By: James Robinson (story), Bernard Chang (art)
The Story: Nobody plagiarizes Vandal Savage’s murdering style! Nobody!
The Review: I don’t know about you, but I always found the importance attached to Vandal Savage a little funny. I mean, he’s only immortal. When you think about it, mere immortality doesn’t help you out much if you live in a world full of violence and freak accidents. But I think what’s given Vandal an edge in surviving up to modern times is the same thing which allowed him to survive through the most dangerous, earliest parts of human history: his savagery.
After millennia of civilization, the man has evolved intellectually—has absorbed as much of the whole of human experience as one person can—but beneath that patina of sophistication, he hasn’t changed much from the caveman he started out as. That was true back in medieval times (as evidenced by the whooping, boisterous Savage in Demon Knights), and is true now. Look at him using his teeth to escape FBI captivity, employing as much dexterity as his hands. And look at his primal gestures of triumph once he succeeds: “Free! Hahahaha!”
This kind of behavior is so ingrained in him that you have to wonder: what force in the world could possibly motivate him to settle down? DC tradition states nearly every ruthless invader in recorded history was Savage in some guise. Yet you would never think so in seeing Kass’ childhood flashback: the fleeting image of her father, cleaned up, neatly trimmed, in smart business attire; her mother, as preppy and mom-like as you can imagine; and Kass herself, sunnily laughing as she skips her way home from school, running a stick along a picket fence.
Was it love that got Vandal to tolerate the suburban dream for that long, or something else? His own admissions on the matter are inconclusive. When his daughter asks if he ever thinks of his once-upon-a-time wife, he boasts at first, “of course,” only to reverse gears (“No. Not really.”). His completely sober expression, however, shows he may feel some genuine regret about what happened to Kass’ mother, meaning no matter how much of a murderer he i+s, he’s still capable of caring, “…just in my own way.”
Maybe that’s why you feel there’s so much at stake when Kass finds herself in a fairly dire situation. It’s not so much that you care a ton about her (you do care—she’s a neat character—but it’s only been two issues, after all), but you’re eager to see what Vandal will do about it. Redemption seems remote; he is a monster and no amount of fatherly affection will change that. But it will be very interesting to know how he expresses that affection, and what kind of relationship such opposing personalities can have.
Speaking of evolution, Chang has definitely refined his style on this arc. Though his lines are still definitely angular, they don’t run into the manga-inspired V-shape faces he offered on the first feature of this series. His female characters have much more rounded figures, and so come closer to looking like real women (compared to the semi-anorexic ladies I saw in Supergirl). His sense of pacing remains his core strength; that sequence of Kass and her fellow FBI agents getting picked off methodically, one by one, in the woods is nearly devoid of sound, but packed with unspeakable tension.
Conclusion: Once again, Robinson delivers an intriguing glimpse into another of DC’s least understood characters, though he raises even more questions in the process.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – In the name of gender equality, I appreciate Savage doesn’t treat the lady FBI agent any less ruthlessly than the male one.
– Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good moment for racial equality too, considering the lady is white and the male is black.