Now that the first two trailers for “Legends of Tomorrow” have dropped, I was asked by an ODecker to do a rundown on the characters of the show. Avoid any and all spoilers now: With the release of the trailers, the official synopses, and now the Comic-Con publicity blitz and interviews, I will be writing only from these information sources. If you consider the official promotional material to be spoilers, say, for instance the identity of the villain for the first season, then you may wish to avoid reading this.
If you do not want to know the backstory and power sets of characters on the program, then you may wish to avoid reading this.
However, that is it for spoilers. This is really an introduction to the characters using their past publication history, a bibliography of sorts. It is meant to give enthusiasts reference to some stories to whet their appetites while we all eagerly await the premiere.
one more chance to turn around,
and a picture of David Bowie depicting your choice:
“Getting to Know You,” Part One: Vandal Savage
The first character in “Getting to Know You” is Vandal Savage.
Who is Vandal Savage? Hailing from around 50,000 BCE, Savage was an ancestor of the modern homo sapien and has often been portrayed with Cromagnon features. A comet fell from the sky (as they tend to do in comics), and Savage approached the strange glowing meteorite. What could possibly be the harm in that? From interacting with the rock, he gained certain powers, chief among them: immortality and heightened intelligence. His other physical attributes also were increased, making him physically formidable: strength, endurance, healing factor, etc.
Savage has lived countless lifetimes without aging, a witness to the rise of humanity from tool-using animals into today’s modern civilizations. Using his cunning and his time, he evolved himself into a ruthless military tactician, proto-scientist, and physician. What else are you going to do with 52,000 years? It’s not like there was a whole lot else to read back then.
He used his guile and enhancements to advise and run war campaigns, to even run empires, and often to directly rule over peoples himself. He is defined by his cruelty, a monstrous brutality, one that takes delight in dispatching human lives according to his own violent predilections. That, his disturbed political alliances throughout classic and modern history, and his highly questionable sanity run deeply as traits and attribute to his status as a villain.
He says things like this on good days:
I wouldn’t drop my kids off there for daycare.
Because the live-action television adaptations of comics characters and storylines draw not just from the story-rich wealth of the original floppies, I am not going to just recommend trade paper backs and single issues here. Just as important to the DC Universe live-action adaptations are stories from the now classic, once cult, animated adaptations “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.”
Nextflix is currently streaming all episodes of the original hit “Justice League” and its excellent follow-up “Justice League Unlimited.”
I still have my DVD copies from back when the Cartooon Network shows got cancelled, usally kept on a shelf near a couch or bedside for a sick or rainy day.
I am going to go in an unusual direction here; I first recommend watching the classic animated “Justice League” series to introduce Savage. He stars in the excellent “Savage Time” three-parter. As that was the first, and as of now the best, televised version of Vandal Savage, I imagine we can see the live-action counterpart to draw at least some inspiration from his origin and characterization here. As a bonus, we get to hear the imcomprable Phil LaMarr voice Savage. We get Vandal Savage’s origin and a fun three-part adventure as well as a good introduction to the character. He reappears for the two-part romp “Maid of Honor” and briefly during the intriguing two “Hereafter” episodes.
These appearances give a great sense of his character and the potential for his characterization in the upcoming series. Of course, as comic book characters are not immutable over time, it is worth discussing his book appearances.
While he’s a renowned character, his bibilography is fairly thin. Betwen 1943 and 1980, he only had ten appearances. I’m not terribly familiar with that period, but his origin is in Green Lantern #10 (1941), and his Flash appearances in #137, #215, and #235 are of some note.
As a reader, I first met Vandal Savage in the classic Wally West Flash era (1987-), issues #1, #2, #12, #13, #14, and #16 (Flash, Vol. 2). These were always my favorite Flash era books, due in large part to my brother giving me his whole run (#1-30 something) when he moved.
Savage has since appeared in dozens of storylines, mainly with 1991’s “Justice Society” Vol. 1 #1-8, and again in a “JSA: Classified” story line called “The Fall & Rise of Vandal Savage” (issues #10-13). As the title implies, a study of his story is examined in this arc. He really was a JSA enemy for much of his history, and this “Classified” story is probably the first in-depth look into his psyche. I’ll always love those 1980’s Flash stories, though.
I am most familiar with him in appearances in the later story arcs. These are collected in TPB form as: “DC One Million” (1998), “Secret Six Vol. 2” (2006, written by Gail Simone and excellent), and “Salvation Run” (2008). “DC One Million” is pretty mired in bizarre, neo-Silver Age continuity, and as such, I don’t recommend it for the trepidatious.
However, I highly recommend the first two “Secret Six” volumes. They were written by Gail Simone mainly (as well as with Paul Cornell). Do I need to say anymore? Perhaps. But to say that Savage is at some the best of his narrative usage in this story is my best possible recommendation for Simone’s work. I can neither recommend for or against “Salvation Run.” I enjoyed it at the time, but I’m not going to reread it in the near future. Also, Savage only plays one part among a large cast in that story, so there may not be much to be gleaned about him that cannot be found elsewhere.
Other titles of note that contain apperances are “Final Crisis” (but only briefly), “Final Crisis: Revelations” (if there are any fans of Renee Montoya and confusing plots that go unresolved then you may want to take a look), and “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.” Since these fall under Grant Morrison uber-works, your mileage may vary. I enjoyed but did not love “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne,” but if you are a Grant Morrison “Batman” mega-arc completist, this is a necessary read.
Since the New 52 Reboot, Savage has been portrayed differently, or rather not much at all; he lacks clear motivations and characteristics as compared to the more classic versions. He featured somewhat heavily as one of the main characters in Demon Knights by Paul Cornell and Robert Venditti. I am unfamiliar with how that ended and what Savage’s current status is in the DCU. I dropped that book after a dozen issues and mostly stopped following the New 52 books at around the same time.
Here’s how Vandal Savage looks in the concept art for the most recent trailer:
Vandal Savage, the villain, is a fascinating study in character on multiple levels.
He is immortal. He grew up as a child seeing those around him die. Over how many centuries did it require for his heart to grow cold and stop caring that everyone else dies as he alone lives? That there is nothing he can do but continue to live? In another universe, he may have been known to some as “The Master.” Driven mad to violence, apathy, and suffering with no lasting bonds in the world but those which he creates by wresting political, military, and scientific power in order to institute change? When did he adopt the view that everyone is going to be dead to him soon and that their immediate death by his hand is at best an honor to his cause and at worst a trivial inconvenience?
While his loved ones die, cities rise and crumble. Empires are demolished. He lives forever, but he cannot be everywhere. What can he do but try and make the world a better place? Is that not the drive, the goal, that creates the best of villains?
Forged over 52,000 years in his suffering, by his knowledge, through his battle prowess, via his studies: this is not some trifling, passing foe. And is he even wrong? If you lived for 520 centuries, could you, you yourself, imagine yourself to be wrong? It is a long time. Would you even have a doubt in your mind?
Please, as always, chime in to add some missing stories, fill in the gaps left by my limited knowledge, and make suggestions for the next installment. One question I have for you is who from “Legends of Tomorrow” would you like to “get to know” next?