Love and marriage for Savage Dragon

Valentine’s Day is here, which makes this a good time for me to look at the three most recent issues of Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen from Image Comics, as Malcolm Dragon marries his high school sweetheart Maxine Jung Lai.

Savage Dragon 209 cover

As you can see from the cover to Savage Dragon #209, Maxine is very pregnant. Malcolm did use protection, but he soon discovered that his super-strength extended to his, um, reproductive processes.  Those condoms didn’t stand a chance!  And now I’m reminded of that old essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” by science fiction novelist Larry Niven.  Fortunately Malcolm and Maxine had already been thinking about getting hitched, but the pregnancy did result in those plans getting pushed forward ever so slightly!

Of course Maxine still has to worry about a super-powered fetus kicking its way out of her womb, something that occurred nearly two decades earlier with Malcolm’s own mother Rapture. Indeed, as we see in these three issues, this turns out to be a very real, fatal concern for Malcolm’s ex-girlfriend Tierra.  I remember commenting several months ago that the sexual shenanigans between Malcolm, Maxine, Tierra and Angel were like something out of a cheesy porno flick.  However, as we see here, Larsen is continuing to follow up on the very serious consequences of this act of reckless teenage sexuality.

Larsen scripts Maxine as an irreverent smart-ass. She’s very well suited to be with Malcolm, whose life is just plain crazy.  The banter between the two of them is wonderful.  Larsen gives them good chemistry.  Malcolm and Maxine make a great couple, and I look forward to seeing how Larsen continues to develop their relationship.

Savage Dragon 210 cover

In the next issue Malcolm and Maxine head off for their honeymoon, only to find themselves in yet another bizarre misadventure. They run into a very old foe of Malcolm’s father, as Larsen dusts off a baddie from the very first year of his run on Savage Dragon.

I love the cover for issue #210. There are so few comic book covers like this anymore.  That style of cover artwork unfortunately became unfashionable in the late 1990s, replaced by pin-up or poster types of images.  Yeah, those can be pretty to look at, but they very seldom tell you anything about the stories inside.  They don’t grab you attention and make you want to pick up the comic book to find out what the story is behind it.  Fortunately in a number of respects Larsen remains an unapologetic traditionalist, and Savage Dragon has often featured cover artwork that jumps out at you.

Issue #210 also has a humorous six page back-up written by Larsen featuring Flash Mercury, Powerhouse and Fever doing their professional monster hunters thing. The talented Frank Fosco, who most recently illustrated the Vanguard serial, provides some excellent artwork.

As I’ve observed before, Larsen has a huge cast of characters, and the back-ups are a great way to give some of them the spotlight.  I hope there will be more in the future. I’ve heard that series editor Gavin Higginbotham is eager to write some new ones.  And, hey, speaking for myself, I’d love to pitch one!  How about something looking at Horridus as a single mom / crime-fighter trying to make ends meet after the death of her husband Rex Dexter?  Ever since seeing Horridus in mourning at Rex’s grave in issue #208 I’ve been wondering what happens to her and her daughter.

Savage Dragon 211 cover

In issue #211, now that Malcolm is out of high school and married, it’s time for him to get a full-time job. He follows in his father’s footsteps, joining the Chicago police department.  Much of the material from #211 originally appeared in the Savage Dragon: Legacy special that came out as part of last year’s Free Comic Book Day.  Larsen adds several new pages and re-scripts some dialogue to reflect various events and developments that he either changed his mind about in the succeeding months or wanted to keep secret between then and now.

Issue #211 has a “1st Issue In A Bold New Direction” blurb, just as issue #193 did two years previously. It’s nice that Larsen devises jumping-on points from time to time.  Since Savage Dragon has been running for 23 years, it’s good to have periodic issues that bring newer readers up to speed, and that refresh the memories of long-time fans such as myself.

Larsen’s scripting in Savage Dragon often has something of an exposition-heavy quality to it. While at times this means his dialogue does not sound quite natural, it nevertheless ensures that important events are recapped for readers on a regular basis.  That’s certainly an asset in #211, as Malcolm explains his somewhat convoluted origins.

Notice something else? Despite these two “Bold New Direction” issues, both times Larsen resisted the urge to re-start the numbering on Savage Dragon with a brand new issue #1.  Honestly, I am sooooo sick of Marvel and DC doing that.  Perhaps that might result in a temporary bump in sales.  But at the same time, a new first issue can actually present a jumping-off point for readers whose interest in a series is wavering.  That’s certainly been true for me on a few occasions.

Whatever any case, I’ve barely read anything the Big Two have published in the last several years. And as I’ve stated a few times on this blog, Savage Dragon is my favorite ongoing comic book series.

Right before Savage Dragon #211 came out I recently took the opportunity to re-read issues #193 to 210 in one sitting. Larsen did very good work during this two year period, writing and drawing some entertaining, weird, humorous stories.  I’m looking forward to seeing how he now proceeds onward from #211.

