“The Savage Dragon” #176 is a great jumping-on point for potential new readers. It’s a relatively simple done-in-one issue, in which young Malcolm Dragon deals with a bully at school, but it’s entertaining and tense all the while.
When Malcolm starts up at a new school, an older kid shows off for the girlfriend he keeps on one arm (as his other holds up his comically saggy pants) by attempting to intimidate the green-skinned finned and muscular Malcolm. You, the reader, know this is silly and futile and the product of a deranged mind, and Malcolm recognizes that fact, too. This isn’t about a rush to judgment or a quick fight to establish Malcolm’s strength. It is, instead, a testament to his character that he’s aware of his powers and realizes his responsibilities not just to use it for good, but also to restrain himself from using them inappropriately, even when it means sucking it up and walking away.
Larsen writes a convincing and heroic Malcolm, deflecting every silly clichéd bully antic in the book. We’ve all been through one of those discussions where you know the right thing to do is to turn around and walk away, but how many of us can resist not getting the last correct word in? (Comics fora are filled with such people.)
Eventually, there is a massive fight, but that’s only when Overlord shows up to recruit Malcolm, whose history with Overlord is such that it would never happen. The bully happens to be in the neighborhood when this happens, and so you get the extra angle of Malcolm fighting the bad guy while protecting the bully and trying to survive it all. Larsen’s ending to the scene is not any of the clichés I was afraid it would be. It’s effective and pushes the character forward, without maudlin melodrama.
Larsen’s art is looking sharp here this month, too. For those who watched it evolve over time, the more modern looser line can often look a little too scratchy and quick, but this issue blends that energy from the loose line together nicely with the more finished and finely-noodled line that Larsen was once known for. The art is still unmistakably his, and aside from one or two squishy faces, it’s a lot of fun to look at.
“The Savage Dragon” has felt more focused in the last year than it has in a while. The slow takeover of the title by the original Dragon’s son is now complete, and it allows Larsen to pursue a new line of stories. This issue is a great example of that, and will hopefully be enough to persuade a few new readers to come along for the ride.