In Review: Savage Dragon #226

Savage Dragon just got real, going where most comics fear to tread. Recommended.

The cover: Malcolm has his arm around Amy as they try to take their children out of harm’s way as an angry mob throws rocks and bottles at them. Behind this upsetting scene is President Donald Trump bellowing, “Kill them! Kill the aliens!” The bottom of the image states “The Torment and the Tyrant!” Writer and artist Erik Larsen is having his series go where other books fear to tread, into current politics. This cover is a strong one and might be seen as politically incorrect, but the actions within the issue justify its use. I’m glad to see the characters encounter issues that are current, and nothing is more current in America than its president. Overall grade: A

The story: The funeral of the Dragon opens this issue. The mourners talk about his passing by his grave, with Maxine having the most honest and humorous response, while another states, “He’ll be back. This isn’t the first Dragon funeral we’ve been to. Nothing would surprise me.” Malcolm is having trouble coming to terms with the death of his father and not helping is the throng of the reporters who arrive to assault him with several questions, many being horrible. He tells them his father died a hero, stopping Darklord, and that he hasn’t heard any plans from the president about deporting or exterminating every alien on American soil. He leaves the press still asking questions, taking Amy and the kids with him. “So…that was fun.” Time passes and heroes continue to fight monsters, while the president signs an Executive Order outlawing all extraterrestrials in the United States. It’s at this point that readers will either enjoy this story by Erik Larsen or feel that it goes too far. Page 6 has a newscaster getting responses from a crowd about the order. Sadly, it’s exactly what was seen before the last presidential election and can be found in the words by some members of the right. It’s not too far a step to have illegal aliens shift to actual aliens, or those with super powers. This is a neat way to address concerns of what should be done with these people and it’s not subtle. However, it’s hard to sympathize with xenophobic crowds or those filled with hate. When Maxine and the kids are accosted on the street, readers know that the kids won’t understand what’s going on, but will respond, and boy does Amy do so! On 11 the sentiments expressed by the citizens are chillingly real. Paranoia and xenophobia exists in the real world and they’ve now entered Savage Dragon. Page 13 is a concise explanation of where Malcolm now stands with a strong number of U.S. citizens, and though his counterarguments are valid, it’s going to be difficult for him, his family, and his super powered friends to have a life in the nation. Page 14 makes this more than apparent. As Malcolm struggles with this new political climate, a pair of heroes have figured out how to bring the original Dragon back, or have they? Larsen has shown a realistic response to a super hero, and his ilk, in the America of the present. Introducing a taste of reality to a book can change everything, and this certainly has. This was an enjoyable read, but a hard one. I can’t give it a plus because the reality of what’s occurring leaves me shaken, much as the situation of my country leaves me. Overall grade: A

The art: Erik Larsen’s visuals continue to be knockouts. The first page is a splash showing the final word at the Dragon’s funeral. The inside of the grave is shown, with mourners surrounding it. This is followed by two pages of moving around these characters to get their reactions: most wear their emotions on their sleeves, though one noticeably hides behind sunglasses with a single tear telling the reader how torn she is. The confrontation with the reporters is outstanding on Page 4, with only their microphones and cameras shown, making them an inhuman mass of technology. Where they are shown in the second panel they’re a faceless group that wants answers. The three panels devoted to Malcolm to show his changing emotions as he speaks is well done. Pages 6 and 7 frightened me with their reality. These images can be seen on any news channel, left or right wing, and they were the most disturbing of the issue. I shouldn’t have laughed at the fifth panel on 7, but I did, and I gave a happy smile at its outcome on the “victim.” 8 is another full-paged splash and it shows what remains of the city after the battle from the previous issue. The details in the debris are outstanding and I was impressed that the Dragon wasn’t make to stand out on the page, for he should look small against such destruction. 11 has the second most frightening panel of the book, with the words only exacerbating the visuals. 12 continues to use the fantasy elements of a comic to make commentary on an event occurring in society and it’s a home run of a page; the absence of backgrounds in the final panel makes it especially hard hitting. The final full-paged splash of the issue is 18 and it’s something that Larsen excels at — sumptuous space scenes. Everything is on this page and it’s fantastic. Heck, everything done in this issue, whether the fantastic or the real, works well. Overall grade: A+

The colors: This book features some particularly smart coloring from Niko Koutsis, with Mike Toris doing flats. The blue skies are a slick way to make the funeral serene. The characters’ skin tones, all of them, are tempered, to make the pain of the hero’s passing seem more felt. An explosion of yellows begins a return to normalcy with two heroes battling some monsters on 5. The splash on 8 has a tremendous shadow running through the illustration, making Dragon and his partner difficult to pick out. And that’s not a bad thing — it makes the action seem real, because with this much in ruins, there are going to be some ginormous shadows cast. Plus, it reminds the reader of the devastation. The colors in the first panel on 11 run hot to match the tone of the figures. There’s not a false step in any of Koutsis or Toris’s work. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: Dialogue, sounds, yells, transmissions, and a scream are Chris Eliopoulos’s contributions to this issue. He never fails to impress with his spectacular sound effects that are always a perfect match for the action on the page and his perfect placement of dialogue never overwhelms a panel’s visuals. The top of 11 is a perfect example of the latter. Overall grade: A+

The funnies: A six page feature “The Awakening!” written by Larsen, illustrated and colored by Rob Croonenborghs, and lettered by Ferran Delgado begins the back up features. This tale focuses on Jennifer Murphy’s Dimension-X adventure after she’s woken by Mr. Glum. It shows what happened to her at this point in her life and ends with her having some fantastic thoughts. The visuals weren’t for me, but the lettering was easy to read. Draw Brandon Draw was a three panel strip by Brandon B. about a schoolboy who’s a little too loud at school. A lowbrow joke drawn and colored superbly. The final five panels feature Tales from Rum Row, by Andrew Maxwell, Michele Bandini, with Ed Ryzowsi. The quick glimpse into this saga has three people crossing into an aerial gang war. The visuals are spectacular and I’m hoping that more of this strip appears. Overall grade: B+

The back cover: I normally don’t review the illustration on the back cover of Savage Dragon for the sake of space, but this image deserves some discussion. Illustrated by Marat Mychaels and inked by Alan Gordon, this is a stunning work showing the Dragon under attack by sharpshooters, while a fire rages behind him. This is a powerful piece with spectacular colors. Anything by Mychaels or “Your Pal” Al Gordon is worth picking up. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Timely, uncomfortable, and packs a visual punch. Savage Dragon just got real, going where most comics fear to tread. Super heroes encounter political obstacles that will change their futures. 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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