In the pages of DC Comics, Vandal Savage is an immortal criminal mastermind who has witnessed — and participated in — some of history’s greatest events. He is a brilliant tactician, a formidable fighter, and the only things as strong as his thirst for power are his actual superhuman abilities. And he’s so crazy that you actually end up sort of liking him.
In the Arrowverse, however, Savage was just kind of the worst, and not in that “love to hate him” sort of way. Actor Casper Crump played him almost, but not quite, entirely without malice, and while he aims to amass power both politically and militarily, his main drive was his obsession with Hawkgirl, a woman who was just never interested in him at all. This unrequited crush gets straight-up creepy, and you assume that after almost four millennia, he surely would have gotten over it.
The Arrowverse’s version of Savage died at the end of Legends of Tomorrow‘s first season, but the sour memories remain. And our problem isn’t so much that he was terrible (he was) but also that the comic book version is so much more interesting. Here are 15 moments from DC history that prove just how much the producers of Arrow, The Flash, and Legends messed up this character.
15. His superior comic origin
Do you know what makes for a better origin for an immortal supervillain than “rapey Egyptian,” other than “basically anything else”? Putting the character’s roots at the dawn of humanity so that you can set him in as many interesting historical settings as possible. That’s what we think, that’s what the comics think, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.
In the books, Vandal Savage was a caveman named Vandar Adg, and he was just out cavemanning around 52,000 years ago when a meteorite landed and bathed him in radiation, granting him immortality and a superior intellect. In the Justice League: Doom animated film, Savage claims that he was the only member of his tribe brave enough to approach the glowing space rock, and the near absence of any other immortal guys from prehistory bears that claim out (but more on that later).
The point here is that while both Savages gained their meteor powers through no effort of their own, the Doom story paints Vandal as someone who has always identified and sought power, and that defines his character. It’s a way better quality than “murdered a woman for not sleeping with him and now just won’t get over it.”
14. He fought a time-displaced Bruce Wayne (and lost)
The original Vandal Savage has rivalries and conflicts with several superheroes; he doesn’t limit himself to those whose names begin with “Hawk.” He has a long-standing rivalry with the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, as well as Immortal Man, a fellow irradiated caveman (more on him below).
But if we have to pick one moment that puts the “real” Savage over the CW’s adaptation, we have to go with the time that the then-young villain squared off with Batman after the events of Final Crisis sent the hero thousands of years back in time.
The lost Bruce Wayne doesn’t know who he is or what’s going on, but his skills, gadgets, and future-born skills of asskickery remain. He soundly defeats Savage, whose Blood Clan casts him out. This is a solid moment not just because Cave-Batman is awesome, but also because it represents an absolute defeat. The Arrowverse version sees a lot of thwarting happen to him, but he always just runs away without losing much ground or standing. We can probably blame the nature of episodic television for most of how frustrating and disappointing this is, but it doesn’t do the character any favors.
13. He has a much better nemesis
Despite his tussles with countless superheroes throughout the ages, Vandal Savage’s greatest comic nemesis is the Immortal Man, who was a fellow prehistoric man that gained similar powers from the same meteorite that juiced up the villain. This disproves the version of events that the villain presents in Doom, but the thing about Vandal Savage in any form is that he is a damned liar who wastes no opportunity to aggrandize himself.
Immortal Man isn’t quite as his name says, but every time he dies, he immediately comes back as a new persona. He also has some vague psychic powers, so he’s almost exactly like the main character of Doctor Who, but without the time machine.
The Arrowverse keeps the cycle of life, death, and rebirth loosely in place for the Hawkpeople, who reincarnate every time Vandal Savage kills them, but even that is a pale comparison to the comics, because Savage’s pursuit and hatred of Immortal Man never enters creepy, rapist-stalker territory. It stays safely in regular stalker territory, which we’re mostly alright with.
12. He inspired the Religion of Crime
The comics are murky on whether or not Vandal Savage is literally Cain, the biblical character who committed the first murder ever, but cults like the Religion of Crime don’t gain much of a foothold by adhering to pesky things like “truth” or “evidence.” So once they decide Savage is both old and evil enough to have been that guy, that’s enough for them.
This organization studies the Crime Bible, a tome that extols deceit, lust, greed, and murder as its four central tenets and uses Cain as its main character. At one point, the group gets ahold of the reality-bending Spear of Destiny and stabs Savage with it, making him the embodiment of “The First,” and he immediately goes off to make what he did to Abel look like a light patting.
The Religion chose Savage for this “honor” based on its belief that he is the hero of their religious text, and he agrees because he never turned down a good worshipping. His memory after over 50 millennia is apparently so murky that he doesn’t know for sure whether the group is right, but in a cult, if enough people believe a thing, it just becomes true.
11. Vandal was Blackbeard
Not too many comic book characters are also pirates. We have Corsair over at Marvel, who was like a space buccaneer and Cyclops’ long-lost father. And during the alternate Flashpoint timeline, Deathstroke rebrands himself as a modern-day privateer and raids the flooded ruins of Paris with his crew.
