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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!

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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!

Spawn #263 [Review]

spawn0263Plot/Script/Layouts/Pencils/Inks: Erik Larsen & Todd McFarlane
Color: FCO Plascenscia
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Cover Art: Erik Larsen
Editor: Todd McFarlane
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: May 2016
Cover Price: $2.99

While I’ve no idea how long I’ll stick with it, Spawn is presently on my pull list, at minimum as my tiny individual way of trying to support both "high/continuous numbering" and the $2.99 price point. This is my seventh sequential issue that I’ve picked up…which may be a record for me now, or at least close to matching any previous time I’ve tried to follow the title.

Spawn–or rather, Al Simmons–has returned to Earth…human and normal (not disfigured)…and without his costume (despite the cover, more on that later). With only tatters keeping him from being fully nude, but still functionally naked, he finds himself gaining unwanted attention from the authorities. Resisting unwarranted arrest, he fights back and lands in the hospital for his troubles–having been shot and then bashed in the head. On waking and learning what his situation is, he requests Terry Fitzgerald…who despite relatable reservations helps him. Simmons gets set up for his new life, including the start to (presumably) a new iteration of a supporting cast and status quo.

The cover is quite misleading…we do not get Spawn–and certainly not in that classic sense–in this issue. Nor do we get an Al Simmons surprised at being human. That said, for one of extremely FEW instances in my life and as a comic person, it’s misleading because I’m actually "up" on this title. Much as the cover for #257 grabbed my attention (which started this whole current "phase" for me), I can see how this cover could be rather attention-grabbing and pique the curiosity. There’s also something kinda familiar about it–I’m not sure (nor am I planning to research the matter) if it’s an homage piece or just kinda evokes a bygone age of comic covers.

Of course, I’m quite enjoying Larsen‘s work–both the cover(s) and the interior art. Things one expects a comic’s art to do are done, and the visual style works well for this title. It "looks" and "feels" like Larsen art–it’s immediately recognizable to me as such, and I like it here.

Story-wise, I’m still far from being particularly "familiar" with characters (I had to do a quick Google search to confirm that Terry is indeed the guy Wanda married and such), but I’m enjoying the reading experience. This issue feels a lot like a "first issue," and functionally could VERY well warrant a "new #1" (and truly, many Many MANY Marvel books have "rebooted" or "renumbered" for far, far LESS a shift than the game-changing status quo we begin here!).

The backmatter backs this up…though I was disappointed at how "quickly" I got TO the backmatter of the issue. There’s no marking at the final panel of the issue, the final page of the story content–nothing saying "To Be Continued…" or any such, nor is it particularly cliffhanger-y. But darn it, I’m actually really eager to see where things go from here, how Simmons deals WITH his new status quo, how he gets back into the action and what this all means. The cynic in my worries at the shakeup being temporary…but even if it is, I have a bit of faith that it’ll at least last a few years. Simmons was gone from the title for some 65 issues–on a standard, unbroken monthly schedule of 1 issue every month on the month, that would indicate nearly 5 1/2 years. So I’m fairly confident that this status quo ought to take us to (if not through) #300 and/or beyond.

Spawn #258 [Review]

spawn258Story: Todd McFarlane
Art: Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane
Color: FCO Plascenscia
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Publishing Coordinator: Shannon Bailey
Art Director: Ben Timmreck
Production Artists: Joe Ferstl, Jordan Butler
Publisher for Image Comics: Eric Stephenson
Cover: Erik Larsen
Editor: Todd McFarlane
Cover Date: November 2015
Cover Price: $2.99

Spawn has made it to Hell and has a message for Satan. Oh, and he fights a horde of demons, leaving only one ‘alive’ to deliver the message.

Oops…sorry! I just gave you the ENTIRE issue right there, including the end.

I noticed this issue was out this week, and having had my interest up from the previous issue, I wanted to check out Erik Larsen‘s first issue. Visually, it’s quite good. The cover is not nearly as impressive as the previous issue, but I like it well enough. And per my usual, knowing I wanted to get the issue, I didn’t flip through the interior…which proved unfortunate.

Story-wise…there are about 3 pages. Art-wise, we have a 20-page issue.

We see Spawn at the entrance to Hell, facing a huge horde of demons that knew he was coming and have been waiting for him. He plans to leave one alive to deliver a simple message to Satan…and the next 17 pages are dialogue-less, caption-less images of Spawn fighting the demons. I suppose SOMEWHAT to the issue’s credit, there’s a countdown of the number of demons remaining, and every several pages you see the count diminishing significantly.

