How many DC villains can say they’ve been around since the Golden Age? Sure you have your iconic stalwarts in Lex Luthor and the Joker and I’ll even throw the Cheetah into that category, but those were the arch villains of some VERY popular superheroes.
How many villains can say that since World War II, they have been a threat to not just a single hero but to the entire DC Universe? Well, Vandal Savage is such a villain, an immortal madman who has been tormenting DC’s greatest heroes since the days that American troops were fighting the Second Great War.
Vandal Savage was created by Alfred Bester and Martin Nodell in Green Lantern #10 (1944) and, and since that battle with Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, Savage has returned again and again, becoming one of the most resilient villains in the DCU. It was in these pages that readers were introduced to a caveman named Vandar Adg who was exposed to a radioactive meteor that gifted the murderous cromag with immortal life. That fateful meteor also cursed humanity with the eternal cancer that is Vandal Savage, who, according to legend, is the first cannibal human in history.
In every age since, Vandal Savage has been there to plague the entire heroic pantheon of the DC Universe. In fact, legend has it that it was Vandal Savage who actually sailed the seas as Blackbeard, conquered Europe as Napoleon Bonaparte, did weird late night Cinemax things as Caligula, terrorized the streets of London as Jack the Ripper, and committed the heinous acts of so many other dire historical figures at different points in his immortal existence. Vandal Savage doesn’t have to take a bath like Ra’s Al Ghul (do you want your bubbles and ducky Mr. Demon’s head, sir?).
No, Savage is just forever.
Now, Savage is about to make his live action debut on The Flash and Arrow and will soon be the antagonist in, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow TV series. So, let us take a look back to the immortal criminal career of history’s first master villain. Let us take you down a journey through each era of DC comics and find some of Savage’s most notorious appearances from each great age. And be thankful that the DC Universe has always had heroes to keep Vandal Savage’s timeless evil in check.
Vandal Savage in the 1940s
All-Star Comics #37 (1947)
by Robert Kanigher, Irwin Hasen, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, and Alex Toth
In the Golden Age of superhero comics, it was pretty rare for a villain to return for a second go around. Yet, that’s exactly what happened with Vandal Savage.
After that first battle with Green Lantern, Savage was chosen by the Wizard to join the Injustice Society of the World, a team of rogues, actually the first team of villains in DC history, made up of the JSA’s individual foes. Over the course of this issue, Vandal Savage fought and defeated Hawkman, ironically apropriate since, in the intervening years between this issue and the modern era, Hawkman has also been established as an immortal.
Vandal Savage in the 1950s
For most of the ’50s, as far as DC super heroes went, only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were still published while the rest of DC’s pantheon went into heroic hibernation. Cowboys and strange but saccharine sci-fi were the order of the day at DC in the ’50s so let’s just say that Vandal Savage popped up in the background of a Daniel Boone comic or something and leave it at that.
Vandal Savage in the 1960s
The Flash #137 (1963)
by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino
Appropriately enough, Vandal Savage was introduced to modern audience in an issue of The Flash. and even more appropriately, it was during a meet up between the Flash of Earth-One, Barry Allen, and the Flash of Earth-Two, Jay Garrick. Fans of the CW met Garrick this season and it was early in the friendship between the comic versions of Barry and Jay that the Flashes of two worlds met Vandal Savage for the first time.
In this classic issue, the two Flashes are brought together by a series of strange blackouts on both worlds. The heroes soon find out that Vandal Savage has abducted the entirety of the Justice Society, and it was up to both speedsters to save the classic heroes.
Now, think about this, in his first modern appearance, Savage defeated the entire JSA. Mind you, this included Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. It took the might of two Flashes and a team of heroes to take down Savage who, after this issue, was now not just a Flash foe but a villain of all DC heroes of TWO WORLDS.
This is also the first comic to use the designations of Earth-One and Earth-Two and how cool is it that so soon after introducing Earth-Two on CW’s The Flash, the two TV speedsters will meet Vandal Savage? You can say one thing about CW’s brain trust; those talented creators certainly know their history. Anyway, this was Savage’s intro into the Silver Age as a master villain and it established the killer cave man as an A list threat.
Vandal Savage in the 1970s
All-Star Comics #63-65 (1976-1977)
By Paul Levitz, Paul Kupperberg, Joe Orlando, and Wally Wood
The Justice Society experienced a brief but memorable revival in the mid ’70s and for the first time, modern fans got to experience Earth-Two adventures in a magazine solely dedicated to the alternate Earth. This was the comic that gave the world Power Girl but that wasn’t the only historic event in the pages of the All-Star Comics revival. Vandal Savage also popped up leading a squadron of robot Roman legionnaires.
This new generation of JSAers were no pushovers but Savage truly took this team of champions to the limit. Now keep in mind, this was a JSA that included the Golden Age Superman, Power Girl (that’s two Kryptonians), Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, and so many more. And for good measure, these time-hopping issues also included King Arthur and Merlin! So, Savage almost took down mythological figures of folklore, god like aliens, and Golden Age greats all in one nefarious struggle.
The JSA won the day this time, but in this modern age appearance; Savage once again proved that it would take a veritable army of heroes to take down his unique brand of immortal evil.
