(w) Max Bemis (a) Nathan Stockman (c) Triona Farrell (l) Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
2016’s Savage was a breakout hit for Valiant Entertainment. The 4-part series by B. Clay Moore, Clayton Henry, and Lewis Larosa was a natural addition to a publisher in need of a Turok replacement. Though Valiant had made the famed dinosaur hunter popular, he and the other Gold Key characters’ license was held by Dynamite Entertainment. Savage may have been created to fill that void, but the story of a child marooned in a land of dinosaurs was quickly embraced by fans. But after the 4-issue series concluded, there hasn’t been a peep from the character until now, courtesy of writer Max Bemis, artist Nathan Stockman, and colorist Triona Farrell.
From the first page, it’s clear that this Savage is tonally a departure from the first miniseries. Having returned from the dinosaur-inhabited island in the Faraway, Kevin Savauge is adjusting to life in modern London. So naturally, he’s now a social media influencer making all sorts of stops on the pop-culture publicity circuit. Bemis’ script and some fun layouts by Stockman do a decent job filling in the gap from where the character was last seen to the present, However, lost in character update is much of what made him interesting. Savage may still have the same… erm… savage tendencies, but at almost every opportunity it’s played for laughs.
The opening sequence best exemplifies this jarring tonal mismatch. A monologue by Savage overlays images of him brutalizing dinosaurs in the Faraway is revealed to be him being interviewed. His interviewer is stunned by this bleak statement, while Savage is pretty satisfied with himself and continues to chow down on a turkey leg, while his older brother (and publicity manager) plants his face firmly in his palm. While this certainly does provide a lively opening to the series, previous fans of the character might be perplexed as to why a stoic killing machine has been revamped into a form of self-parody.
There are some genuinely good ideas within Savage #1. The character’s outsider status makes for an excellent tool for a commentary on social media, fame, and the overall cult of personality that has dominated society for the better part of this century. However, the upending of Savage’s personality is a symptom of poor execution. The type of story that Bemis is attempting to tell here would fit well with a character like Ms. Marvel or Deadpool, or one of Valiant’s other characters, such as Faith or a member of KI-6. However, turning this stoic figure – who rarely minces words – into a babbling internet sensation reads more like character assassination, for which the book as a whole suffers.
Where Savage #1 does not falter is the art team. Nathan Stockman and Triona Farrell’s effort is a natural progression of Savage’s transition from the harshness of the Faraway to the sleek and fast-paced life of modern London. Stockman’s line-art gives characters a dynamic and fluid sense of motion, while their and the backdrop renderings are inviting to the readers. When the book does get to monster-slaying, Stockman is unafraid to show Savage’s vicious brutality while making an honest effort to shy away from any visual gags that could undercut the moment’s gravity. Unfortunately, the introduction of a trio in the book’s cliffhanger is a true instance of unintentional hilarity, as they appear to have stumbled in from a bad Silver Age comic.
The issue’s true MVP is Triona Farrell and her brilliant coloring. The difference between the colorless preview pages that debuted almost a year ago and the final product is astounding. Due to the coloring, the world of Savage #1 has a tactile grittiness that it would otherwise lack. From the rooftops, to the sidewalks, to clothing, to varying skin-tones, Farrell painstakingly ensures each item on the page has a unique layer of definition which enables the reader to buy into this story.
Savage #1 stumbles out of the gate. It’s story does a disservice to its titular character by trying to force a particular narrative without consideration for how the character would react. It is saved by the art team, who make an honest effort to understand the character’s history. Unfortunately, by the issue’s end even they succumb to wackiness of the plot with bizarre and cartoonish new characters. There are comics and other media that successfully tackle the subject matter found within Savage #1, but it’s best if readers left this comic marooned on some Faraway island.