Humberto Lopez aka Reptil gets prehistoric in a fun all-ages superhero story featuring one of Marvel’s younger, lesser-known heroes. Writer Terry Blas and artist Enid Balám explore the origins of Lopez’s dinosaurian powers, as well as the disappearance of his parents.
The issue opens with Humberto moving to Los Angeles to stay with his tía Glo, and his cousins, twins Eva and Julian. A beautiful two-page spread by Balám helps recap Lopez’s story thus far. For readers who have never heard of Reptil, it’s a remarkably efficient opening, and I love how Balám and letterer Joe Sabino draw the reader back and forth across the pages, making for a really dynamic reading experience. Writer Terry Blas takes his time with setting up the relationship between Humberto and his cousins. Julian and Eva complement each other nicely and make for a great trio with Humberto.
The investment in character is something that continuously pays off throughout the story, as Humberto’s powers are explored and the secrets about his parents are revealed. His connection to his family is made important, both for his role as a hero, and for how his powers actually manifest. For those who may not know, Reptil’s powers are that he can change parts of his body to match any dinosaur or pterosaur, making him more an Ornithodira Man than Dinosaur Man. I’m jesting a bit with the technicalities, though Blas uses a flashback of Humberto’s paleontologist parents to highlight the difference. Indeed, it is the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus that shines in the collection’s most emotional moment. Lopez’s powers are a bit limited, however: he can’t change fully into any particular dinosaur without losing himself to a savage ferocity, and so he often mixes and matches body parts. When he does this, his body turns a saturated orange color, and colorist Carlos Lopez does a great job balancing the colors on the page so that it isn’t overwhelming. And when there are more dinosaurs than just Reptil on the page, it helps that the hero is readily identifiable amongst all the other prehistoric beasts.
Enid Balám and inker Victor Olazaba really help make this story stand out. I’m normally a bit picky when it comes to artistic representations of dinosaurs; there’s not enough focus on accuracy for my tastes. And if I were grading on accuracy, I’m not sure I would like this much. But one area where Balám, Olazaba and Carlos Lopez excel is making the dinosaurs feel alive and powerful, and that’s indisputably more important in a story like this. When Humberto loses control and changes into a T. rex, the nitty-gritty of anatomy and the latest scientific hypotheses don’t matter as much as the fact that the story’s hero is now its greatest threat. And that’s something the art team pulls off with aplomb. It’s also worth noting that many of the animals featured here were denizens of what is now Latin America, complementing the way the story explores Humberto’s Latino heritage.
After the arc that makes up the majority of the collection, Reptil: Brink of Extinction features a few supplements that have become standard for Marvel’s trade paperbacks. The alternate covers are all here, but the collection also features the debut appearance of Reptil, Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil #1. With a script by Christos M. Gage, art by Steve Uy and letters by Joe Caramagna, this supplement helps round out the volume. Tone wise, Uy’s artwork feels far more grounded and a bit bleaker than the rest of the volume. The gutters between the panels in this issue are colored black, in contrast to the white gutters in the newer material.
Combined with the fact that this story takes place during the tail end of the 50-state initiative era, you get a final chapter in the volume that reads differently from the material before it. This not only allows readers to know Reptil in a new style, it also helps fill out a smaller volume. This trade is published in a digest size, making it smaller than your standard trade paperback. The price matches this smaller size, as the volume collects the five issues for $13.99. At the same time, though, the story itself feels a bit redundant, especially since it’s recapped brilliantly by the newer material.
Featuring heart and a good amount of superhero action, Reptil: Brink of Extinction is a strong example of the classic superhero story. Blas, Balám, Olazaba, Lopez, and Sabino all do a fantastic job giving the spotlight to a character that has gathered a bit of dust since his earlier appearances. Reptil: Brink of Extinction shows just how much value Marvel has in its vast library of characters. Hopefully the stories of Humberto, Julian, and Eva are nowhere close to extinct.
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