Savage Town
SAVAGE TOWN by Declan Shalvey, Phillip Barrett, and Jordie Bellaire
SAVAGE TOWN turns the crime drama genre on its head, putting the story into the hands of small-time gang leader Jimmy Savage. With a language all its own, SAVAGE TOWN's only true failure comes from its oversized cast.
87 %
SAVAGE TOWN? Grand, Sure!
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When I first heard about Image Comics’ newest crime drama, SAVAGE TOWN, I felt a little underwhelmed. In this original graphic novel, writer Declan Shalvey introduces readers to Jimmy Savage, a young gang leader in the Irish city of Limerick. Jimmy’s goal is to usurp control of the city’s other two crime families. In this early setup, SAVAGE TOWN didn’t seem like it presented anything different. This would be just another gang story like THE DEPARTED or THE BOONDOCK SAINTS. Hidden within these pages, though, is a story that is equal parts charming, hilarious, gory, and highly realistic. SAVAGE TOWN blew me away from page one with its clever use of language and interesting setting. With so much going for this book, does the future of crime fiction look bright?

Jimmy Savage’s World

Savage Town
Courtesy of Image Comics

Jimmy Savage arrived in Limerick an outsider. Born a Traveller, a member of a nomadic Irish ethnic group, Savage was constantly looked down upon by others his age. Until, at least, the day he forsook his heritage and moved into the city proper. Along with his friends Frankie and “Blackie,” Jimmy took over a small section of the city, running small crimes throughout. Though he’d never be as lucrative as the other Families like the Hogans, the Savages got by.

All of this changes when Frankie turns on Jimmy, attempting to shoot him down in front of Jimmy’s daughter’s school. Frankie gets away, but Savage’s entire gang has their eyes open for the traitor. Two of Jimmy’s younger members tail Frankie to a nearby pub, where they mistakenly assault a man wearing the same style of coat. The pair cart their hostage back to Jimmy’s place, only to discover that they’d assaulted one of the Hogan brothers instead.

READ: Learn more about the creator of SAVAGE TOWN, Declan Shalvey, in this creator spotlight!

Meanwhile, Jimmy has opened communications and trade with the Hogan family, giving them a foothold in deeper enterprise. Neither Jimmy nor the Hogans know about the missing brother, and business goes off without a hitch. These changes set the stage for the true heart of SAVAGE TOWN’s fast-paced narrative. Jimmy ties these strings into a tangled mess, inciting one of the greatest gang wars in Limerick’s history.

The Language of the Emerald Isle

Courtesy of Image Comics

SAVAGE TOWN can only be described as charming. Declan Shalvey approaches each page of this original graphic novel with such care and humor that it really warms the heart. Much of this issue’s charm stems from Shalvey’s use of language. For anyone who has traveled extensively, you often first learn that even the slightest shift in an accent can create a language barrier. Ireland has one of the world’s most interesting but distinctively thick accents, and Shalvey perfectly captures this on the page. Many writers would shy away from phonetic spellings of common words. In fact, most writing craft texts teach aspiring writers to stay away from spelling out how an accent sounds. But Shalvey doesn’t in SAVAGE TOWN. He embraces the “language” of Ireland and gifts it to the reader on every page.

This led to a particularly intriguing reading experience. For the first time, I didn’t have to shift my attention away from the interesting story to imagine how the accents sounded. Often, writers will set a story someplace and expect the reader to know what that accent sounds like. One of Image’s most recent examples comes from the CODENAME: BABOUSHKA series. That particular series stars a Russian assassin, but unless she is explicitly speaking the Russian language, a reader may never know where she came from.

READ: Want more swearing and bloody action in your reading diet? Then check out these BORDERLANDS-esque comics!

The reason this craft decision works so well for Shalvey is that it helps define a sense of place, which SAVAGE TOWN is all about. Thematically, Jimmy Savage toils away to build Limerick into his city. He wants to escape his roots as a Traveler and make Limerick his own. Because of this, Jimmy and his gang are masterfully characterized. By the end, even though we may face the trail of blood and bodies with disgust, we understand why Jimmy got there. More than that, this is a legitimately funny story. Jimmy is at times tactful and strategic, at others cheap and entirely lazy. He does not represent the typical fictional criminal, and for that reason, a part of you roots for him.

Too Many Guns in the Basket

Savage Town
Courtesy of Image Comics

SAVAGE TOWN’s cast is essentially brilliant. There are plenty of characters to fall in love with by the story’s end. Jimmy’s wife, Saorla, particularly stands out as her own strong character when she threatens a neighborhood man who beats his wife. While none of the characters see enough time on the page, each gets a brief time in the spotlight. We understand their motivations and their fantasies. But no matter how brilliant these characters may be, I can’t get past the sheer number of them.

The cast of SAVAGE TOWN is huge. Bolstered by three separate gangs, their families, and the police that dog them, it is nearly impossible to keep track of names and faces. This only grows worse when a number of these characters are blood relatives or twins. Often, names would just pop up, and I had to page through this narrative to find any of their previous appearances. While on the surface, this does aid the themes of place and family, the plot can sometimes become a confusing mess. It is an entirely interesting mess but a mess all the same. At one point, Jimmy uses the kidnapping of the Hogan cousin (or brother) to ignite a gang war among the other leading powers in Limerick. However, it is never quite clear how he uses this influence to open these floodgates.

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None of these problems seem to stem from the visual appeal of the story. Artists Philip Barrett and Jordie Bellaire create a world of cartoon brightness. Everything comes in a highly saturated color palette and simple linework. Barrett manages to make each member of this massive cast look unique. I especially love the detail work in Jimmy’s mother’s trailer, the massive jewels adorning her hands. The visual aesthetic of this story nearly literally sings. That is until the blood hits the fan and these artists prove that cartoony doesn’t have to be childish. They are masters of atmosphere, and that only aids the telling of this story. However, unique character designs can only go so far when the cast is as large as Shalvey’s.

Final Thoughts: SAVAGE TOWN

To boil it down, SAVAGE TOWN is a huge undertaking filled with the love and attention of its creative team. I love the true to reality language used in Shalvey’s portrayal of this small Irish city. SAVAGE TOWN is packed full of life and character. Sadly, the latter becomes a problem as the book spirals into its later moments. Come to SAVAGE TOWN for an intricate, well-paced, and often fun story about small-town gang wars. But also come prepared to fight through a few moments of confusion. These moments, luckily, are incredibly brief, but they do happen often enough to be noticeable. Still, come to SAVAGE TOWN. Buy it and read it and fall in love with Jimmy Savage’s quest to take what he deems his own. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the beautiful, vibrant world and language that this team achieves.

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