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 #192

The much-anticipated Savage Dragon #192 finally came out this week, courtesy of Erik Larsen and Image Comics.  As Larsen himself admits in the letters page, this one took him a bit longer than usual, as he re-thought the course of the issue more than once.  No wonder, considering how significant an event it contained.

For a long while now, Larsen has been building up to a changing of the guard.  Since this series takes place in “real time,” everyone ages accordingly.  That, and Larsen certainly is not averse to killing off major characters.  So inevitably there was going to come a point where Dragon would get too old to be a superhero, or perhaps even die, and his son Malcolm would step into his shoes, becoming the series’ lead.  About two and a half years ago, in issue #169, I really thought that this event had taken place.  However, Larsen had left himself an avenue for reviving the Dragon.  And, indeed, within a few months he was back.  But now, finally, Larsen really has come to the crossroads with #192.  Dragon, previously convicted of murder for the crimes he committed under his Emperor Kurr personality and sent to death row, is seen on the cover apparently being led to the electric chair!

So, does he live?  Does he die?  If he does die, will his spirit spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models?  Read on and find out!  And, oh, yeah, SPOILERS!!!

Savage Dragon 192 cover

Previously, Dragon’s race, the Krylans, was decimated by the brutal Tyrrus Combine.  Dragon’s one-time lover Lorella, seemingly the only survivor, managed to make her way to Earth.  She was convinced that Dragon held the key to creating a new generation of Krylans.  You can probably figure out the rest.  Y’know, the birds and the bees?  Yep, that’s right.  Hmmm, given that Dragon is already in his mid-fifties, I just hope he can, um, keep up his end of the bargain, so to speak!

Of course, there was just one catch to all this: since Dragon was super-powered, every single time he (and his previous persona, Kurr) had ever impregnated a female, his offspring gained his super strength, resulting in all his mates having a very good chance of dying while giving birth.  Lorella rigged up a device that would remove Dragon’s powers, making him a normal Krylan, so that they could then get on with the business of safely making babies.  Of course, said device happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to an electric chair, and it gives Dragon one hell of a zap in the process.

Savage Dragon 192 pg 10

That Erik Larsen, he is such a tease!

Okay, there you are.  Dragon is now the equivalent of a normal human being, albeit one with green skin & a fin.  Which means that, even if he is able to get his conviction overturned and get out of jail, there’s no way he’s going to be able to return to slugging it out with supervillains.  So now it’s Malcolm’s show.

In an online interview, Larsen indicated that Dragon will still be sticking around, albeit as a supporting character, a mentor to Malcolm, likening him to the elderly Bruce Wayne seen in Batman Beyond.  And, wow, Savage Dragon #192 shows that Malcolm really is in need of some guidance when it comes to fighting crime.  Not only is he inexperienced, he’s also on the naïve side.  Between that, the majority of Chicago’s costumed heroes leaving town to join the Special Operations Strikeforce in Washington DC, and the sociopathic Dart having finally accomplished her goal of seizing control of the Vicious Circle crime cartel, I foresee some really rough times ahead for Malcolm!

Anyway, Larsen succeeded admirably in his misdirection, convincing everyone (myself included) that this really was the end for Dragon.  At the same time, he achieved his goal of permanently promoting Malcolm to the lead, while still keeping his dad around in some capacity.  Which is cool, because I enjoy the family dynamic between the two of them, as well as with Malcolm’s stepsister Angel.  Speaking of which, I hope she isn’t gone for long, and will continue to show up in the book.  As #192 demonstrates, Malcolm could probably benefit from some of Angel’s common sense.

Savage Dragon 190 pg 24

I’m glad that Powerhouse and Flash Mercury, who had unsuccessfully attempted to steer the Vicious Circle in a more benevolent direction, managed to survive Dart’s brutal purge by skipping town.  As seen in the back-up story in Savage Dragon #190 written by Larsen with art by Frank Fosco, the two of them joined up with the Medusa-esque Fever to become professional monster hunters.  As with Angel, I hope Larsen brings this trio back to Chicago at some point to help Malcolm out.

Speaking of back-up stories, I’m happy Larsen is continuing to run these.  He has a cast of what seems like several hundred characters, and obviously he cannot fit them all into the main feature.  So it’s nice that he and a few other folks are working on these short stories.  Issue #190 also had a new misadventure of those inept crime-fighters Kill-Cat and Kid Avenger, aka the Deadly Duo, with art by Scott James.  The next issue had James illustrating a tale of the perpetually late Max Damage penned by editor Gavin Higginbotham.  And in the current issue, there’s a flashback tale of the diminutive dictator from Dimension X, Mister Glum aka Ba-Goom, written & drawn by Simon Mallette St-Pierre.

Savage Dragon 192 pg 25

All in all, Savage Dragon #192 was a great read, a really well done transition issue by Erik Larsen.  I’m eagerly anticipating seeing Malcolm step up to bat in upcoming issues.  It looks like Larsen has some exciting, interesting stories planned for his series.