Savage Dragon is a comic that I was curious about for a number of years, but I had never bothered to pick up an issue. I knew a little bit about the series; it’s one of the longest running Image comics and it is still written by its creator Erik Larsen. The covers looked cool and there’s usually a few to be found in a bargain bin. So recently I found 35 random issues for a couple bucks at a local store and decided to check it out.
The story begins with Dragon waking up in a field with no memory of who he is, but with enough muscle to help Chicago deal with its super villain dilemma. For a while he joins the police force and helps to arrest criminals with names like Skullface, Cyberface, Cutthroat, and Overlord. Those familiar with Image comics in the early 90’s know what to expect from the art; gigantic guns, huge explosions, and the less said about the way women are depicted, the better. Additionally, there is a glisten added to a number of the drawings, I guess this lets you know that we live in a glazed world where everything is shiny all of the time.
This finally gives way to more interesting plots involving alternate earths, time travel, villains switching bodies, and Dragon running for President. The villains become a lot more goofy; my favorite villain from this period would have to be Mother Mayhem, whose henchmen fly around attached to umbilical cords.
As the plot becomes more convoluted, Larsen goes to great efforts to ensure that the reader can follow the story. In older stories a character might have shouted “Eeaaugh!” (issue #14) in a fight, but in later issues exclaims:
“First Rapture fell– downed by the villainous Darklord in an alternate dimension– Then I lost my legs in a struggle against a mad dictator– Then Superpatriot went missing –Taken captive, no doubt, by the Covenant of The Sword– And now Mighty Man– It ends here!” (Issue #72).
Me: “Oh so that’s what happened, I was wondering.” There are numerous examples of plot dumps during the second half of the series. Savage Dragon goes about reminding everyone that his wife has been murdered, that he has saved the world several times, and that Mr. Glum is pursuing world domination. Future scripts may simplify this by having Dragon yell, “I saved the world from world domination!”
My theory is that the change in tone of the series from gritty and violent to humorous and strange is due to Larsen rediscovering Kirby’s “Fourth World,” and that this also touched off an improvement in the art. I believe this occurred around issue #80. The Bug Riders (seen in issue #82) look very similar to characters Jimmy Olsen encounters in Kirby’s first issue on “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.” Larsen’s art in the early issues of Savage Dragon references Jack Kirby in the action sequences, this can be seen in the way characters are punched out of the page towards the reader. The art later came to incorporate other elements of Kirby’s drawing; and this corresponded with more oddball stories. A huge improvement from the early issues is the decision to no longer have two colorists on the staff. This gives the art less detail, and a softer, more cartoony appearance. Larsen then fills the book with Kirby-like spaceships, machines, and monsters.
However, not everything in the book improves over time. Early on many scenes are depicted in one shot with the characters surrounded by dialogue and narration. In later issues the dialogue/narration is broken up into twelve panels as Larsen bounces back and forth between two or more characters’ unchanging expressions. Surely there must be a middle ground between depicting every single moment in a conversation and suffocating your characters with text. The sound effects also become more complex and therefore more distracting as the series progresses. A curious reader might ask, “Braka-Ba-Tha-Koom?” To which I would reply, “Chaka-Skrakka-Ba-Thrakka-Boom!” (both found in issue #74).
Overall, Savage Dragon is an enjoyable read (particularly the latter half of the series) and an ideal bargain bin comic. It’s perfect for casual readers looking for something cheap and entertaining. Larsen makes sure the reader knows who is fighting who and why, with the action taking up most of an average issue. It is very easy to jump in at any point and it’s a good looking book. The art on the cover sticks out and the comic is printed on glossy paper, drawing your attention to it more than the average torn and browned comics that populate any given quarter bin.
Issues covered: 1,5-7,13,14,20,32,44,55,63,64,68,70,72,74,75,79,80,82,86,88,90, 102,107,113,114,116, 121,127,128,129,133,135
Drawing by Cody and Adam of the Seawhores.
Very special episode with music provided by Base SG favorites the Seawhores. Check out their videocast, buy their most recent album, read their twitter, buy another album, and find them on facebook. They deserve all your attention.