Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Savage Dragon (Playmates toy pack-in comic)

Originally packaged with: Playmates The Savage Dragon and Jim Lee’s TMNT toylines
Publication date: 1995

Script and thumbnails: Erik Larsen
Art: Michael Dooney
Inks: John Cleary
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Reuben Rude


Cruising the streets of Chicago in his experimental pursuit bike, Officer Dragon’s joyride is interrupted by a call from dispatch telling him to break up a freak-fight at 5th and Madison. Dragon turns around and heads for the fight.

At 5th and Madison, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are doing battle with Officer Dragon’s buddies, Barbaric and the She-Dragon. Barbaric and She-Dragon mistakenly think they’ll make short work of the Turtles, but Don is quick to point out their folly, as their lifetime of ninja training coupled with their recent cyborg enhancements have made them a formidable force. To demonstrate Don’s point, Leo chops She-Dragon’s flowing blonde locks into a sassy mohawk.

Officer Dragon arrives on the scene, but before he can break things up, a building is knocked over on his head. Now “battle damaged”, Dragon bursts through the rubble and tells everyone to cool it. He reveals that he knows both teams and he knows that both are upstanding citizens. Barbaric and She-Dragon admit that they mistook the Turtles for members of the Vicious Circle. The Turtles, as it happens, explain that they actually came to Chicago from New York to team-up with Dragon and fight the Vicious Circle, as the villains had kidnapped a friend of theirs.

With no more time to waste, Officer Dragon rallies his team to go take the Vicious Circle head-on.

Turtle Tips:

*This comic was packaged with the seven different toys featured across both of Playmates’ The Savage Dragon and Jim Lee’s TMNT toylines.

*There were 7 different covers to this comic, each one unique depending on which toy it was packaged with. The contents of the comic are the same across all versions.  Cover artists were: Erik Larsen (Dragon toy), Erik Larsen & Simon Bisley (Battle-Damage Dragon toy), Dave Johnson (She-Dragon toy), Victor Bridges (Barbaric toy), Michael Dooney (Donatello toy), John Cleary (Michelangelo toy), and "Kirby & Friend" (Raphael toy).

*Although I wouldn’t qualify this pack-in comic as canon with either the TMNT or Savage Dragon comic series, Dragon mentions that he’d met the Turtles before, and he did so several times, beginning with The Savage Dragon #2.

*It is never stated who exactly the Vicious Circle has kidnapped (ten bucks on April). The descriptions on the backs of the toy cards don’t divulge much additional story info, only that the Shredder (who is oddly referred to as a “mutant”) has teamed up with Overlord (leader of the Vicious Circle) and his scheming has brought the Turtles to Chicago.


Well, this was predictably terrible, but toy pack-in comics usually are. I think the key difference here is that it was a terrible comic packed-in with a terrible toyline.

Jim Lee’s TMNT were pretty garishly designed and completely logically bonkers by even Playmates standards, and they're the company who burdened the toy aisles with “Magician Raphael” and “Birthday Party Clown Michelangelo”. So to say these things were ugly and stupid should give you a pretty solid idea of how harshly I condemn them.

Infamously among collectors, Leonardo never got a figure released in the toyline. But, once you see how Jim Lee designed him, in that inexplicably red spandex bodysuit with those ridiculously dorky metal “ear wings”, perhaps it was an act of mercy on the part of Playmates. A prototype of the toy WAS produced and displayed at the 1995 Toy Fair, however:

Larsen manages to work all the toys from the line-up into this comic, including the two versions of Officer Dragon (uniform and “battle damage”). It’s all contrived and stupid, but par for the course with toy pack-in material, to be fair. Artwise, well, he and Dooney had to try and draw Jim Lee’s TMNT and make them look cool, so they were predestined to fail the moment they sharpened their pencils.

The catalogue section in the back of the comic features two pages: one describing the Savage Dragon line (created to tie-in with the short-lived USA cartoon series) and one describing the Jim Lee’s TMNT line. I found the rationalization for the TMNT line to be pretty flimsy, as it’s a paragraph claiming that at very long last the Turtles have “rediscovered their comic book roots”. So, despite the fact that between 1984 and 1995 the Turtles had had at least one comic book in continuous publication at all times, it took Jim Lee and his generic '90s superhero template to reunite the characters with their “comic book roots”?

Don’t make me gag.

Jesus, I shouldn’t even be dignifying this thing with a review. But I’ve already eaten dinner and put on my sweat pants, so shit, I’ve got nothing else going on tonight.

Grade: F (as in, “For real, the only thing worse than this comic or this toyline is USA’s Savage Dragon cartoon. That thing was almost lethally awful”.)


Adam Winters said...

I have to admit, I really want to read this thing! Sometimes we just can't help but stare at a train wreck.

Adam Winters said...

I'm really curious to see how Jim Lee would have rendered Splinter, Casey, and April... maybe we are better off never knowing.

Mattkind said...

The only Way I see this being canon is if it's canon for the OT and the dragon cartoon that's not even how she got her mohawk

Monzo said...

Hey, Spengs. The second image doesn't enlarge if you click on it.

Also, are there any toy shots of Jim Lee's Leonardo in the catalog, or do they just show what was produced?

Mark Pellegrini said...


Yeah, at the time Blogger had strict size limits for images per blog post, so if you look at most of my older articles, only the first image will enlarge while the rest are all thumbnails. Blogger seems to have eliminated that, now, and all images seem to enlarge in my newer posts.

And I'm afraid the catalogue only has the Don, Mike and Raph; no shots of Leo. I've never seen any images of a prototype of the toy or even concept art from Playmates, so I'm not sure how far into the production process Leo's toy made it. To my knowledge, this pack-in comic is the only time we ever got to see what he might have looked like.

Monzo said...

Via the power of Google, I have found Jim Lee's Leonardo!

That sure is a random cybernetic leg. And... wrist guards made out of chains?

Mystery solved, I guess.

Mark Pellegrini said...

Nice! (and added to article for posterity)

Yeah, Tokka's got a lot of good stuff in his flickr account (which I haven't even looked all the way through). He's where I found those pics of the Pizzaface prototype, if I recall correctly.

John Pannozzi said...

Erik Larsen once posted the credits for this comic on the old Image boards, but those forums are no more, so today I asked him for the credits, and he said this:

"I wrote it and drew thumbnails. Michael Dooney drew it, John Cleary inked it, Chris Eliopoulos lettered it and Reuben Rude colored it."


John Pannozzi said...

Also, from that same thread, Adam O. Pruett, the covers were done by:

Dragon: Larsen

Battle-Damage Dragon: Larsen & Simon Bisley

She-Dragon: Dave Johnson

Barbaric: Vic Bridges

Donatello: Dooney

Mike: Cleary

Raph: ???

The Finick said...

As John Panozzi pointed out, please update the credits for this comic, as that is definitely not Larsen's art.

Unknown said...

As a big fan of the Dragon I own this thing as well.
At least the best action figure of the line came with the best cover for this comic.
The Battle Damaged Dragon with a very sweet Bisley and Larsen take on Raphael vs. Dragon (the cover you displayed at the beginning of your review).
That cover per se justifies the existence of such a crappy comic book.