Comic Review: The Savage Dragon, Vol. 1: Baptism of Fire

I recently watched a documentary about the formation of Image Comics in the early 1990s. It was a company that I immediately aligned myself with as a fan, as every artist that I loved at Marvel left and went independent in an effort to buck the system and make more money, all while having the creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.

Erik Larsen left his cushy job at Marvel, working hard on the top Spider-Man titles, and brought his creation The Savage Dragon to Image. In fact, this series was so huge and successful upon its debut that it has had a long lasting effect, being only one of two of Image’s launch titles that continued to be published from its 1992 debut all the way into the 2010s. The other title was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.

I actually haven’t read The Savage Dragon since the ’90s but I stuck with it for several years until later high school social responsibilities monopolized my schedule. Plus, I got burnt out on comics for awhile, even though I was once an aspiring comic book artist. I think I just picked up on how bad a lot of the ’90s comic book tropes were and when I did read comics, I was more driven to check out all the older classics that were readily available in my comic shop or in trade paperbacks in bookstores.

While The Savage Dragon is still cool, it does fall victim to some of these unavoidable tropes, just as the other Image Comics titles did. It has clunky, uninspiring writing, bad dialogue and some pretty awful character designs, especially where the villains are concerned. I think a lot of artists, whether they realized it or not, were taking creative cues from comic book wunderkind Rob Liefeld in how he loved big odd-looking guns, cyber body parts, metal masked villains with huge capes and well… just about everything that became synonymous with ’90s comics. In this first chapter of The Savage Dragon saga, I don’t know if Larsen even knew where he was going or if this was just more about experimentation.

Dragon is a cool hero and I’m happy that Larsen didn’t try to answer the mysteries of his past too soon. This collection covers his original four issue miniseries before he would go on to have an ongoing series. Enough is established here to get you interested in the characters and situations but there really isn’t much of a traditional story arc in this limited series’ narrative structure. It serves as a four-part origin story with just enough origin to get things rolling but certainly not the whole backstory of how Dragon came to be Dragon.

While I did like my experience in revisiting the earliest Dragon story arc, I’ll have to get back into the longer running series in order to get a real feel for the character and Larsen’s larger vision.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers, Vol. 3

After the first two G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers crossover events put out by Devil’s Due, the third one had it’s work cut out for it, as the previous installments would be hard to top. Well, this one was enjoyable but it fell short.

Reason being, I wasn’t too keen on how they handled the debut of Cobra leader Serpentor, who served as more of a Decepticon leader here with Cobra as an afterthought.

In fact, other than the setup and twist at the ending, Cobra was fairly nonexistent and this just saw G.I. Joe working with the Autobots to stop Serpentor, the new Decepticon ruler on Cybertron, who was essentially the “son” of Megatron.

The tease at the end of the second story that saw Dr. Mindbender encounter Cobra-La and had the mention of Unicron is held off until the fourth chapter, after this one. Which made this a bit of a letdown, as I was really anticipating the Cobra-La and Unicron story line, which would unify the threats of both G.I. Joe and the Transformers motion pictures. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited for Golobulus and Unicron working towards a common goal of ultimate destruction?

A big positive of this story, however, was seeing Hot Rod become a leader, as Optimus Prime was in pretty bad condition for part of the story. Also, it gave us General Hawk on the G.I. Joe side and finally pulled the trigger on the infatuation between Snake-Eyes and Scarlett.

It’s not that this chapter had a bad story, it just didn’t have that epic feel of the other chapters in this massive four-part crossover event. But it is decent filler until the larger than life conclusion, which this was working towards.

Comic Review: Godzilla In Hell

I’ve only read one other Godzilla comic book series and that was Rulers of Earth. This was put out by IDW Publishing, just as Rulers was and frankly, seeing the “King of Monsters” take on whatever Hell has in store for him, was worth checking out.

Sadly, I was pretty underwhelmed by this.

As you can imagine, with a story that just features Godzilla rampaging through Hell, there really isn’t any dialogue. Well, there’s some narrative bits and a Moth angel thing talks, as does a demon for a second, but for the most part, this is just Godzilla rampaging through Hell and that’s about it.

You’d think that the premise would create an awesome and epic story and while Godzilla does encounter some of his toughest foes, he actually fights King Ghidorah and Destoroyah at the same time, the narrative plays out like a disjointed, surreal dream sequence. It jumps around from bit to bit and all the battles end up being interrupted by Godzilla falling into a deeper layer of Hell or getting whisked away to some other place, geographically.

Also, the art is a mixture of good and bad. It is mostly pretty decent but there are some panels that look pretty hokey and outdated by decades.

This was an interesting and quick read, which flew by even quicker with barely any dialogue in the story. It’s certainly not a must read but if you are a massive Godzilla fan, it’s worth checking out if you can find a free copy or borrow it from someone. I read it for free because I have ComiXology Unlimited.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 3

I’m really loving this series and it actually keeps improving with each collected volume.

This third collection starts by bringing in one of the established comic book villains to the Batman ’66 universe. A character that has never appeared in the ’60s Batman show. Her name is Harley Quinn. In fact, she was actually invented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series and wasn’t even brought into the comics until the end of that decade. But seeing a popular Batman villain get ’66-ized is kind of cool.

The Harley origin story happens alongside a Joker and Catwoman team up that also features a lot of cameos from various villains locked within Arkham Asylum.

After that epic tale, we get to see the return of TV only villain, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, originally played by Carolyn Jones of The Addams Family. That is followed by a short tale featuring Van Johnson’s The Minstrel. We then get a False Face story, followed by a bigger team up adventure that puts the Joker with the Riddler and has cameos by the Clock King and the first comic book appearances of Art Carney’s the Archer and Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac, one of my all-time favorite Batman ’66 villains. Following that is another team up, this time featuring Tallulah Bankhead’s Black Widow and the Penguin. The last story gives us Egghead and comes with small cameos by the Otto Preminger version of Mr. Freeze and the Riddler.

