[Spoilers ahead, obviously, but if you haven't read this book then you should run, not walk, to your local comic shop or to ComiXology to pick up a digital copy so you can follow along with the rest of the interview.]
Stripped of his powers and moved from his prison for super-criminals (where he was a bit of a distraction, let's face it) and to a normal lock-up where he's the baddest dude in the building in spite of losing his powers, Dragon embarks on the retirement stage of his heroic career--with an ominous tease in the title as to just what might happen to him one day.
Series creator Erik Larsen is here to talk with us about the new status quo.
ComicBook.com: Now, obviously we've had a little bit of a false start in the past in terms of kicking off the Malcolm era. Is Dart's ascendance to the head of the Vicious Circle something that was going to happen regardless of who was the lead, or was this basically setting up a big, new threat just for Malcolm?
Erik Larsen: The Malcolm plot came first on my end so there really was no Dart arc which preceded that. I can't really speak about what would have happened if Malcolm hadn't taken over because the plan was, all along, for Malcolm to eventually inherit the title from his Dad. Malcolm's first real time in the spotlight was #101 and he's been featured in a lot more stories and on a lot more covers post #150 but as long as his Dad was alive and had powers there was the threat that he could easily step back in and take up from where he left off.
ComicBook.com: You may not want to answer this and tip a hand, but is the plan here to give the Circle some degree of stability? It seems like it's been quite a while since there was an undisputed leader who hung around for more than a handful of issues.
Larsen: That's absolutely the plan. The leaders have been, primarily, second-banana types. It would be kind of like if Ed McMahon guest-hosted The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson's tour of duty or if Andy Richter guest-hosted Conan O'Brien's show. You can't help but feel that this isn't going to last. That's not a permanent change. The former heads over the last few years have basically been keeping the seat warm for the next real leader.
ComicBook.com: "Taste the cold, hard steel of my blade!" is the kind of line that not too many character could carry off, but I think it works well for Allison becuase she's so...I dunno. She strikes me as being kind of arrested in her development, and the B-movie nature of a line like that works for her.
Larsen: There's some truth to what Firepower said. She is kind of a child playing grownup. That's the kind of thing a kid might think an adult would say in a situation like that and I do find it fitting and kind of appealing, in a way.
ComicBook.com: Then she turns around and, right after killing Firepower, talks in the third person, in case anyone was worried she maybe wasn't crazy enough.
Larsen: That's not THAT crazy.
ComicBook.com: When Dragon asks who let Parasol in, is that all part of the act? I assume as much, but I'm not clear on why he's needed to see the de-powering.
Larsen: Dragon feels as though Reverend Parasol has put him up on a pedestal, of sorts, and he keeps trying to remind him that he's "just a guy" and not a God to be worshipped. Parasol has a church named after Dragon, after all. This was Dragon's way of reminding him that it's time to stop idolizing him--and yeah, Dragon was fucking with him.
ComicBook.com: The last panel on page 5 is one of the most Jack Kirby-like faces I've ever seen you draw. And today you unveiled the cover for #196, which is a Cardy homage. Was the Kirbyesque look intentional, and maybe you've got a kind of subtle artistic nod to the changing of the guard going on?
Larsen: It wasn't intended to be any more Kirbyesque than anything else. When I started working on this issue I had the thought that it would be fun to have every panel be a swipe. I kind of tried to reverse engineer it by laying out roughly hat I wanted and then trying to find appropriate panels to swipe from. The apparatus used to de-power Dragon was based on one Kirby used in Captain America #194 and a later panel is one of the few surviving swipes that actually made it into the book so it's not impossible that some of that rubbed off.
Larsen: I didn't see much point in dragging it out. There was a lot of other stuff I wanted to get to in the issue.
ComicBook.com: The prison authorities seem a lot more at ease with Dragon than usual. Is it because he helped them last issue, or is it becuase now that he's de-powered they don't see him as Kurr, or something else?
Larsen: A little of each, I'd think. Dragon can have that George Clooney-like calm that reassures people that things are going to be okay. Plus, Malcolm and Angel are there in case he went nuts. There wasn't a lot of risk there and we can be assured that they were in on the gag. They knew what he was up to.
ComicBook.com: Dragon definitely looks like he's slimmed down. You've been drawing him older lately, but is the body type just an extension of that or did he actually lose some muscle mass when he got zapped?
Larsen: He lost a LOT of muscle mass and his body changed, physically. His hands are considerably smaller and his fangs are gone. The similar shots on pages 5 and 11 were there to further emphasize just how much he's changed.
