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Savage Things #1 (review)

Savage Things #1
Vertigo Comics, March 2017
Writer: Justin Jordan

In the 1963 paper titled “The Threat to Kill,” psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald proposed the concept of a so-called “homicidal triad” – animal cruelty, pyromania, and persistent bedwetting – as directly linked to homicidal or sexual predatory behavior upon reaching a certain age.

Further studies proved that the triad is instead linked more to childhood trauma caused by brutality, neglect, or abuse (which in turn could cause homicidal behavior upon reaching adulthood). But the homicidal triad still appears in many works of fiction. In Vertigo Comics’ new limited comic book series, “Savage Things”, the U.S. government uses the homicidal triad to pinpoint young sociopaths who have the potential to become serial killers.

In the story, a secret government project dubbed “Black Forest” seeks to weaponise these young serial killers-to-be, by training and giving them permission to live out their sick fantasies. In return, the government-sanctioned serial killers are used to sow discord and strike fear in those that are deemed enemies of the state.

The main conflict at play in “Savage Things”, at least in the first issue, is not the serial killers themselves. Rather, it is the terrifying consequences when one of these sociopathic human weapons strays from the script – when the weapon is aimed back at its wielder.

It is expected for a comic book about serial killers and assassins to be full of gore and violence. But we give writer Justin Jordan credit for finding the sweet spot: there is gore and violence, but only just enough to show how depraved and how dangerous certain characters are. The graphic violence is not used for cheap shock value. In fact, the most disturbing elements of the story occur off screen – parents getting killed in cold blood, an entire classroom full of children being forced to cull each other as some sort of sick, twisted take on the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest,” and so on.

There is also a healthy amount of action. This is impressive given that this is only the first issue which would ordinarily be devoted to setting the scene. Instead, we get to see the protagonist take on an entire team of highly trained, heavily armed soldiers using nothing but his wits and his surroundings.

“Savage Things” also wastes very little time in building to an eventual showdown between the protagonist and a possible nemesis. The characters’ code names are those of the biblical characters Cain and Abel. Both are Black Forest alumni. The roles of protagonist and antagonist start to blur even within this first issue.

“Savage Things” already shows a lot of promise, as an engaging thriller peppered with action, gore, and a skilfully sparse veneer of depravity.