Comic book reviews: Savage Dragon #201-202

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.

Savage Dragon 201 cover

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.

Savage Dragon 202 pg 19

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!”

Batman nine panel meme

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 201 pg 24

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.

Savage Dragon hits the big 200

The much-anticipated 200th issue of Savage Dragon came out this past Wednesday, published by Image Comics.  Written & drawn by Erik Larsen, along with regular collaborators Gary Carlson & Frank Fosco, plus a number of talented guest creators, this 100 page extravaganza features several tales of Malcolm Dragon, his step-sister Angel, their father the original Dragon, and their wacky & weird supporting cast.

Savage Dragon 200 front cover

The main story opens with Malcolm’s girlfriend Maxine moving in with him.  Several issues back it appeared that Malcolm and Maxine were going to break up, as her parents wanted her to settle down with a nice Chinese-American boy.  After being set up on innumerable blind dates, Maxine finally reached the breaking point and left home to be with Malcolm.

I’m happy that Maxine remains a part of the regular cast.  She is an interesting, fun, assertive character.  On his Facebook page, Larsen has commented that he really enjoys writing Maxine.  It certainly shows in his stories, as he chronicles the offbeat relationship between Maxine and Malcolm.  Larsen gives the two characters good chemistry.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 1

After the two of them hop into bed for some fun between the sheets, things took a turn for the bizarre.  Angel shows up to announce that the original Dragon has been kidnapped from jail by the Vicious Circle crime cartel in order to ransom him for their imprisoned leader Dart, who Malcolm captured a few issues ago.  Despite the fact that she is the one who originally set them up, Angel is surprised to find her step-brother and her best friend getting it on.  And then Maxine tosses a curveball and suggests that they try a threesome.

Um, okay… I did not see that coming.  It is more than a bit unusual.  Yes, I do realize that Malcolm and Angel are not actually related, and it’s been very strongly implied in the past that there was some attraction between the two.  But to actually see Larsen go there and throw Maxine into the mix is, um, sort of strange.  Okay, yeah, all three of them are in their late teens, so it makes sense they’d be horny and willing to experiment.  At least Larsen does it semi-tastefully, and we do not actually see anything taking place, just an exterior shot of the building with some suggestive word balloons placed in the picture.

Okay, boys and girls, just use your imaginations here!
Okay, boys and girls, just use your imaginations here!

After their romp in the sack, Malcolm and Angel head out to rescue Dragon.  They pretty much deliver a major beat-down to the Vicious Circle.  No wonder the Circle wants Dart back so badly; without her leadership they’re pretty damn useless nowadays.  In fact, even though Dragon was recently de-powered, he manages to defeat the goons who were holding him hostage, since he still retains all of his fighting skills from his years as a police officer, bounty hunter, and government agent.  Malcolm and Angel catch up with him at a local watering hole, where he’s having a cold one before turning himself back in to the authorities.  When the police get there, though, they have some bad news: somehow Dart has managed to stage a jail-break all on her own, and is once again on the loose.

This was pretty good, although I do wonder if the whole threesome thing is going to cause some problems between the characters in the future.  After all, Angel is currently involved with the Golden Age Daredevil, her teammate on the Special Operations Strikeforce.

The coloring by Nikos Koutsis was nicely done.  My only complaint is that Malcolm’s coloring was off in several places.  Instead of his usual dark green, he was colored as grey on several pages.  I hate to nit-pick.  Other than that, good work.

Savage Dragon 200 back cover Vanguard

Gary Carlson & Frank Fosco contribute the latest chapter of their ongoing Vanguard serial.  Van, Wally, Roxanne and friends explore the now-desolate Kalyptan home world.  A couple of years ago it was revealed that the decades-long war between the Kalyptans and the Tyranneans had finally ended.  The Kalyptans’ robot servants betrayed them to the Tyrrus Combine, resulting in the almost total decimation of Vanguard’s people.  Now we finally find out exactly why the Servitors switched sides: they were convinced to do so by an old enemy of Vanguard’s first seen quite a number of years ago in another story by Carlson & Fosco.  Truthfully, I barely remembered who this guy was… it’s been years since I’ve looked at those issues.  At least Carlson includes enough expository dialogue, plus a footnote referencing those comics, to enable someone like myself with foggy recollection to fill in the blanks.  Whatever the case, the Vanguard back-ups continue to entertain, and I hope that they will remain a feature in Savage Dragon for a while longer.

