This prestige-format four-issue limited series from Valiant has already made headlines through going to multiple printings, with the first issue currently in its fourth printing and the third issue arriving on January 25th. The pattern of appeal and multiple printings follows the success of Valiant’s Brittania closely, Savage is another series that expands the fringes of the Valiant Universe with new genre additions that suggest a degree of inclusiveness in what you might expect from the publisher.
That’s the impression I’ve gotten since Valiant’s first year under its new incarnation–that the universe the publisher is working with has the potential to surprise and expand further with each passing year. While the initial focus was on bringing back major characters who had been fan favorites during the 90’s to do justice to their appeal and their followers, it seemed likely that over time Valiant would make a virtue of the flexibility of the Valiant tradition.
This is a flexibility that more thoroughly mapped comic universes struggle with, constrained by their own limitations. Valiant has vast territory to work with in bringing us fresh new comics, and a number of their titles in 2016 demonstrated that including the first plus-sized female superhero in Faith and a team of modern teenagers in Generation Zero, as well as the one-shot War Mother, and that’s not even delving into their flagship titles.
With Brittania, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Juan Jose Ryp, things got definitely strange in a good way as we followed a Roman Centurian detective sent to inspect what seem to be supernatural events in the far-flung imperial outpost of Britain while struggling with his own tendency toward insanity after a previous possibly supernatural encounter that broke his mind. Now, in Savage, we go into more new territory by following the rather nail-biting struggles of a privileged family who experience a terrifying plane crash only to find themselves on an island that seems geared to kill them. Read that subtext for DINOSAURS and gangs of thugs, too. Written by B. Clay Moore, with art by Clayton Henry and Lewis Larosa, and colors by Brian Reber and Andrew Dalhouse, the comic is fascinating for a number of reasons that really extend beyond initial impressions of what this comic seems to be. The comic series is lettered by Dave Lanphear.
When I heard about Savage and saw its first issue cover, I assumed it was going to be a wild-child focused comic featuring glamorous dinosaur fights. Most likely following in the comic tradition of Tarzan (which is long and quite interesting), with a dash of Conan thrown in and Burrows dinosaur stories like Pellucidar, with traces of influence from more recent comics reveling in these traditions.
Comics are a particularly awesome medium for conveying the wonder of encountering live dinosaurs in motion and capturing just how terrifying and fraught actually trying to survive among dinosaurs would be. Why not bring a new take into the mix? What I find when reading Savage issues 1-3 is that all that tradition is definitely present, particularly in the stunning artwork depicting dinosaurs and dinosaur fights, but that B. Clay Moore has also taken the Valiant tradition established in series like The Valiant and Book of Death of clear, solid plot structures and defined, knowable characters to make the story much stronger than I expected.
To be a little tongue-in-cheek, when you have dinosaurs in a stunning, painted style, you could get away with a thin plot, knowing that readers would simply appreciate the artwork and praise the experience of it. But I’m impressed that the creative team and the publisher didn’t take that route, which brings this series even more in line with the quality I’ve come to expect from the publisher. But that experience of plot and character is a little double-edged because you, as a reader, are going to really feel the discomfort and danger presented, and start to care about the characters who are living so completely on the edge.
Basically stated, the plot revolves around an over-indulgent British football (soccer) star Kevin, his long suffering manager wife Ronnie, and infant son, Kevin Jr. whose plane crashes near a jungle island in a storm. Every single panel that focuses on these characters before, during, and after the crash focuses heavily on defining them as people. Kevin is something of an asshole who has self-doubt and substance issues. Ronnie is overly organized, denying their marital troubles as they focus on career goals. Even Kevin Jr. is oddly lacking in fear reactions, traces of his future personality. Once they try to survive on the island they have reached, the plot continues to be remarkably realistic–every item they recover from the crash is specific. Ronnie suffers from tropical illnesses her body wouldn’t have encountered before.
And things are painfully realistic in other ways I’ll refrain from spoiling, but I hope I’ve given enough evidence so far to illustrate that this comic is almost obsessively focused on making sure this plot and these characters feel realistic and “work” for the reader. Maybe because the artwork is so accomplished, jumping narratively between two time periods and two art styles, the team decided the book had to be equally well constructed to match.
Kevin Jr., who is the main character and the cover character you’ll see in shops, develops as a child who knows not to trust anything (explicitly stated by his mother), but also intuitively how to walk among dinosaurs and fight them. The heavily painted dinosaur scenes we encounter seem to focus around Kevin Jr.’s perceptions, as if we are “seeing” a savage world through his eyes and following the world he lives in whereas the more narrative segments focusing on his parents and his interaction with a strange gang of murderous thugs who roam the island are presented in a crisp, more modern art style, which helps draw the line between a sensory experience of the jungle and a more basic “reality” affecting Kevin. These are the two worlds affecting this character and the crisis between them in likely to come to a head in the fourth and final issue of the mini-series out on February 15th.
And once this mini-series is complete and this new character has been established in the Valiant Universe, he continues to be “in play” in future developments from the publisher, of course. Valiant are successfully carving out a new genre and corner of their comics universe for further development while presenting a not only beautiful but compelling story in Savage.
Look out for issue #4 arriving February 15th and currently listed in Previews World here.
Issues 1-3 are also currently available in shops and on ComiXology.