With the influx of comic properties hitting pop culture in earnest over the last decade and a half, finding a way to introduce a massive, new audience to the medium became essential. Enter the proliferation of the omnibus edition. What started as the equivalent of a 101 textbook to comics became a way to compile old series for long-time fans. Image Comics has begun to print out omnibus editions of most of their series, including current runs. While the wait can be arduous, they are well worth it. The seventh volume of Savage Dragon Archives holds nearly 600 pages of Erik Larsen’s Dragon, hearkening back all the way to 2009, is yet another example of how Image is catering to readers, and continuing to celebrate one of its most iconic (although somewhat obscure) characters.
This round of Savage Dragon Archives covers some of the best pieces of lore for fans of Dragon, including a deeply disturbing look at his life before coming to Earth. His life as Kurr the Emperor provides a new understanding of Dragon, even calling into question whether his beliefs are truly his, or if his past life was simply a cruel trick played on a hated ruler. The traditional Dragon is put aside for a good part of the collection, and it reminded me just how brilliant the crew surrounding Dragon is, and how vibrant, but grossly flawed they are.
Dragon’s son Malcom and his adopted daughter Angel are front and center early on. After learning their father has died, despite his ability to heal, they rush to find a way to resurrect him, even if what they return is a flawed and damaged version. These kids are not doing well. They are poorly educated to the point of near illiteracy, trying to make sense of having super-human powers, and now adrift on their own. One of the most addictive parts of Savage Dragon is how dark Larsen’s world around Dragon is. So much of the series is jovial and self-aware, and it’s easy to forget this world sucks, and the adventures of Malcom and Angle show just that.
Such a long collection obviously covers a lot of ground, and usually an omnibus will contain more than one storyline, leading to a fracture. Surprisingly, the archive opens forcefully and spends its entire 572 pages creating a powerful, and most importantly beautiful, ending. If the final panel was the ending of the series, it would have been a satisfying one. Thankfully, that isn’t the case.
Since Erik Larsen has been writing and drawing Savage Dragon since day one (over 20 years), there is a consistent flow to the stories and a natural understanding of characters that can’t be overstated. Savage Dragon Archives Volume 7 reminded me of what set the series apart in the ’90s. It balances self-referential humor and bleak social commentary, superhero antics and ethical questions about science, as well as a healthy dose of socio-economic reality. Once again, we are witnessing why Larsen is a stand-out creator. Spending time with Savage Dragon is never something you’ll regret.