Friday, December 11, 2015

(Image Comics)
Savage Dragon #7 When: January 1994
Why: Erik Larsen How: Erik Larsen

The Story So Far...
 could've been real tough for a hulking, green, amnesiac man-dragon with nothing but the fin on his head. That is - if it wasn't for the friendship of police Lieutenant Frank Darling. Frank helped The Dragon get a job with his cousin Fred, but he soon saw cop potential in Chicago's newest super-powered resident. When The Dragon refused, Frank organized a visit from some local villains -- getting his cousin killed in the process!

The Dragon may've become a badge carrying member of the police force, but Lt. Darling was still indirectly responsible for his cousin's death - and the criminal underworld knew it! Led by Overlord, The Vicious Circle ran Chicago, and now they had Darling. One word from them - and his career would be over. One word form him - and he'd be dead.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Lt. Darling did his best to keep his super-human best friend away from The Vicious Circle's operations. When Cyberface - a former associate of Overlord - agreed to testify, the jig was up. With warrant in hand, The Dragon and Frank Darling are coming for Overlord!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Dragon 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Overlord 3 (Street Wise)
Speed: Dragon 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Dragon 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Overlord 5 (Lasers)

What a pleasure it is to welcome two unranked modern legends into The Comic Book Fight Club! One is among independent comics' most recognizable heroes - the other is perhaps his deadliest arch-nemesis! It's a heckuva start for both characters, but the perfect legendary battle to continue celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

If you know one thing and one thing only about The Dragon - it's that he's made a career out of punching the snot out of bad guys!

As a Chicago cop, or member of Special Operations Strikeforce [SOS], he may've shown a range of other skills, but when it comes to the final word - it's usually spoken with two big green fists! So conclusive are these fist-made arguments, not many menaces last long when The Dragon is on their case! It's a major statement about his effectiveness as a fighting hero, but also a major statement about the staying power of Overlord!

The armored leader of The Vicious Circle is the top dog in crime-ridden Chicago! Over time, others have come to bedevil Dragon wearing the Overlord armor, but this incarnation is the original: mob boss Antonio Seghetti.

Seghetti had his associate "Cyberface" Sebastian Kahn build the armor as a response to an emerging class of super-powered opposition. The armor is maxed out on defense and offense - ensuring Overlord can stand up to the toughest superfreaks who might challenge his empire!

It's fair to say today's feature showdown lives on as a premium example of the durability of The Dragon -- an important factor any time he stands against a powerful opponent! Those details will be explored more in the next section of the usual format. For now, we have the classic example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object!

Dragon's a rampaging powerhouse, but Overlord's a walking fortress! A rough sketch of both characters in stats rewards Overlord for diversity, but you can never count out the big hero! I'm hedging my bets - lets find out who wins!

The Tape: Overlord Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

What Went Down...
The Dragon reflects upon the events that have brought him to be standing next to best friend Lt. Frank Darling on an elevator ride to destiny. Their floor: the very top - where armored Chicago crime boss Overlord is waiting to meet them!

Guns drawn, the lawmen do their job. Dragon orders Overlord to face the wall with arms behind his head - no sudden moves. Not in Overlord's town. It's the cops who'd better follow orders and he proves it with a single gesture of his hand and explosive blast of energy!

Dragon's gun explodes into a million tiny pieces. Frank Darling's flesh vaporizes, leaving broken charred bones suspended for a moment as they crumble. There's an officer down and he was The Dragon's best friend. Now it's personal!

The Dragon furiously rushes at Overlord - but his armor isn't just for show. Arrogantly prepared for a physical confrontation, Overlord meets him with a mechanically enhanced body shot. It sends the muscle bound supercop flying!

The Dragon gets airborne again, taking an uppercut to the jaw. Concrete explodes around him - breaking as he falls. Overlord declares himself "the meanest son of a bitch in this town". He might be right. Dragon doesn't care.

"DOOM!" The building thunders as Dragon unleashes his strength on Overlord!

He slams the crime boss into a support column and keeps unloading! His fist pounds into Overlord's body like an unforgiving pile driver! Yes, the fist is definitely the problem - and you don't become leader of The Vicious Circle without being able to solve problems. The Dragon learns it the hard way.

Whatever The Dragon is - it's tough. Only his hand disintegrates when Overlord fires his first gauntlet blast at point blank! When a second shot connects with his mid-section, it leaves a gaping bloody hole - but his body holds up!

A left hook sends the arresting officer flying toward the skyscraper windows! Overlord calls the result as it shatters. "Tomorrow morning they'll find what's left of you and I'll be back to running this town--" A warning to others who might cross Overlord's path, he says. He got one thing wrong: they won't find Dragon tomorrow.

The Dragon's body hurtles through the air, finding the spire of one of the surrounding lower buildings. His body slides down the spike, staining it with his blood. "In your next life, when somebody suggests you leave or face their wrath. Leave."

The Hammer...
Those more readily versed in the usual Marvel/DC fare may have wondered how this battle would factor into our 10th Anniversary celebrations. December is all about bringing untapped, legendary superhero showdowns to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! Now that you've read the What Went Down recap -- I'm confident you'll understand exactly why this ranks among the modern classics!

The winner, in no uncertain terms, is Overlord. The degree to which he claimed victory is one of the reasons this remains a stand-out from 20+ years of Savage Dragon! It made quite the impact, mythologized by publications like Wizard Magazine. Before I was reading the series - I knew how this issue ended.

