Category Archives: 90s Indy Stuff

“And So it was Written….”

prophet-4-variant-nm-5-1-1Hi. My name’s Symbifan. I’ve spent quite some time gracing you Unspoken Decade fans with my musings over cherished tales from 1990’s Marvel and DC (and one cleverly written Archie Comics epic). But sadly, those times are now through. Thats right, I’m done.

Ha! You really fell for that? I just meant that this particular article won’t be about a Marvel or DC Comics character! No, I’m simply stepping out of my comfort zone to bring you the story of Prophet, an Image Comics character. (Terrified you, huh?) Well, now that I scared the bejesus out of you guys, I should probably just begin….

RCO006Jonathan Taylor Prophet was a man possessed. (And I don’t mean possessed like your typical 2010’s “horror” movie. Anyone else miss the good old-fashioned slasher flicks? I know I do!) As he trudged through the barren wasteland, his thoughts turned only to combat. To calm himself, he remembered his favorite Bible passages. The Word kept him controlled, a comfort to a warrior’s mind.

He pauses a moment to reflect, his muscles tense for the coming conflict. He doesn’t have long to wait. Several orb-shaped mechanical attackers arise and prepare. Prophet pulls twin blades and takes an easy breath. They attack. The numbers are definitely on their side, a lesser man would fall easily. But Prophet is no ordinary man. He dispatches the robotic foes with ease. The orbs are replaced by more humanoid metal assailants. Now in full fighting form, the warrior slices through them as if they’re composed of hot butter. (Mmm! Damn! I wants me some toast now! Hmm….out of bread. Ah, the life of a starving artist….)

A rope ladder appears past his oncoming attackers. Seeing the automatons have multiplied in number, he takes a calculated risk and leaps. As his hands grip tough rope, he’s pulled to safety by the flying vehicle it’s attached to. Upon reaching the top and entering the craft, Prophet is shocked by who his saviors are. A man cloaked in shadow and adorned with a long, flowing red cloak and…..Mary, the long-lost love of his life!

RCO012The look upon her features is one of obvious and malicious betrayal. The man, though in shadows, looks pleased at the pained look on Prophet’s face. Prophet finds himself at a loss for words. Just then, the hooded man slowly reveals his face. It is one that our hero knows well. It is his own!

He wakes up screaming. Kirby, his trusted friend, lowers his already diminutive form to look upon John Prophet with concern. (“Diminutive.” And you thought it was more fun to hang out with friends than study in English class, huh? Fools! Now, I can say “short” in intelligent sounding ways. Ha!) Kirby listens as John recounts his dream. The small man simply dismisses this as John’s need to reconnect to D.O.C.C., the satellite that is the source of his amazing abilities and a type of “center” for his rage-filled mind.

RCO016-1This calms Prophet somewhat as he sits up in what we now see to be the inside of a moving helicopter. Kirby questions the pilot as to an arrival timeframe. The man replies that they will reach their destination in fifteen minutes. The small man makes his way back to Prophet and the two gear up for whatever mission they’re about to begin. As they do this, Prophet admits that he is in a very confused state of mind. He recounts his origins aloud to his dwarven partner. (Oooooh! An origin story! Sit back and grab some popcorn, kiddies! We’re in for a real treat! After all, we all know just how much superheroes despise recounting their origin stories…..Ha, I barely typed that sentence with a straight face!)

Jonathan Taylor Prophet began his journey a short time after his father had been brutally murdered by Nazi soldiers. Not wanting to become a hindrance to his mother, and being the eldest of two boys, he tried his hand at many odd jobs. But, it was the work that he did with a man named Dr. Wells that would change the course of the young man’s life forever.

RCO020-1-1He would endure countless physical and mental tests over the course of several weeks, sending money home to get his family far from Germany as tensions rose in the world. Prophet was assured that, in the end, he was to become superhuman. Wells definitely wasn’t lying! He was even given a brightly-colored uniform and an indestructible shield! (Hahaha! Sorry! That was just too easy!  Forget that last sentence. I’ll be good now. Promise.) The warrior-to-be even befriended Dr. Wells’ lab assistant, a young Kirby. But, this was not to last. John was told that Hitler had caught wind of this project and sought to make it his own! Quickly, Prophet was assured that his family and young fiancee, Mary, would be well taken care of, but to keep him from enemy hands, he would need to be put into a type of cryogenic sleep. He would be awakened in the future to be mankind’s savior against an enemy Wells called the Disciples. Prophet agreed, and soon, he slumbered.

