”. This first page is a fairly audacious one; Bissette announces the series by introducing an entire planet almost casually. “Knock Knock”, here’s the world.
It’s hard not to be taken in by that image; it so perfectly conveys the larger-than-life scale of this story, while counteracting it with something that, out of context, would be unassuming. This dichotomy, of small and big, intimate and explosive, intellectual and passionate, influences the whole series and this opening brilliantly reflects that. These two words and single drawing launch the series. The next page explodes with angular panels and Bissette’s dense line work. The page is dominated by a shot of the world, this time visible. Massive cloud formations and landforms are conveyed by Steve Bissette’s dense cross-hatching technique. The next page features two angular panels showing the formations of the globe far closer. The narration on these two pages immediately sets the scene, describing the “Sunrise over a late Cretaceous ocean” in terms both scientific and poetic and a line Bissette will continue to blur as the series progresses. Turning the page, the reader is bombarded with an explosive image; a full-page drawing of a soaring pterosaur and a floating panel that mirrors the dynamic path of the reptile, with a drawing of other pterosaurs inside. Bissette is one of the only artists I’ve seen who can make angular panels work so well. Most comics that make use of panels without ninety degree angles do it wrong but Steve Bissette manages to enhance the movement in his art, as opposed to detracting from the panels’ content. Bissette’s narration on this page compares the pterosaur to a dragon, which feels like a turn of phrase Alan Moore might use. Alan Moore and Steve Bissette worked together on Swamp Thing, where they had a fairly involved collaboration. Bissette also published some of Moore’s From Hell series, in his horror anthology Taboo and seems to have been very influenced by Moore’s style. Steve Bissette devotes he next few pages to the pterosaur’s flight, describing the mechanics of her flight:
Flexing the collagen ribbing that supports her great wings, she captures a sweet, warm updraft and soars onward.
The pterosaur, over the course of a few pages, closes in on her target, a dinosaur corpse, before she suddenly flees, in fear, from the sound of a monstrous roar. Steve Bissette’s art is incredible throughout these pages and his narration is effective. He starts a pattern he will employ throughout this issue, using the word “nothing” as an ironic counter-point to a panel’s content. “Nothing can stop her” Bissette writes, depicting the pterosaur soaring towards the corpse. The next panel is dominated by a roar and the pterosaur almost crashes in her haste to flee the area. “…nothing” Bissette repeats.
The last we see is the pterosaur flying away, while the narration ponders where she’ll hunt for food next. The next page opens with a drawing of the trees and Steve Bissette returns to his dinosaurs-as-mythological beasts metaphor. This is not the most original of metaphors, but it is an effective one. “There are monsters in the mist”. These monsters are a variety of herbivores eating food, or nesting. “Nothing” Steve Bissette writes two more times, once as the herbivores in question flee their feeding grounds and again before a group of dinosaurs realize they have to flee their nesting ground of many generations.
Bissette changes the story’s point-of-view again, this time the narration focuses on the mental process of “Eggsucker” whose favourite food source is probably easily guessed. Eggsucker will actually become a recurring character in this series. Eggsucker runs towards these sounds, unlike every other, far larger, dinosaur. Eggsucker doesn’t hear a threat in these sounds, he hears an opportunity. He hears “An egg-layer… A new nest… Close by… Close… There”. The caption “There” is the only caption on the first of two full paged spreads depicting a T-Rex, Tyrant’s Mum, laying eggs.
Steve Bissette’s narration is very effective in this first issue. His mix of third-person narration, poetic turns of phrase and scientific terminology creates a fairly interesting whole. His clipped sentences and flight-or-fight-or-food focus when describing the dinosaur’s thoughts really helps establish these creatures as powerful animals. It melds perfectly with the mythological metaphor; these creatures really do feel like savage dragons roaming a fantasy landscape. However Bissette’s use of scientific terms grounds it in reality, creating a strange, pseudo-nature documentary feel. Bissette changes point of view for the last time, focusing on Tyrant’s Mum. Bissette’s narration really builds around the idea that until laying eggs Tyrant’s Mum had only ever experienced feelings to do with hunger. Excepting one time where she and a male dinosaur met and “…were not meat to each other.” This is a clear reference to Tyrant’s father, who Bissette was planning to introduce in issue five and six. Tyrant’s Mum repeats that these eggs are “Hers… not to be eaten.” Bissette ends his first issue with a full page drawing of his protagonist’s mother, the powerful Dragon, roaring. “Hers.”