Steak is an independently published comic from the UK that explores the personal and political ramifications of traveling back in time to hunt dinosaurs for their meat. Author and educator Will Conway reports that when he started out, he had not heard of the Flesh series from 2000 AD, and that Steak is an entirely different beast. While Flesh sprung from the violent imagination of Pat Mills and focused on brutal chaos in a prehistoric setting, Steak delves into more psychological dimensions of the dino-hunting enterprise. But there’s plenty of Cretaceous carnage, too!
The main character, Benjamin Buckland, comes up with the idea while recovering from a brain injury, and he and his scientific partner Roger Dukowicz conceive the means of time travel after eating “a rare cactus”—presumably peyote. If that sounds like a mentally unhinged way to start a business, then it should come as no surprise that by the second issue, Buckland’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. It doesn’t help that his more even-keeled partner gets abducted, and a shadowy organization is spying on him.
As a self-proclaimed “zoophage” who gets a thrill from eating exotic animals, Buckland asserts that his main goal is to eat dinosaurs. He pays for his hobby by opening restaurants and doing licensing deals to expand the market for his Mesozoic meat. This leads to hilarious narration about how different dinosaur species taste, several gory yet coldly factual pages about how to butcher them like cattle, and pun-filled products such as “Apattiesaurus” burgers and “Psit-taco-saurus” food trucks. Dukowicz sports T-shirts with dinosaur-themed pop-culture references such as “Iguanodon Corleone”.
But with corporations trying to steal his technology for profit, and militaries trying to obtain it for a pre-emptive advantage in warfare, Buckland is beset from all sides. How it will all play out remains, at the time of this writing, a mystery. Issue number three of this five-issue series is currently in production, so now would be a good time to subscribe and see what happens next.
Marc Olivent’s artwork is a lot of fun, especially in the scenes of dinosaur hunting and how they go horribly wrong. The dinosaurs are impressive and energetic, whether they are chomping someone’s head or stampeding off a cliff. The narrative structure is creative, jumping around a bit in time in the first issue without much guidance as to when things take place other than intentionally vague captions like “Now then” and “Meanwhile”. It works well for a time-travel story, and piecing together the puzzle is part of the pleasure.
Steak considers the ethics of killing animals that died off millions of years ago. Are they endangered species because they are now extinct or, as one character puts it, is it “morally okay” because “They were already dead before they were already dead, I guess?” And when members of a hunting party get killed by dinos, the lawyers struggle with the question of how to handle someone dying millions of years before they were born. But these philosophical conundrums don’t bog down the narrative, which remains fast-paced and lively, and lets you draw your own conclusions.
So far, the series has avoided the complications of potentially altering the future by killing animals in the past, an idea most famously explored in Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. But who knows? Maybe we will get there eventually, because Steak is a smart, funny, and exciting romp that serves up a unique and unpredictable take on a classic concept.