Death and the SAVAGE DRAGON - Taking the Title Character Out of the Title?

Credit: Image Comics

In this week’s Savage Dragon #190, we saw Dragon stuck in prison and at the mercy of former enemies – and next month, it’s only going to get worse. As teased by creator/cartoonist Erik Larsen for months online and in various interviews, this fall’s issues of Savage Dragon will see the Dragon’s time come to an end and a passing of the torch to a new, different Dragon – his son, Malcolm.

And for Larsen, these events have been a long time coming but a monumental change nonetheless. Larsen originally created the Savage Dragon back in elementary school, drawing him in handmade comics as a teenager and budding cartoonist. After making his name drawing Marvel’s resident wall-crawler Spider-Man, in 1992 he broke away from the Big Two and co-founded Image with his childhood hero Savage Dragon back in a very big way. But now 21 years later, it’s time for a change.

As Savage Dragon counts down the final days of his titular star and the beginning of a “bold new era” in #193, Newsarama spoke with Larsen to find out more and commiserate over his most memorable creation.

Credit: Image Comics

Newsarama: First question’s a softball, Erik - what are you working on today?

Erik Larsen: Plotting and laying out Savage Dragon #191 and #192. They wrap up one phase of the book to get things ready for the next so I'm trying to get all of my ducks in a row.

Nrama: I’m interviewing today because I’ve been reading the last few issues of Savage Dragon and had to talk to you about it. First Dragon’s on trial for murder, now he’s convicted and in jail with his kids on the outside dealing with the fallout. How would you explain this story right now for those who haven’t read it?

Larsen:That covers it. I think there's a tendency to overcomplicate explanations but to boil it down--Dragon's been convicted of murder. He's in jail and he's locked up with a whole slew of guys that don't like him a whole hell of a lot. In the meantime his son is trying to pick up the slack and get through high school in one piece while his stepdaughter has joined a government super team and is pretty much out of the picture.

Nrama:In last month’s #189 we saw Dragon being inducted into prison. Just like disgraced police officers who go to jail are often confronted by angry inmates, the prison Dragon is in is like a who’s who of his former enemies – and not just as inmates; disgraced Presidential candidate and the second Dread Knight, Ronald Urass, is in charge at the prison. What’s it like for Dragon on the inside?

Larsen: Urass has all kinds of power and influence and in the years since his run in with Dragon he's struck a few deals which have him in charge of security at Stronghold Penitentiary. He's been pulling a lot of strings behind the scenes. Largely he's gotten where he is due to his technological advances. Since he's been able to keep these super-powered guys confined. For Dragon this has been a pretty depressing time. He feels helpless and in a lot of ways he's just given up. He doesn't see any way out.

Nrama:Dragon’s got powers and the moxie to know how to break out of prison – why isn’t he doing that from the get-go?

Credit: Image Comics

Larsen: These jails were built to hold guys like him. This isn't a standard building where he could simply walk through a wall with little resistance. That, and that would be a criminal act and he`s a former police officer. He'd be constantly on the run with nowhere to live and no place to turn. That's not a real long-term solution even if he could do it.

Nrama: On the outside, Dragon’s family is facing as many problems as him. While their mother is dead, Dragon’s sons Malcolm and Barry are dealing with the fallout of his father’s fights over the years. In #189 we even saw Malcolm apparently kill Barry’s mom, Battle Axe, in self defense. What’s it like for the Dragon boys?

Larsen: It's a bit more complicated than that. Barry isn't technically Malcolm's brother. He's the offspring of Battle Axe and the villainous Dark Dragon who was a version of Dragon from an alternate reality. Malcolm's father is the Dragon we all know and love.

Malcolm is coping as best he can and has become something of a celebrity in his own right. Barry has been hidden away and on the run following Battle Axe's incarceration. He's been under the care of Mutation who was posing as Jennifer Murphy so that she could stay with Jennifer's brothers. That whole scheme fell apart in #189 as the brothers grew suspicious and arranged to reunite Barry and his real mother and find out who was posing as their sister. At this point Barry is without a family and will likely become a ward of the state.

Nrama:Seeing the drama of children of super-heroes isn’t something we see too often in superhero comics without them being mysteriously erased or turned evil. For developing these stories with Malcolm and Barry, which as you said is the son of an evil version of Dragon, how did you go about making them more substantial than what we’ve seen in the past in superhero comics? Does your own fatherhood affect these stories?