ComicBook.com: We've discussed in the past the conflict of acknowledging on-page that he wasn't likely to get executed anytime soon, and the fact that you'd promised this issue to be huge. Was de-powering Dragon always in the cards or was it something that you came up with to give him a little push out of the lead in the nearer term?
Larsen: It wasn't always in the cards but with Lorella coming to Earth it really did seem like the only viable option. There's also the sense that, as long as he's got powers, Dragon could always step back into the spotlight and I didn't want that just hanging there. Dragon's personality is such that he just can't help but steal the show. I really wanted to emphasize to readers that he's not going to do that again. He's done.
ComicBook.com: Is it just me or did we get as close as we're ever going to get in Dragon to a "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" reference?
ComicBook.com: Is Malcolm speaking for the audience a little here: "I'm going to miss you, but I htink you're doing the right thing."
Larsen: It could certainly be interpreted that way but it wasn't my intention.
ComicBook.com: When you introduced the Krylans to the book, did you already know that this was your endgame with Dragon?
Larsen: I did not. A lot of my plotting is setting out possible paths and then plotting ahead a bit and choosing the path that looks the most promising.
Larsen: That's all he needs. That name was actually from a Savage Dragon fan thing and it was a nod to them but...yeah...likely not a good choice. We don't get a decisive payoff here and as Church names go...it's not a particularly good one so I imagine he'll settle on something less likely to get him in trouble.
ComicBook.com: Was it just that she was away from Chicago for so long that made Angel out of the loop, in terms of the seriousness of what was going on with Dragon?
Larsen: She's not that out of the loop. She just doesn't have all of the details. Nobody explained to her the ramifications of Dragon having his powers removed.
ComicBook.com: So, did Parasol tip off the media that Dragon is powerless? It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that anyone would be rushing to announce.
Larsen: News is what news is. He's being relocated--that's a story. I don't think there would be any reason to keep it a secret.
ComicBook.com: With a crowd scene at the restaurant in a book this major, I have to ask: Anyone hidden in the background that I should recognize?
Larsen: Nobody beyond the ever-present Jon Day, who makes an appearance in almost everything I do.
ComicBook.com: Is Brenda/Slag a bit Hulk-like, in terms of her intellect, or did you just have to throw in that one third-person reference to give the reader her new name?
Larsen: She was just throwing the name out there. She talks normally otherwise. That having been said, Brenda was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She wasn't an especially good student in high school--just extremely devoted to her boyfriend.
ComicBook.com: Certainly Dragon has been willing to reason with people occasionally, but in the earliest days of his title he was very much a "let's punch stuff" kind of hero. Are you hoping to differentiate Malcolm a little bit in that regard?
Larsen: With every character there's growth and change. Malcolm is still somewhat wide-eyed and naïve at this point and hasn't had enough life experiences to let him know that what's best in every situation. At the same time--Angel hasn't really seen Malcolm in action all that much and she's making some assumptions that aren't necessarily accurate. I do think Malcolm and Dragon have different approaches though and that will be played up as the series progresses.
ComicBook.com: So...when do we get a Malcolm Dragon action figure?
Larsen: A fan made me one already. You can't have it.
ComicBook.com: There's really not even a reason to point it out, except that maybe somebody wasn't paying attention, but obviously this isn't the last we've seen of Brenda.
Larsen: Yeah. Those merging blobs panels are there for a reason.
ComicBook.com: It's worth noting that last month's Witchblade also took Sara out of Chicago. So in addition to Dragon's supporting cast, they've lost another Image Universe superhero there. No wonder things are a little crazy.
Larsen: It's not a safe place to be--in the comic book reality.
ComicBook.com: With Dragon seemingly in relative safety at the new prison, and a lengthy appeals process and the like ahead of him, will we see more of him? It strikes me that there's rarely been a parental figure who knew his kid was out superheroing and had no problem with it, so his dynamic with Malcolm could be very interesting...assuming you don't want to put him on the shelf for a while to give Malcolm a chance to shine.
Larsen: Dragon is Aunt May at this point or possible Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond. He's there if we need him but Aunt May isn't going to steal the show. It's not ever going to be Aunt May's book. But for the short while--it's Malcolm's book and it's his turn to shine. I'm not going to be doing a lot of Dragon in jail brawling with bad guys issues. I've done a few of those and that's enough.
ComicBook.com: With Dragon alive and kicking, what's to stop you backsliding a bit? Obviously you love writing that character...
Larsen: I tried to lay down the ground rules and make it clear that he can't just get his powers back and be fine. It's still comics. I could always find a way--that's part of the job--but that's not something I'm planning on. If Dragon gets a shot of his old blood he can become his old self for a limited time, as indicated, but that will, ultimately, lead to his demise.