There are only 21 "panels" in the issue: it's told entirely in full page. 13 pages focus specifically on the fight in progress, with the only double page spread among them. Overlord dominates in 9. Dragon falls from Overlord's tower in an effective 3 page sequence. He's impaled on the third. The issue ends with a close up of his limp arm - the one that still has a hand - streaming with blood.

The moment of impact is a lasting image [above], and a shocking finish to a thorough ass whooping for the title hero! There are no reassurances here. No comforting copy. "Next Issue: Now What?"

You were entitled to wonder about the future. Heroes were dying in the early 90s, and the Image logo was on and off books with alarming inconsistency. Come back next month to find out what happens, fanboy. If there is a next month! A bold move so early in the life of a new series, at least in isolation...


I wasn't reading Savage Dragon at the time. Bad first impressions from other books meant a decade of what could only be called prejudice. Image was the home of unsatisfying, dodgy knock-offs. The publisher of the unwanted crap they sandwiched with a Fantastic Four back issue in the cheap 3-packs.

This, of course, wasn't true of the publisher as a whole. I've never really been one to bemoan Rob Liefeld as an artist, but his abundant creations kept me dismissive of the publisher (and brand) for far longer than was fair. I can't imagine anyone making the same mistake today. I
 may be an old superhero tragic, but it's clear Image Comics are one of the most dynamic publishers going in 2015. Their modern output could never be mistaken for poor imitations - led by a diverse catalogue of counter programming. Image is the perfect antidote to increasingly insipid, corporate steered IP juggling at the neurotic "Big Two".

During my time away from Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, I specifically came back to Savage Dragon. Modern issues were making a good impression, and fresh eyes allowed me to reconnect with things I love about the early issues.

From a certain perspective, they're pretty standard fare. B-grade characters come and go with little to no sub-text. Visuals, for the most part, take priority over higher ideas. There's clearly no master plan at work, or history to drawn upon. Maybe a mental sketch of an upcoming issue - steering toward a future showdown with a big bad. What you see is mostly what you get. Brutalizing the title hero in his first year may seem like a risky proposition, but it's really just another day at the office, another issue on the rack, a cliff hanger plot to be resolved next issue. Sometimes that's all you really need from a good comic. In 2015, it's a healthy dose of comic book reality that feels sorely missing.

"Uncomplicated" is a word I can't escape when I think about Erik Larsen - the writer, creator and man. His run on Amazing Spider-man -- one of my favourites -- is ancient history. He'll gladly tell you he's living the dream: creating monthly comics based loosely on a childhood creation. I believe him. I admire him. This blunt force perspective has never been a recipe for stagnancy. Larsen is well educated in the art of creating comics, and calls upon a gamut of influences and ideas to always keep it fresh. Just as life has its ups, downs, inconsistency and surprises - so too does over 200 issues of Savage Dragon represent evolving characters and worlds.

Savage Dragon #7 is an interesting example of Larsen's penchant for experimentation. Even in the big, bawdy, pin-up world of early 90s Image, an issue comprised entirely of full page splashes is a big shift! If I'd read it at the time, I might've felt a little ripped off, but years later, I'm in awe of the way it underscores the weight of Overlord as an arch-villain. The same approach was used a couple of years earlier for Superman's final showdown with Doomsday during The Death of Superman event. Both have pros and cons, but overall I think the Savage Dragon example keeps its eye on storytelling a bit better.

Each spread shows good visual consideration - rarely an issue for Larsen. The first page kicks it off with flavor: all recap, riddled with narration boxes on a black void where there would be elevator walls. It's an overhead shot, heavy on shadow and pregnant with expectation. It's an obvious homage to Frank Miller, who was working on Sin City these days, and is a well noted Larsen influence. That Miller twist is common in these early days, gets especially fun when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show up, but I digress.
Frank Darling doesn't make it more than a few pages before he's a vaporizing skeleton. It's the right type of over-the-top lethality for Miller, but I'm reminded of another of the influences Larsen has cited over the years -- Dick Tracy. You might not see it in the pencil rendered figures, or the oh-so nineties villains, but it's there! Tracy's villains are famous for the big impact they made, but few were around for long before they met a grim end. Crooks in The Dragon's town don't tend to stick it out for long, either. The Mafioso behind Overlord's obvious Dr. Doom inspired fa├žade will get his. The fun is waiting to find out when!

Somewhere around the middle of the issue: DOOM! A lettering effect right out of Walt Simonson's early eighties Thor. Is Chris Eliopoulos having making full page comics, too? How could you not?

Larsen is still pushing his books forward, with a Dick Tracy-esque cutthroat timeline that waits for no one - sentimentality be damned! Dragon Jr's the title character now, and Larsen's putting him through the paces just like pop. A bit like the eras of Tracy, I think I prefer the early examples, but it's still good stuff. These early books feel raw, motivated, uncertain, but full of energy and the sharp edge of a pencil with something to prove. I won't ever tell the man I like his old stuff better than his new stuff. He doesn't want to hear it, and it's not strictly true. Because Larsen knows comics, and he's got a twenty year canon all his own, and some accumulated extra stuff that he ain't afraid to use. Don't I know it? Don't I love it!
Welcome to The Comic Book Fight Club, Savage Dragon! I'm sure it won't be the last time! I'm certain it won't be the next time, though. Next week we'll continue to celebrate ten years of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths with another legendary superhero showdown, and here's a clue: I made a reference to it in this very post. See you next week!

Winner: Overlord

Stats: Overlord - 1 fatality (Frank Darling).

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