Everyone knows what happens next.
With the aggressive ad campaign that Image has mounted over the course of the past month or more, every reader with an even passing interest in Erik Larsen’s long-running, creator-owned series Savage Dragon knows that his most feared, powerful and long-dead villain, Overlord, will return in some form in Savage Dragon #150. Recent interviews by Larsen have suggested that the new Overlord will be much more powerful, unstable and generally dangerous than the old one was, and that there were no guarantees that Savage Dragon himself will walk out alive by the time the story arc was finished. So what do you, as a creator, do to set yourself up for the most highly-anticipated issue in some time (with the possible exception of the Obama issue, of course, but that was its own special circumstance)?
Well, it helps that in last month’s issue, the Free Comic Book Day special Savage Dragon #148, it was revealed that Dragon’s kidnapped children had been abducted by their former babysitter, and the granddaughter of Sgt. Marvel, Alison “Dart II” Summers. This issue, “Dart Attack,” puts her craziness in perspective and gives a long and disturbing backstory to how this seemingly-innocuous young girl has distinguished herself as one of Dragon’s more formidable recent villains. By the end of the issue, the threat of this new Dart is somewhat neutralized, but it’s certainly clear that she won’t stay down for long.
Erik Larsen talked to Blog@Newsarama about this month’s issue.
Blog@Newsarama: So you’ve said that in the long-term, and particularly during the Overlord story, that Daredevil will be playing a role. I’m guessing Alison will, too?
Erik Larsen: Absolutely.
BLOG@: She made references to Dragon being old and washed-up, and you’ve said some things (particularly in a recent CBR interview) about him eventually dying and his son taking over. As a guy who’s kind of grown up with Dragon, are you feeling a little of your own mortality here?
EL: Not as much as you might think. I’m just trying to play by the rules I set up. I set the book in real time and because of that I’ve committed myself to keeping things on track. Dragon’s my age and at my age—most professional athletes are no longer in the game. Fighting crime is a young man’s game and the Dragon is no longer a young man and it’s time that I start acknowledging and addressing that.
BLOG@: A character like Alison is always a little confusing. If her goal was to be this great hero, when did she intend to start doing it? She had this ridiculously powerful weapon; Dragon’s world NEEDS more heroes as we keep losing them in every major story…it seems like now’s as good a time as any!
EL: Alison’s goals are not so simple. At her core she’s very self-centered and insecure. She wants what she wants. She came from an unhappy home, with a incorrigible flirt of a mother and an alcoholic father, and a superhero or two in the family. Her aunt was the original Dart and the others in her family held her in such high regard that Alison couldn’t help but feel overshadowed and inadequate. She doesn’t idolize Dart. She wants to BE Dart–and not as a hero, necessarily. She wants to be better than Dart–tougher than Dart–and she feels that that’s what it would take to feel worthy. Sadly, her quest for power has resulted in the deaths of everybody who might have validated her.
BLOG@: Roughly every 25 issues, we’ve had a major status change, and at 75, we had the biggest of all. Now that we’ve doubled that, will Overlord’s return be the biggest mindf–k of #150?
EL: It’s not something I set out to do on a set issue, particularly. The biggest shift was #145, which got Dragon back on the force. Beyond that, I’m setting up the players for the next act and certainly Overlord is a major one.
BLOG@: To what extent do you have plans for a character like Alison when they’re created, versus letting the story take you where it goes?
EL: It generally starts off a bit nebulous and builds over time. When Alison was introduced as a babysitter 10 years ago the plan was for her to eventually take over the Dart role so that was something I’d had in mind for over a decade. At this point she’s more of a wild card. I like having there be structure and a long-term goal but at the same time it’s great to have a few characters, which I don’t have completely nailed down.
BLOG@: How did the “world’s greatest detective” not figure out the murder of his daughter, who was killed by someone he trained with a weapon he owned?
EL: She learned from the best how to cover her tracks and it helped a great deal that he didn’t think she would be capable of such a thing. He didn’t want to believe it and she used what she learned to hide any evidence which might point to her guilt.
BLOG@: You know, I was reading something on TVTropes.com the other day about how, once you see an extra’s family photo, you know they’re done for–that the idea is to give this redshirt a cheap sense of individuality, belonging and value so that their sacrifice packs a little more punch. Were you trying to put the audience at ease by pointing out immediately before Jerry bites the dust that he doesn’t have any kids?
EL: I don’t watch TVTropes. What I try to do with every character is to give them some quality which a reader can identify with. Some characters end up hanging around for years–others for minutes. After #145 I’ve made it a point of saying that I’m introducing a new supporting cast, and I am, but not every character is destined to be a member of that and even those that are aren’t invulnerable. With each character the reader is left asking,
“Okay, is THIS guy going to be next new cast member?” Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no.
BLOG@: Did Dragon recover the sword at the end of the issue? Alison certainly seems like less of a threat without it.
EL: Alison is like Elektra trained by Batman. Even without powers, she’s formidable.
BLOG@: Is Dragon going to be two-handed again by the time Overlord shows up or is he going to have to deal with that next issue, too?
EL: He’s back to normal by the next issue. His arm was reattached. It’s not as
though it was destroyed.
BLOG@: After jumping around quite a lot in the FCBD issue, and then this issue, are you going to be eager to settle into a normal storytelling routine and tell a story that goes pretty simply from point A to B soon?
EL: I don’t believe in routine. Stagnation is death. That’s part of the reason the book is set in real time–so that I’m forced to keep things changing. The constant, for a time, will be the police connection but that’s about it. I don’t want to fall into a rut and do books by formula. So–no–I’m not eager to settle into normal storytelling.