Larsen: A big part of it is always learning through observation and seeing what others have done and where they've gone wrong. I've done a bit of skipping over stuff as well – it's easy to do that in a book of this nature where a year equals a year. If a character isn't focused on for just a few issues suddenly six months can go by and in the life of a child those six months can be huge. It can mean the difference between an infant and a toddler. It can be the difference of characters not being able to talk at all and being able to talk a little and being able to walk even. In a book with a large cast it's easy to skip over a lot of stuff.

My own fatherhood has affected things in some ways – it's given me an example from which to base things. How well does Malcolm talk? Well, how well does my own son talk? What are typical things my own son might say? How might my own son react? I have two boys, and Malcolm is closer in age to my younger son than my older one. My older son is the same age as Malcolm's stepsister Angel. So it's been pretty easy to be able to keep track of their ages just by looking outside and seeing my own children. When Malcolm started high school my son Joe also started high school. Things like that.

Credit: Image Comics

Nrama: Savage Dragon has never been a kids comic – closest thing you have is maybe the USA show – but #189 had a particular moment that stuck with me: Dragon spitting a loose tooth through the skull of a man, killing him. How long have you been saving up that gruesome death, and what would you say to the tone of violence in the book in general?

Larsen: An awful lot of what I do in my book is spur of the moment. That scene was written on the spot. It's a bit like life the way things in this book unfold. We all have plans--we all make decisions to help make those plans become reality but things don't always go the way you had intended necessarily. You may have wanted to be an astronaut when you were eight-years old but those plans fell through. You way have wanted to marry a movie star and become a professional athlete but things don't always go the way you had intended. I have a lot of long-term plans for the book but I don't force the characters to do things they wouldn't do and I'm surprised constantly by how things unfold. I'd already drawn and solicited a cover with Dread Knight fighting Savage Dragon for issue #191. Killing him two issues before was a spur of the moment thing but I thought it was a great moment--it showed just how far Dragon had fallen and it was a pretty satisfying end to Urass's life. Plus, it helped that I had a backup plan so Dread Knight could return. I could make it work.

The book has always had something of a dark side. The book has always had a pretty wide range from being extremely violent to pretty hilarious. It's not a kid’s book but it is the kind of comic I wish existed when I was a kid. A bit subversive, a bit on the edge. The kind of comic book you hid under your issues of Spider-Man and Batman and hoped your parents didn't notice. I used to get letters from kids whose parents caught on and they'd get comics confiscated. Not the goal necessarily but not surprising either.

Nrama: #190 just came out, so themilestone #200 is only 10 issues away – but you say you’re planning a major event coming before that in #193. What’s going on?

Larsen: At that point the book officially becomes Malcolm's. It's really a new beginning of sorts. He's the son of a famous superhero, out on his own against the forces of evil. A bit naïve, a bit unsure of himself, he's still in high school and trying to make sense of it all. It's somewhat akin to what Invincible was when it started. The big difference being that we all got to witness the adventures of his famous father whereas in Invincible that was all unrealized backstory. Malcolm's father is, at that point, out of the picture.

Nrama: That’s a ripe place for new stories. We’ve seen the first signs of Malcolm trying to step into his father’s shoes here, and reading now in the comics what could be Dragon’s walk into the sunset. What’s it like for you as these character’s creators, and be able to do such a definite story shift and pass the torch here to Malcolm?

Larsen: It's been pretty great. And I really do think it's time. I've done a number of fake deaths with Malcolm's father over the years and it's to that point where I don't feel I can play that hand another time. After his last resurrection, I kind of felt as though I was repeating myself to some degree and that his story really had been told. In the back of my head, I had moved on. And now I really have a lot more to say about Malcolm than I do about his father. It's time, I think, to put Dragon out to pasture. And let the new kid have his turn at bat. I know there are a lot of older readers who are having a hard time with that – and they don't want to let Dragon go but one of the natural consequences of setting a book in real time is that every character gets older including the lead character. I could certainly sidestep that, and pull a Wolverine and say these characters live forever but I didn't think that was playing fair with the reader and with the situation I had set up. If I'm going to set a book in a world where characters age – they'd better age, goddamnit. Or what's the point?

Nrama: How long have you been thinking about doing this shift to focus on Malcolm exclusively?

Larsen: Since before the day he was born, really.

Nrama: I know you can never say never to bringing back Dragon, but what’s it like doing what may very well be the final story for him?

Larsen: It feels right. It feels like it's time. It's time to move on. It's time for Malcolm Dragon to have his day in the sun.

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