This volume was heavy on the team ups and cameos but I like that it showcases a lot of the villains and think the stories work really well this way, as Batman ’66 was a short lived series and the show had a lot of villains to cover, many of which were exclusive to just the show.

Ultimately, this is just another great collection of the series that I had hoped would go on forever.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers, Vol. 2

I thought that the first G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers story would be hard to top but this one did it.

The story picks up sometime after the events of the first story. Here, we see Cobra Commander reveal to Destro that he still has control of Starscream and that he has learned about an alien computer on Cybertron that controls a network of wormholes for instant travel around that planet. With that device, Cobra could easily take over Earth. Cobra then finds themselves on Cybertron and a big fight breaks out between Cobra and G.I. Joe, which damages the alien computer, sending Transformers back to Earth at different points throughout time. G.I. Joe, Cobra and some of the Transformers then have to work together to save Earth, which will be ravaged by the power of the damaged computer for centuries. Members of G.I. Joe and Cobra break off into different groups and go to different points in time to rescue the displaced Transformers in an effort to set things right.

The thing I really like about this specific tale in the G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers crossovers, is the entertainment value of the multiple squads of G.I. Joe and Cobra members. I also love the time travel part, as we get to see the past and a potential future where a crippled and slightly mad Duke leads a resistance force of reformed Dreadnoks against Shockwave’s Decepticon forces. I also like that Shockwave is the big villain of this story, as I always felt that he was too cool to be as underutilized as he was in the original cartoon.

But then there is the big badass ending! I don’t mean to spoil anything, so ignore the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers but Dusty shows up from prehistoric times with the Dinobots and they literally tear shit up! It’s absolutely friggin’ glorious!

The thing I also love about this series is the art. Devil’s Due Publishing always put out really dynamic comic books with great colors and fantastic illustrations. It’s unfortunate that they had money problems and weren’t paying some of their creative staff properly, which lead to some departures, such as Hack/Slash moving to Image Comics. I always liked how they handled the G.I. Joe and The Transformers franchises but they’ve also been in good hands since going to IDW Publishing and being rebooted.

G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers, Vol. 2 is a great example of Devil’s Due at their creative best, though. A solid story, amazing art and characters that are adored by every boy that grew up in the mid ’80s.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 2

In the second collected volume of Batman ’66, the series really finds its groove. It felt even more like the ’60s Batman show than the first collection, which did a good job of kicking off the series.

I think, by this point, the creative team was more comfortable and really locked in to what made the ’60s Batman so special. We also get to see more of the classic villains from the show, who were show creations and not taken from the comics. And frankly, I adore a lot of the TV villains, especially Roddy McDowall’s Bookworm and Victor Buono’s King Tut, both of whom get resurrected here.

This volume actually kicks off with a Bookworm story. I loved this because the Bookworm story from the television series was one of my favorites and unfortunately, Roddy McDowall only played the character once. This was a good expansion on the character and fleshed him out more than the show did.

We then get to see the return of Anne Baxter’s Olga, Queen of Cossacks in a fun tale. There is also the return of Malachi Throne’s False Face in a chapter that also has a cameo by Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Then the Cesar Romero Joker has a funny little chapter about cost cutting in regards to labor. After that, we get the return of King Tut and the Caped Crusaders get sucked away to ancient Egypt.

Following the Tut adventure, we get a short chapter about Egbert Pennyworth, Alfred’s evil identical cousin. We then see the return of Anne Baxter’s other villain, Zelda the Great, Cliff Robertson’s Shame, an Otto Preminger Mr. Freeze story and then have the book capped off by the new villain Cleopatra, who was once an accomplice of King Tut.

I liked the stories here a lot and I don’t know how the series can improve upon the great work done in this collected volume but I have three more to go. Needless to say, this is one of the best and most refreshing newer comic series that I have read in quite a while.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers, Vol. 1

G.I. Joe and The Transformers have always existed in the same universe since the 1980s. Even if they only had a hint at a crossover when Cobra Commander appeared as a character named Snake in a very late episode of The Transformers cartoon, young boys in the ’80s knew that they occupied a similar space. The Transformers just exist a little bit further into the future, so they never really crossed over with the G.I. Joe and Cobra characters when those groups were at their peak.

The story here is interesting and Devil’s Due did a good job bringing these properties together in a practical and creative way. While it isn’t as fabulous as the old school Larry Hama G.I. Joe stories, it was well crafted and had the same sort of spirit.

In this chapter of this massive crossover that spanned four large stories, we meet the Transformers as they are unearthed by Cobra Commander and his Cobra minions. They crash landed on Earth at some point in the past. Cobra then uses the Transformers, Autobots and Decepticons, along with their alien technology to give them an advantage in their quest for world domination. G.I. Joe is formed after the initial Cobra attack and we also get to meet Autobots Wheeljack and Bumblebee, who have been lying in wait for the perfect moment to make their presence known. The Joes and the two Autobot heroes work together to free the other Autobots in an effort to protect Earth from Cobra and the Decepticons. Everything comes to a big awesome finale on Cobra Island in the Caribbean.

One real highlight for me was seeing two of my favorite childhood toys merged as one, as Cobra had Optimus Prime in the vehicle form of a H.I.S.S. tank.

This story is full of wonderful art, an engaging story that reinvents the mythos quite a bit while not necessarily betraying anything, great battles and just a whole lot of nostalgic fun. This is the comic book version of the crossover battles I would have on my bedroom floor as a kid in the ’80s.

Luckily, there are three sequels to this series.