In Review: Savage Dragon #218

A solid story with equally solid visuals. Recommended.

The cover: Emerging in front of the logo, Malcolm Dragon strains to grasp his wife Maxine who’s falling. She screams as she plummets, one arm out in an attempt to grab her husband’s hand. It appears that neither will be successful in their endeavors. Great cover by Erik Larsen that will have the reader looking at this front piece from top to bottom, trying to make a guess if the hero will save the girl or not. Colors are also good, with that orange making this stand out against other books on the shelves, while the white burst of energy running down the center directs the reader’s eye from one character to the other. Nice. Overall grade: A

The story: Malcolm Dragon goes where he’s never gone before: on a quest requiring no fisticuffs. Erik Larsen has this issue bookended, ending where it began. The Dragons are in bed, with Maxine getting frisky until one of the kids comes in and interrupts them. Adding to her disappointment is the phone ringing — it’s her mom, and she doesn’t have good news: Maxine’s father is in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer. “He’s got a lump the size of an orange. The doctors are suggesting chemotherapy but it doesn’t look good,” her mother tells her as they’re leaving the hospital. Maxine volunteers Malcolm, “I’ll bet he can come up with a solution. He’s a superhero — they always save the day.” Her mother responds, “Superheroes can’t fix everything, Maxine.” This sets up Malcolm’s quest: he questions everyone he knows, good and bad, for a solution to his father-in-law’s predicament. This is a very real threat that one would think a superhero could solve, but the solutions that he finds also have many unknowns; for example, should he use his blood, known as Freak-Out, in a transfusion? It could save Maxine’s father, kill him, or transform him in some unknown way. The pacing of this issue is good, because one can feel the clock ticking on the man’s life as Malcolm tries to get answers and there’s always the possibility that he will die. Larsen has had no problem killing off other characters in the past, and Savage Dragon is one of the few books where death is always an outcome. Maxine gets some good character growth in this issue, remaining constant that Malcolm will find a way to help her father. There is a conclusion to this tale and it fits all that comes before it. Larsen continues to inject just the right amount of reality into his fantastic saga. Overall grade: A 

The art: Artist Erik Larsen starts the issue with a very funny visual in the third panel on the first page that leads to an amorous moment for the Dragons. The reaction to the interrupting of this moment on Page 2 (panel three) is the perfect emotional response. When things don’t improve in the fifth panel, the emotion that Larsen gives to Maxine is great. Even without the text (But why would you do that?), the reader can get the gist of what’s occurring in the story. Starting on 3, Larsen starts to employ a layout that’s repeated a few time throughout the book: a vertical panel that stretches from the top to the bottom of the page, supported by four to five horizontal panels. It’s first done to introduce Hillman Hospital where Maxine’s parents are, but it’s later used to showcase an entire character, with the horizontal panels to support what they say or do. It’s a neat way to introduce a character to the reader and it’s used for humorous, yet frightening, effect on 5 and 9. The story dictates a lot of dialogue, since Malcolm’s battle is to find information, Larsen plays with the layout for each person or pair he speaks with, such as doing a page with twelve uniform squares on Page 4 (and it works!), five vertical panels on 6, eight uniform vertical panels on 8, and six uniform vertical panels on 12. This keeps the book visual interesting to look at. I remember reading years ago in a How to Draw Comics book that if an artist can make a conversation visually interesting, they’re a successful artist. I’d say that Larsen more than proves himself successful. The final panel of the book doesn’t have anything to do with the book’s story line, but sums up what many people are feeling. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Nikos Koutsis does the colors and Mike Toris provides the flats for this issue. The warm orange of the cover is repeated on the wall of the Dragons’ apartment, foreshadowing the fall that’s to come. When Maxine gets the news about her father, the wall goes to darker colors, emphasizing her mood. Colors are also used to reinforce the mood on Page 4, where the optimistic characters get bright colors and backgrounds, while Malcolm gets the more neutral ones, suggesting his doubts. Red makes a ghastly debut on 5, starting with one word and then transitioning into something else entirely. I was glad to see the individual on 6 and 7 has brighter colors than Malcolm, putting the focus on him and his situation. On 16 and 17 two characters are watching television in a dark room, and rather than using a brighter color when something positive happens, Koutsis and Toris keep it same tone on both pages, even when the joy goes 180: it grounds the book in reality. This pair delivers solid work. Overall grade: A

The letters: Dialogue, sounds, and yells, the holy trinity of comic book text, are created by Chris Eliopoulos. There’s not much need for sounds in this issue, as there aren’t any slugfests, but Eliopoulos still has to work hard to put dialogue into the issue without stepping on the art, such as on Page 4. He’s a pro, so no visual has to play second fiddle to any text. Though I must mention there’s one hell of a sound on 5 that’s awesome and absolutely disgusting, given the visual. It’s hard to top a sound like that, so after this point dialogue and a few yells comprise Eliopoulos’s work. Overall grade: A

The Funnies: Two full page installments of Jim Stenstrum’s Tales of the Siberian Snowtroopers open this collection. The first one is okay, with the art being better than the punchline, but the second installment is much funnier. Both have really old punchlines, but they work. Click Here made me sad, for obvious reasons. Draw Brandon Draw made me smile at the situation and the punchline, while Goodbye! made me as sad as Click Here. Three funny ones, two are just too soon…I’d never thought I’d have to use that line. Overall grades: B+

The final line: A rare comic book: no fighting, just a character trying to find a solution quickly. It’s a solid story with equally solid visuals. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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