Vandal Savage tops all of that in the JSA: Classified series, however, by revealing that in the 18th century, he terrorized the seas under the name of Edward Thatch. That’s Blackbeard, if you aren’t up on your pirate history and never played Assassin’s Creed IV. Further, he says that the person stabbed and shot all those times was actually a former crew member who tried to overthrow Savage’s command. It’s not clear if Savage is the Blackbeard that the lost Batman meets in The Return of Bruce Wayne, but we’re fine assuming he is.
DC has never wasted an opportunity to insert Vandal Savage into real historical events like a longer-lived Forrest Gump, but this one’s probably our favorite because it’s impossible to get on a page with a guy when he’s providing counsel to Hitler or involved in the Ripper Murders.
10. He tried to destroy human civilization with an asteroid
No supervillain is complete without a plot to destroy the world, and Vandal Savage had a scheme that was surprisingly simple considering how long he’d had to come up with it.
While the Arrowverse’s adaptation was also set on ruling the planet, he stuck to the relatively modest means of politics and military might. But a 2006 storyline in The Flash comics had the megalomaniac using a machine called The Summoner to draw a near-Earth asteroid crashing towards our world. His goal is to return society to the Stone Age that birthed him, where he will serve as its de facto ruler. We aren’t sure he completely thought this plan through, since even a catastrophic impact would still leave people like Superman and Wonder Woman behind to take turns punching him, but he has a superpowered doomsday cult behind him as backup.
The new Flash, Bart Allen, manages to stop it by reversing the machine’s beam, pushing the object back out into space — and Savage along with it. The villain isn’t too broken up about it, though, promising to build a new empire on his rock. You really can’t keep that guy down.
9. He was trapped on a hostile alien planet — and decided to stay
The Salvation Run series has the Suicide Squad rounding up most of the DC Universe’s villains, super and otherwise, and banishing them to a supposedly quiet planet that just happens to be a training ground for the legions of Apokolips. So, whoops, apparently. It’s a lot like Marvel’s Planet Hulk storyline, but on a bigger scale. And it includes a fist fight between Lex Luthor and the Joker, so it’s clearly the superior arc.
The villains almost immediately split up into factions jockeying for power, as is their wont. Luthor’s group gets started building a transporter to get everyone back to Earth, but Savage takes the whole situation in stride. He builds his settlement to last, seeing banishment as an opportunity to finally create his perfect society away from mortal men and their meddling.
His plan also includes promising each of four women that they can be his “queen” to ensure “genetic diversity” for his new society, but that’s Vandal Savage for you. They catch on, of course, and Savage decides to abandon his utopia and help Luthor finish the transporter.
8. He defeated the Spectre
When the Religion of Crime stabs Savage with the Spear of Destiny and turns him into Cain in Final Crisis: Revelations, his first order of business is revenge against the Spectre.
Cain has a bit of a problem with the Spirit of Vengeance, since he marked the fratricidal Cain with a wicked brand on his forehead to identify him as a murderer to anyone else he meets. And after thousands of years, he’s still pretty sore about that. Even in prehistory, face tattoos were generally a bad sign.
Savage/Cain takes the Spear and heads out in search of his ancient foe. Once he finds him, he makes short work of the avenging ghost and even enslaves him. And that’s no small task, considering the Spectre is the embodiment of divine wrath and once murdered the supreme beings who commanded all order and chaos in the universe. He’s pretty tough, is what we’re saying, and we can’t see poor little Casper Crump winning that fight even with help.
7. He’s forgotten more powers than most people ever have
Savage’s list of vague gifts does not include a photographic memory, and 50,000 years is a long time. So, like the rest of us have to forget the presents we received for our third birthdays to make room for important things like the lyrics to every Bond movie theme, the villain has had to clear out some head space in his time. But instead of Lego sets, his lost memories include some of the crazy stuff he can do.
We learn this during his first encounter with the third Flash, Wally West. Savage tracks the hero to his apartment and then shows up and threatens to “squeeze his heart like a grapefruit.” This is actual dialogue.
During the traditional hero/villain banter before the fight starts, Savage tells the Flash that he can leave if he wants. Wally opens the door to learn that his foe has conjured a hellscape outside the door, which surprises him a little, since Uncle Barry never mentioned that Savage could whip up portals to fire levels.
6. He fought Batman — in space
Between The Return of Bruce Wayne and Dark Knight Dynasty, Vandal Savage has spent more time fighting Batman than most of his designated nemeses like Immortal Man. But the fact that the character spreads his villainy between several superheroes across all of time instead of just wasting it on a one-sided relationship is just one more way that the Arrowverse messed up the character.
Dynasty has Savage facing against several generations of the Wayne family between the Dark Ages and the year 2500. And the modern-day segment has them taking their battle to space.
This is an alternate timeline in which Savage killed Bruce Wayne’s parents and is trying to access the meteor that gave him his powers, as only a piece of it landed when he was still living in a cave. The villain takes the Wayne Enterprises space shuttle (which of course exists) into orbit to intercept the cosmic debris. Batman follows, and they end up in a zero-gravity fistfight. It ends, like so many space voyages do, when they re-enter the planet’s atmosphere.