Vandal Savage in the 1980s
Action Comics #552-553
by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane
Vandal Savage was a recurring villain in the pages of Action Comics and Superman. During this period, Savage appeared as much as Lex Luthor and was a constant threat to Superman during these oft overlooked days of DC history. In Action Comics #552-553, Savage managed to infect Superman with alien plant spores (as one does) so wherever Superman went, these giant malevolent vines would grow and wreak havoc on the inhabitants of Earth.
The only people who knew about Superman’s infection were a group of heroes that were nearly forgotten. How forgotten were they? They were so forgotten, they were called the Forgotten Heroes. Now, that’s forgotten!
Where did these heroes individually first appear? I forgot! But I do know who made up the roster of this team of overlooked champions. The Forgottens were made up of time traveler Rip Hunter (and hey, Rip will be part of TV’s Legends of Tomorrow), deep sea adventurers the Sea Devils, master cave explorer Cave Carson, underwater hero Dolphin, the now legendary Animal Man, the leader of the first Suicide Squad (Rick Flag), jungle adventurer Congo Bill, and the undying Immortal Man.
In a bit of a twist, it turns out that Immortal Man was granted never ending life by the same meteor that imbued Savage with his powers. The team of Forgotten Heroes makes a pact to find and destroy Superman before the Man of Steel unwittingly destroys the Earth. Now, I’m not sure a spelunker and a snorkeler really have the cred to take down Superman but soon all the heroes (even the cave guy) turn their attention to bringing down the true mastermind of the disaster – Vandal Savage.
These issues are just loaded with intense action and it just goes to show you that Vandal Savage isn’t just a villain for the A listers. Vandal Savage is a threat to every hero, even the ones with swim fins. It took the combined might of famous legends and forgotten heroes to bring an end to Savage’s threat in this, the last pre-Crisis appearance of a villain who has been threatening DC heroes, both the legendary and forgotten kind, since the early days of DC history.
Cave Carson? “Quick, Cave! Savage is attacking! Grab you light bulb helmet and go explore, it’s our only hope!”
Flash #1-2 (1987)
by Mike Baron and Jackson Guice
Here we are in the post-Crisis era of DC, where all the legendary DC heroes (even some of the forgotten ones) were reimagined for a new generation. As many fans know, Barry Allen died in the Crisis and when the monthly Flash series relaunched, it was Wally West who had taken up the identity of the Scarlet Speedster from his mentor. This was a pretty big deal at the time (and still is), as fans got to witness Wally grow up in the pages of the New Teen Titans for years, and now the once teen sidekick was in the role of one of DC”s greatest heroes.
DC was banking on great things for Wally and the very first villain the new Flash would face was none other than Vandal Savage. It took years for many DC villains to make their first appearance e in the post-Crisis world, but not Savage, who was front and center in this new Flash’s very first, and very important, adventure.
In his very first post-Crisis appearance, Savage murdered a private investigator and came an inch away from murdering Wally. It seemed that the brain trust at DC was determined to make Vandal Savage a key player in its new universe and this new version of the immortal villain dripped with menace. This is the Savage that would go on to be a major player in the new DCU as this established the immortal as a cold blooded killer who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.
Vandal Savage in the 21st Century
Secret Six #3-6 (2006)
by Gail Simone and Brad Walker
We already covered just how many villains Vandal Savage faced during his long and storied career, but here, in the pages of Secret Six, Savage took on a team of his fellow villains. Secret Six was by far, one of DC’s most consistently entertaining titles of the 2000s. It featured a semi-rotating cast of super villains that at times, despite themselves, did some good for the world.
One of the Six’s members was Scandal Savage, one of Vandal’s many children. Scandal was as ruthless as her father but she had a certain morality and her fascinating background gave her some unique perspective. In these issues of Secret Six, daddy came a calling and writer Gail Simone wrote a Vandal Savage for the ages, a cruel and brutal man who was as regal as he was dangerous.
This book is a must read for any fan curious about Vandal Savage and his lineage because the Savage presented here perfectly captured the capacity for terror inherent in the character. Plus, it featured Scandal stabbing Vandal in the throat with chopsticks, so there’s that.
Demon Knights: Seven Against the Dark (2011)
by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves
You just know that when DC once again restarted its continuity with the New 52, Vandal Savage was front and center because it takes more than a marketing stunt to keep a good immortal villain down. While DC changed some bells and whistles with Savage, he was till the same old brutal but refined despot that was introduced way back in that bygone issue of Green Lantern in 1944.
But this new Savage appeared in a most unexpected place. Demon Knights was set in the ye olde Middle Ages and featured a gathering of DC’s fantasy characters. Heroes like the Demon, the Shining Knight, Madame Xanadu, and more all gathered together in a medieval setting to take part in DC’s version of Game of Thrones. The book didn’t have a cunning dwarf or a Mother of Dragons but it did have Vandal Savage- AS A HERO! That’s right, it makes sense an immortal must have dabbled in heroism at some point in his life just to see how the other half lives and Demon Knights presents that tale.
Savage is the Robert Baratheon of the Demon Knights, a bawdy, mirthful, violent drunk who as quick with his wit as he is with his broadsword. Of course, Savage didn’t stay on the side of the angels for long but Demon Knights is still a great genre-bending read that presents a benevolent Vandal Savage that fans never got to experience before.
So there you have it, the immortal legacy of one Vandal Savage. His coming TV appearance will go a long way in ensuring that the legend of Vandal Savage will live on eight more decades, because after all…Vandal Savage is an evil that never dies!