Ralph is an ordinary kid who’s skateboarding along and minding his own business when local bully Melvin Goonowitz comes along and tries to force him to play a tuba Melvin found in a dumpster. Suddenly, Ralph hears a roar, everything goes black, and he wakes up in the body of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

It turns out that local scientist and inventor Professor Overdrive intercepted a transmission from an alien being called King Clobberous Crunch, who is forcing beings from ten thousand planets to fight in his enormous arena across the galaxy. Earth is not exempt, and Professor Overdrive, knowing that no human would stand a chance against the alien fighters, brought a T-Rex back from the Cretaceous period using a time machine and transplanted Ralph’s brain into its head. Now, Ralph must go to Clobberous Crunch’s arena and fight to prevent Earth from being annihilated.

After he gets to the arena, Ralph meets a small alien girl named Joona. It turns out that she can transform at will into a huge, powerful alternative form called Gorp the Troll. Joona is about to be forced into slavery/marriage to Lord Knuckle-Dragger, an ugly, rude alien who helps to manage Clobberous Crunch’s arena. However, Joona makes a bet with Knuckle-Dragger: if Ralph wins his first fight against the mighty fighter Bolo, she will be free of him. Now the pressure on Ralph is doubly intense; he must win this fight not just for his home planet, but for Joona’s fate as well.

I personally found Joona’s storyline very off-putting. What would possess her to stake her entire future on the fighting ability of a nerdy, bumbling dinosaur she literally just met within the last hour? Nothing in her backstory or current situation would plausibly lead the reader to think she would be able to depend on anyone except herself. Also, Knuckle-Dragger’s desire to make Joona his slave/twelfth wife (he does add “when you’re older” at least I guess regarding the “marriage”) adds a deeply horrifying element to a story that otherwise consists of potty humor and aliens punching each other. It would have been much better, if a bet was going to be part of the story, for Joona and Knuckle-Dragger to be rivals who bet something like chores or cafeteria privileges on the outcome of Ralph’s fight. Yes, the stakes would be lower for Ralph, but do they really need to be any higher than the destruction of Earth?

Also, Professor Overdrive’s time travelling power doesn’t make much sense. At the beginning of the story, Ralph says, “Well, you have a time machine! Go back in time and save me just before the T-Rex flattens me into a tortilla!” Overdrive responds, “It doesn’t work that way.” Yet, at the end of the story, Ralph is back on Earth and back in his human body. Overdrive says, “I cloned [your body]. It took me six weeks. But then I used my time machine to send it back in time.” So, the time machine can take things out of the past and put them back into the past, but Overdrive can’t somehow save Ralph from being flattened by a runaway T-Rex?

Vince Evans’s artwork in this book is its strongest feature. Each alien is richly imagined and uniquely intimidating yet rendered in a kid-friendly style that isn’t disturbing enough to inspire nightmares. Evans also did a great job of making Ralph’s face and body language expressive in his T-Rex form. The colorist, Jason Bays, did an especially nice job with color selection; every character really pops, and the palette is exceptionally vibrant, adding to the energy of the story.

Kids ages 8-10 or so who really can’t get enough fast-paced graphic novels with plenty of gross-out moments would enjoy this book, but Judd Winick’s Hilo series is a much stronger choice that delivers a similar type of story.

Tyrannosaurus Ralph
by Nate Evans
Art by Vince Evans
ISBN: 9781449472085
Andrews McMeel, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-10

  • Kristen Lawson

    Past Reviewer

    Kristen Lawson is the Youth Services Department Manager at the Roselle Public Library in Roselle, IL. She has worked with children and teens in public libraries since graduating with her MLS from UIUC in 2006. Now she is working on making more space for kids’ graphic novels, in addition to other duties that fall under “making the library awesome.” Though very picky about movies and music, she has a wide range of reading interests and is constantly on a mission to read all the things.

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