The only thing I really know about comics from the ’90s is their reputation. A period marked by everything being EXTREME! The costumes, the personalities, attitudes, and situations all turned up to eleven. While this is more than likely an exaggeration, most of the art and panels that are still remembered help to reinforce this reputation. In “The Savage Dragon” #1, Erik Larsen creates a comic that feels like maximum 90s, trying to be the biggest, the toughest, the most badass, but ultimately feels like it’s trying too hard while sacrificing things that made it interesting.
The Savage Dragon #1
Written by Erik Larsen
Illustrated by Erik Larsen
Inked by Erik Larsen
Colored by Gregory Wright
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
“The Savage Dragon” #1 is basically an origin story about how Dragon, a mysterious green man with a fin on his head, became a member of Chicago’s police force, taking down the Windy City’s criminal underworld. Chicago is under siege by “super mutants,” colorful criminals whose superior abilities (though, it looks mostly like those abilities are strength and spiky shoulder pads) gives them the ability to do basically whatever they want. They are quite the menace. Not only have these criminals broken the morale of the police, but they’re also physically breaking the city’s superheroes. It’s all very heightened. It’s an intense and hardcore new world, the old ways have failed. The only person who can help is a person as monstrous as the monsters he’s fighting. He’s not going to be a traditional superhero, but he is going to fight to keep people safe.
There is certainly an arc to the issue. Dragon is initially reluctant to help out Frank, the officer who discovered him, and the Chicago Police, instead choosing to keep a lowkey life working a normal job and staying out of trouble. In a way, it works. Dragon is an amnesiac, unsure of where he came from or how he got his abilities. He is trying to take things easy, attempting to remember who he is and what happened to him. He’s not refusing the call because he’s too good for it or that society has turned his back on him, he’s just figuring out his life. The problem, though, is that “The Savage Dragon” #1 begins with him already as a member of the CPD, removing any tension of the decision he has to make. You can’t blame Larsen for wanting to start the series with a big flashy action sequence, showing the raw power and attitude of the character, but it would have been more interesting if we didn’t already know that he was working for the police. From that point onward, the story and the script feel like they’re just checking a series of boxes to get us to the conclusion that we already know, he chooses to protect instead of harass. The moment that is the most intriguing is when other Supermutants question Dragon’s motivation. Why, given his strength, is he choosing to not simply raid and pillage? It’s a question I wish was explored more in “The Savage Dragon” #1.
While the script does have moments where it’s attempting to be cool and extreme, there are some surprisingly quiet subdued moments. This is especially true with the conversations between Frank and his wife. The place where “The Savage Dragon” #1 tries to be the most extreme is in the art. There are some designs that work better than others, there’s an especially fun panel at the end that features a whole crew of baddies which features some crazy spiked shoulder pads and a shark man. But for the most part, the designs were all over the place. One panel of note is when Dragon decides to help. His design is somewhere between Punisher and the Terminator, a big hulking figure covered in machine guns and bullets. It seems like there’s never any level of consistency in Dragon’s size. Sometimes his head is dwarfed by his shoulders, but in close-ups, he is better proportioned. It’s a little thing, but there are moments where it’s jarring, especially when he shows up at the end, big and menacing. Along those same lines, the action was sometimes difficult to follow. There were moments where the size of the spaces felt undefined making it easy to lose track of where the characters were in relation to one another.
That being said, the colors of “The Savage Dragon” #1 were a lot of fun. They helped to make the Super Mutants, in particular, feel larger than life, the costumes were certainly memorable, even if they were a little extreme. The coloring also helped to really sell the idea that while Chicago is getting weirder, as the criminal underworld is taking over, it has not yet fully devolved into a ‘Mad Max’ style world, that it can be controlled. It’s fun to see over the top colorful characters in relatively mundane settings (though these settings are mainly warehouses, not much indicates that it’s Chicago outside of the text boxes.) While the designs of many of the characters haven’t aged well, Glowbug deserves a special shout out in that category, I appreciated just how colorful and out of place they felt in the comic.
There were elements of the issue that worked but overall, “The Savage Dragon” #1 was just incredibly uneven. There were elements that worked and if they were given more attention, the comic would have been stronger. It just feels like some sacrifices were made to make it more extreme. It was interesting to look at these early Image comics, but as far as “The Savage Dragon” is concerned, it doesn’t seem like a comic I’ll be returning to anytime soon.