Year of the Dragon: The 6 Greatest Dragons in Comics
We have some good news for those of you who would rather spend the next year rolling around in treasure hoards and kidnapping princesses! This week marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, wherein the Year of the Rabbit has once again been replaced by the Year of the Dragon! That’s why we’re marking the occasion by running down this year’s comic book patrons with The Six Greatest Dragons in Comics!
Despite having what may be the most awesome name for a dragon that does not end in “The Burninator,” the dragon that menaces the mystical kung fu paradise of K’un-Lun isn’t quit all he’s cracked up to be. I mean, yes, on the one hand, he did attempt to make himself immortal by cutting out his own heart and spend a few thousand years doing nothing but fighting (and occasionally eating) the best students that Lei Kung the Thunderer had to throw at him, and both of those are pretty awesome.
But on the other hand, as revealed in The Immortal Iron Fist, Shou Lao actually lost a lot of those fights, and transferred his power to the Iron Fists that battled him in order for them ot have a pretty cool origin story. And just in case habitually getting oneself killed wasn’t enough of a shoddy track record, the last time it happened involved him getting hugged to death.
Admittedly, it’s Iron Fist doing the hugging — or at least, Danny Rand right before he became Iron Fist — but still, it’s not a great way to go out. Also, being a dragon with a tattoo of a dragon is gilding the lily in a truly incomprehensible way.
My pal Andrew Weiss described the White Dragon’s appearance in Marvel Team-Up as “Big Trouble In Little China starring Spider-Man and Moon Knight,” and while that sounds like it’d be the best thing in the history of things, don’t get too excited. As much as his story flirts with the themes of that movie — and almost every other movie in the ’80s that wasn’t Gymkata — it never really gets to the high points.
The gist of it is that White Dragon murders the leader of Chinatown’s Tiger’s Claw gang and starts a good ol’ fashioned street fightin’ gang war that looked like it could present a minor inconvenience for the Warriors as they try to get back to Coney Island. But rather than being a mere street tough, White Dragon’s a genuine super-villain with all the trimmings. Specifically, he’s got a flamethrower that drops down from inside his mask.
Now, you might think that shooting a giant flame out of a mask that you were wearing on your unprotected, non-super-powered face would be a bad move, but to be fair, it’s a step up from White Dragon’s original costume, which shot poison gas from vents about an inch and a half above his exposed nose and mouth.
Thinking things through was clearly not his specialty, but he did provide a reason for Spider-Man and Moon Knight to have a debate about pacifism, with Spider-Man taking the position that you should always be ready to defend yourself, and the schizophrenic ex-mercenary art thief advising that it was better to avoid fighting when you could. He then punched White Dragon right in the face, because while violence may not always be the answer, it usually is.
Speaking of pacifism, the next entry on our list is currently dabbling in a bit of nonviolence, although it wasn’t always that way. Contrary to his name, Dragon Man is neither a dragon nor a man; he’s actually a sophisticated “super robot” created by one Professor Gilbert at Empire State University who for some reason decided to give his robot a pair of purple pants. Believe it or not, this is actually an established draconic trait in the Marvel universe, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Gilbert couldn’t actually figure out how to get his robot to work — and considering that he felt the need to craft truly improbable pants for it, that’s probably for the best — but the super-villain Diablo solved that little snag by dosing it with an “awesome potion,” presumably giving it a truly sick amount of skateboarding skills. He then spent the next several years battling against super-heroes, but ended up joining the heroic Future Foundation when young Valeria Richards upgraded his intelligence and his capacity for being pretentious:
Even with the upgrade, though, he thought it was a good idea to insist that no one ever changed the world by hitting someone in a conversation with an orange rock monster who’s been changing the world by hitting people on a monthly basis for the past 51 years.
You’d think that actually being a dragon would be enough for one character, but in the world of comic books, very few creations are just one thing. Just on this list, we’ve had a dragon who is also a robot pacifist, one who’s also a self-reflexive tattoo enthusiast, and one who’s a man with very poor choices in headwear-based weaponry. Mr. Lao, however, beats them all by being two things that are equally awesome at the same time: He’s a dragon who is also Consigliere to a criminal empire dating back to the days of Genghis Khan.
In that capacity, it’s his years — centuries — of wisdom and experience that really make him an asset, using lifetimes of knowledge to guide the Atlas organization in their attempts to shape the world. That shrewdness and cunning are his real talents.
But, you know, he’s still a giant flying monster that can breathe fire and likes to eat people, and when you’re running a supercriminal organization, that stuff tends to come in pretty handy, too.
In the world of martial arts heroes, DC has always lagged behind Marvel, and nobody really embodies that more than Richard Dragon. It was Marvel, after all, that embraced the kung fu craze of the ’70s by creating Shang Chi: The Master of Kung Fu. The Master. Singular. You can’t really compete with that, especially when your counter is a dude who’s just a mere kung fu fighter. Even a dude who can legitimately shorten his name to “Dick Dragon” just doesn’t measure up.
That said, Dragon does have his moments. In the Bob Haney/Jim Aparo classic The Brave and the Bold #132, he gets into a fight with the Batman himself. He doesn’t just hold his own, either; he shrugs off everything that Batman has to offer, from what Haney refers to as “the sweet science — boxing your cute ears off!” to “mixing with [Batman] Oriental style,” and walks away without a scratch.
But even that pales in comparison to his finest hour: flying on a commercial airline with Batman.
The single best thing about this panel is that Batman is still clearly wearing his utility belt, which means that he just straight up walked onto a passenger jet with all the explosives, gas pellets, metal boomerangs and wire that he cared to — even though he already owns his own airplane. Why? Because he was with Richard Dragon, and their combined levels of badassery are such that they do whatever they want.
So maybe it’s time to give Richard Dragon another chance. I mean, if nothing else, the past few years of memes have proven that the Internet loves a red-haired martial arts expert whose stories have never actually been that great. Just move him down south, make him a Texas Ranger, and watch that money roll in.
And at last, that brings us to…
In the pantheon of comic book dragons, there can be none that rank higher than this one. Fin Fang Foom — or to use his full name, Fin Fang Friends Of Ol’ Marvel — is the absolute limit. He’s an immortal dragon from space in purple shorts, who came to Earth with a set of ten reality-altering rings (conveniently sized for fingers about a hundred time smaller than his own) who now does nothing but sleep and fight Iron Man.
He’s been stomping around the Marvel Universe since the early days, and in that time has racked up such an impressive list of feats that even the gods of Asgard know he’s a tough customer. When Jormungandr the Midgard Serpent needed to trick Thor into battling him, he chose to disguise himself as Fin Fang Foom. He even saved Christmas once!
And he was also the first opponent ever faced by the single greatest super-hero team that ever was, Nextwave:
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t his proudest moment, but it was a pretty great comic. And hey, he’s still got that Christmas thing where he fought an evil robot Santa Claus. That counts for a lot.
So with that, ComicsAlliance officially welcomes you to the Year of the Dragon! May your next twelve months be free of getting shoved down an evil space dragon’s pants. Unless you’re into that, I guess. We don’t judge.