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It’s hard to review when you don’t know what you think: Graeme, 4/4.

Graeme McMillan

Here’s the odd thing; I didn’t really like SAVAGE TALES #1 that much, but I’m not sure I could tell you why.

I mean, sure, I could say that three of the four stories in this relaunch of the fantasy anthology are unsatisfying first chapters, not able to find enough of a middle ground between character work and action to provide me with any reason to come back (The one exception to this is Ron Marz and Adriano Batista’s opening Red Sonja story, which manages to use what reads as a pretty throwaway scene as a sneaky way to introduce Sonja to any new readers, showing us not only the character herself but also her reputation and the world in which she lives – It’s actually a surprisingly successful way around what would otherwise have had to be an exposition dump either in dialogue or narration, and just one of the reasons why this is easily the best story of the issue; I’ll get to some of the others later), but I’m unsure whether that opinion is really a failure of the creators or partially a result of my expectations of the title based on its format.

Anthologies like this, you see – Adventure-based anthologies, I guess you could call them – are all, in mind, up against 2000AD as some kind of ideal of what they should be. And not any particular issue of 2000AD, but a dream issue; something that probably never existed, but merges the best of their strips together into some kind of superprog. This is partially because I grew up, like most comic readers from the UK, reading 2000AD every week even when most of the stories were crap even to an undiscerning fourteen-year-old, but also partially because 2000AD did a lot of things right (to me, at least) when it came to working in this format. One of those things in particular was that the writers knew how to write serials in 5-page episodes – they kept things moving, even if it was only the illusion of the advancement of plot, and when they couldn’t do that, they’d overwhelm you with dialogue that was funny, or stylish, or incomprehensible or whatever, but which gave each series its own personality. Because of that, there would be episodes where nothing would happen, or everything would happen even if it made no sense (Both of these, admittedly, happened more often as 2000AD got older and its readers started growing up; the writers that started it, Alan Grant, Pat Mills, John Wagner and the like, were old pros at making sure that each five page episode had at least one action sequence, even if it was just a very dramatic argument between characters. I’m thinking now of writers like John Smith or even some of Grant Morrison’s stuff like Really and Truly), and you wouldn’t care, because the personality of the story was so strong that that was what you were really reading for, coming back for every issue.

And that, maybe, is what is missing in the strips in Savage Tales: Personality. Each strip, including the Marz Red Sonja one, is pretty homogenous. There’s a sameness of tone to them, a manneredness to the writing that restrains the dialogue and the imagination just as it keeps the visuals to a pretty generic superhero book level (with the notable exception of Pablo Marcos’s work on one strip, which is completely elevated – I’m tempted to say “saved” – by the coloring that gives it a painted finish), and that might be the one thing that disappointed me more than anything else. I mean, yes, Leah Moore and John Reppion’s story is all set-up and no actual story (Showing two panels of a mystery man in a hood with glowing eyes doesn’t count), and Luke Lieberman and Mike Oeming focus on action at the expense of coherent storytelling and, you know, telling the reader the name of their main character (No-one is really given any introduction, and as a result, it’s hard to care about the story because we have no idea of the context), but there’s no variation in tone between them, nothing to make them stand out against everything else in the book. The same goes for Mike Raicht’s Lovecraftian story at the back of the book – Yes, there’s more of a horror element, but it’s treated in exactly the same way as the other stories: Po-faced, earnest and without any sense of humor; Marz’s story opens with comedy, which is another of its saving graces. As, for that matter, is that it’s the only story that attempts a cliffhanger to draw the reader back for issue 2 – The hero is in direct, if somewhat vague, peril as opposed to the other three stories, all of which close on “slight sense of unease with foreboding last line.”

So, yeah. It’s not that the stories are bad, as much as bland. But when you have such little space to work in or offer the reader some reason to come back next month, then maybe that blandness is the worst thing that this title could have to offer. Technically, it’s Okay, I’m sure; if I had more affinity to the subject matter, maybe I would like it more, but to me…? Eh.

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