Among the guest creators who contributed to Savage Dragon #200, the most notable is industry legend Herb Trimpe.  On more than one occasion Larsen has stated that he is a fan of Trimpe’s work.  Trimpe drew the very first comic book that Larsen ever bought as a kid, Incredible Hulk #156.  As Larsen himself stated on Twitter, it was “a dream come true” to collaborate with Trimpe.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 25 Trimpe pencils

Larsen and Trimpe actually work together on two stories in issue #200.  The first one, “Out of Time,” has Trimpe penciling a plot by Larsen, who then inked & dialogued the story.  This flashback tale has cyborg scientist Rex Dexter sending the still-powered Dragon and the then-young Malcolm back in time to World War II in order to retrieve future technology which has been stolen by the Nazis.

It seems like Larsen plotted this out at least partially as an homage to Trimpe’s work on Incredible Hulk.  Aside from the fact that they are both big and green, the Dragon and the Hulk are actually very different characters.  That said, Larsen obviously could not resist plotting out a tale for Trimpe to draw that has Dragon tossing around tanks and smashing up an army, much as Marvel’s jade giant used to do when Trimpe was illustrating his adventures back in the Bronze Age.  It’s definitely a fun story, and I enjoyed seeing Trimpe inked by Larsen.

The second collaboration between Larsen and Trimpe, “The Contest,” has them swap roles.  Larsen’s pencils are inked by Trimpe.  This story, set in the present day, sees Mister Glum, the diminutive dictator from Dimension X, attacking Dragon in prison.  Glum believes he finally has an opportunity to crush Dragon now that his old foe is de-powered.  Of course things certainly do not go well for Glum, who is basically the size of a stuffed animal.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 62 Trimpe inks

This is a pretty wacky story, truthfully.  But it does provide a nice example of how important an inker is to the final look of the artwork.  Larsen’s work inked by Trimpe is rather different than when Larsen inks himself.  Larsen did something similar exactly one hundred issues ago, when he had several different inkers such as Terry Austin, Tim Townsend, Mike Royer and John Beatty contribute the embellishments to each chapter of #100.  The results were certainly interesting and fun.

It is odd to see that Glum and the alternate reality version of Angel are still together during the events of this issue.  It’s weird that Angel is still completely devoted to Glum, who despite his comedic appearance and bumbling nature is quite insane.  I wonder if there’s some form of Stockholm syndrome at work here.  It’s no wonder that Dragon wants to get this other incarnation of his step-daughter away from the tiny tyrant and try to restore her to her right mind.  I hope that’s something Larsen will follow up on in the future.

Among the other back-ups, “Taken” featuring the Special Operations Strikeforce was another favorite.  Ever since all of these heroes moved from Chicago to Washington DC to work for the government I’ve missed seeing them show up.  It was cool when Larsen utilized them as the cavalry in Savage Dragon #199.  So I’m happy that they got a story of their own in #200.  This one is written by Larsen, with series colorists Nikos Koutsis and Mike Toris contributing the pencils and inks.  Their style is an interesting mix of cartoony and detailed.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 49

I really wish this one had been longer than eight pages!  I wanted to see more of SuperPatriot, who is one of my favorite supporting characters.  He has such an awesome design, although I bet those highly detailed shape-shifting giant gun arms of his can be a real chore to illustrate!  Likewise, after several years of will-they-or-won’t-they, we finally have Angel and Daredevil becoming a couple, which I wish could have been given more space.

I realize that Savage Dragon already has that great Vanguard back-up feature.  But it would be nice if that slot could occasionally rotate, and we could have stories featuring SuperPatriot, Angel, Daredevil, and some of the other members of the SOS.  Larsen has a veritable army of cool characters.  He’s admitted on a few occasions that it can be difficult to find the space to fit them all in.  I really wish that Savage Dragon was a gigantic best-seller, so that it would be economically feasible for Larsen to once again publish a few spin-off miniseries, as he was able to back in the mid-1990s.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 69

Speaking of those innumerable characters, a pretty obscure one, Lightning Bug, also has a back-up tale in #200.  Written by Savage Dragon editor Gavin Higginbotham, with layouts by Ron Frenz and finished art by Scott James, “Bad Hair Day” sees one-time criminal Lighting Bug re-considering her ways as she tangles with the magenta-tressed Wildhair.  Higginbotham has previously written a few humorous, fun back-up stories, so it was nice to see another one by him.  James’ artwork is very nice, another example of a style that is sort of oddball but meticulous.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Frenz’s name in these pages.  I’m a long-time fan of his work, and I’d certainly enjoy having him contribute to this series again.

