Okay, folks—I’m really sorry about this one. It’s crazy late, and everyone from readers to Gavin have sent me hate mail. The reasons are many and unpleasant, but Gavin was on time and this should have been posted a long while ago. Rather than taking more time transcribing my extensive conversation with Erik Larsen, which has already been playing for a while on the Related Recap podcast (found here, at the once-and-future home of Russ Burlingame, Comic Related), I’ve decided to include the link and run Gavin’s questions. It’s a huge, huge issue and deserves better, but off we go…!
Gavin Higginbotham: That first page is a pretty powerful image! Malcolm unloading on his old man with his lightning punches as Angel lies bloodied and dead on the floor… The art and coloring really combine well here. Nikos looks to be on fire! Didn’t this issue have to be completed in record time in order to get to the presses on time?
Erik Larsen: Kind of. I actually drew issues #167 and 168 at the same time because I wanted to make sure it all fit in the space I had available. So when I finished inking #167 I was able to roll right into #168 without a break to pencil and script it. It was a bit more frantic than usual but it wasn’t as crazy as you might have thought. I inked the issue in six or seven days, which is stepped up quite a bit, But both Tom and Nikos were up to the challenge and they were as determined as I was to make that deadline. I was happy with how well it turned out.
GH: The death scene of Malcolm was disturbing. We’ve seen Kurr kill all kinds of people before but biting his own son’s throat out before decapitating him and eating his brain… that’s beyond anything we’ve seen from him.
EL: Yeah. I’ll be the first to admit that it was pretty disturbing. Kurr is a vicious, brutal, yet resourceful killer and that’s a big part of why he has been successful. When pushed to the wall he’ll scrape and claw his way out of his dilemma.
GH: Virus seems to be fully under the control of Dragon now. Was it the sight of his children dying that enabled Dragon to become the dominant personality?
EL: That’s it–kind of a shock to the system that sharpened his focus and attention. There were a few ticks after his initial attack–some awkward pauses and whatnot but for the most part he was in control. Given more time the others would have asserted themselves some more and even as it was I imagine there was a lot of voices buzzing around in his head–he even makes mention of that later.
GH: We see the stalker is Damien DarkLord. How long have you been planning his return? Is this the same Damien we last saw put in a hospital by Malcolm in issues 101-102?
EL: That’s not really established but I wasn’t thinking it was that one specifically. He was left in a hospital bed as that Earth exploded. But with Darklord it doesn’t seem to matter much. There’s a group think there–a hive mind, if you will, so any one could step over and deliver a speech like that. This one was a young guy though–if not the same one at least one roughly the same age, presumably from our time not the future.
GH: Dragon finally learns his origin. That’s a major revelation for the guy, and not the best of times for him to discover it.
EL: No, but it was a moment I wanted to include.
GH: We also get to see Dragon interact with his original species and Kurr’s son, Emperor Krull. It’s interesting that despite having very different personalities and backgrounds that both Kurr and Dragon are natural, commanding leaders.
EL: I think there’s a piece of Kurr in Dragon as much as they would both hate to admit it. There are traits they both share. And there are things he says and does in his origin story that echo things he says and does as Dragon. Some of that boils down to that old nature/nurture argument. How much of who we are is our upbringing and how much comes with the package? Dragon is basically Kurr only raised with the values of Earth’s television broadcasts. Some of the stuff under all that is the same stuff. He has the same basic intelligence and whatnot.
GH: Dragon somehow gets restored thanks to his people’s technology and DarkLord’s powers. Was this a case of Virus’s form being transformed into Dragon, ending the threat of Virus? Or is Dragon in a cloned body with his memories extracted from Virus?
EL: My thought was he was pieces together like Frankenstein’s monster using Kurr’s body and Virus’s brain and then allowed to heal and become a whole person. Both bodies were used and what was left over wasn’t enough to do anything useful with. I’d imagine whatever remained would be incinerated. The threat of Virus and of Kurr would be over.
GH: The use of time-travel to save the day could be considered as something of a cheat or at least a retreat from the Armageddon that caused the previous two issues. Was this a case of changing your mind or was this always the plan, having already told stories set in a post-apocalyptic landscape?
EL: That was the plan from early on. The world Kurr wanted to create was created and his people did find a home there but their story wasn’t one I was interested in telling. I could just as easily have followed them and made the book about Kurr’s people with very few familiar faces. I have a list of possible survivors as you well know and I could always have some humans that were in airplanes of submarines that avoided Kurr’s onslaught but that wasn’t a book I wanted to do. I did consider it though. It would have been a really wild direction to have gone in but it would have closed me off to the Image universe and I think I’d eventually regret having gone in that direction. It’s one thing to do something surprising just for the sake of surprising people–it’s quite another to do that and end up being stuck with a book that I wouldn’t want to do.
There were guys in the office down to the last minute offering suggestions that would have resulted in a very different book but again, this was what I had set up–and if I decided to change directions abruptly, what followed may not have made much sense or be a book I wanted to do. At the end of the day I wanted to have a book left that I was excited about working on.
GH: Dragon’s comment regarding the nurse (from the original story featuring Virus) was funny to see.
See? I addressed the other personalities!
GH: After a brief bit of dialogue last issue, we’ve finally got to not only see Dragon but also enjoy his personality again. You seemed to finally bring back your favorite character but… You’ve killed him?! Is this really the death of Dragon? We’ve thought him dead and gone before (recently too) but Dragon’s always returned… can he again?
EL: I said on Twitter the other day that sometimes doing an ongoing book is like telling a joke and after delivering the punchline having a heckler should out, “and THEN what happens?”
There’s never an end. Not really. A story like Emperor Dragon may seem like this exciting six-part epic that closes a chapter but there’s always going to be a next chapter. There’s never a happy ending or any ending–there’s always going to be another day. Frank Miller wrote this nifty self-contained Daredevil yarn called Born Again where he reworked the character and gave him a new life and new purpose and it was a hell of a story but the next month–another creative team had to follow up with what they were left with and continue the adventures of Matt Murdock: Short Order Chef. Frank’s ending wasn’t an ending–it was the next creative team’s starting point and they had to make something of it.
Can Dragon come back? Sure he can. We’ve all read comics–we’ve seen characters brought back from the dead a hundred times. Superman died, Batman died, Captain America died, Bucky died and the list goes on and on. Can I bring him back? Absolutely. If Bucky can come back–and for years he was the gold standard of dead–I can absolutely find some way of digging up the Dragon. Will I? That’s another question entirely.
GH: Regardless of the fate of Dragon, Malcolm seems set to take over from his father as star of the book. Is this an exciting moment in the series’ existence for you? A fresh start with the younger generation of Savage Dragon characters? Can you give us any hints for the future?
EL: It’s a whole new book in a way–and it’s not in another because Malcolm and Angel have really been the stars of the book for a while as Dragon was cast as the villain. It’s different in that Dragon is no longer the central figure and his life is no longer the direction of the book but that’s okay. We all knew this day would eventually come and I’m excited to do a book starring Malcolm and Angel. I have a ton of stories to tell and a lot of characters to introduce. In a way it’s like Invincible where the star is living in the shadow of his famous father. In a way it’s Spider-Man where he’s suddenly forced to cope without a parent. But unlike both, Malcolm has a support group. He lives with a family–he has a step sister and he’s living with a woman that had a son so there’s that dynamic–plus there are none of the secret identity trappings so it’s its own thing at the same time. It’s kind of fun because it’s a new book but at the same time an old one and all of the villains and other supporting characters are there. It’s a new challenge and I can’t wait to face it!