5. Vandal actually took some time to think
The Arrowverse’s version of Vandal Savage doesn’t seem to have the self-awareness that Nature gave a bowl of fruit. If it doesn’t start with “Hawk” and end with “girl,” he’s not interested, and that extends to his own purpose and motivations. Sure, he’s evil, but … why? Does he even know? Probably not, since he’s way too busy creeping.
That’s not the case at the end of Dark Knight Dynasty, when the segment taking place a few centuries in the future has him failing to bring his beloved meteor to Earth. Instead, his battle with that era’s Batwoman — Vice-President Brenna Wayne — ends with the hero returning to Earth while Savage drifts away on the meteor.
He handles it well, declaring that he will use his newly acquired thinking time to figure out who and why he is with the source of his power to guide him.
“What good will those answers do you, drifting in outer space?” Batwoman asks, correctly.
“Spoken like a true mortal,” Savage replies.
4. That time Savage was a ‘Star Trek’ character
No part of the IDW crossover between Star Trek and DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes team is official, but it tries its best.
That miniseries has both squads transported to a parallel dimension in which Earth sits at the center of a vast, galactic empire. Its leader is Vandar the Stone, whom the superheroes recognize as Savage and the Enterprise crew identifies as Flint, a millennia-old character that appears in the episode “Requiem for Methuselah.”
Kirk and his friends are surprised, since Flint devoted his long life to the pursuits of art, science, and building the perfect android companion. But the DC folks aren’t super shocked because tyranny is just what Vandal Savage does. Vandar seized power after capturing the omnipotent, cosmic entity, Q, and when Spock and Brainiac 5 travel back in time to free him, he undoes all of the dictator’s work, splitting him into the two versions that we know and erasing that non-canonical jumble from existence.
3. His insane death scene
Like almost every comic book character ever created, Vandal Savage has died several times. And while his death in the first season finale of Legends of Tomorrow is satisfying because we really didn’t like him, and it happens thrice, it has nothing on how he goes out in DC One Million.
That epic 1998 crossover has the contemporary Justice League teaming up with their counterparts, the Justice Legion Alpha, who live in the year 85,271. And, yes, Savage is still alive then.
Modern-day Savage steals a bunch of nuclear weapons and destroys four cities, including Montevideo. Meanwhile, his 853rd-century counterpart steals Time Gauntlets from that era’s Flash as a back-up plan in case his plot to murder Superman fails. It does, thanks in part to the efforts of far-future Green Lantern and the Justice Legion of Super-Zoomorphs (an all-animal team that includes a horse with Superman’s powers), so Savage exits to Earth.
Unfortunately for him, his other long-lived enemy, Resurrection Man, rigged the Time Gauntlets so he ends up — you guessed it — in 20th-century Montevideo, seconds before the attack his past self had ordered occurs. It’s one of the great payoffs in comics.
2. He invented Cannibalism
One of the benefits of starting out as early in human history as Vandal Savage did — and having a radiation-enhanced intellect — is that pretty much everything you do differently breaks amazing new ground. Sure, he didn’t come up with cooking food or the wheel (or did he?), but if you’re the brightest man in the cave, you’re on invention duty.
Among Savage’s lasting contributions to DC history may well be the advent of cannibalism, as Lex Luthor reveals in 2005’s Villains United. And it’s just a side comment he makes to the Calculator while the immortal maniac is storming out of the supervillain clubhouse after threatening to kill Luthor if he ever calls him again.
“He’s sweet, isn’t he?” Calculator says.
“Mmm,” Luthor replies. “Recent archeological evidence suggests that he may actually have invented cannibalism.”
“Heh,” Calculator chuckles. “Good one.”
“Good one what?”
Lex Luthor doesn’t kid about how crazy people are, and we do see some behavior later on to back this up. He plans to eat Batman’s brain raw when he captures him during the prehistoric segment of The Return of Bruce Wayne, for example. But that wouldn’t even have been the weirdest meal we’ve seen Savage enjoy.
1. He ate his own clone
Spending a year on an asteroid hurtling through space will take it out of you, as Vandal Savage learned after The Flash reversed the polarity on the Summoner and sent him skyward. The villain returned with his trademark immortality depleted and a year to live.
An arc in JSA: Classified tells about Savage’s struggle to regain his life, but he runs out of ideas. So he hatches a plan to inject Alan Scott’s DNA into a weird clone of himself to make a copy of the hero and then obliterate the Justice Society. He hates Scott because the villain is somehow vulnerable to the metal in his ring and lantern. That’s yet another element that the Arrowverse adapts for its own version; Hawkgirl can kill that Savage with a knife she had in her first life.
None of that matters, however, because Scott destroys Savage’s lab and escapes. Savage is ready to die until he remembers that his clone is, technically, his descendant. Unlike the Arrowverse’s Savage restoring himself by murdering the Hawkpeople, the comic version tops up by eating one of his own children — and it seems a genetic copy works just as well.
What are your favorite Vandal Savage moments from the comics? Just how big of a letdown was the CW version? Be sure to let us know in the comments.