Awoken only recently, Prophet was now allied once again with a now much older Kirby and in search of the D.O.C.C. satellite to help clear things up in his confused mind. Meanwhile, as the helicopter nears its snowy destination, we turn our attention to Washington, D.C., the interior of the Pentagon to be precise. There, we look in on a meeting already in progress. A man in glasses speaks to those assembled around a large meeting table about Prophet and his superhuman capabilities and how, given proper funding, his creation process just may be duplicated! He finishes by stating that the subject remains at large at this time, but their new liaison assures them this will be corrected very soon. The liaison enters the room dressed in a crimson jacket and matching skirt. It’s John Prophet’s fiancee, Mary! (Shocking, eh? I mean, a crimson outfit worn at an important government meeting? Tackyyyyyyyyyy!)

RCO023-1We then return our attention to the two heroic figures that now parachute down to the frozen earth below. The two free themselves from their chutes and begin to get their bearings. Kirby admits that this mission may just go awry. They are infiltrating a secret government facility, after all, and technically, John is a wanted man.  (Good time for cold feet, Short Stuff! Where were these second thoughts during this entire godforsaken journey?) The smaller man asks the taller for advice. Prophet states that he has already said prayers to the Lord above. Kirby replies that he would appreciate a better battle plan than prayers. They both suddenly find themselves surrounded by heavily armed soldiers that demand the two freeze! Kirby rethinks his earlier statement about prayer. They may just need all the help they can get!

Well, Legions of the Unspoken, that’s the end of issue one of Prophet and this article. If you want more of ol’ Symbifan’s thoughts on later issues of Prophet, leave a comment and I’ll maybe consider making this a ten part series. But, until then, stay classy, comic collectors! Symbifan….out!

RCO025_w-1The end…..or is it…..?

Dedicated to my mom. Though we are now separated by miles, know that you will always be with me in my heart. I love you.

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Image @ 25 : The Savage Dragon

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In late 1991 a group of Marvel Comics’ hottest artists gave Marvel (and later DC Comics) the collective middle finger and struck out on their own to form Image Comics.  The following summer, Image took the comic book world by storm. I’m looking back at some of the books that changed the industry forever, starting with Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon.

In the summer of 1992, I was a couple years into collecting comics.  I started with the usual: Spider-Man, The Avengers, occasionally some DC stuff.  The comics industry was growing and publishers were bringing out countless new characters and concepts, throwing the proverbial crap at the wall to see what would stick.

Boy, was there a lot of crap.

But, hey, I’m not here to throw stones.  I’m here to throw some praise on what I love.  And I loved some of those new guys on the block.  I’m looking at you, Darkhawk!  This guy still loves ya, Sleepwalker!

Y’see, the great thing about the new guys was they were all mine.  I got in on the ground floor and was able to watch them grow from the beginning.  Spidey had been around for near 30 years at that point.  Batman was over 50!  Beat it, gramps, there’s some young blood here to take us into the next Millennium!

Speaking of Youngblood…

The feeling of “All New Heroes Just For Me” took a big leap in 1992 with the launch of Image Comics.  At the time, I was wholly unaware of the inner workings at any comics publisher and had only just begun to appreciate different writers and artists.  So when the much-ballyhooed Image split took place, I didn’t even know about it until I realized that the Youngblood comic was drawn by the guy who used to do X-Force, Rob Liefeld.

While I can’t remember specifically, I suspect it was Wizard Magazine that eventually gave me the scoop on Image and all the badass comics that would soon be coming my way with a bevy of all new characters from artists I loved.  Spawn, Shadowhawk, Cyber Force – they were all in my wheelhouse, and while Youngblood was initially my favorite Image book, it would be a green-skinned strong man with a badge that stood the test of time.

Erik Larsen had followed Todd MacFarlane on both Amazing Spider-Man and then Spider-Man before again following MacFarlane (along with Liefeld and several others) out the Marvel door and into forming Image Comics, the biggest game changer the industry had seen since the release of Watchmen in 1986.

Larsen separated himself from the Image pack right away with The Savage Dragon.  While many of the Image founders relied on what worked for them at Marvel and cribbed heavily from those characters and concepts, Larsen went waaay back to his roots and brought a boyhood creation into the spotlight.

At first glance, it was easy to dismiss Dragon as an obvious Hulk clone.  Upon further inspection, however, the similarities are almost entirely cosmetic.  Aside from the green skin and super strength, there wasn’t much to compare.  The Hulk has gone through countless changes in his decades of existence, but the core concept remains a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic, the brute having little interest in the world around him.

Dragon was always Dragon. He took great interest in his world, which had a large supporting cast, including many he called friend.  Dragon was a Chicago cop committed to the job.  He was a thinker with a strong sense of right and wrong.  He had no patience for ignorance or cruelty.  He was a fully developed character from nearly the beginning, despite having no knowledge of his own origins.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before diving into the early Dragon years, I want to take a quick look at the first issue of The Savage Dragon mini-series.  Most of the Image guys launched their new books as a mini-series, before starting again with a new #1 (Savage Dragon, Cyber Force) or just continuing on with the numbering once the series was proven to be sustainable (WildC.A.T.s).

