Writer/Artist/Creator: Erik Larsen
(With work on the back-up stories by Greg Kirkpatrick, Ande Parks and Chris Giarusso)
Publisher: Image Comics
There’s just something about the enthusiasm that Erik Larsen puts into this book that’s electric. This issue is full of Easter eggs and other treats from the pen and computer of Larsen.
The first treat is the cover, a clever Photoshop homage to the Marvel comics of the 12 cent era, complete with simulated rips and tears and bent pages. It’s a gorgeous job of mocking up a cover, and really stops me dead in my tracks every time I look at it. The details on it are wonderful – there’s a hint of the old Marvel indicia sticking out on the bottom right corner, and classic Artie Simek page numbering. True comic history buffs will get all the clever in-jokes of the piece, while newer fans will just think it’s fun.
Inside, the issue presents the final chapter of a battle between the Dragon and the evil Dread Knight, who in his civilian guise had forced the Dragon to run with him on a presidential ticket against George W. Bush. Yeah, it’s all a bit tangled, but that’s part of the fun of this book, too. I love Dread Knight’s long diatribe against Bush in the midst of the fight. It’s both logical for the character and a clever satire of both people who force their political opinions on others. At the same time, it’s a kind of takeoff on the classic Stan Lee style of having characters present long soliloquies during their fights. And at the same time, Dragon, who has lost his amazing healing powers, fights on long after any lesser man would have quit, defeating a man with whom he actually once shared a friendship.
Drama on top of satire on top of politics. You don’t tend to get that from other super-hero books.
And there’s so much more in here: there’s a clever take on Peter Parker and his Aunt May. There are some very bizarre page layouts: is the use of the same image across 95 panels on pages 6 and 7 a comment on Brian Michael Bendis’s writing, or a sincere attempt by Larsen to try something different, or just another wacky scene in a wacky comic? And there are some alternately fun and frightening cameos by some very famous characters in the back-up story.
I even loved Larsen’s sloppy hand-lettering and his bizarre and breathtaking illustration of the White House.
So many Easter eggs. So many treats.
Of course, with a comic as loose as this one, there have to be problems. The pacing of the story is just crazy, as it alternates mood literally from page to page. The ending won’t make much sense unless you paid close attention to the summary on the inside front cover. And it’s a bit far-fetched that the Dragon, with all his injuries, would still be able to defeat the evil villain.
But none of that really matters to me. I loved the loose and informal nature of this comic. In some ways it feels a bit rushed, as if Larsen didn’t quite have enough time to pay attention to every detail. But it’s precisely that informality and spirit of fun that makes this comic so wonderful. More structure and it would be dull. Less and it would be too anarchic. Instead, this breezy, informal, loosely structured comic is a real treat, literally from cover to cover.