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A Lengthy Stay in the ’90s: Savage Dragon

Since Savage Dragon #225 hit, I’ve found myself on quite a Savage Dragon binge. I already had a couple collected editions–including the original–Baptism by Fire–and quickly acquired several more. I also had recently bought and read the Image 10th Anniversary hardcover’s Savage Dragon piece. But that wasn’t enough for me.

I was also pretty sure I’d had a stack of the first couple dozen or so issues…but I was unable to find them, going through a huge portion of my boxes. Finding myself really wanting to read the stuff–and in color, not "just" the black-and-white reprints of the Savage Dragon Archives tpbs–I turned to online comic shops (specifically Midtown Comics, Lone Star Comics, and Mile High), as well as local shops Comic Heaven and Carol and John’s…and just since buying #225…I’ve put together a collection of the original mini-series 1-3; ongoing series 1-101 and a few scattered after that; as well as the Mars Attacks Savage Dragon 1-4, Mars Attacks Image 1-4, Savage Dragon: Red Horizon 1-3, Vanguard 1-6, and Shattered Image 1-4.

Of those, I’ve read the minis and the main series to #50, and several other one-shot/tie-in issues.

savage_dragon_1_to_50

Minus Spawn #52, the above graphic is the bulk of my reading lately…even to falling behind more on new/current comics!

And of course, I still have Savage Dragon #s 51-101 to fly through in the near-future.

Beyond that, I want to track down the various associated stuff–like Freak Force 1-18, the Superpatriot series, I believe there was a second Freak Force book, and a second Vanguard one. There’s also the Savage Dragon: Sex & Violence mini (that I believe took place about halfway through what I’ve already read of the main book).

One "trouble" now is that after so quickly getting such a significant run…it’s going to really try my patience piecing together  the latter 125 issues…some issues I do have, plenty more I’m missing…and now being past the "’90s glut" where everyone was printing huge numbers of everything and "everyone" had all the early issues (making them definite 25-cent-bin fodder now)…the later books did not have such high print runs or popularity/enthusiasm and such, and as such, where they ARE available as back issues, they’re more likely to command "modern" back-issue pricing and such.

But then, I have so much other reading to do, that I want to do, that by the time I get through another 50 issues I already have, I’ll probably be more than fine with a "break" while I get an issue or few here or there on a much slower basis!

The ’90s Revisited: The Savage Dragon #1

90s_revisited

savage_dragon_1992_0001Baptism of Fire

Creator/Writer/Artist/Inker: Erik Larsen
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Jannie Wong
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Published by: Malibu Comics / Image Comics
Cover Date: July 1992
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember seeing THE earliest issues of The Savage Dragon "on the stands" back at Capp’s Comics, back in the day. I don’t recall if I saw the first issue of Spawn or not, but Savage Dragon stuck out to me, somehow…I’m pretty sure it was the cover, with the bright yellow and red/oranginess and the main character charging forward. It was very much an "image" book in that regard–all flash, at minimum. But I’ve "always" since then been at least loosely aware of the title’s continued existence and ongoing nature, continually marching forth into higher and higher numbers (much like Spawn). As of this writing, the ongoing Savage Dragon title’s just had its 225th issue…which combined with my reading in full the Dragon story from the Image 10th Anniversary hardcover, and the ready availability of several collected volumes at significant discount and having a bit more on my shelf already than I realized has really rekindled an active interest in the character for me.

So what better way of things than to go back to the very beginning, to this very first issue of a three-issue limited series (when there was no guarantee the character’d support anything beyond that)?

I know the basics of the character’s origin, and little bits here and there, so this issue isn’t as shocking or such as it may otherwise have been. In a lot of ways, there’s something about this that reminds me a bit of the Ultraverse books–plenty of superhero trappings, but some definite, overt violence that makes the book more "mature" without veering grossly into "adults-ONLY" territory.

