Last week, NBC debuted “Powerless,” a TV sitcom about normal people living in the DC Universe, trying to make products that will help other normal folk deal with the destruction that occurs every day in a world filled with superheroes. If that concept sounds familiar, you might have heard of the 1980s Marvel Comics series that, in many ways, served as a touchstone for “Powerless” — Dwayne McDuffie and Ernie Colon’s “Damage Control.”
What’s fascinating is that when the late, great McDuffie pitched his series to Marvel, he specifically described it as a sitcom. Here’s McDuffie from his pitch for the book in 1987:
Damage Control is intended to be an ensemble cast situation comedy along the lines of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, Taxi, WKRP in Cincinnati, Cheers, and the like but set firmly in the Marvel Universe. As in those shows, Damage Control will focus on the lives of a group of people who have an interesting and/or unusual job, and on the odd people that their job brings them in contact with. Its the nature of the “unusual job” that serves to connect Damage Control with the Marvel Universe.
Interestingly, McDuffie also spoke to something that came up in the pilot episode of “Powerless,” which was how unimpressed most of the people in the series are about the world around them. McDuffie noted, “This is primarily character comedy with one sitcom joke: weird things happen and these people aren’t impressed.”
Marvel liked McDuffie’s idea, so the first “Damage Control” series debuted in 1989. Before it came out, though, it received a promo story in 1988’s “Marvel Age Annual” #1 by McDuffie and artists Ernie Colon and Jon D’Agostino. In it, a Damage Control representative tries to pitch the Hulk (during his Las Vegas “Joe Fixit” days) on being a spokesperson for the company. It showed him a brochure for the company, which explained the concept for the book perfectly…
The main characters in the book debuted in “Marvel Comics Presents” #19, which introduced us to Ann-Marie Hoag, the founder of Damage Control, as well as traffic manager Robin Chapel and new account executive John Porter (he and Robin had a bit of a rivalry), plus comptroller Albert Cleary (he was a bit of a financial genius). We also met Lenny Ballinger, the head of Damage Control’s repair workers.
The “Marvel Comics Presents” series led into the first miniseries for the characters in 1989 (by McDuffie, Colon and inker Bob Wiacek). In the first issue, they dealt with a giant robot that was leaning on the World Trade Center with Spider-Man stuck inside (he had crawled into the robot’s control room to shut it down but then couldn’t get out).
McDuffie was a student of comic book history, so he would often sprinkle in pieces of comic book history, as well as addressing continuity points that had annoyed him. In the second issue of “Damage Control,” he had Cleary visit Doctor Doom to deal with a deliniquent payment. McDuffie had always disliked the old Luke Cage story (the famous “Where’s my money, honey?” issue) where Doctor Doom had stiffed Cage, so he revealed in this issue that it was one of Doom’s underlings that was embezzling money and that Doom had never meant to stiff anyone.
After an issue where the company got an image overhaul (and they all temporarily dressed like superheroes), the final issue of the first “Damage Control” volume guest-starred the X-Men.
The second volume of “Damage Control” came out later in 1989 (by McDuffie and Colon, now solo on art) and was tied in to the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover. The original co-owners of Damage Control were Tony Stark and Wilson Fisk, but in the second volume, they both sold off, but as it turned out, it was all a ploy by Wilson Fisk to sell high and then buy the company cheaply after he de-valued it through a series of bad PR moves for the company.
You see, Fisk was a part of the villainous plot of “Acts of Vengeance” (when a group of villains got together and organized a coordinated attack on all of the superheroes in the country, with supervillains attacking superheroes who were unfamiliar with them, so, say, the X-Men’s foes would attack Iron Man, Thor’s foes would attack Captain America, etc.) and he knew that there was about to be a lot of damage done to the country and he knew Damage Control would clean up.
The final volume of the original “Damage Control” series came out in 1991, now by Dwayne McDuffie and Kyle Baker. This time around, the company had to deal with accusations that they were intentionally causing damage so that they could clean it up.
McDuffie then left Marvel to launch Milestone Comics, and Damage Control mostly fell by the wayside as a concept. Occasionally, writers would make references to the company (Peter David mentioned them in his first run on “X-Factor,” for instance) but for the most part, they were just part of character limbo. That changed in a big way in 2006.
That year saw the release of “Civil War” and the Superhuman Registration Act following a supervillain exploding during a fight against the New Warriors that killed hundreds of people (including school children) in Stamford, CT. Wolverine hunted down the villain, Nitro, who did the exploding (that was his power) and discovered that Nitro had been given Mutant Growth Hormone specifically designed to make his explosions bigger. In “Wolverine” #44 (by Marc Guggenheim, Humberto Ramos and Victor Olzabaa), we learned why – Nitro was working for Walter Declun, the new head of Damage Control! Wolverine confronted Ann-Marie about it.
Wolverine then discovered, in a plot that was mostly ignored by other writers, that Declun and Damage Control helped to essentially orchestrate the superhero civil war.
Wolverine then took Declun down and almost killed him. As you might imagine, someone who wasn’t thrilled with these plot developments was Dwayne McDuffie, and he returned to Marvel soon after to write “Fantastic Four.” He was then given a chance following “World War Hulk,” (where the Hulk returned to Earth to wreak havoc in revenge for the superhero Illuminati sending him to another planet to try to get rid of him), where he not only brought Damage Control back to its roots, but he was able to address a recent event that had annoyed him, the death of Bill Foster, Goliath, in “Civil War,” by having Foster’s nephew be a featured member of Damage Control as the new Goliath.
Damage Control has mostly gone back to the background since. It’s interesting that “Damage Control” almost beat “Powerless” to the small screen, as ABC was considering a “Damage Control” TV series a year and a half ago, but presumably that’s no longer going to happen with “Powerless” having gone forward. Who knows, maybe we’ll some day see both series on the air!
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