Larsen joined ComicBook.com to talk about the issue and why he made the creative decisions he did this month, and series editor Gavin Higginbotham (author of the Zeek backup feature--check out our interview with him about taking that gig here) joined us, as well, to ask Erik a few more questions we didn't.
Of course, these conversations are intended as "commentary tracks" for stories you've already read. As such, there are spoilers ahead. Why not go buy a copy and read along with us?
ComicBook.com: There's a definitely different look to the colors this issue. What was the idea behind altering the look a bit?
Erik Larsen: I'm at a point where I thought there needed to be some kind of change. Coloring in comics in general has become more and more involved to the point where a spoon next to a plate in the background is getting highlights and lens flares and I wanted to make a statement that--we really don't need all of that. We can make visually compelling comics without all of the Photoshop textures and lens flares. I'd done a similar kind of coloring job on my Herculian book and it looked pretty great so I thought it would be fun to try that here, only without all of the tricks I used to make it look like a beat up old comic book. The idea is simply to have fun with it and to use as many knockouts in color as possible while still being able to tell what's going on. There was an uncredited colorist at Marvel in the early '60s who used a lot of knockouts and it made for a visually wild ride.
ComicBook.com: Why did you go with the six-panel grid for this issue?
Larsen: I ended up tripling up on my experimentation this issue. I wanted to do some experimenting with color, I wanted to do an issue told from the villains' point of view and I wanted to use a uniform six-panel grid. This springs from a few things. One--is it's really easy to get caught up in impressing readers with an unusual panel arrangement. You can use pretty pedestrian shots in a book with interesting panel arrangements and it still looks visually compelling. The challenge I put in place for myself was to try and make the story look visually compelling without all of that and a uniform grid forces a person to concentrate entirely on storytelling in order to make it look interesting. That, and I wanted to dispel the notion that comics are "movies on paper" by showing people what it would look like if that actually was the case. As you know, a movie screen is a standard size and the screen doesn't change dimensions (and yeah, there have been a couple movies which have played with this a little, American Graffiti II and the latest excursion into Oz among them) and I wanted to show what it might look like if comics had to adhere to those same restrictions. I'm always up for a challenge.
ComicBook.com: It seems like you've been doing a lot of experimenting lately with things like that. Just trying to shake things up, or is it more than that?
Larsen: I've been doing it off and on throughout the series. It keeps things fun. It also opens things up to new possibilities. We'll be doing a lot more playing with color in the future and I wanted to start that off with a real experimental issue to show the guys what could be done.
ComicBook.com: Man, Malcolm has a lot of issues with the guys at his school. Do any of them like him?
Larsen: This issue was all about the villains and where they came from. In the previous issue we met the offspring of various Villains from the Vicious Circle and I wanted to give readers a glimpse of how the other half lives. These aren't kids Malcolm goes to school with necessarily but they are in the area.
ComicBook.com: He does seem to do alright with the ladies, though.
Larsen: He's a good looking guy who saves the day and battles bad guys. That kind of person is very attractive to others.
ComicBook.com: So you've kept the old Claw stories canon? Or just the general gist of them?
Larsen: I don't think it can really help but be the gist of things. Those old stories were nowhere near as obsessed with continuity as modern comics. In the first Golden Age Daredevil story he was a mute hero and he wore a yellow and blue outfit with a double-D logo on his stomach. In the following issue he was in red and blue and could talk just fine. A couple issues later Daredevil was caught and killed and it was revealed that his brother had filled in for him while he was off fishing. This brother had never been mentioned before or since. So, you can't really depend on any one story being canon. There are a lot of contradictions. The Claw eventually died but then showed up later as pretty as you please with no explanation given. I'm supposing that he died at some point and was buried.
ComicBook.com: Will we get an answer as to how, exactly, Claw came back?
Larsen: The only real mystery is why he was buried in a Chicago cemetery. The rest we know. Thunder-Head and WarGod attempted to bring SkullFace back from the dead in that graveyard and their resurrection machine went awry when the two were confronted by Malcolm and Angel Dragon. It was a beam from that devise, which brought the Claw back to life.
ComicBook.com: You know, I'd forgotten that they were still looking into why none of the Wise Guys were aging. Was that something that you meant to give a little more time to and it fell by the wayside or did you just want to remind the audience that it was out there?
Larsen: Everything has its purpose. That's all I'm going to say about that.
ComicBook.com: There's a sense in the Malcolm stories that the regular kids in his school are so unbalanced they're as dangerous as the freaks in a lot of ways.
Larsen: Again. Not the regular kids. This issue is focussed entirely on the villains. You might want to omit this question and answer.
ComicBook.com: Re: that last page? Huh--wha?!
Larsen: That's right. I went there.
Gavin Higginbotham: We open with some development for the young VC members. What inspired the awkward conversation about asses? Past experience?
Larsen: I need to inspiration for that kind of thing. Being socially awkward has its own rewards.
Higginbotham: The Claw is growing his invincible army in his laboratory. Are these all-new Larsen monster designs or are you bringing back more Golden Age creations? Did the Claw have an army in those old stories?
Larsen: The Claw had minions at times and these will be based visually on the ones from Daredevil Comics #31 to some extent. Those were actually pretty dopey looking but I'll do what I can to make them look cool.
Higginbotham: Dart is seen practising her ninja stealth skills in the background when Malcolm talks with Daredevil and the Little Wise Guys. That can't be good for anyone, right?
Larsen: No, it can't.
Higginbotham: It seems Dragon has aided Sam Haze in rebuilding his life after he found him in the gutters back in issue 144.
Larsen: He's bounced back. He may not be the anchor anymore but he's still a reporter. He's found his way to another network and is rebuilding his career, thanks to Dragon.
Higginbotham: Mako seems to have been steadily losing it since his mother died back in issue 151. He's beating the crap out of both friends and foe. Mako has been in the book since the very beginning. Hell, he's been around since your childhood! What has prompted you to keep him around all this time whereas most other villains from the start have long been killed off?
Larsen: He's a rock solid visual and a compelling character. Now that he's getting older he just looks progressively more chewed up. He's fun to write and fun to draw. At this point he's 58-years old and has seen a lot of mileage. At this point he doesn't have a lot to live for. He's kind of had everything fall apart. He doesn't have anything other than revenge fueling him. Getting another shot at Savage Dragon is motivation enough to go on a rampage and get thrown into jail.
Higginbotham: Whoa! Dung created his own children?! Just how brilliant is this guy with his own shit?
Larsen: I'm assuming he had some kind of help in order to bring his creations to life. I'm also under the assumption that the girls don't smell THAT bad, given that others are willing to hang out with them.
Higginbotham: Powerhouse & Flash Mercury are a fun tag team. Surely you can't write these two guys out of the series just as their partnership is starting up? They're almost as brilliant as the Deadly Duo!
Larsen: They're off to have adventures of their own. At this point I think the two have run their course in Chicago. The Vicious Circle really can't afford to have guys working against their goals. They can get out of town or test the patience of the Vicious Circle.
Higginbotham: Malcolm really stepped up this issue in his ass-kicking. The guy was on fire as he faced all kinds of super-freaks! You've mentioned before in the book that Dragon was past his peak when the series begun. Are we seeing Malcolm reach that peak?
Larsen: I would assume it's like sports. You hit your physical peak in your mid to late 20s. Malcolm is 16-years old, so he has a ways to go before he's in his peak physical shape. His dad is over 50, so he's on the downhill end of that.
Higginbotham: With Malcolm destroying the Overlord gun, is that it now for the remnants of that armor?
Larsen: That's the end of that.