We open on a green-skinned fin-headed cop leaping into battle with some guy named Cutthroat, and the two beating on each other. The green guy eventually wins out and Cutthroat and his girlfriend are arrested. We then flash back to the guy in a burning field, and then waking in a hospital to officer Frank Darling, who questions him on who he is and how he came to be there–none of which the guy remembers. Darling tries to recruit him for the police, but "Dragon" refuses. But when his boss is threatened and then the warehouse blown up, killing him…Dragon agrees to try the police thing. He’s a one-man SWAT team, able to take on super-powered criminals the "regular" police don’t stand a chance against. We see Officer Dragon in more action, showing off his stuff and meeting others (criminal and costumed vigilante alike), before seeing a group of super-powered criminals about to be unleashed…and perhaps making for a rather short career for Dragon!

Story-wise, this is pretty basic. It feels like there’s a lot more to it conceptually than actual story-wise…and it’s nearly impossible for me to evaluate this "cold," as I know what I do and so can’t help but come to this already knowing a lot of stuff that wasn’t even available when this was published. That said, it’s cool to read this, consciously aware of things and how they go, while seeing the beginning foundation of it all start to unfold here. This also does as a good first issue should…namely, it introduces us to the titular character, shows him in actions, gives us a bit of an "origin" (at least how he came to be a cop), introduces us to some "minor"/supporting characters, gives us a villain (in this case, several!), and sows some seeds of what’s to come and makes you want to know where things go from here.

The art is solid…the character is very recognizable, of course…and though I’d expect a certain "roughness" to it, there are panels that I’d swear you could show me out of context and I wouldn’t be able to concretely place them as 1993, 2002, or 2017. Larsen‘s work is definitely more refined 225+ issues later, but it’s quite cool to see that he’s held a consistency across 25 years with the character and book.

I definitely look forward to diving into the series and seeing how far I get…whether I do a lengthy read now or "soon," but at least the rest of this mini-series!

I know I got this issue at least a couple times from quarter bins/50-cent bins…I don’t know if (for whatever 3 or so copies I have throughout my collection) I’ve even paid cover price for the issue TOTAL yet. It’s definitely worth a quarter, and if you can get the whole mini-series, I daresay it’s at least worth cover price per issue to get the whole story.

It’s also interesting to note that even though this bears the Image comics "i" logo on the front…this was actually published by Malibu!

For a general reading experience, I’d recommend the collected edition…I know Larsen did some slight revisions and reordered the pages into a story-chronological order for the collected volume and fleshed thinks out a bit…so you’ll have a more thorough and refined story reading that way. Still, I enjoyed reading this as a single issue…and even found that there’s a bound-in mini-poster ripe for framing and hanging on my art-wall!

TMNT Revisited: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #20

tmnt_adventures_revisited

tmntadventures020Sun and Steel

Script: Dean Clarrain
Pencils: Bill Wray
Inks: Hilary Barta, John Beatty, Mark Pacella
Letters: Gary Fields
Colors: Barry Grossman
Cover: Ryan Brown, Jim Lawson
Edits: Scott Fulop, Victor Gorelick
Published by: Archie Comics
Cover Date: May 1991
Cover Price: $1.25

Back in the days before "everything" was collected in full runs in collected volumes and every issue might be someone’s FIRST, there might not necessarily have been a recap page…stuff might simply be given as exposition in characters’ conversation or some such. In the case of this title, we get a several-page recap of the previous issue and Mighty Mutanimals #1 and then pick up immediately from there.

Null, Scul, Bean, as well as Raph and Mondo Gecko (stowaways) are gone via alien spacecraft, leaving the other turtles, Splinter, and April to deal with the arrival of police at Null’s building. The group escapes into Chinatown…but before they make it back to a sewer they witness a huge fire. When the sound of a baby is heard from within, one of the firemen–Chu Hsi–rushes in to save the child. An old man with a shop on the bottom floor throws a golden, dragon-shaped container into the building, where it smashes next to the fallen fireman…and the dragon spirit within bonds with him, transforming the fireman into a giant golden dragon. The turtles, old man, fireman, and April leave, though the fire still rages. Meanwhile, a giant Foot soldier bursts out of a building untouched by the fire and begins to menace the area. The turtles spring into action fighting it, but with no success. Splinter realizes the fireman can call forth the dragon at will, and encourages him to do so. The dragon puts a quick end to the giant Foot bot, the fire burns itself out, and Chu Hsi is left with the old man from the shop to face a future in which he is bonded to the spirit of the ancient dragon.

