Grant & Zeck's "Damned" Crime Story Gets A New Life

In "Damned," ex-convict Mick Thorne gets sucked into scheming and brawling against underworld thugs after following through on a promise he made in prison. Writer Steven Grant and Mike Zeck's hard-boiled tale, filled with sleazy criminals and bruising action, is reminiscent of "Circle of Blood" and "Return to Big Nothing," their Punisher stories from the '80s and '90s.

However, when "Damned" originally launched as a miniseries in 1997 through Wildstorm's creator-owned Homage imprint, the book didn't have the same impact as their Punisher tales. With Grant's "2 Guns" getting attention through the Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg big screen adaption, publisher BOOM! Studios is hoping to shine the light on the underappreciated pulp tale by reprinting it this summer.

"I'm probably biased, but I still like it," said Grant when asked how he thinks "Damned" holds up. "[BOOM! founder] Ross Richie had never heard of it, so I sent him a copy, and he was floored by it. He couldn't stop raving about it. There's nothing in it that says anything but contemporary, and I think it easily stands alongside current crime comics like 'Criminal' or 'Thief Of Thieves.'"

"I doubt most readers would guess it was done in a different decade if there were no copyright notice," said Grant. "We weren't trying to imitate anything, we were just doing a crime comic we'd want to read."

Leading up to working together again on "Damned," Zeck and Grant had continued to worked together, collaborating on smaller projects ever since Punisher.

"Mike and I have been in touch since the first time I called him to ask if he wanted to do a Punisher miniseries," Grant told CBR News, explaining that the two also collaborated on a two-issue Green Lantern western story for "Legends of the DC Universe," an "Adam Strange" story and a couple issues on Grant's "Challengers Of The Unknown" run. Zeck also did covers for Grant's "Deathstroke" at DC and "Enemy" at Dark Horse. "What kept us from working together more were scheduling conflicts, and the general disinterest of publishers in crime comics," Grant explained.

Grant was writing Wildstorm's "Wetworks" and "Grifter" when he realized the timing might finally be right for him and Zeck to re-team on their dream project. "All Mike and I had wanted to do for a long time was a pure, original crime comic, and this was the first legitimate offer we had to create one," explained Grant. "Plus Mike really wanted to try out a lot of things, like a looser, more European style, which I found tremendously fetching and still do, and creating entirely via computer rather than paper. It was possibly the first time that was ever done at a major American company."

"We worked out a story together, pitched it to Jonathan [Peterson, Wildstorm editor], he said 'Cool!' and we took off. And they let us do exactly what we wanted."

Following the original miniseries, the book was collected and reprinted in 2003 by Cyberosia with a new six-page tale -- a "coda we did for inclusion in the collection, which recasts the story and its hero, Mick Thorne, in a very different light," said Grant.

Talking about his collaborations with Zeck over the years, Grant shared that he always felt "oddly simpatico" working with the artist and recalled first talking to him after Zeck had wrapped "Secret Wars." "When I found out Mike was coming available and hadn't taken on a project, I called him about 'The Punisher.' It was the first time we spoke more than pleasantries to each other. But he was floored by the call because he and John Beatty, at that time his inker of choice, had been sitting around his living room discussing what character they wanted to work with next, and they had both just before I called decided on The Punisher. He asked what I wanted to do with the character and was again floored when what I described -- not specific plot points but overall approach -- was exactly how he thought the character should be handled. That's pretty much how we worked subsequently. For most artists I provide full scripts. I never even considered doing that for Mike," Grant said of the collaboration.

"Whatever I've ever asked him to draw he has given me exactly what I had in mind, except better. Just one of those rare connections. We would've worked together more over the years had it been strictly up to us, but, you know, life gets complicated. I'm just glad we managed to put out what we did, especially 'Return To Big Nothing' and 'Damned,'" said Grant. "Those were the two projects where everything came together the most perfectly, with the least amount of hassle, and were closest to our joint idea of what comics should be."

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