Comic book reviews: Savage Dragon #188-189

I’ve mentioned before that my current financial situation, combined with the rising prices of comic books, has resulted in my following a greatly reduced number of monthly titles.  That, and there really isn’t all that much currently being published that I actually enjoy.  There is, however, one title that I continue to pick up each & every issue: Savage Dragon, written & drawn by the super-talented Erik Larsen, and published by Image Comics.  If it ever came down to my only being able to get just one comic book per month, Savage Dragon would be my pick.

Previously, the Dragon, after finding his people the Krylans a new home planet, decided to leave them to their own devices and return to Earth.  Unfortunately, he was arrested and placed on trial for the crimes that his alternate personality, Emperor Kurr, had committed.  The Dragon’s good “human” personality was eventually restored by the enigmatic Darklord, who then sent him back in time to kill Kurr.  Unfortunately there was still the matter of the hundreds of people Kurr had killed prior to that moment when history was altered.  The Dragon was found guilty of mass murder and sentenced to death.  And, as he sat in his prison cell, he learned via a holographic transmission from the Krylans that, in his absence, bereft of his leadership, they had been almost totally decimated by the invading Tyrrus Combine.  Oops.

Also in recent issues, Dragon’s son Malcolm has been trying to almost single-handedly fight superhuman crime in Chicago.  SuperPatriot was busy reforming the government Special Operations Strikeforce, and one by one the heroes of the Windy City have been heading off to join him in Washington DC, leaving Malcolm to hold down the fort against a second-generation Vicious Circle.  Meanwhile the monstrosity known as The Claw, who originally menaced the Earth back in the 1940s, has accidentally been resurrected by Malcolm’s half-brother Thunder-Head.

Are we all caught up now?  Good, good!

Savage Dragon 188 cover

The last couple of issues of Savage Dragon have been quite well done.  In #188, the Claw finally prepares to make his bid for world conquest, but Malcolm and the original Daredevil (the Claw’s old arch nemesis, who was also recently revived in the present day) are alerted to this by Thunder-Head.  What follows is a massive battle as Malcolm, Daredevil, the staff of the Rock House Diner and the military engage a giant-sized Claw & his swarm of winged minions.

Both Daredevil and the Claw were originally published by Lev Gleason Publications in the 1940s.  Daredevil was created by Jack Binder in late 1939, but was almost immediately after revamped by Jack Cole, who soon pitted the hero against his own villainous creation, the Claw.  Since then, both characters have fallen into public domain, although Marvel later trademarked the DD name for their “man without fear.”  As a result several publishers have revised the pair of them, although Daredevil often was presented under different aliases.  I thought that Dynamite Entertainment’s Death-Defying Devil had a pretty good take on their antagonism, with the Claw revamped as a hive mind terrorist organization, but then the whole subplot came to a rushed, unsatisfactory conclusion in Project Superpowers.  In contrast, Larsen’s version of the two characters is much closer to Jack Cole’s initial conceptions, but at the same time we get to witness their decades-old conflict come to a very riveting, dramatic finale.

Issue #188 also features the brutal murders of Daredevil’s sidekicks the Little Wise Guys by Dart.  Now, ordinarily I’d find a psycho femme fatale gutting a bunch of kids with a sword and drinking their blood to be much too extreme.  In this case, though, it’s been established that the Little Wise Guys, like Daredevil, had become immortal some time before, and so they were actually older then they looked.  That, and in general I just find comic book kid sidekicks to be really annoying.  Every time the Little Wise Guys showed up, I would sort of groan aloud.  In the lettercol, Larsen explained that back in the 1940s the Little Wise Guys gradually pushed Daredevil out of his own series, and history seemed to be repeating itself in Savage Dragon.  So Larsen decided to just kill them off.  He definitely did so in a memorable fashion!

Savage Dragon 189 cover

Moving on to Savage Dragon #189, Larsen juggles a number of subplots.  Dragon is still in jail, trying to avoid getting killed by all his old enemies who he previously locked up.  Malcolm is having relationship problems with his girlfriend Maxine.  Thunder-Head is in the hospital after nearly being killed by the Claw.  Dragon’s wife Jennifer, who is believed to have died years ago, seems to have reappeared.  Oh, and Dart is still going around slicing people up.

Even though I have been following Savage Dragon since the very first issue back in 1992, sometimes I do have some trouble keeping track of the myriad characters and plotlines that Larsen has introduced in the last two decades.  I was scratching my head over the subplot of Jennifer’s apparent return, since it dealt with some really minor characters who, as far as I can recall, were last seen maybe 60 issues ago.

That said, the rest of the issue was quite good.  Poor old Dragon is sure getting the short end of the stick, to say the least.  But even after a major ass-whopping, he still manages to get in the last word, so to speak.  That final page was totally a killer.

Larsen’s artwork on these issues was, as usual, very good.  A few months ago, on #187, he was experimenting with a strict six-panel storytelling and a variation in his usual inking style, accompanied with a different sort of color palette.  I wasn’t sure if it was entirely successful, but at the same time I do appreciate that Larsen is someone who wants to continually grow as an artist, to attempt new things.  This is one of the things that separate him from many of his contemporaries.  In any case, on these following two issues, Larsen returns to a more standard style of illustration and color scheme.  Of course it looks great, with layouts that are extremely dramatic.

I was especially impressed with the covers of these two issues.  Savage Dragon #188 is a retro-styled piece with Malcolm and Daredevil fighting the titanic Claw.  In contract, #189 has a very unconventional layout, with the logo taking up much of the cover as the shadows of the Dragon’s fellow inmates reach down towards him.  The piece works very well in implying an atmosphere of entrapment and claustrophobia that encapsulates the character’s current predicament.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  Erik Larsen promises big changes are in store within the coming months.  Whatever happens, I will definitely be along for the ride.

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