If paleontologists had access to time machines, they could solve innumerable mysteries about the terrible lizards who once walked the Earth. But if the past is anything like Michael Stearns' webcomic Dawn of Time, the age of dinosaurs may not be quite what they expected. Last I checked, few scientific theories included a bikini-clad barbarian riding a blue triceratops, while civilization marches on in the background.
Dawn, our swirly-haired barbarian protagonist, lives among the dinosaurs. Despite being an apparent teenager, she never quite nailed down the "finding food" business, and spends a great deal of time alternatively trying to eat and avoid being by various dinosaurs. When she teams up with Blue, a dog-like triceratops, however, her existence becomes much more idyllic.
But soon a pair of figures enter Dawn's life, disrupting it forever (not that she seems to mind). Two rival paleontologists have traveled from the 19th century in one of HG Wells' time machines to learn the truth about a fossil they've debated over. Soon, Dawn is caught up in a tale of scientific betrayal, temporal paradoxes, and top hats, punctuated by the occasional tyrannosaurus chase. And she's acquired a sidekick, the gentleman researcher Mantell, who has been trapped in the past against his will.
Dawn of Time has a goofy, cartoony feel, but Stearns is smart in the ways he plays with our genre expectations. There's a recurring gag about a species of fish who take their first, tentative steps on land, only to meet with disaster. Dawn may look the part of the barbarian, but her world is hardly The Land of the Lost. In fact, other humans are as perplexed by Dawn's language, dress code, and failure to grasp the concept of money as Mantell is.
Dawn of Time is a complete, rather than ongoing, story, and as it moves closer to its final chapter, it becomes much more of a time travel comic, filled with paradoxes, schemes, and temporal duplicates. By the end of it all, you can bet that HG Wells is rubbing his temples, trying to keep all the timelines straight, while Dawn takes it all in stride. After spending her days baiting raptors and evading murderous merchants, what's a little timeline readjustment to a prehistoric barbarian?