Exclusive: Erik Larsen on the return of Mighty Man, politics and Image turning 25

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Feb 20, 2017

If you were looking for one word to describe cartoonist and Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen, committed might be the most appropriate. The guy still writes and illustrates Savage Dragon, some 200 issues and a quarter-century after the comic debuted as part of the 'Image Revolution.'

Now, Larsen is bringing back another one of his creations for a special one-shot issue. Mighty Man arrives in comics shops on April 5 and will feature a brand new, self-contained tale written by Larsen and drawn by artist Nikos Koutsis. This time, the host of the World's Mightiest Man is seven-year-old Betty Bradford, the daughter of Ann Bradford, who previously held the Mighty Man powers. She's learning to handle the awesome responsibility of being the world's greatest superhero.

If you're not familiar with the character, Mighty Man is an ancient entity created by the wizard Fon-Ti to battle evildoers. Whoever is the host is able to transform, much like Shazam!, into the tall, blonde and handsome hero and gain his incredible powers by tapping their wrists together.

Mighty Man is one of the first characters Larsen ever created. His first appearance was in Megaton #2 back in the mid-'80s, the same issue which also saw the very first appearance of Savage Dragon. Mighty Man has made dozens of appearances — in various reincarnations and with different hosts — in the Savage Dragon comic universe. He's also guest-starred in Invincible several times.

We had the chance to talk with Larsen about spotlighting Mighty Man once again, why he's only writing this issue, why President Trump may not appear much in Savage Dragon and how he feels about Image Comics' 25th anniversary.

We'll start with the obvious. What sparked the idea to bring back Mighty Man?

Erik Larsen: I had stories to tell. That's what it came down to. I had a terrific artist that wanted to work with me on something and I had a story to tell so that's how that got going. There are a lot of characters in the Savage Dragon book but there's not always room to explore them in a substantial way — it's Malcolm Dragon's book, after all, so every now and then I'll do a one-shot or miniseries that allows me space to say something more about other characters. This was that.

One of the great aspects of the character is the concept allows for fascinating alter-ego choices. This time it's a seven-year-old girl. Tell us about little Betty Bradford and why you chose her to be the host.

Her mother was Mighty Man and it just seemed like a fun idea to have the power get passed down to the next generation. Since I set this book in 'real time,' that meant I could have her unwittingly transform when she was a baby and then have her grow into the part over the years. At this point she's old enough to be able to use her powers a bit more responsibly, but she's still a kid.

A one-shot issue is a great way to reintroduce the character. But as a creator, what's the biggest challenge you face to making a successful one-and-done story?

The goal is to simply make it worthwhile. One of the questions I ask myself when doing anything is, "Why does this matter?" And I really make an effort to make every issue count. To make every page count. To make every panel count. It's all there for a reason. I don't tread water. People's lives change from issue to issue. This issue accomplishes a lot in a little space.

With a seven-year-old protagonist, is it safe to call it an all-ages comic?

Just because it stars a seven year-old doesn't mean it's aimed at seven-year-olds. But it's less adult than Savage Dragon is, to be sure. There's no sex in the book.

You're working with artist Nikos Koutsis on this issue. Did you ever consider writing and drawing it?

No. This was created especially for Nikos Koutsis. He wanted to stretch his artistic muscles and this was created for him to do that. And Nikos will be doing more in the future. He's a talented artist in his own right.

SuperPatriot is on the cover. Any other familiar faces show up?

Quite a few but I'd rather not say who. Let those characters be a surprise.

Can we expect more Mighty Man stories after this?

It's inevitable. I have more to say and things are put in motion. This isn't the end by any means.

Moving to Savage Dragon ... you were the first or one of the very first comic creators to tackle Donald Trump as president in your book. And you've certainly tackled current politics in the book in the past. Can we expect to see him and his presidency addressed more moving forward?

I'd like to but it's tough to know how to go about it. In the real world, Trump is thin-skinned, impulsive and reckless. People on both sides of the aisle don't know what to expect from him. He's all over the place, making enemies left and right. And Trump is being actively investigated. The agencies involved are all the agencies that are needed for impeachment, and with the department of treasury involved, it means they're following the money. The GOP didn't have to sign on to investigate Trump, but they did. Trump saw the early documents against him. It was enough for him to aggressively and publicly try to discredit the intelligence agencies and the judicial branch but things are in motion. That makes it tough to make any kind of long-term plans. The GOP has to concern itself with midterm elections in a couple years. If Trump continues down the path he's on it could be disastrous for them. One way they could get out of this mess, appear responsible, and possibly save their skins would be to reject Trump and bounce him out on his ear, and that is very much a possibility. And all that makes it difficult for me. If I had long-term plans for Trump, the rug could easily be pulled out from under me. So anything I do will be with one eye on the news.

Image Comics turning 25 is quite a remarkable achievement. It changed comics in many ways. Is there one measure of impact Image had on the industry you're most proud of?

There is some satisfaction in looking and seeing what we have become. I'm happy to see the talent, the diversity and our place in the industry but I'm not by nature a prideful person. I'm just happy to be here.

Any fun recollection or memory that has resurfaced amid all the anniversary talk?

I'm not somebody who spends a lot of time looking back. The past is the past. I can't do anything about that, one way or another. I look toward the future. My thoughts are about what's coming, not what has been. I'm happy to have experienced what I have experienced, but I don't dwell on it. I'm more interested in our next 25 years. That intrigues me. That gets me excited. I want to see that!