Savage Dragon #1 was released in the summer of 1992 (July is the listed month, so it likely was released in May), and I had already been enthralled by Image thanks to Youngblood and Spawn’s debut issues.  I had pretty much decided to get every Image title I could afford, and thankfully my older brother was buying up Image books in speculator fashion, so what I couldn’t get for myself, I still had access to.

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The cover is a bit plain but still dynamic, right?  The Dragon, all muscled up, leaping at the reader, fangs bared.  And TWO TAGLINES!  A lot of early 90’s comics seem to have that going.  “1st BRUTAL ISSUE!” was an effective hook for a 12-year-old, I’ll tell you.  Wisely, Larsen’s name is prominent on the cover, which was rare before Image.  The creators were the draw, not the characters themselves, so it was a smart move.

The fin on his head was a bit of a mystery.  I don’t think I had ever seen the likes of it before.  Mohawks were not cool in this era, but given Larsen had dreamt Dragon up years prior, maybe that was an influence.  Regardless, it helped distinguish Dragon from ‘ol purple pants at Marvel.

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Page one starts us out right in the middle of the action, Dragon leaping at a ridiculously 90s bad guy.  Cutthroat, how I love thee.  A black dude with dreads, an eye patch, absolutely covered in spikes and skulls and knives and knives with skulls on the hilts.  Not only that, but poor Cutthroat is an amputee, missing his right arm from the elbow down!  “Don’t worry, just slap a giant-ass sickle on there, doc!”  Did he cut his own arm off so he could do that?  I think he might have!  I need to know!

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Cutthroat also has the standard scantily clad henchwoman, or partner, who goes by Glowbug.  She never uses her powers, if she has any, but does get clocked by Dragon one good time and is down for the count.  I don’t recall Glowbug ever showing back up again, but I can’t guarantee it.

Dragon gets sliced up pretty badly, but still makes short work of the two losers.  As he escorts them outside, a fellow cop asks if it’s a rough day, to which Dragon replies, “I’ve had worse.”  This leads to a flashback sequence with Dragon lying in a burning field, naked and unconscious.

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When Dragon wakes, Lt. Frank Darling interviews him and we discover Dragon suffers selective amnesia.  Weirdly, Dragon seems to know everything, from who the President is to who won the ’45 World Series, but has no knowledge of his own past.  Early on, he doesn’t know why he’s green and super strong, or even the extent of his powers.

Frank sets him up with a job, and the reader is soon shown how dire the crime situation is in Chicago.  The whole city is pretty much at the mercy of The Vicious Circle, a mob of “Super Freaks” who do as they please because the police force just doesn’t have the firepower to combat them.  Frank asks Dragon to help him out, but Dragon turns him away at first.

Looking at these pages, you can get a sense of Larsen’s writing style.  I think he’s great at dialogue, even if sometimes things get overly talky.  It’s obvious how much Robert Kirkman is influenced by Larsen (a fact Kirkman freely admits).

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It’s just a matter of time before Dragon sees how bad the Super Freaks can be.  A couple of them (including the aptly named Skullface) give his boss some shit, and Dragon has to smack them around.  Look at Skullface, by the way.  LOOK AT HIM!  Red and gold armor, a crazy demon skull, and he’s a ginger to boot!  He’s beautiful.

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Soon enough Dragon is on the force, kicking all kinds of Super Freak butt and even handling the normies when need be.  Take a look at some of these panels in this shootout.  So much energy in the artwork.  I still appreciate it now, but as a 12-year-old?  There was no way I could keep from salivating when I read this stuff.

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Issue #1 ends with Dragon promising the public he’ll deal with the Super Freak problem while the head of The Vicious Circle (unnamed here) gives his lackeys permission to take the fight to Dragon.

Much of the first three issues focus on flashbacks to Dragon’s early days after waking up in the field, mingled with the present day.  It flows smoothly enough, but later Larsen would put everything in chronological order for the trade paperback.

(Disclaimer: I’m not an artist, and have no knowledge of how to properly criticize art, so I won’t.  I just know what I like and what I don’t.)

Larsen’s art seems to be divisive, and I’m firmly on the pro side.  His balls-out action scenes are great, but he can handle the little moments too.  In the bedside interview, he nails some facial expressions, and the lightning effects from the storm outside are a great touch.

