Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Classic Review: The Savage Dragon #s 1 - 50

I collected the Savage Dragon pretty faithfully for the first 50 issues or so, with just a few lapses here and there. I have written a great deal about Image Comics lately, so I couldn't help myself by digging into my old back issues and checking some of them out. Savage Dragon was always a favorite of mine, and it's the Image title of which I own the most titles. I collected it from the beginning, spanning about six years of my life where I lived in two different countries and three different states. I stopped collecting it not because I lost interest in the title, but because I began to lose interest in comics in general. But, anyway, I reread every issue of The Savage Dragon in my collection, so I figured I'd give my thoughts here.

The Savage Dragon is written and drawn by Erik Larsen, and it details the adventures of a character known then only as Dragon, a massive green man with a fin on his head. That's pretty much the full extent of the characterization even across fifty of so issues. He becomes a cop and he often talks about the importance of upholding the law and fighting for justice. Also, he seems to enjoy the company of women. Beyond that, I can't say I know much about the character's personality. Or, really, about the personalities of any of these characters. Larsen is a wonderful artist and he writes snappy dialogue, but characterization was obviously not one of his main priorities as a storyteller. But that's fine because, at the end of the day, this is a fun comic where lots of people beat each other up.

Dragon is the main character, obviously, but there is also a huge cast of supporting players an villains, almost all of whom are really lame. There is a character named Star who shoots stars, a character named Dart who throws darts, and a character named Ricochet who, um, ricochets off of stuff. As character creators go, Larsen isn't exactly up there with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lee and Kirby created the entire Marvel universe. Erik Larsen created Freak Force. Then again, maybe it's just me because the letters at the back of the book are always full of correspondences from fans who love all of the characters. There was one funny letter that was published after Star had appeared maybe once for maybe a page from a guy who had a petition going to demand Star got his own series. Really, guy? And, of course, since this was Image, Star did get a series, as did most of these other dumb characters, all of which lasted maybe two issues at most.

And the villains are even worse. The main villain for most of these early issues is Overlord, a completely generic crime lord who looks exactly like Doctor Doom. Then there are such brilliant creations as Cyberface, Mako, Cutthroat, and Dung, who shoots poop at people. Seriously, just look at these losers.

And there's actually a character named She-Dragon. Ugh.

According to the letters pages and the editorials supplied by Larsen, many of these characters were created when Larsen was a kid, and it really shows. Hey, I used to create comic book characters when I was a kid too, but as an adult you don't see me publishing the adventures of Super Don. Nobody wants to read that. And I don't think anybody wants to read about Mighty Man and Star.

As a writer, Larsen tells his stories entirely through dialogue. For some reason, he doesn't like narration, captions, or thought balloons. This was an artistic choice with which I won't question, but it does make every issue read more or less the same way, and it takes away some major tools of comic book writer. What's wrong with captions and narration? The lack of these things, along with the lack of any real subtlety from Larsen as a writer, leads to a lot of scene transitions that feel abrupt and often make no sense. There are often scene changes mid page that you won't even realize at first, which leaves you wondering why there are different characters that weren't there before. This was a major problem for me as a reader. Just use captions and stuff, man.

But, despite all of that, these stories were still fun to read. Obviously I enjoyed them at the time because I kept buying them, but I still enjoyed them this time, because I kept reading them. I never really found myself reading issue after issue because I really cared what was coming next, since the plots were really kind of boring the characters were all unengaging, but the issues were still fun to read because they were filled with so much energy and action and funny dialogue. I just liked them, even though just about every issue was a variation of "Dragon fights villain. Dragon wins."

There were a lot of guest appearances from other characters from other comics, most of which didn't really work in my opinion. There were the usual guest appearances from various other Image characters like Spawn and Youngblood and the Maxx, but there were also cross-overs with characters published by other companies, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles and Hellboy. Having the Dragon fight alongside the TMNT was fun, but why was Hellboy in the Savage Dragon? That made no sense to me, and it seemed completely contrary to the universe that was established in the Hellboy comics. I'm a huge Hellboy fan. I'm sorry, but Hellboy doesn't exist (nor does he work within the context of) the Image universe. So it got annoying to see so many cross-overs with characters that simply didn't work in this context, but they kept appearing just because Larsen thought they were cool.

Worst of all was the cross-over with Mars Attacks, which made absolutely zero sense. In one issue, the Martians attack the Earth (like in that terrible movie), until the Dragon is transported to Mars... where he kills everybody on the entire planet. The Savage Dragon actually caused the mass genocide of the entire Marian species, and I'm not making this up. When he wrote the story, I don't think Larsen really thought about how the Dragon was committing genocide, since the entire issue was clearly played for laughs, but it really struck me as odd and completely ill-fitting with the rest of the series. Throw into that the fact that there was no more mention of the Martian attack ever again, and all of the damage that was caused was gone by the next issue. Just dumb.

As an artist, however, Larsen is a lot of fun. This is just a cool looking book with lots of explosions, fight scenes, and hot chicks with big boobs. I will admit that the boobs got a little old after a while (I never thought I'd admit to something like that), since every female character was so well endowed and, for whatever reason, always had erect nipples. Chicago must be really, really cold. Maybe it's all that wind. But, seriously, is this supposed to be arousing?

I always loved Larsen's work, especially back when he replaces Todd McFarlane back on Amazing Spider-Man. A lot of people complained and accused him of being a McFarlane clone, but I thought he was way better. His stuff is just so much fun and so full of energy and excitement. And for as hyper detailed and full of crackle as it is, it also feels clean and readable, which made him a far step ahead of his peers at Image. And while he isn't really a very good writer, he still managed to tell a fun story in a fun story book. Even though they needed an editor and Larsen needed to be reigned in and given a little more guidance, these are cool comics that I definitely recommend checking out if you haven't read them before, or given a second look if you used to love them too.

But skip that Star series.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

I may have said this last time, but I've always been a fan of Larsen's pencils. He's one of these guys who just made it look so easy that I thought maybe I had a shot at being a good artist someday. Then I tried it and realized, damn--this guy will always own me in every way possible (not that I ever tried that hard).

Mattkind said...

"Throw into that the fact that there was no more mention of the Martian attack ever again" Gee I guess those UFOS the SOS fly around in just came out of their asses

Slim Jim Longfoot said...

Damien Darklord was the direct result of Mars Attacks, his mom was impregnated by the Martians....lol Darklord was the reason for a lot in Savage Dragon, including killing Malcolm's mother, and his cult kidnapped Malcolm as a baby, lol