Choosing to feature Erik Larsen’s always-brilliant Savage Dragon in Strange Comic Books may seem an odd choice, simply because the majority of the time it is quite a weird series. But even by its usual standards, Savage Dragon #s 28-31 are especially bizarre issues.
Issue #28 opens with Sam Kieth’s quirky creation The Maxx showing up at Dragon’s apartment, looking for his friend Sarah. He quickly settles down to watching violent cartoons with Horridus, one of Dragon’s friends from Freak Force. Meanwhile, in the next room, Dragon’s girlfriend Rapture has announced she’s pregnant. Dragon, who until this point in time believed he was sterile, puts his foot in his mouth by asking “Uh, are you sure it’s mine?” Kicked out of the bedroom, Dragon discovers Horridus and Maxx making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Dragon had a previously a run-in with Maxx in issue #6 of the latter’s series, and is surprised to find him here. Maxx flees, the Dragon gives chase. And then thing really get weird!
Dragon and Maxx slip into the other-dimensional dream world known as “The Outback.” Because Dragon has his girlfriend’s pregnancy on his mind, this manifests itself as Rapture appearing as a gigantic naked woman, with dozens upon dozens of little kids sprouting out of her uterus to chase after Dragon, shouting “Daddy!” As the pair flees from the horde of stampeding brats, Maxx comments “Cute kids. Randy little fellow, ain’t you.” Eventually reaching a mountain of boxes, Dragon and Maxx climb up and begin chucking a crate full of mushy apples at the kids to get them to back off.
Suddenly, Dragon and Maxx get zapped back into the real world, where they discover they’re on top of a tree, surrounded by a bunch of barking dogs. Maxx’s friend Sarah arrives to collect him. At which point Dragon utters up one of the all time greatest lines of dialogue:
“I’ve got to start drinking more. My life wouldn’t make any more sense but at least I’d have something to blame it on.”
Now, you may be thinking, how can subsequent issues of Savage Dragon possibly top #28 for strangeness? Well, in the next issue, Dragon and the Chicago police department are dispatched to clear out a group of homeless super-powered freaks from the city’s “underground.” Among those taking refuge there is Wildstar, the time-hopping hero created by Al Gordon & Jerry Ordway. During a fight between the police and the freaks, Dragon grabs the starfish-shaped alien symbiote on Wildstar’s chest. This causes the later to have a flash-forward vision where he, and the readers, see Dragon’s teenage son in a spacesuit crossing a desolate wasteland.
Yes, issue #29 was our very first look at Malcolm Dragon. Fifteen years later, in issue #166, we would finally learn just what was taking place in Wildstar’s future vision, and how the now-teenage Malcolm figured into it. It was a great pay-off for loyal readers who had stuck around for the duration.
At this point, the Dragon’s demonic enemy the Fiend crashes the party. The Fiend irrationally believes that her daughter’s death was the Dragon’s fault. Disintegrating his arms with heat blasts, the Fiend snatches up Dragon. She delivers him into the hands of a sorcerer who conducts a spell sending Dragon’s soul to Hell. Yep, that’s right H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks itself.
Dragon crosses over into the pages of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #52. Michael Simmons is stuck on the fifth level of Hell, attempting to get to Malebolgia, the demon lord to whom he sold his soul. Spawn and Dragon meet up, and events lead back into Savage Dragon #30. It’s an unusual team-up, because for most of it Spawn stands around raging aloud at how Malebolgia tricked him. All the while, Dragon, who is an atheist, believes he’s hallucinating, and is cracking bad jokes left and right.
The Fiend, who wanted Dragon to suffer, is seriously pissed off that her enemy isn’t taking any of this seriously, and travels to Hell to deal with Dragon personally. Spawn is finally able to move on to the next level of Hell, and the Fiend starts recruiting the souls of the damned to attack Dragon. Unfortunately for her, Dragon quickly dispatches them.
It’s at this point, with #31, that the insane genius of Erik Larsen comes into full bloom. The Devil, fed up with the Fiend fumbling the ball, decides to pop up and claim the Dragon’s soul directly. And only one thing stands in his way: God. That’s right. God Himself shows up to fight for Dragon’s soul. Because he’s there unwillingly, Dragon cannot be claimed by the Devil. And how does God back up His argument? With a knuckle sandwich, that’s how! Yep, God and the Devil get into a monumental fist-fight, a titanic rumble of, appropriately enough, Biblical proportions.
When Savage Dragon #31 came out, I absolutely loved it. You see, in superhero comic books, the Devil, or at least a reasonable stand-in, shows up quite frequently. Mephisto, Satannish, Lord Satanus, Neron, and innumerable other infernal entities appear with alarming frequency to harvest souls, trick mortals, and sow chaos & discord. You never do get to see any sort of hint of a higher, divine power opposing the diabolical machinations of these hell spawn.
I think things get even more muddied in the various Vertigo books, and in independent titles. In these cases, God shows up, but he’s cast in a pretty bad light. You have writers depicting Heaven as a corrupt bureaucracy, and God is either an egotistical jerk who demands unthinking obedience from the human masses, or an aloof entity totally disinterested in the concerns of his creations.
(The one exception to this that I can think of was when Tony Isabella introduced “The Friend,” a figure with a resemblance to Jesus who would show up from time to time in the pages of Ghost Rider to offer John Blaze advice and tell Satan to take a hike. Unfortunately, Isabella’s story was later undone by Jim Shooter, who had the Devil claim The Friend was an illusion conjured up to give Blaze false hope. Shooter supposedly did this because he felt it was offensive to Christians. Myself, I think it’s more ridiculous & offensive to have a scenario where cosmic evil is totally unopposed by any hint of a higher power. As far as I know, Isabella’s depiction of The Friend was very tastefully done. I’m willing to write off Satan’s subsequent claim to Blaze as deception. Why trust anything the Devil has to say?)
In any case, because of so many different stories like this, it was great to read Savage Dragon #31, where God steps up to the plate and kicks some major ass. Dragon then has a discussion with Him about, well, life, the universe, and everything. It’s simultaneously very thoughtful and humorous.
I certainly recommend reading these issues of Savage Dragon. They, along with several others, are collected together in the trade paperback A Talk With God. The volume even has a witty introduction by legendary comic book creator Jim Steranko. Even though I already owned copies of all these issues, I picked up the TPB anyway, so I’d have a back-up copy to read whenever I wanted. Yeah, it’s that good.