Conan of Cimmeria is on the hunt. In modern New York City, a cult with roots back to Conan's original time is set to bring about a spectacular catastrophe, unless everyone's favorite Barbarian can stop them. Fortunately for him, there are others on the trail, fierce warriors plucked from the most brutal corners of the MCU. But unfortunately for all of them, there's one more predator in NYC, whose prey is not the cult… but the people hunting it.
Savage Avengers #1 hits comic shop shelves and digital platforms everywhere May 17. The book is drawn by Carlos Magno, written by David Pepose, colored by Espen Grundetjern, and lettered by Travis Lantham. It unites a ragtag band of antiheroes including Conan, Cloak & Dagger, the Black Knight, Agent Anti-Venom, Daredevil, and Weapon X against Deathlok the Demolisher in a battle that's more about survival than it is good and evil. And if that sounds like the comic equivalent of a pyrotechnics show, well, it is.
Written by David Pepose
Art by Carlos Magno
Coloring by Espen Grundetjern
Lettering by Travis Lantham
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8/10
Known for his work in indie comics, writer David Pepose steps up to the plate for his first ongoing Marvel title and knocks the ball out of the park. Pepose's specialty is characters, and this story walks a delicate line between showcasing them for both new readers and returning fans. Pepose also manages to introduce the characters in a way that feels natural, an impressive feat considering the large cast of characters and the decades of history behind them.
Still, one character stands well above the rest. This is, after all, Conan's story - it's his timeline shenanigans that put the team in Deathlok's crosshairs in the first place. Pepose knows that Conan is the backbone of the comic and puts weight on him accordingly, keeping his story front and center in this issue and, we can assume, the first arc of the comic. This provides a clear reference point for readers, a north star for how they can get into the action of the story.
That's a good thing, too, because action is what this comic does best. A lot of that is due to Carlos Magno, who injects McFarlane-levels of adrenaline into the battles that drive the comic. This issue really is one giant fight scene, and Magno makes it sing by focusing on the physicality of the combatants - the brutish frame of Weapon X, the ferocity of Anti-Venom's symbiote, and the dark tendrils of Cloak's, well, cloak.
Magno wisely chooses to leave the backgrounds of these action panels either vague or empty, drawing the eye to the warriors at their center. However, that's not to say that Magno doesn't have a talent for detail. His facial expressions are particularly effective in heightening the drama of the comic, especially during one scene in the book, when the action isn't physical but psychic. No spoilers here, but it's a scene that makes a reader appreciate the scope of Magno's skills.
Working behind Magno's art visually but alongside it thematically are Espen Grundetjern's marvelous colors. Usually, colors serve to set a comic's mood, but Grundetjern does something different. Since the tone stays at a pretty static “11 out of 10” throughout the book, Grundetjern uses his colors to do character work.
For example, when readers meet Flash Thompson and Elektra, the scene is a foggy blue-white, appropriate for the noir-ish detective role they play in #1. Cloak and Dagger are introduced on pages that use sunset tones, hinting at the romantic journey their characters seem to be on. Deathlok's deadly mission takes him through streets as red as blood he intends to spill. It's something you don't typically see in a superhero comic, but Grundetjern does it with aplomb.
And since we're on the subject of Deathlok, we'd be remiss if we didn't bring up how well the creative team has come together to make him such a formidable antagonist. Pepose gives him technological advances that are a threat to the entire Savage Avengers roster, Magno draws him as foreboding as the Terminator, Grundetjern makes his world red, and letterer Travis Lantham gives him his voice.
That voice is mechanical and unfeeling, never needing to get louder to make itself threatening. In one panel, Black Knight is screaming at something Deathlok is doing (no spoilers!) and Deathlok rebukes him with a flat, robotic quip. Deathlok fans will love Savage Avengers #1, and Lantham's always-great lettering is partially to thank for that.
You know a pyrotechnics show is good if you walk away a little fried. Reading Savage Avengers #1 might not literally leave your ears ringing or put spots in your eyes, but by the end, you'll be certain something explosive just happened. And in the silence that follows, it'll take you a moment to remember that this is only the beginning.
Conan is the leader of the Savage Avengers ... for now .... but Marvel has lost the license to tell Conan stories in the Hyborian Age.