Regular readers may remember my review of Ted Rechlin‘s graphic novel Jurassic, which celebrated the “revival” of Brontosaurus as a legitimate taxon with a thunderous adventure through the ancient Morrison ecosystem. I rather enjoyed the book, and I’ve meant to review more of Rechlin’s work since then. Much to my delight, Rechlin recently reached out to me via Rextooth Studios and offered to send me a copy of his latest comic, SUE: Welcome to the World of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Rechlin has released two other comics about the mighty Rex before: Tyrannosaurus rex and T. rex Generations. This book sets itself apart by focusing on an actual well-known specimen of Tyrannosaurus, the Field Museum’s Sue. The story of Sue’s discovery and the resulting litigation has been told countless times before, and so Rechlin opts to skip all that here, apart from a single panel depicting the moment when discoverer Sue Hendrickson first came across the skeleton. Instead, Rechlin makes this book truly about Sue, rather than the story around Sue.
The book cuts back and forth between the skeleton as it stands now in the Field Museum in Chicago, and vignettes in the life of Sue. Images like the one below really help ground the narrative. Building the story of the living Sue of the literal framework of their fossils really impresses upon the reader that this was indeed an actual, particular, living, breathing individual, and makes the Cretaceous scenes feel all the more plausible.
I found it especially fascinating when Rechlin highlighted injuries and pathologies scientists have identified on particular bones, and directly linked them to specific events that likely happened during Sue’s personal life. For example, a catastrophic injury to Sue’s left fibula resulted in the bone swelling to twice its normal size due to abnormal growth over the course of the healing process. Rechlin imagines a dramatic battle between Sue and a cantankerous bull Triceratops. While Sue ultimately achieves a hard-earned win, the painful consequence of this ill advised fight follow them for the rest of their life. I always enjoy seeing how the actual science influences creators in this way. You can’t go wrong with promoting a little ichnology (trace fossil) research!
In case anyone wonders about my use of the singular “they”, Rechlin explains that in lieu of any method of scientifically determining Sue’s sex, he follows the lead of Sue’s official Twitter account in using “they”/”them” pronouns to reflect this uncertainty. I’m reminded of team leader Pete Larson‘s comment during Sue’s excavation, when he quipped that they could thank Johnny Cash’s song A Boy Named Sue for allowing the name “Sue” to accommodate this non-binary usage. (I definitely had Cash stuck in my head while writing this review!)
I love Rechlin’s art just as much as last time. His dinosaur designs reflect the latest research in paleobiology, with the Tyrannosaurs mostly mostly devoid of feathers, as suggested by a recent paper describing patches of scales from various points on the bodies of derived tyrannosaurs. I notice that Sue has a somewhat less flamboyant color palette than some of Rechlin’s other work. While I appreciated the unique look of his art in Jurassic, and I maintain that dull colors are not inherently more realistic than bright ones, I acknowledge that most readers do unconsciously carry that bias, and the more subdued colors here absolutely help contribute to the very grounded feel of the overall book.
I absolutely loved this graphic novel. It’s got everything an unapologetic dinosaur lover could want: excellent paleoart, up-to-the-minute science, famous museums and specimens, and even a story that manages to hit perfect sweet spot between “awesomebro” and inevitability. You can purchase SUE: Welcome to the World of Tyrannosaurus Rex via the Rextooth Studios website. I’ll link to SUE’s Amazon Listing as well if you really prefer, though I should note that artists like Ted Rechlin receive a larger share of your support if you buy directly from them. However you get your hands on this book, I absolutely recommend it, and give it an enthusiastic Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!