Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES is like Jiffy Pop—Fun to consume, no real substantive value, and it looks really fun to make. It is, in essence, all that is good about superhero comics. It’s big, dumb, and grotesquely funny. You know, like Batman used to be before a bunch of starry-eyed fanboys-turned-writers started romanticizing him as if he were Heathcliff from WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Savage Dragon is like those dumb Batman comics you used to read on the toilet, but with gore and big boobies. And isn’t that what superhero comics are: big, goofy stories you read while you’re going potty? I tried using 1984 as toilet reading once, and all it did was make me scared and depressed and that’s not good for your colon.
SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES collects the three-issue limited series and issues 1-21 of THE SAVAGE DRAGON comic in 616 pages of cartoony ultraviolence. We meet the Dragon as an amnesiac in a burning building and watch his rise through the Chicago Police Department as he fights the armored crime-boss known as Overlord (You know, just in case we forgot who was running the show). The appeal isn’t in the violence, or humor, or the B-movie idioms that Larsen employs so well; the true appeal of this comic is the sheer, unabashed joy that Larsen has disgorged all over each and every one of these pages. It’s an invigorating mess of words and images that kind of remind you of that pal who’ll do anything for a laugh. Whether he’s drawing the Dragon fighting a giant, foul-mouthed lobster or taking the piss out of his fellow Image founders, Larsen’s sense of fun is infectious. You can’t help but smile at a villain with a giant turd cannon on his arm (Again with the toilet talk!)
Whether he’s channeling Frank Miller or Jack Kirby, Larsen’s art is still very much his own. Everything is big and loud and cartoony. As far as Kirby acolytes go, Larsen seems to be one of the few people that gets it: The bigness, the dynamic poses, the seamless action sequences…Not too bad for a guy once dismissed as “MacFarlane Lite.” Larsen was probably the purest cartoonist from the Image bunch (along with being the most under-rated) and seeing his unvarnished black and white art is actually a bit of treat.
One gets the feeling that, as the other Image founders were out for fame and fortune, Larsen just wanted to make the comic book of his dreams. He’s the only Image founder that has stuck with his original creation and, as a matter of fact, his 130-plus issue stretch on Savage Dragon is only surpassed by Dave Sim’s CEREBUS and Stan Sakai’s USAGI YOJIMBO. Larsen’s greatest charm is that he’s a true fan of superheroes. Wonder of wonders, Erik Larsen actually loves all the dumb crap that comes with superhero comics! The sheer stupidity of the genre is celebrated by Larsen, who understands that at the end of the day, it’s always going to be about an overly muscled dude fighting a razor-clawed robot—Possibly with dynamite.
I’m really glad Larsen decided to go with this format, because this comic used to be collected in such a haphazard way it almost wasn’t worth it. Out of all the early Image comics, THE SAVAGE DRAGON is probably the only title worth collecting in this manner and I hope he keeps churning out these collections, because I happen to have a pretty healthy metabolism.