Richard Dragon #8, February 2005, DC Comics
writer: Chuck Dixon
penciller: Scott McDaniel
inker: Andy Owens
colorist: Tony Avina
letterer: Phil Balsman
editor: Michael Wright
Before I dive into today's review, I'd like to make a few shout-outs, all of which are related to my recent emphases on the Alternative Press Expo and Free Comic Book Day, respectively. First, Von Allan, who promoted his upcoming The Road to God Knows . . . at APE, and whose ashcan I reviewed just a week or so afterward, has drafted an incredible four part analysis of the comics convention circuit on his LiveJournal, and I encourage anyone even casually interested in small press publishing or comic book marketing to check it out. Indeed, A Comic A Day has enabled me to make some connections in this beloved industry, however brief, like the nice comment made by writer Shannon Wheeler for my review of the FCBD Gumby issue, or the recent e-mail I received from Virgin Comics marketing coordinator Stephanie Brown, who kindly offered to send me the Virgin FCBD issues I missed. Thank you for the positive feedback, and I hope you hang on 'til the end, which is just over a month away.
Then again, if writing reviews entitles me to free comics (another big thanks to Love and Capes scribe Thomas Zahler for his complimentary issues, as well), maybe I should keep this thing going. Oh, my girlfriend would love that. If anyone has ever said that comics are a needy mistress, they're right.
Now, Richard Dragon #8. As I mentioned on Monday, I received a hearty stack of comics via donation at work this week and a few issues of Richard Dragon were among them. Though I'm a big fan of the Dixon/McDaniel collaborative efforts, namely on Nightwing, I avoided this series because I knew little about Dragon as a character. Though I assumed he was the DC equivalent to Marvel's Iron Fist, a quick perusal of his Wikipedia entry reveals that Dragon has held a much more enigmatic role in the DCU, originally penned by Denny O'Neil and later credited for training such heroes as the Question and the Huntress. While this is all pre-Crisis, despite Dixon's attempts to humanize the wayward hero (and add Bruce Wayne and Conner Hawke to his extensive list of students), this prestige is still canon, since it was recently referenced in 52. God knows, if it's been referenced in 52, it's law. But I digress . . .
So, yes, Dixon's recent take on Dragon, which lasted a meager twelve issues, was somewhat controversial, revamping his international origins in a much more urban, or even domestic context. By this ninth issue, Dragon has abandoned the violent call of his fickle lover Lady Shiva and has been wrongly accused of attacking his friend and master the Bronze Tiger. Now, at the beck and call of two police officers that are willing to trade Dragon's freedom for his penchant for trouble, and most importantly the subsequent fame from thwarting many a crime, Richard finds himself going undercover in a mob run by a former, embittered student, whose wounded pride sparked an assassination attempt against the martial arts master. Two things -- the student-turned-godfather still thinks Dragon is dead, and those two cops really have no intention of clearing Richard's record. Woo. Talk about hitting below the black belt.
Dixon knows how to write a story, that's for sure. Like many readers my age, I discovered Dixon at the helm of Robin's relaunch, and his now legendary character work with young Tim Drake. His one hundred issue run on Robin, not to mention his critical role in many successful Batman and Detective arcs is often underrated, but my favorite of his works is The Joker: Devil's Advocate. What makes Richard Dragon unique in this context is the intended concept of redemption. Many of DC's characters seek retribution for events they really couldn't control in the first place, i.e. Superman's sense of responsibility about the destruction of Krypton, and Batman's self-imposed blame for the death of his parents. In Dragon's case, he does have a past he should be ashamed of, and, ironically, it's catching up to him only now that he's trying to do some good with his life. I'm surprised his role as an vigilante agent of law enforcement didn't elicit more intrigue for the series; however, though Dixon is an incredible writer, his scripts are often too light for his concepts. If he relaunched Richard Dragon in the same way the Human Target was redrafted for the Vertigo imprint, utilizing ripped-from-the-headlines circumstances through mature audiences storytelling, the kung-fu fighter might have had more legs.
Yes, any time I get to reference Human Target two days in a row is a good time.
Further, Scott McDaniel has been one of my favorite artists for a long time, ever since I picked up that Batman/Two-Face graphic novel that hit the stands around the time of Batman Forever. (I bought the book before a road trip and read it in the car, so I remember my first McDaniel experience quite vividly. Don't you love it when that happens?) Like Norm Breyfogle, McDaniel has one of those styles one can hardly mimic, and his unfortunate run with Larry Hama on Batman by no means tested the bounds of his talent. (Re: Hama's Batman. Remember Orca? Anybody? Yeah, she was recently killed off. If only my memories of her inaugural arc shared the same fate. And does that little girl with the mutant crocodile still protect the Batcave? Wow. Real canon there, eh?) The only artist with a similar stroke that I know of is Scott Morse, and while Morse has the fine arts down pat, McDaniel is best in the sequential action-oriented storytelling department. A good choice for a fluid book like Richard Dragon.
Ultimately, when Dixon decided to try out his own origin for Richard Dragon, he lost a critical connection with readers and only managed a year's stint on what could have been a good series. I'm learning through A Comic A Day, making that connection is important. And, if you're like me and you play your cards right, the process is so natural it's almost accidental.