The Savage Dragon #1 cover

Image @ 25: Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon

This week, at, I start a new series of articles under the “Image @ 25” banner.  (I should really crate a banner for that…)

I kick things off by looking at “The Savage Dragon” #1 by Erik Larsen, Gregory Wright, and Chris Eliopoulos.

For those of you who’ve followed Pipeline for a long time, you know what “Dragon” has meant to me.  I’ve been reading since Day One, and had letters printed in more than 100 issues of the series. I was a character in the book once.  I’ve written fanfic, for goodness’ sake.  I continue to read and enjoy it to this day.

I hadn’t looked at the original mini-series in a very long time, though.  What I found couldn’t fit inside the 1000-ish word budget I have for every week.  I think the column ran closer to 1200, too, and it still wasn’t enough.

Here, then, are the bits that got left on the cutting room floor, plus a couple new bits I’ve added in because I felt like it.

The Dawn of Overlord

Overlord makes his first appearance in the series on the last page. You only see him from behind, but you know he’s big trouble.

Why? Well, he has a gigantic royal purple cape and hood. His name is “Overlord”. He has a talking shark working for him. And he has a great view of the Chicago skyline from his hideout with its floor-to-ceiling windows.

He’s like the Kingpin wearing armor and a cap, but not at all.

It’s Rough

I’ve read, what, almost 225 issues of “Savage Dragon” by now? (I even tried to download all the issues.) Plus countless spin-offs in the same universe, many of them written or co-written by Erik Larsen.

Work evolves over time, and you don’t see it happening until you look back.

I praised issue #219 just last week in this column. When I look back at issue #1 now, I see all the clunky flaws in the work. I still love it as a fan. It’s a fun first issue that sets up a lot of stuff that gets paid off in the first two years of the series. It captures the zeitgeist of the time in an interesting way, while being a superior piece of comics storytelling to much of the rest of comics at the time.

But the critic in me can’t help but notice a few things, like:

The dialogue falls flat a lot of the time. This is super-melodramatic stuff, even for a superhero comic that’s so obviously meant to be super-melodramatic. The dialogue is all on the nose, in ways that read painfully today. There’s a lot of people posturing on the page here. Frank Darling gets the brunt of it.

Frank Darling is losing the battle, Mildred.

Including Mildred’s name in there just cracks me up.  Her name doesn’t go along well with the gravity of the situation.  Read it out loud to see what I mean.

The opening battle scene ends with Dragon threatening Cut Throat, who immediately cowers in fear and gives up. (In a wiggly word balloon, he whimpers.) In the next panel, as Dragon carts him off, Cut Throat is belligerent and threatening to kill Dragon.

Guess he got over the intimidation quickly…

Frank Darling's arms look weird.
There are some random limbs that appear weirdly disconnected from their bodies or just the wrong size. On the left, Frank’s arm appears to fold back on itself.  His forearm is behind his bicep.  Try that pose for yourself and see where your arm goes.  The elbow doesn’t quite work that way.

On the right, Frank’s hand, particularly his palm, appears almost the same size as his head.  His forearm is about the size of Popeye’s after a can of spinach, too.

These are nits I’m picking, but the kinds of things you notice when you’re used to more mature work for so many years.

Eliopoulos/Stanislavski’s Method of Lettering

It’s not enough to letter a book that has guest stars.  Oh, no, you also have to mimic that guest star’s natural lettering.  So Chris Eliopoulos apes Tom Orzechowski’s style here.

Chris Eliopoulos mimics Tom Orzechowski's Spawn lettering

Since things always come full circle, Tom Orzechowski became the Savage Dragon’s letterer for a few years there after Eliopoulos left.

The two kids in this scene are named Rob and Erik, by the way.

This page, by the way, contributes nothing to the story.  It’s just cool.  It’s an excuse for Larsen to draw McFarlane’s guy, which he would later go on to do for a dozen issues last year. Larsen also does a credible imitation of McFarlane’s style across the page this scene runs across.

Let Me Semi-Spoil the Ending

Youngblood guest starred in both the opening mini-series for “WildC.A.T.s” and “Savage Dragon”.

In the third issue of “Dragon,” Erik Larsen had Bedrock fighting Dragon for a chunk of the issue.  Character designs were fluid at the time.  Larsen drew Bedrock with four fingers, when he only wound up having three.  And that’s why you see the lettering on the cover where it is — to cover up Badrock’s hands.  On the interior, there was nothing to do to fix it.

Badrock is beaten by Dragon after admitting that he was testing Dragon to see if he was strong enough for Youngblood, leading to this awesome panel:

Dragon beats down Badrock

Coming up next: Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s!

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)


  1. I jsut got back into Dragon through the B&W reprints and then buying issues online. Great, great unpredictable series where characters evolve and grow and die. It’s currently about Savage Dragon’s Malcom as he raises his triplets while fighting crime.

    If you’ve not been reading it you’re missing out.

  2. I remember buying this mini when it first appeared and feeling very confused. On the surface it looked like a Marvel or DC comic of that era but like an Ikea piece of furniture that has leftover nuts and bolts, the storytelling was wobbly and disjointed, jumping places and doing ellipses for no good reason.
    I can see why it is clearly the best title from Image at that time, and the body of work Larsen produced since then, the sheer persistence, forces respect, but as a standalone offering it was very unsatisfying. The absence of a professional writer and of an editor screams through every page. Clearly all the other legacy Image titles were essentially glitter over substance, for me mostly unreadable, but I guess I’m in the minority since I never bought a book just for the pretty pictures and deformed woman anatomy.
    Years later I bought the SD Essential volume and reread it with new appreciation for its historical value. Larsen learned on the job. The B&W also helps focusing and avoid epileptic seizures lol. How many of those big ones did they actually publish in total?

    1. With that initial mini-series, there was a lot of making stuff up as people went along, so much of it is rough. It does usually get better as time goes on. I still think Larsen is the best storyteller of the original Image founders, even in that mini, though. It does jump all over the place in an effort to introduce as much stuff as possible and do as many “cool” things as quickly as he can, but that settles down with the on-going series.

      It also helped that the on-going series had a couple of focus points on it with the creation of Freak Force (still one of my favorite series of all time) and the threat of Overlord.

      Oh, and “Dragon” DID have an editor — Erik Larsen’s wife! But as I recall, she quit after reading the first issue. 😉

      There are three or four of those black and white books available now. Comixology just had a sale on them last week. The Dragon series is up to issue #220 now.

  3. There’s actually seven of the SD Archives black and white books now. An eighth volume is due for release on April 12, and that will bring the collections up to issue #200.

  4. Dragon is still the best. I especially loved Erik’s inking style during this period. Would love to have an oversized HC but know that that will never happen – may be time to create my own bind!