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In the back of the first issue is a page-length letter from Larsen to the readers, and it may be the contents of this page that cemented Larsen as one of my heroes.  He goes on at length about how he grew up making his own comics and how Dragon was his favorite boyhood creation, one he would re-invent on occasion but always keep focus on.  Now he was getting the opportunity to publish Dragon professionally, and through Image he would own everything he published.

As time went on, other characters and storylines from the comics he produced as a kid made their way into the regular Savage Dragon series.  Erik Larsen was (and still is) literally living his dream, and I think that’s amazing.  There would be many Savage Dragon spin-offs and ancillary series, but every issue of The Savage Dragon has been written and drawn by the man himself. (Although Jim Lee did Issue #13 as part of the Image X Month event, Larsen later went back and produced his own Issue #13).  He’s still putting the book out to this day with Issue #225 on sale now.

In preparation for this article, I went back through all my Savage Dragon trades and re-read the first 11 volumes, which covered up through Issue #58 of the regular series.  Volume 2 starts out with Dragon sporting a wicked sleeveless trench coat, Fu Manchu stache, and some lame-ass spectacles, with the tone and artwork getting extra dark and violent.  The job is proving too much for one Super Freak to handle and some other super powered folks join the department for a short while, but it doesn’t last.

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The next few volumes are a tour de force of insane action and outlandish characters.  Aside from a couple epic tussles with Vicious Circle head Overlord, he confronts one of the most unique rogues’ galleries in comics history.  A shark man (Mako), an ape with Hitler’s brain (Brainiape), and a chicken-headed powerhouse (uh, Powerhouse) to name a few.

Also among the superfreak villains Dragon faces on the job: Dung, who utilizes giant shit-cannons and Heavy Flo, who… um… well, here’s a picture.

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After several years of working as a cop, a few team-ups with the Ninja Turtles, a trip to Hell and back, defending the earth from a Martian invasion, and fathering a child with his super-powered girlfriend, Larsen eventually transitions Dragon into an actual superhero, costume and everything, around Issue #40.  In this role, as part of a government-sponsored team of heroes, he gets caught up in inter-dimensional travels and battles with the gods of legend.

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Also, one time Dragon beat a dude with his own severed arm.

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In the mid-90’s there was even a short-lived Savage Dragon cartoon on USA Network, but it’s…not great.

The trade paperbacks make for generally swift reads, but Larsen made the decision early on to let the characters (at least the ones who survive long enough) age in real time.  As a year passes in what we have to settle for as reality, a year also passes in Savage Dragon land.

My Savage Dragon collection has some holes.  In the early 00’s I lost interest for a bit, partially because Larsen’s art style seemed to change slightly in a way I wasn’t thrilled with, and partially because my local shop wasn’t consistent in getting the issues in.

As years passed, the status quo and cast of characters took on drastic changes, Dragon’s origin story was eventually revealed in the Image 10th anniversary book, and Dragon’s son Malcolm grew up and took center stage as the star of the book.  While I’m not as big a fan of Malcolm, the fact that Larsen is able to do this is so satisfying.  I’m collecting the title now, but while I’m current on buying them, I’ve only read up to Issue #208.

For a number of reasons, the book now is not on par with its heyday of the early to mid-90’s, but I admit nostalgia may well be coloring that opinion.  The focus on Malcolm and more space-faring, dimension-hopping adventures aren’t as appealing to me as the semi-grounded beat cop approach of the early days.  Even still, the book is fun as hell.

Erik Larsen also has always been a fan of drawing well-endowed, scantily clad females, and he made no secret of it.  He likes big, bodacious boobies on his babes and giant, rippling muscles on his dudes.  That’s part of the appeal of his art, overly exaggerated proportions on the men and the women. As time went on, more and more sexuality made its way into the book, including some occasional nudity.  There’s been some press lately about Larsen’s decision to start including some, for lack of a better word, pornographic material in the book.  I actually don’t like it, but it’s Erik Larsen’s book, and I whole-heartedly support him doing whatever he wants with it.  He won’t lose me as a reader over it.

If you’re a fan of comics (especially the outrageous 90’s variety) and haven’t ever read The Savage Dragon, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  The early back issues and trade paperbacks are inexpensive and fairly easy to find.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  If you dig it like I do, consider adding the title to your pull list at your local comic shop. Independent comics always need support.

Comics is a shrinking medium, but 25 years in, Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon has soldiered on.  Here’s to 25 more…

Ultra Strange-A Sludge Podcast

 

Hey Folks!

Hope you enjoyed the Eightball!  Man, Ryan Carey outdid himself!  Now, we turn our attention to something nastier than Eightball, the Ultraverse’s Sludge!  Emily Scott & ‘ol Dean Compton sat down and had a nice chat about Malibu’s muck monster below NYC!  Take a gander at these pics, and then take a listen to the podcast!

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