DC Universe Presents #9
“Savage, Part One: Daddy’s Little Girl”
Writer: James Robinson
Artist/Colors: Bernard Chang
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover artist: Ryan Sook
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Well, this series has only struck out once in three times at bat. James Robinson’s reinterpretation of Vandal Savage is the third feature to grace the pages of this series, which offers stories spotlighting different characters by different creative teams. There’s an undeniable Silence of the Lambs riff at play in this story, but the familial dynamic keeps it from seeming derivative. The writer blends the serial-killer genre with the periphery of that of the super-hero (or villain, to be more precise), and the result is thoroughly entertaining. While I enjoyed the strong, new female protagonist Robinson introduces here, what stands out as the greatest strength of the issue is Bernard Chang’s artwork. He did such a great job on the inaugural Deadman story arc in DC Universe Presents and on this new one, it seems to me DC ought to just make him the regular artist for the series across the board. Chang is a skilled comics artist whose traditional style nevertheless boasts a great deal of nuance and impact when the story calls for it.
A senator’s daughter has been abducted, and the FBI believes a serial killer who’s murdered seven women already is responsible. The killer’s methods and signature mirrors those of another killer who’s been locked up for the better part of two decades. He’s a madman who claims he’s immortal and was justified in committing the murders so many years ago as a tribute to long-dead and forgotten gods. The FBI sends its top profiler, a 26-year-old prodigy, to Belle Reve Penitentiary to question Jon Savage about the apparent copycat killer. There’s just one problem: Savage and the profiler share some ugly history… and a bloodline.
I was surprised to find the cover for this issue was illustrated by Ryan Sook. Now, I suppose it shouldn’t have, as he’s been responsible for all of the covers for the previous eight issues, but this particular image didn’t really strike me as a Sook work. It reminded me more of Patrick Zircher’s work on the recent but unfortunately overlooked Marvel limited series Mystery Men, as well as of some of Mike Deodato’s more textured, photorealistic efforts. Sook captures the edgy tone of the plot adeptly. The Savage logo is also striking. Clearly, the designer has opted to emphasize the crime element in the story, as the logo looks a bit like magazine-letter clippings used to craft an anonymous and dastardly message.
In many ways, Bernard Chang boasts a simpler style, employing an economy of lines to convey a lot of storytelling. In some ways, his work is reminiscent of that of Sal Buscema, though Chang’s work is often more reserved and less extreme in tone. The simpler approach nevertheless affords him the opportunity to bring a lot of detail to his work. His characters are expressive, but often subtly so. I think the most striking thing in the visuals is the steely resolve the artist instills in Kass Sage. Chang really conveys the strength this young woman possesses, though he’s yet to show us much of the damage that’s led her to be so strong and skilled. In keeping with that strength, the artist also doesn’t sexualize Kass. She’s lovely, but she’s not presented as a sex object in any way. Chang also takes on the coloring duties here, and he performs well in that regard too. It’s not often a mainstream super-hero comic (or one set in the periphery of the genre) features pencils, inks and colors all by the same artist. I suspect it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a jack of all trades and produces work entirely solo.
Robinson offers a significantly different take on “Vandal Savage.” Now he’s named “Jon Savage,” and he’s no conqueror. He’s a killer. He’s a monster. But he doesn’t seem like he’s planning to rule the world. He’s driven by ancient beliefs, barbarous behavior he’s yet to unlearn. And the fact is we have no evidence yet this new incarnation of the character is actually immortal. Immortality is something everyone just accepted about him in previous DC continuities. In the world of the New 52, it’s just a claim that most dismiss as the rantings of a madman. Either way, I find this reinterpretation to be much more interesting than the character I’d seen in DC stories of the past.
The Silence of the Lambs vibe throughout the latter part of the issue is so obvious, I can only assume it’s a purposeful homage. Still, writer James Robinson brings a new dynamic to the mix that makes it even more dramatic and engrossing. Clarice Starling had no history with Hannibal Lecter before she first questioned him in his cell, and she personally had nothing to lose in that initial meeting. Here, Kass Sage not only must face everything she loathes in the world but must acknowledge the fact she owes her existence to it. Ultimately, what makes this such an interesting story is that it’s driven by characterization rather than the hunt for a serial killer. 8/10
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