Thursday, September 29, 2016

"If only it wasn't so far!" His Name Is Savage #1 review

The comic book business is an untamed field, its own wild west, perhaps even - savage. In the early days pioneers such as Siegel & Shuster gave away their creations, little supposing how comics would remain vibrant for decads to come. By the 1960s, matters had begun to settle - calcify, perhaps. Marvel established themselves as a major player in the business, drawing on teenage & college aged readers; between Marvel & DC, the medium was dominated by super hero action titles for all ages. Enter Gil Kane.

Gil Kane remains a star of the Silver Age, dabbling both at Marvel & DC during that era and contributing the redesigned Hal Jordan version of the Green Lantern into comics lore. Still, Kane hoped to blaze new trails. At the time, magazine publisher Warren had found success with their black & white horror magazines, taking advantage of the magazine's lack of Comics Code Authority approval in order to depict more violence and sex than any four-colour operator would permit. Kane even brought in Warren's beloved writer-editor Archie Goodwin to be his scripter on his passion project His Name Is Savage, which published its first (and only) issue in 1968.

Savage is an intelligence operative who (deliberately, on the cover) looks a fair bit like actor Lee Marvin. Serving a shadowy group called the Committee, Savage is pit against his former mentor General Simon Mace, a former war hero who is now a cyborg with ambitions to set off World War 3. There's not much else to the story - Savage looks up his former flame Sheila (Mace's daughter), but Mace's men kill her - thus eliminating the book's only female character. Mace impersonates Lyndon Johnson so he can order an attack on the USSR, but that's about as political as it gets. It's very light on plot and characters.

Where Savage comes through is in the action department; throughout the story, Savage either broke men's teeth or shot them in the chest. This sort of violence could be felt throughout the crime & horror comics of the 40s & 50s but had been scarce since the CCA's arrival. But what was rattling by the standards of 1968 is fairly tame by those of 2016. Kane pushed the envelope further than CCA comics of '68 would have gone, but today's super hero comics push much further. Such is the story of history. Perhaps the book's most lasting impact on the comics medium is that Rich Buckler evidently based his hero Deathlok's visual on that of Kane's General Mace.

Comics were on the cusp of big changes in '68, but His Name Is Savage wouldn't be the book to change it all; 70s arrivals such as The First Kingdom, Elfquest and Cerebus would eventually shepherd a place in the industry for mature storytelling outside the super hero genre.

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