Pullbox Reviews: Savage Avengers #1 – A new indie creator treads the sands of Marvel beneath his sandaled foot…

Savage Avengers #1

Conan the Cimmerian was mystically transported from his native Hyborian Age to the modern day. During his travels, he has battled many enemies, made allies, and sought out adventures, riches… and a way home.

I’m not gonna lie, I do love me a good gimmick. Not just a slapped together, spoon feed the masses bit of “why the hell not?” fan service for its own sake. But something that unites characters who wouldn’t normally exist together can be a great thing. Marvel has been doing that for decades. Their Team Up & Two-in-One series were some of my favorite books as a kid. More recently, they stepped it up a notch with Jim Zub’s run on Serpent War, bringing together some of Robert E Howard’s greatest characters (Conan, Solomon Kane, & Dark Agnes), & tossing in Moon Knight for good measure.

Taking a deep cut concept from an old What If…? issue, Marvel upped the ante and brought Conan the Barbarian together with some of Marvel’s own anti-heroes (Punisher, Wolverine, Black Widow, etc) and hatched Savage Avengers. Starting out in the Savage Land, where you’d think Conan would have been right at home, the story did make its way to warmer, more civilized climes. Chaos- and violence- ensued.

Now Marvel is kicking off a new arc in the Savage Avengers, but there’s a question worming its way into the back of my brain. Could this particular gimmick have played itself out? Have we seen Conan do all that he can do in the present world, up to and including flirting (awkwardly) with Black Widow? If this series is going to continue, there’s going to have to be some subversion to what have become established norms. To get there, we’re going to need a writer who can handle the breaking of tropes and crushing of expectations.

Haaaaave you met David Pepose?

No stranger to twisting fan favorite characters into near unrecognizable shapes (Spencer & Locke) & dropping them into situations far & away from their comfort zones (The O.Z.), Pepose has come onboard the Mighty Marvel Train for a whole new run on Savage Avengers. The irony isn’t lost on me, as Pepose himself is taking the first steps away from his own original indie titles, onto the immense stage that is Marvel.

I have no doubt that Pepose can thrive as the next independent comic creator to mix it up with the larger publishers. From his first steps into the Marvel sandbox, it looks like he’s already having a blast playing with a whole new batch of toys… but it’s worth noting that for the first time, the toys don’t belong to him. There was a bit of stiffness in the script, a couple one-liners that fell a little flat, but I would’ve been more surprised if there wasn’t a settling in period for Pepose. What I’m looking forward to is following along and seeing Pepose relax a little, to add more of his own flavor to the mix. He’s been dubbed “the Trope Killer” so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do once he’s established himself and the bones of this story.

It really can’t hurt that the art team Pepose gets to work with is already making this book POP. Carlos Magno sets the groundwork, and it is phenomenal! We should expect that Conan the Barbarian is center stage anywhere he puts his sandaled foot, and Magno handles all of those expectations with a great eye for dynamic action. He’s able to fill the page with expected levels of violence without going over the edge into territory that really isn’t “Marvel”. Another thing I loved in this book is the character introductions. As each of the core group comes on the page, Magno makes sure to give them a spotlight and a moment to own their panel. Those moments are given depth when Espen Grundetjern adds the color to Magno’s lines. There’s a lot happening in this opening issue, and it’s happening in multiple environments and with all manner of a crazy effects going off. Between Magno & Grundetjern, nothing gets lost in a jumble of visual info, and all the pieces come together to make some iconic looking comicbook pages.

As with every comic, a letterer can make or break. In the case of Travis Lanham, it’s definitely not the latter. The dialogue stays out of the way of the art, never breaking up what’s happening on the page but letting the reader’s eye slide from top left to bottom right without a hitch. He’s even able to give Deathlok a “voice” by using a distinctive style, without trying to make it so outrageous as to be unreadable (don’t roll your eyes at me, it happens more than you might think). Lanham also takes the voiceover text and gives it just enough of a spin to distinguish that we may not be listening to the normal comic narrator. I don’t know yet if that’s really the case, or if Lanham is just having a little fun, but I’m going to stick around to find out.

I had a blast with this opening issue. I could see Pepose’s excitement as he took the first steps with some fantastic, if only slightly less known Marvel characters. While some might wonder if Savage Avengers cold have played itself out, this creative team shows up with a few surprises in the tank. We’ve got a great cast of interesting characters, all fan favorites in their own right, coming together for something new & absolutely worth your time.

Final Score: 11/13

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