THIS REVIEW OF ‘SAVAGE AVENGERS’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Conan has returned large to the House of Ideas. His regular titles, Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan, have been excellent. As far as his place in the wider universe is concerned, already the Cimmerian has taken part in modern superhero tales like Avengers: No Road Home. With Savage Avengers, Conan becomes a true member of perhaps the greatest alliance of anti-heroes ever; he’s set to misadventure alongside Wolverine, Elektra, the Punisher, Venom, and Doctor Voodoo. Obviously, those Marvel villains who think themselves evil’s zenith and a bag of chips are due some bloodletting, perforations in squishy places, and symbiotic mayhem.
The prospects of Savage Avengers carries potential once tapped in 1977’s What If? #13, “What if Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?” It could have been subtitled, “And what if he ran afoul of one Captain America?”, which brought it into my comic stacks quickly. That story still holds up. Fan friends of mine yet unborn in 1977 recently read the True Believers reprint of it and praised it scant weeks ago. Surely, pairing Conan with modern characters mirroring his barbarous nature could resonate similarly.
Unfortunately, there likely won’t be odes sung to Woden regarding Savage Avengers #1 40+ years from now. For all its primal promise, the first issue reads largely pedestrian. Scripter Gerry Duggan fast-tracks the action elements nicely but leaves the characterizations slight. And these are some strong characters, bursting with interactive possibilities. Readers are given pages of beautiful, untamed art, but not so much the other. Rather, the focus is centered on putting the Major Threat into motion. It’s clever enough, but mostly standard fare for Conan fans.
Left to fend for himself in the modern-day Savage Land after No Road Home, Conan falls back into footpad mode and seeks to pilfer a jeweled amulet rumored to be in a jungle temple. This particular Pangean temple is now used by The Hand and an amalgam of mages, bent on a series of widespread blood sacrifices to resurrect an Old Ones wannabe called Jhoatun Lau, the Marrow God. Exemplary humans (artists, lawgivers, warriors) are being abducted from around the world and brought to the temple. One such selectee is a friend of Wolverine’s. That trail leads Logan to the same neck of primordial woods Conan’s in. Other primary characters are being drawn the same direction, as well, and we encounter some of their number briefly.
As a result, the reader’s given a nice setup for why these rugged individualists will be joining forces, some great and bloody action panels, and aptly-placed moments of humor to keep the dark narrative from going completely stygian. But the confederation’s yet to come; what’s left being a fight between Wolverine and Conan which turns out to be the sort of happenstance hash we’ve seen so often. Imagine a succulent T-bone steak seared to perfection, the aroma kicking taste buds into overdrive, and that first forkful flavored like tofu. Watery tofu.
The prime-cut artwork of Mike Deodato, Jr. makes the analogy appropriate. His Conan moves lithely for his size, strikes surely, and seems barely confined to the panels. Logan shares the pages in a style less dexterous; he’s the short and stocky Wolverine, and he’s willing to take a hit despite the pain. He’ll just regenerate and make you eat the skewering sword. Visually and battle-wise, the conflict between these two rattles pages. The less violent views we get of Doctor Voodoo and Frank Castle are distinctive as well. Never has Voodoo been more formidable. Seldom has the Punisher’s vendetta been molded into mask and mantle.
In matters of background, from a Madripoor casino to sketchy Savage Land settlement alleyways, Deodato’s equally on point. Thanks to him, the book does achieve part of its aggressive capacity and feral nature.
Frank Martin on colors deserves thanks as well. He nurtures murk, marking well the differences between jungle canopy and city labyrinthian shadow. He reserves the darkest tones, the true deepest night of the soul, for Castle. The lettering of Travis Lanham is thick and stark here, the exact right choice. He gets in a few delectable bits of scroll work, and his impact effects, always fine, are a step beyond. Particularly, his see-through sound effects add a distinct touch; it’s as if the noise comes with such force, the color’s ruptured and drained.
For a first issue, the missing element is character. Yes, we know them all well. Seeing them together is only part of the book’s draw, and for many, not the greatest part. That lies in how these protagonists deal with one another, each in their obdurate, civilization’s-rules-be-damned way. That portion is lacking for now. Lovers of great action sequences with little dialogue interrupting the virgin art may find this book to their liking. Readers seeking memorable clashes of titans to ground the series could be disappointed.
Marvel / $4.99
Written by Gerry Duggan.
Art by Mike Deodato, Jr.
Colors by Frank Martin.
Letters by VC’s Travis Lanham.
6.5 out of 10
Check out this 3-page preview of ‘Savage Avengers’ #1, courtesy of Marvel!