Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Savage Dragon #145

In these rough economic times, it isn't easy for anybody to keep up with the rent – even walking, talking action figures with fins on their head. The Savage Dragon is feeling the crunch, both personally and professionally, and after accidentally punching Solar Man to death (whose powers were unexpectedly shut off, rendering him unusually vulnerable) the Dragon's public image is at an all-time low. He's had to settle for inconsistent work as a bounty hunter, juggling his time between single dad care sessions and visits to the local villains' favorite hangouts.

As made blatantly obvious by the cover, this is the requisite "Hooray, America didn't vote for the Republican this time, I'm so motivated by these developments that I will include our new leader in my comic book" issue. I'm not sure if this is Larsen stealing Marvel's idea, Spider-Man thieving the Savage Dragon's concept or just an innocent coincidence, but either way we're looking at more than one Obama tie-in at the same time. The man gets around, and from the looks of things he keeps athletic, garishly colored company.

I didn't read Marvel's “Obama Meets Spider-Man,” (wasn't planning to check this one out, either) so I can't really compare the two, but I can say the President's appearance in this issue reads very much like the gimmick the cover makes it out to be. With the Dragon stationed in Chicago, having actually endorsed Obama during the election, I'd hoped for more than two pages of ass-kissing dialog, a thin excuse to get the two into the same room, and a telegraphed supervillain attack. And though the Prez only shows up for a pair of fast pages, the remainder of the issue doesn't fare a whole lot better. I'll never fault Erik Larsen for a lack of creativity – he's constantly finding ways to throw his cast into the fire, sparing no one, but his process of actually getting from start to finish really needs some work. When the Dragon himself is so unimpressed by a mega-powered bar room brawl that he carries on a wordy conversation with his old police chief without even slowing down, how can the readers feel any differently?

Like his writing, Larsen's artwork has grown lax over the years. It's unusual enough for a writer to stick with a series for nearly 150 issues, but to do so while also doubling as the book's artist is almost unheard of. It's only natural to expect that the man's work would evolve over the years, but in the case of The Savage Dragon it looks more like a slow erosion. Larsen still has a talent for composition, and his storytelling bears the fruits of his years in the industry, but the illustrations themselves are tough to get past. Never the most detailed, disciplined artist in the first place, the decade-plus of self employment has made him lazy behind the pencil. His work looks excessively rushed, overly simplified and dramatically unbelievable. On the few panels he really hunkers down and delivers this month, Larsen shows that he still knows how to do things the right way, but his efforts throughout the rest of the issue are propped up by his layouts and nothing else.

Looking back over that review, it sounds like I came in wanting to hate and got exactly what I was after. In fact, I desperately wanted to like this book – I followed it passionately for its first few years, but the reason I left it behind is precisely the reason I can't enjoy it today. Larsen's efforts, both in his writing and in his artwork, are lackadaisical. I can't believe that he's put his all into this book, on either front. At his best, he's a gifted talent – his plots prove this – but when he loses focus and lets the quality of his work slide, the results are almost always underwhelming. Flip through it but don't pay it any serious attention.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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