My disgust grew with each page turned that revealed another page or pages with no…actual…words.

This was not billed as a "silent" issue. An issue-length brawl is not my idea of an issue worth being "silent." A fight like this–to me–ought to have been 3-4 pages, max…even if that meant having a grid with 50-100 thumbnail-type panels conveying the length and magnitude of Spawn’s fighting. Not an entire issue.

The final panel provides what turns out to be a sort of "punchline" to the issue as we learn what Spawn’s simple message for Satan is. Perhaps it’s supposed to evoke those action-movie one-liner/groaners (and I can picture David Caruso‘s Horatio Caine from CSI Miami donning his shades while delivering this line) or simply show us how powerful Spawn is, how singularly determined and focused he is on somehow "saving" Wanda.

But I paid $2.99 (THANKFULLY 25% cheaper than the standard $3.99 that most comics cost) for an issue to read…not look at and analyze the imagery, etc. I glaze over with certain action sequences in general in comics. I can appreciate detail and nuance to art…but when there’s some frenetic action sequence and it’s just several pages, I tend to fly through it, "taking it in" as I would a tv show that has a 3-4 second quick-action bit. I also expect forward movement in story/plot…and for me, there’s none of that here…or at least, certainly NOT an entire issue’s worth. TECHNICALLY we move from Spawn facing a horde of demons…to having defeated them. Catch-22: I feel there should be more to the issue–words–to read as he does this, if it’s significant enough to worry him, or bother him, or threaten him. If (as seems to be shown) they’re not truly a concern for him, the sequence could be pulled off far more effectively (in my mind) with turning the page and simply seeing a trail of defeated demons behind Spawn as he passes his message along.

I simply can’t believe this is indicative of Larsen‘s extended involvement with the title…and the previous issue interested me enough in seeing where things go that as frustrated as I am with this issue, I’m probably now going to check out the next issue (despite not liking this one) to see if #259 is what I expected of this one.

If you’re a fan of Larsen–particularly his art–or of McFarlane‘s inks, or seeing the two collaborating on art, and you don’t care too much or won’t be bothered by an essentially "silent" issue, you’ll probably enjoy this.

That being said…on my personal standards and expectations, I do not recommend this issue…and would actually encourage passing on it and trying the next issue, if you were considering this one.

Heck, if you want to see a bunch of pages with no dialogue/captioning, there are countless "free previews" out there to show off silent art where you still have to actually buy the issue to GET the dialogue and such…which is what this feels like.

The ’90s Revisited: Hulk #8

hulk008Death Match

Writer: Erik Larsen
Pencils: Ron Garney
Inks: Sal Buscema
Letters: John Workman
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.99
Cover Date: November, 1999

It’s been quite awhile since I last read any Hulk comics. I think the last story I actually read all the way through was Planet Hulk, and that was probably 4-5 years ago now. But there was a time that I read Hulk on a regular basis–back in the late 1990s when Marvel rebooted most of its titles and I got in on the “ground floor” with a lot of them.

I pulled this copy of the issue from a 25-cent bin. Truthfully, it was Wolverine on the cover that grabbed my attention. While I don’t entirely care for the faces on the cover, the coloring really got me: the orange background and its contrast to the green Hulk, and the coloring of the Logo, and even the “Wolverine vs.” banner across the top, making this look like a one-shot/special.

The interior art is good stuff, with Garney and Buscema on pencils/inks. No real complaints there overall. The visuals slid right by, not distracting me from the story.

The writing by Larsen is so-so: I wasn’t blown away, but I wasn’t entirely turned off, either. Seems kinda fitting that Larsen brought Wolverine into the issue–I’d have to check to be sure, but I’m pretty sure he was the writer on the main Wolverine title at the time. We also get some hints at things that were brewing in the X-Men corner of Marvel at the time–such as the new Death, Horseman of Apocalypse.

Though it’s been a good 14 years now since being reunited with his adamantium-laced skeleton…this issue is from shortly before that: this is bone-claw Wolverine taking on the Hulk, and it was interesting to see this take on the character again, after having re-acclimated to the more contemporary Wolverine whose continuity doesn’t seem to even have any reference to the “bone-claws” era.

While I don’t much care for any of the issue’s subplots, hardly remember the context leading to this and remember nothing of what came after before Jenkins took over and the book added “Incredible” to its title again, I certainly got my 25-cents’ worth out of this. I wanted to see a Wolverine/Hulk fight, and that’s what I got, for much of the issue. At 1/16th the cost of a contemporary Marvel issue, and 1/8 the cost of this issue’s original price…25 cents very well spent.

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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