After the lead up to the Maligna/Invasion stuff, and the Mutanimals mini-series and then the event itself, this issue is quite a letdown for me. There’s also the huge plot-hole in that I simply cannot "believe" that the Statue of Liberty having a giant robot land on it would survive unscathed. This story takes us back to the "mutant of the month" in a sense, introducing us to a giant golden dragon–an ancient spirit bonded with a human fireman. That he immediately trusts the turtles and they he is another plot point that seems over-simplified…but I’ll accept it for what it is.

I recall that this character comes back into play later, in what I’m going to consider the "third season" of this title…but otherwise this seems like just a generic one-issue/one-off tale to get the turtles away from Null’s building and move things forward despite the missing Raphael.

Visually we have an entirely different art team than usual, which is rather noticeable to me. I’m not all that keen on the turtles’ appearance…but I rather like Splinter and April…and the dragon himself looks good throughout the issue. The giant Foot bot works for what it is, but I’m not all that impressed and echo the turtles’ question of when/where Shredder would’ve had the resources to have the thing built to begin with. I do like that the bot’s "speech bubbles" are skulls, indicating that it simply wants to kill…and I chuckled to myself when–after the turtles had "annoyed" it–the skulls showed with bandanas around ’em as the bot had refocused on killing the turtles specifically.

As a whole, this isn’t a bad issue though it’s far from a favorite. Recalling that Chu Hsi is a recurring character lends some "importance" to his introduction here for me, though he’d otherwise seem to be just a one-off throwaway that’s full of potential but not really explored. While Clarrain as writer maintains a consistency of sorts, this feels like a sort of "filler" issue, like this title’s on hold while the main action unfolds in the Mutanimals mini. I’m looking forward to issues 23-25…but not so much the next couple issues (21-22). Aside from seeing the on-panel introduction/first appearance of Chu Hsi and the Dragon, I’d consider this an entirely skip-able issue.

Savage Dragon #s163-168: Emperor Dragon

sd163I remember seeing Savage Dragon #1–from the original mini-series–on the new/recent indy-comics’ rack at Capp’s Comics in Mentor Ohio, way back when. And I remember when the first issue of the series proper came out, and I ESPECIALLY remember that 2nd issue, when the TMNT guest-starred.

I remember the series making waves–articles in Wizard, controversies over depictions of the Divine, and just what the character could and would be put through.

sd164And yet, I never really read the series.

I recall hearing stuff about the 75th issue, and actually picking that one up. Giant-sized, if I recall. Involved some time-traveling villain as a kid, before he grew up to become that time-traveler. And Dragon killed him….resulting in an all-new world.

I realized that was a good jumping-on point, and followed the series for several issues of this new world, particularly enjoying the cover dress, sd165made to look like classic Marvel books, or so it seemed.

But the series quickly faded off my radar.

Every now and then since, it would show up again–generally the anniversary issues. A friend gave me a run of the first 30-32 issues of the series several years back, and I’ve had my eye on the Savage Dragon Archives volumes (Image‘s version of DC‘s Showcase and Marvel‘s Essential lines).

This past summer, when I went on a tear dropping most of the comics I’d been following, burned out from events, sd166I noticed a new storyline starting in Savage Dragon, and put the title on my pull list. And I’ve faithfully bought each issue for the past half-year.

But tonight, I finally sat down and READ the things.

And it’s almost like things have come full-circle.

This Emperor Dragon arc has the look and feel of classic silver-age stuff…Larsen‘s art is very Kirby-esque. And the story is one that could only be told in a book like this, never in something from Marvel or DC.

sd167I wasn’t sure what I’d think, but I found myself–especially after I finished reading–realizing how important the story is to the overall Dragon mythos. And in a way, it felt like issue #75 all over again, except better, for having so much more history behind it.

Savage Dragon is one of the original Image series, and one of the longest-running series not from Marvel or DC, with nearly 2 decades behind it. I followed along with this story pretty well without MUCH background knowledge. sd168And while this story very likely strongly informs what’s to come…it seems that the coming issues would make another nice jumping-on point for an entirely new status quo–one on the level that rarely gets seen in comics, it seems.

Been a fun ride, and I plan on sticking with the title for awhile longer…and maybe actually play some catch-up for backstory.

Savage Dragon #163 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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