By Parker McCombe
Yes, that’s probably the most clickbaity title for any internet post you’ll see all day, but we’re talking about a comic book that got a ton of press from the fact it had a threesome in it’s 200th issue, but like that plot-line, this article goes a little deeper than than just it’s gimmicky premise.
Of course, you could be thinking, “Why the hell would I buy a comic I don’t read every month???”
Well, I’m pretty sure that if you’re deep enough into comic books to read this article then you probably have a few variant covered issues in poly-bags that’ve been barely touched by human hands, tucked away somewhere, so is it a such big ask to buy something with the hope of gaining a greater appreciation and understanding of the human experience through fiction, as opposed to a weak possibility of financial gain sometime before you have to pay for the education your kids’ need to understand that other option?
Maybe you’ve already read an issue or two and didn’t like it. Maybe you think about picking it up but two hundred-odd issues of back story is putting you off. Maybe you used to read it but a particular story arc wasn’t your thing. Perhaps you even heard or thought it’s just superheroes and supervillians punching each other in every panel.
Whatever the reason is you don’t read it, any comic that sticks around for over twenty years will garner your interest at some point, even more than once or twice. It’s human nature. It’s very much geek and nerd nature. You’ll want to know what you’re missing out on.
Now, if that’s the case, and some day you think, “Two hundred and fifty issues?? I have to read one and see why people are [still] buying this thing.”
When that day comes, I implore you… Implore – like a humble servant who tastes your food to check for poison – you to read more than just one issue because…
Reading one issue of Savage Dragon and forming a complete opinion on it is like eating one type of meat and deciding if you like all dead animal carcass based on that one particular serving of protein. Sure, you might get a sirloin, mmmm tasty, but maybe you’ll get some liver, be turned right off and miss out on a world full of bacon.
Even with this in mind though, despite being great, the merits of the art, or the dialogue, or plotting of Savage Dragon have begun to not even matter in the grand scheme of things.
Savage Dragon has gone way beyond, now, whether the story is actually ‘good’ or not. It’s definitely much, much better than some comics that sell in far higher volumes, even if a particular issue or storyline doesn’t hit the mark, but critical opinion sometimes has to give way to the sheer enormity of what’s being created.
You see, Savage Dragon is more than just an average superhero comic book…
No, not a comic book for men over seven foot tall, but rather an epic examination of what it would be like if time affected superheroes the same way it does us.
Savage Dragon‘s creator, Erik Larsen, made the decision that in an ongoing monthly book, his characters would age in ‘real time’. That means that some characters in the books have grown old and children of original superheroes are now adults. It’s an experiment in comics that’s unprecedented in scale. Imagine your favourite Superheroes twenty years down the line, not just as a mini-series, but watching them get there too. Think of all the ramifications in the superhero-ing world if time passed at the same speed as our own. You’d be growing older along with the characters you were reading about.
This is what Savage Dragon does. It shows us what that would be like. It gives us that one thing no other book does. It lets us live life alongside it’s characters on an equal field of mortality.
Yes, some of these characters may be indestructible, or even immortal, but there is no escape from what time does; if not to you, then to everyone around you. It’s a crushing sentiment that pushes the plot-lines of Savage Dragon exponentially forward. As in life, before we have time to unbox and take into account one set of circumstances, a few years have passed and events have shifted us into a new phase of living.
Of course, that’s all very meta, but it ultimately means the book can never rest on its laurels. And because of that…
Savage Dragon is constantly evolving. Each story arc seems dramatically removed from the one before, sometimes even giving the same feeling as times when a whole new creative team has come onto a book. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or something Larsen is doing subconsciously, but the impact from a reading stand point is quite visceral.
It’s quite an achievement, I feel, if a sole creator can create a feeling of ‘eras’ within an ongoing fictional world of their own making, whether it be a comic book, book or television series or even in film. It almost always takes a change in creative team to kick start a new, individually thought-of period of story-telling.
Because of this, Savage Dragon almost always seems to surprise with the direction it goes in, it’s storylines rarely turning out how the ‘rules’ of storytelling believe they should. Of course, this can be off-putting if you’re the type of person who gets annoyed when a storyline doesn’t go their way, but, of course, I know that none of you reading this are weak minded like that. *looks directly at camera
The most important thing to remember about storytelling not adhering to rules though, is that sometimes genuinely ingenious and mind blowing events can spring out of left field and have an impact on you as a reader. Add to that the fact it subverts superhero tropes with almost every issue and you soon realize that…
I mean that in both senses of the phrase. Not only is it a book made with true comic book lovers first and foremost in it’s mind, but it’s become life-admiringly clear that Savage Dragon‘s creator loves and believes in the medium to a degree that verges on obsession, if not insanity.
Erik Larsen lives and breathes ‘funny books‘.
This is a guy who created a character when he was a kid, grew up to be lauded for his work on some of the world’s most famous superheroes, then went and published over two hundred issues of a comic using that original, creator-owned character written and drawn solely by himself, and he believes he’s just getting started. It’s the longest running American full-colour comic to feature the same writer and artist. This fact is made even more respect worthy by the fact that, at times, Larsen has coloured and lettered the whole thing himself, too.
And you may be thinking to yourself, “Here we go, a fan kissing backside like there’s no tomorrow,” and yeah, the guy does draw like some sort of weird genius savant, but no, I’m not telling you that Larsen is some sort of infallible Whedo-esque god. Lord knows he’s probably the most argumentative man in comics and can be outspoken to the point of rudeness whether he’s right or wrong, recently leaving twitter because of said outspoken-ness, but if you separate the man from the creation, which you need to do with all great works of literature (Yeah, I said that. Savage Dragon is a great work of literature. Come at me, Library Of Congress. And bring a ladder.) you’ll find that, whether you love or hate the guy, Larsen garners our respect as much as, or even more than, anyone working in comics today. And love (or even like) and respect are not mutually exclusive.
I’m pretty sure Larsen himself would hate the idea of you buying Savage Dragon and not reading it. There’s no other comic book franchise more loved by it’s creator, there is no other comic book franchise that will surprise you as much, there’s no other comic book franchise that has de-constructed superheroes so consistently for so long and, if you do, for some reason take my advice and decide to buy Savage Dragon for the next year or two years and then finally give birth to a thought bubble that reads ‘I FEEL LIKE GIVING SAVAGE DRAGON A GO TODAY,’ it will be one of the best comic book reading days you will ever experience.
Or you could just go and buy the trades… But then, that’s nowhere near as clickbaity or romantic.
Parker McCombe co-created and writes Samurai City and sometimes has fans request specific subjects they want him to write about.
If you have something you’d like Superhero Dojo to cover, you can email him or, alternatively, simply attach a letter to the ankle of a real dragon.