Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon #254, That Brutal Final Battle, and What Comes Next

Savage Dragon #254 hit the stands today and, along with a brutal fight and a shocking ending that could change the course of the series (spoilers at this link), the issue brought some lighthearted comedy and some rare, non-chaotic moments with Maxine and the kids. As they have aged into their powers a little bit, it seems like more and more they are less and less the cause of the problems that plague their household, which has changed the tone of the Dragon family's domestic scenes. There's only so much of that, though, because the Vicious Circle has settled in Toronto.

Malcolm, of course, is there to take them on -- but they're a lot more condensed and organized in Toronto than they were in Chicago, and it seems like every time he sees them, there's a lot of them in an enclosed space, limiting his moves. And, as the cover of this issue suggests, it's getting harder and harder to pull out a clean win.

Writer/artist Erik Larsen joined ComicBook.com to discuss the issue, and tease what's ahead.

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When we open on a couple of villains we haven't heard a TON from and get them for a couple of pages, it does feel like character development – but given how often those guys are offed without a second thought, what's the balance of character development versus just stage setting?

I’m not really thinking about it in those terms. I’m trying to tell a story in as dramatic a fashion as possible and this sort of thing helps accomplish that. If they were to die--well, we got to know them a bit more and maybe their deaths have more of an impact because we care about them just a bit. If they live to fight another day--well, that’s all stuff which can be fleshed out and built on. It’s not wasted effort no matter how things go down.

That conversation about marrying Walter feels like a variation on something I've heard a lot of parents relating. As the kids get more vocal and more interesting, how much of this is coming out of your own parenting experience?

Almost none. But it is something you hear from very young girls in particular. I have boys and getting married was never something they brought up. But I do remember my little sister saying that about a basketball player she was infatuated with. And, as you might expect, nothing ever came of that. I do try to keep my ears open to hear what people say, and what kids say especially, to get a sense of how they put sentences together and how they choose words. But almost nothing in the book is ripped from my own life.

It makes sense, but I kind of didn't think about the fact that most of the Vicious Circle doesn't know about the kid. Without spoiling it, is there an endgame she has there, or was the baby just a mistake?

Dart wants to raise her own evil Dragon to have as personal protection. She wants underlings who are loyal to her and a devoted son who could go toe-to-toe with Malcolm down the line would be ideal. I think she likes the idea of having control over her own Dragon, given how much of a thorn in her side the Dragon family has been.

With Rogue Warrior making moves and threats, I have to ask: how does Alison's transformation into the Mako-Dart work? Does she have all Mako's invulnerabilities even when she's in human form?

It’s Hulk-like in my mind. In shark-form she’s as invulnerable as Mako was but in human form she’s a normal human. She could be cut or hurt in human form. At the same time, her Mako-form isn’t as graceful and skilled as her human form. She can’t throw her explosive darts with any kind of precision in her shark-form. There’s also a psychological component to it where being in that form feels like cheating. She only changes when she absolutely has to.

When Paul says “there weren't a lot of good options,” I'm stuck by how often you've said that during our interviews and conversations. That seems to be a running theme in the world of Savage Dragon.

You make the best choices you can out of the available options. Sometimes that means making tough choices. It’s not always ideal. But this is me, after the fact, trying to reconcile the inane things I came up when I drew Dragon comics as a kid. I’d keep magically turning children into adults because I didn’t want to deal with all of that messy growing up stuff.

Obviously the Darlings aren't always on our radar, so it feels like Laila ages in leaps and bounds whenever we see her. Is the plan to flesh that relationship out a bit more in the coming months?

The plan is to eventually have them settle down. At that point there won’t be those big jumps. We’ll just see the changes over time. Now that Frank is back in Angel’s life we’ll be seeing both of them more often.

The splash page of Malcolm bursting into action with the marker on his face is hilarious – but like with the “sput” when Dragon died, do you worry about, or think about how to balance, the funny moments in a battle that's ultimately pretty dire?

Yeah, but I think that contrast makes things for effective. Having his face all marked up lightens the mood and makes the scene seem more comedic, which gives the readers a false sense of security. They’re set up to think it’s a funny scene and then it all goes to hell.

This feels like one of those issues where you've got to have Gavin taking copious notes about who survived, who died, and who PROBABLY died. Like, I was almost surprised to see Rogue Warrior get back up.

It does get confusing, to be sure. The death count at this point is staggering. Whenever I’m assembling a group shot I end up pestering Gavin for survivors or combing over the Wiki (https://wiki.savagedragon.com) to see who’s still alive and kicking. It can get confusing due to the sheer volume of dead and buried.

Obviously Malcolm LOOKS pretty dead in this finale, but he and his dad have both come back from big chunks of them being blown up before. Should we feel safer having seen him on the cover of 256 and 257, or are you messing with us?

I can’t answer that but I will say that covers can be misleading and in some cases covers can/have/and will be changed to reflect the new reality. And I have no problem whatsoever with setting up readers’ expectations and pulling the rug out from under them. A Malcolm Dragon cover can be easily turned into a Paul Dragon cover and vice versa.

That said, if this IS the end for Malcolm, it feels weirdly appropriate that Dart kind of dominated him in that fight. Lots of villains have brutal, ugly fighting styles but for Dart, everything seems to just break her way. Was that a part of the thinking?

I love Dart. I love drawing Dart. I love drawing her athletic form gracefully cartwheeling through absolute chaos. It’s fun to play with different fighting styles and contrasting visuals. She’s often got that Batman-like methodical planning where every contingency is considered and every possibility planned for and her natural grace and ability allows her to achieve her goals with seeming ease.

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Is one of Dart's superpowers being able ot stand, in those heels, on top of bloody, slippery bodies?

Well, she is a badass.