Saturday, June 1, 2013

Savage Dragon

Savage Dragon Archives Volume 1: written and illustrated by Erik Larsen (1992-94; collected 2006): Savage Dragon continues to run as a monthly today, more than twenty years after it was one of the first books from fledgling comics line Image, formed by artists who'd left Marvel because they wanted to own their own characters. Indeed, it's the only one of those first books that has maintained continuous publication, which is quite a testament to creator/writer/artist Erik Larsen.

Savage Dragon follows the adventures of a green-skinned, amnesiac, super-powered fellow with a foot-tall fin on his head. Recruited to help Chicago police deal with an overabundance of super-powered criminals, Officer Dragon soon becomes sought after across the U.S. as a reliable bulwark against super-criminals.

It's fun to watch Larsen grow as a writer and an artist over the first two years of the book collected here. The black-and-white reprint format makes an early tendency towards over-rendering quite clear -- a number of early one- and two-page splashes are nearly incomprehensible in black-and-white thanks to a plethora of lines.

Larsen has already self-corrected by the end of the run, though, as his art gets pleasingly more cartoony (Dragon looks less and less over-muscledly realistic and more and more like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon). The influences of artists like Frank Miller, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and perhaps Alex Toth start to show in an art style that more effectively uses fewer lines, suggestiveness, and solid blacks.

The writing develops as well, the story becoming twistier and more capable of surprise the further along one goes. There are some nice plot twists, some effective characterization, and an increasingly effective ability to make fights scenes seem necessary to the storyline, and not simply de rigeur. A good time. Recommended.

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