Just as mammoth as its namesake, Judd Winick, Geoff Shaw and John J. Hill’s “A Town Called Dragon” #1 lumbers onto the scene with a 58-page monster that oscillates between Viking-era Norway and the current day town of Dragon, Colorado. When a team of German scientists uncovers an unhatched dragon egg left in the mountains by a Leif-Erikson-led Viking suicide mission, the sleepy little town of Dragon and its unsuspecting citizens encounter the stuff of legend amidst a storm of blood and fire. Although readers get a lot of bang for their buck considering the length of this first issue, “A Town Called Dragon” moves just a bit too slow in getting to its premise.
On the very first page, “A Town Called Dragon” gives us a promise of what’s to come with a good three pages taking place in medias res, featuring a few of the protagonists — Cooper and Kelly — desperately facing down some unrevealed beast. However, after this tease, the issue cycles back centuries to establish an elaborate set up for the book’s concept. That isn’t to say the story is without its fair share of action; we get plenty of that, from pages of gruesome Viking battles through to the dragon’s violent hatch, but it doesn’t quite hit its premise even within nearly sixty pages of story. Where this would certainly make sense in a standard size issue, the sheer length of this installment causes it to drag.
What’s more, though we meet a lot of characters, none of them get developed beyond their base small town stereotypes: the angry high school star quarter back that can’t seem to get away, the rookie cop, the boisterous busybody mayor, the bumbling waitress, the village idiot, etc. Of course, that’s a lot of characters to handle in a first issue but — again — the extended story makes this harder to excuse. Instead, the issue dwells longer on the journey of a dead Viking (Leif Erikson — who else?) than on its main players. While Erikson’s letter is sure to come into play later on down the line, this intense and lengthy focus on the past makes it harder to care about the fate of the protagonists in the present.
Likewise, Geoff Shaw’s pencils manage to be serviceable despite some awkward figures. His characters, though grounded and distinct, look a little boxy — particularly in the face — and have some wacky proportions, including a frighteningly oversized mouth within the first few pages. Despite this, Shaw carries the story quite well, illustrating page after page of gory battle sequences without a word of dialogue. His action comes across clearly and smoothly; the layout, easy to follow. His creature design leans on the traditional European idea of dragons — up to and including the thick body, long neck, and frilled head — but this orients the reader in an otherwise faraway setting. Similarly, this dinosaur-inspired dragon gives the book a “Jurassic Park”-like atmosphere, strengthening the horror vibe and the danger of the German scientists playing with (pseudo-)science they don’t understand. Colorist Jamie Grant went for a more grounded color pallet as well, using hues like dusty yellows and earthy greens to anchor the contemporary setting.
In all, “A Town Called Dragon” certainly isn’t a bad book — but it’s not a great one, either. Judd Winick and Geoff Shaw present an issue that reads like sixty pages of exposition, gearing up to a fantastic concept without really delivering it.