Congratulations to Erik Larsen on reaching this milestone issue.  I look forward to many more from him.

Comic book reviews: Savage Dragon #197

The latest issue of my favorite ongoing comic book series, Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen, is now out.  At issue #197, this long-running Image Comics series is rapidly closing in on the big two-zero-zero.  But, if you want to get technical about it, Larsen has actually reached that point with this issue.  Before he launched the ongoing Savage Dragon title, it was preceded by a three issue miniseries.  Which when you add everything up, makes Savage Dragon #197 the two hundredth issue written & drawn by Larsen.  Well, okay, there was also a zero issue, and maybe a few other things I’m forgetting at this moment.  But, whatever, you get the point!

Savage Dragon 197 cover

Ooooh, that’s a nasty-looking Malcolm Dragon on the cover to #197.  Whatever happened to him?  Well, in the last couple of issues, Malcolm was nearly killed by the Vicious Circle crime cartel.  He was found by a group of mutants living in Chicago’s lawless “Danger Zone” who hid him away from the Circle’s operatives.  However, the mutants also drugged Malcolm with the same mutagens that had been illegally dumped in the Danger Zone by Bellco Chemicals.  They hoped that Malcolm would ally with them to attack Bellco and retrieve their top secret cure, which would restore all of them to normal humans.  Unfortunately the mutants’ plan worked too well: Malcolm mutated and immediately went on a near-mindless rampage, killing nearly all of his captors.  And then his girlfriend Maxine arrived, accompanied by the Chicago PD.

As #197 opens, Maxine is desperately attempting to reason with Malcolm, to talk him down before he attacks both her and the cops.  Before she can get very far, though, the Vicious Circle, having finally located Malcolm, attacks in force.  However, the Circle agents are unprepared for the enhanced strength and unchecked brutality of mutated Malcolm, and what follows is a bloodbath.  This forces Dart, the Circle’s new leader, to step forward and tackle Malcolm herself, as Larsen, after months of build-up, finally presents a confrontation between the two.

Savage Dragon #197 seemed like a pretty quick read.  The main story clocks in at 20 pages.  That said, Larsen does offer up plenty of material.  There are Malcolm’s action-packed confrontations with Dart, the Vicious Circle, and Bellco Chemicals.  We also see the poignancy of the Danger Zone mutants’ desperate hope of once more becoming human, and Maxine’s concern for her boyfriend.  Larsen even manages to squeeze in a couple of instances of his trademark irreverent humor.  So, while the story moves along at a rapid pace, it still contains quite a bit of substance to it.

Savage Dragon 197 pg 6

The issue also contains a six page back-up, the first chapter of a new Vanguard serial written by Gary Carlson and illustrated by Frank Fosco.  “Homecoming” sees Vanguard, accompanied by his robot pal Wally, his girlfriend Roxanne, and the few surviving members of his race, return to his home world for the first time in years.  During the intervening time, Kalyptus was invaded by its arch-foes, the brutal Tyrrus Combine, who also decimated the original Dragon’s people, the green-skinned, finned Krylans.

It’s nice to see Carlson once again penning the adventures of Vanguard.  I enjoyed the two miniseries he wrote quite a number of years back starring the character, and the various back-ups in Savage Dragon where he subsequently had the opportunity to return to the adventures of Van, Roxanne and Wally.  Carlson and Larsen are long-time friends & collaborators, and they’ve always done a superb job at coordinating & intertwining their various stories & characters.  With “Homecoming” it appears that Carlson is picking up several subplots previously set up by both himself and Larsen, and utilizing them as a springboard to launch this new Vanguard arc.

Fosco is another frequent associate of Carlson, as well as a talented artist.  Fosco most notably illustrated the 23 issue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book written by Carlson that was published by Image in the late 1990s.  Fosco did good work on that series, and I’ve been pleased to see him subsequently draw a number of back-up stories in Savage Dragon.

Savage Dragon 197 pg 23

It’s great that Erik Larsen is still chugging away full speed ahead on Savage Dragon.  Larsen, along with such talented compatriots as Carlson and Fosco, make this book is a real pleasure to read.  I am definitely looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us next, especially with #200 right around the corner.

Not to sound like a broken record, but if you aren’t reading Savage Dragon then I highly recommend giving it a try.