Malcolm Dragon has female trouble… lots and lots of female trouble.
Following on from the events of Savage Dragon #200 from Image Comics, Malcolm is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he’s had a threesome with his girlfriend Maxine and his stepsister Angel. As the next two issues unfold Malcolm realizes that Maxine, having recently moved out of her ultra-traditional parents’ house, is going more than a little crazy exploring her newfound independence.
In issue #201, Malcolm learns that Maxine secretly videotaped their kinky tryst. Then, while Malcolm is MIA after a battle with the Vicious Circle, his ex-girlfriend Tierra comes by looking for a place to crash and Maxine decides to let her stay over. Malcolm, meanwhile, gets a phone call from Angel, who is having second thoughts about her relationship with Daredevil, and is hoping she can stay over at her stepbrother’s apartment for the holidays. And, well, by the time the issue comes to a close, I pretty much figured out where Erik Larsen was going with this.
Yep, as expected, issue #202 sees Maxine convincing Malcolm, Tierra and Angel to have a go at a four-way. And, honestly, for a few pages there, I really felt like Larsen had dragged Savage Dragon into cheesy porno territory. However he then actually turned things around pretty quickly. Right after their romp in the sack, Angel started to remember that, hey, she doesn’t actually like Tierra all that much. Then Maxine was alarmed to find out that her stunt has gotten Tierra interested in Malcolm again, and jealousy began to rear its ugly head. Well, jealousy and a knuckle sandwich.
By the time the #202 comes to a close Malcolm is really is not happy with any of this. He told Maxine “I can’t have anybody else in my bed and I don’t want you inviting anybody else into it. I don’t want to share you ever again. I can’t take it. It drives me up the wall.” Maxine realized just how much Malcolm cares for her, and she agreed that they’ll be monogamous going forward.
Thinking it over, all of this is actually believable. All four of these characters are teenagers. They’re still maturing, and of course they’re going to be interested in experimenting sexually. I’m sure most of us were like that in our teens and twenties. You hang out, have a few too many to drink, impulsively hook with someone, and do all sorts of crazy stuff. Then, come the next morning, in the light of day, when you’re doing the walk of shame, trying to shake off a honking big hangover, you’re left thinking to yourself “Why the hell did I sleep with that person?!?”
So even though there was no booze involved in Larsen’s story, he has Malcolm and Maxine going through pretty much that sort of thing. They acted impulsively, and then afterwards realized that while it can sometimes be fun to experiment and try different stuff, at the end of the day what they both really want is a committed relationship based on genuine feelings.
Paralleling Malcolm’s sexual travails is his continuing struggle with the Vicious Circle. The crime cartel’s leader Dart has broken out of prison. From the remnants of the Circle’s ranks she has organized an all-female cadre of followers. They embark on a raid of Bellco Chemicals, hoping to seize the mutagenic substances created by the corporation in order to enhance their powers. And once Malcolm comes charging in to stop them, he finds he once again has his hands full with feisty ladies. Of course, these women don’t want to hop into bed with him; they want to kill him.
Malcolm’s fights with Dart and her lieutenants in these two issues were certainly fun. Larsen does a great job illustrating superhero action. But truthfully I was more interested in how he developed the relationship between Malcolm and Maxine. That’s one of the qualities of Savage Dragon that I have always appreciated, that Larsen gives his characters personal lives. It’s not just a bunch of costumed characters punching each other in the face… although there is, of course, plenty of that!
Larsen also continues to experiment artistically and to utilize different types of storytelling. Issue #202 was an interesting undertaking. Larsen drew every single page to have nine panels, with a different layout on each page. He was inspired to undertake this after seeing one of those myriad Batman slapping Robin memes. This particular one claimed “There are no big shots on a nine panel page!”
This prompted Larsen to respond “Well, that’s bullshit — of course there can be a big panel — just draw the other panels smaller.” And he set out to prove exactly that.
This is one of the major reasons why I really admire Larsen. After working on Savage Dragon for more than two decades, rather than being satisfied settling into a comfortable rhythm, he continually stretches his boundaries, both as an artist and a writer. He’ll enthusiastically embrace something like the challenge of drawing nine panels on every single page of an issue. And he’ll be ready to upend the status quo at the drop of a hat, to throw in all sorts of unexpected plot twists, if he believes it will lead to more interesting stories.
Savage Dragon #s 201 & 202 also includes the final two chapters of the Vanguard back-up serial written by Gary Carlson and drawn by Frank Fosco. Carlson appears to be bringing to a close a number of plotlines that he has been spinning through various miniseries and back-up stories over the past twenty plus years. He seems to have pretty well wrapped up the story arcs of his extended cast of characters, while at the same time leaving open the possibility of future adventures for Vanguard, Roxanne, Wally and Lurch. The art by Fosco is very good. He’s a talented artist, so I’m always happy to see his work.
With the Vanguard serial concluded, I hope that future issues of Savage Dragon will include short stories featuring other characters from the book’s gigantic supporting cast. Editor Gavin Higginbotham has previously written some cool back-ups and I’d be glad to see him come back for more fun.