On the TV series "Fringe," there's a rule of thumb that "there's more than one of everything." Such is certainly the case in "Dragon War," writer-artist Erik Larsen's latest "Savage Dragon" arc kicking off in issue #155 of the long-running Image Comics series. From an army of Dragons created by Dragon's own blood to the reintroduction of the Dragon from Darkworld, Larsen's latest story has no shortage of green-skinned threats - but all of them could pale in comparison to the potential danger of the newly resurrected Dragon himself, who lacks even a single memory from his previous heroic life.
Larsen spoke with CBR News about the upcoming story, how it could affect "Savage Dragon" going forward and the inclusion of a legendary illustrator as one of the cover artists for issue #156.
"There are a few bits working in tandem [before 'Savage Dragon' #155]," Larsen told CBR of the current status quo in the book. "One is that the Vicious Circle has gotten their villainous mitts on Dragon's blood, and they're able to use it to augment the power of their members. Meanwhile, Dragon himself is not in his proper frame of mind, having had half of his brain consumed and absorbed by the villain Virus. And another version of Dragon from the alternate earth Darkworld is back in the mix."
All of these elements are set to collide when the "Dragon War" kicks off in December's 155th issue. "It's really about a lot of green guys with fins on their heads, vying for power," Larsen said of the arc's premise. "Overlord wants the Vicious Circle to be calling the shots in Chicago, and the one constant thorn in his side has been Officer Dragon. Meanwhile, Dark Dragon - for lack of a better name - essentially wants to take Dragon's place and kill his counterpart. And then there are others that will be thrown into the mix: Dragon's son Malcolm, Flash Mercury, Mutation, and we'll even touch on Dark Dragon's offspring. But there's more - much more - and I really can't say where this will ultimately go, but it'll be epic."
While the inclusion of multiple Dragons is the most obvious reason for the arc's title, "Dragon War" also refers to the conflict within Dragon himself after the loss of his memory - a wound that won't be easy to heal, if it's even possible to recover from in the first place. According to Larsen, Dragon's current predicament could be blamed on an unlikely suspect: Free Comic Book Day.
"The way I work is not so much to map out a single linear story, but to map out dozens of possibilities," he said. "In a way, it's like writing a choose-your-own-adventure type book, and it's my job ultimately to choose the path which leads to the most compelling stories. More than once, I've written myself into a corner ,and I'm square in one of those now, but that's why the book is so much fun to work on. Initially, 'Savage Dragon' #147 was a throwaway issue. Because of there being a 'Savage Dragon' issue for Free Comic Book Day, I needed to do the issues out of order, so what I needed to do in #147 was to tread water. Dragon's kids had been kidnapped in #146, and they'd be rescued in #148, so essentially I needed to keep things as they were in #147. I ended up doing this Virus story and had that character chewing on Dragon's brain, and that was another corner - he'd absorbed the personalities of other characters whose brains he'd eaten, and I thought it'd be neat if he did that with Dragon and then had Dragon's blood turn him into Dragon completely. As it turned out, in the long run, that story had a far bigger impact than many surrounding it, and it was the catalyst to a lot of what followed."
Finding a way to restore Dragon to the hero that fans know and love is certainly a tricky prospect, but it's one that Larsen might not face - it's entirely possible, according to the creator, that that version of Dragon is gone forever. "Would I miss Dragon if he never came back? Absolutely. But there are a lot of characters in the book, and the plan was, from the start, to have Dragon eventually die and for his son or daughter to take over the book. They're compelling characters too, and I love writing them, so I could make things work either way," he said. "Part of the fun for me doing this book is taking it in new and unexplored directions. The Dragon could become the villain of the book,and his children would have to face him, or any number of things. It's got enough of an ensemble cast that I feel pretty confident that I could, at this point, ditch the Dragon and shift my focus to his children if that seemed to be the most exciting direction to take the book."
While the direction of "Savage Dragon" remains murky for now, Larsen teased that the end of the "Dragon War" arc should resolve the longtime protagonist's status. "This will all be settled, to some extent, over the next six months," he said. "I don't want to leave Dragon in limbo. At the end of this story, he'll either be dead for good or back."
But Dragon isn't the only character that fans need worry about - as the arc's title implies, there are more than a few fin-headed foes running around Chicago. According to Larsen, the idea to introduce multiple Dragons goes back to an early issue of the series. "I'd done a glimpse forward in issue #29, in which an African American-looking Dragon character was in a devastated city," said the writer-artist. "Readers were bound to naturally think that was Dragon's son, as his girlfriend Rapture was pregnant at that point. I thought it would be a cool bit to throw in another possibility and have one of the cops get a blood transfusion from Dragon as an act of desperation because he was dying. He got the transfusion and immediately took on a Dragon-like appearance, but in the issues that followed, he exploded, and Dragon's son Malcolm was born. So, the idea was there - the germ of an idea, which became 'Dragon War' - that Dragon's blood would transform people into a variation of him."
Larsen's idea to exploit Dragon's blood is passed down to Overlord, the current leader of the Vicious Circle. Despite Overlord's crucial role in creating these dangerous Dragons, Larsen said that the character's origins would remain mysterious throughout the arc. "We'll get bits and pieces, but other than being the head of the Vicious Circle and the guy pushing the notion of having Dragon's blood augment members of the Circle, this is not really his story," he said. "We'll gather more clues along the way and give readers more possible suspects, but his big reveal will come later."
As if Overlord and his Dragon minions weren't fearsome enough, "Dragon War" also reintroduces the Dragon from Darkworld into the mix. "Dark Dragon knows that our Dragon is a wildcard and that his interference has messed things up in a big way," said Larsen. "Dragon caused the death of Darklord and the destruction of both Darkworld and another earth, so he sees it as vitally important that our Dragon be eliminated. He worries that our Dragon might lead to major catastrophes on this Earth and he wants to prevent that. Like many good villains, Dark Dragon sees himself as the hero."
If solicitations are any indication, the two Dragons will collide in "Savage Dragon" #156, which features a cover from legendary artist Herb Trimpe. "When I was a kid, 'The Incredible Hulk' #156 was the first comic book I ever bought, and ever since I introduced Dark Dragon, I had planned to have 'Savage Dragon' #156 share some similar themes," said Larsen. "I wanted to do a riff on that cover and I was thrilled when 'The Incredible Hulk's' own Herb Trimpe agreed to draw an alternate cover."
Beyond the noteworthiness of Trimpe's involvement, the cover posits a provocative plot development. In the image, both Dragons confront one another, with one of them proclaiming that he has obtained the brain of Emperor Kurr, Dragon's ruthless persona before coming to Earth. Despite the tantalizing line of dialogue, Larsen admitted that fans shouldn't read into the cover too closely. "I really had to put those words into somebody's mouth on that cover," he said. "What's undisclosed is which Dragon is which, and if Herb's cover is remotely accurate in the first place. I don't consider covers canon, after all. Often they're selling an idea or trying to get an emotional response. I'm willing to concede that there's every possibility of it being misleading."
One thing that fans aren't being misled about is the enormous impact that "Dragon War" will have on the future of "Savage Dragon," for better or worse. "In a way, this is what the book has been building to for seventeen years. A lot of people throw around phrases like, 'The world will never be the same,' but this really does change everything," said Larsen. "This is a big, sprawling and ambitious story, and the title will become even more fitting as it progresses. Just you wait!"
"Savage Dragon" #155, which kicks off the "Dragon War" story arc, hits comic book stores on December 2, 2009, courtesy of writer-artist Erik Larsen and Image Comics.