Savage Dragon #137 (Image Comics)

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sd137-header.jpgErik Larsen's finhead meets up with Madman, catches a concert from the Amazing Joy Buzzards, and endorses Barack Obama in this latest issue.

 

32 pgs. full color; $2.99

(W / A: Erik Larsen)

 

Erik Larsen recently stepped down as publisher of Image Comics in order to more fully concentrate on his own creative projects. The lightened workload seems to have done the old boy good. Erik's flagship title (and chosen son) Savage Dragon continues its progressive return to greatness with one of the most attention getting covers in recent comic history. "I'm Savage Dragon," says the huge word bubble encapsulating the familiar logo, "and I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States!" You won't see anything like that on the covers of any comics at the Big Two and, whatever your political leanings, you have to admire Larsen's gumption. A character is speaking with his author's voice and stronger than ever: not since Siegel and Shuster has a superhero so fully expressed his creator's social and political leanings. Erik Larsen is the Savage Dragon.

The 1-in-5 variant, Obama-endorsement cover. Click for a larger image.Perhaps surprisingly, in light of Larsen's outspoken views on the current state of American politics, the bulk of the actual issue is devoted not to talking points but rather just some good ol' fashioned superheroics. Or at least Larsen's unique take on superheroics. Dragon's daughter Angel is having trouble re-adjusting to life on Earth after a year in Dimension-X and the awakening of mutant powers inherited from her mother. Dragon himself needs an Empyrean Domination Doohickey to rescue his other kid from the inter-dimensional void. She-Dragon has been abducted in a kidnapping gone wrong. An aberration of science attacks a rock concert (starring Mark Andrew Smith and Dan Hipp's rock n' roll adventurers the Amazing Joy Buzzards) and Larsen's spit-curled stand-in for Superman, Solar Man, continues to viciously bring the villainous freaks of the world under control. In fact, yet another long running SD villain bites the dust this issue, but I won't tell who. You'll just have to buy the comic or troll the Image message board or something else like that. Really though, you should buy the comic.

Savage Dragon is one of those titles that should have a stronger readership. It's the longest running superhero title written and drawn by the same guy. One of the core Image titles, Dragon has strong ties to the independent comics community. A brief list of guest stars and crossovers includes: Spawn, Hellboy, Invincible, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Megaton Man, Destroyer Duck, and the current issue's featured guest, Mike Allred's Madman. Nor is this all merely some pale imitation of the Big Two's heroes and villains as one might expect from many other indy superhero titles. Larsen manages to successfully turn time-honored clichés on their ear and simultaneously homage and lampoon most of the major icons of comic book mythology.

The original cover to SD 137. Click for a larger image.Why then, does it seem like SD is a struggling title? Maybe it's the outspoken nature of Dragon's creator. That which lends the title its peculiar genius is also that which alienates readers. A cover like the one on SD #137 is going to draw both bouquets and brickbats in America's highly polarized political environment. Still, Larsen damn sure knows how to get your attention. Just try missing that cover as your eye peruses the racks at your local shop. We might not ever have been sure if Captain America was a Republican or a Democrat, but we know precisely where Dragon (a registered Independent endorsing the Democratic candidate) stands. In this age of ambivalence and creative properties engineered to have the broadest (and blandest) public appeal it's nice to see something definitively stated—even if it is only in the suburb of Make-Believe known as comic books.

Visually, the art is trending upwards. Larsen is more and more successfully balancing his unique blend of off-the-cuff energy and attention to the little details, heavy Kirby-esque lines and sometimes barely there inking. Issue #137 is also a return to someone else handling the coloring chores. Dylan McCrae makes interesting use of muted tones and colored linework, adding another dimension to Larsen's art, though the blurb at the beginning of the letters page makes it uncertain exactly who will be taking on this duty full time. Just for giggles Larsen throws in the original cover for SD #137, but it suffers for the comparison to the newer election oriented cover. Not so much for the content of the picture, but rather because it's so obvious Larsen pulled out all the stops to endorse Obama. For my own part, this long-time fan can only hope that one day the interior art will match the cover of #137 for detail and spontaneous elegance. | Greg O'Driscoll

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