Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross' MARVELS gave us some classic moments in Marvel Universe history taken from the point of view of average citizens. It also led to a sea of imitators attempting to take the ordinary guy's view of super-heroes.
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL gave us funny super-hero comics with drama. They were characters who weren't afraid to make fun of themselves, and they were characters poking fun of their time. I'm not entirely sure there were any imitators to come out of the title, though.
Perhaps lost in the time between those two memorable series is Marvel's DAMAGE CONTROL. In the summer of 1989, a four-issue mini-series from creators Dwayne McDuffie and Ernie Colon came crashing into comic stores. Damage Control is the firm that's set up to handle all the property damage done by superheroes and villains. They operate as a lost and found for super-powered gear, as well as a disposal service for the latest batch of robots discarded by reckless super powered extravaganzas. They work for the government, the hero groups, and even the villains. As long as their checks clear – and Doctor Doom is a meticulous financier – Damage Control is at your disposal.
The book doesn't take itself seriously and has a lot of fun with the unseen aftereffects of the fights you see in the rest of the Marvel Universe, plus some things that happen behind the scenes. Whether it's a test of a new weapon gone awry or a mutating robot that crashes across half of the island of Manhattan, the engineers of Damage Control are on the job.
The first issue introduces us to the latest DC employee, John Porter. While treated as the "new guy" by everyone involved, it's his creative thinking and skewed perspective on matters that prove to be life savers. The main plot of the issue (entitled "A Restoration Comedy") concerns the results of a fight with Thor, Spidey, and a mutating ever-enlarging robot. Amongst other things, the robot is left straddling the city, resting its head against the World Trade Towers. One building loses its top 12 floors or so. So what do you do? How do you get the robot out of town? That's Damage Control's job. (And let's just assume for now that Reed Richards isn't around or is too busy to invent something quickly. And Henry Pym and his miniaturizing particles are otherwise engaged.) The story is complete in one issue – as all of them in the mini-series are – and does a good job of introducing us to everyone without heavy-handed explanations.
One particularly hilarious moment: In the middle of the madness, one of the DC (ooh, an unfortunate abbreviation) engineers unearths a glowing stone and is turned into a Hulk-like creature. Lenny, the older union-leading foreman sees this and can only comment, "One of my men just had an origin."
The second issue features Doctor Doom. It turns out he's late paying his bill and so DC's comptroller, Albert Cleary, is off to the Latverian Embassy with intern in tow to ask Doom to make good on his bills. The rest of the team seems mortified. Would you want to tell Doom that he's late making his payments? When the Thing finds out what's going on, he's headed uptown to save Damage Control's heads from being lopped off under the umbrella of diplomatic immunity.
Issue number three is all about the company's public image. The edict comes down that everyone must wear a costume, to help establish the DC brand. Iron Man is brought in to help with a little media-friendly demonstration. A new ad campaign is begun. Then everything goes wrong and it's every man for himself.
The fourth and final issue features a cover with Wolverine popping his claws and promising someone's death after being hit with a cream pie. Ah, the classic comedy bits just never die, do they? The X-Men guest star in this issue. The slapstick flies in the Danger Room as it goes out of control, of course. Groucho Marx and the Three Stooges make appearances. Everything goes nuts and no sacred cows go untipped.
There's a lot more going on in these books than I can summarize for you here, but I wanted to give you the general gist of what's going on. DAMAGE CONTROL is a fun quirky book that's a little bit off-center. It's a lot of fun to read and would make a great find in any of the bargain bins at any of the conventions you might find yourself attending this summer. There was a follow-up mini-series to this one. It's on my list this year while bin diving.
TOM DeFALCO IS THE MAN
If I were a thirteen-year-old boy again, RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE M@N would probably be a quick favorite of mine. This is definitely a comic that you have to take into account the audience it's aiming for when reviewing. I think it would be a book that would be a big hit for new young comic readers. (That brings up the topic of distribution and availability and the "stigma" attached to reading comics, but that's a whole 'nother column for another day.)
Tom DeFalco's new series, with artist Ron Lim (and Robert Jones), should be showing up in comic stores near you sometime in May. If you've got a younger male cousin or a nephew you'd like to suck into comics, this might be a good chance for you. Randy O'Donnell is the stereotypical teenage boy. He has a hard time talking to the girl he has a crush on. He likes to hide himself in his room and play videogames all day. And his ideas of a fantasy world come from the stereotypes of his age. So imagine his surprise when he is accidentally sucked into another world – a fantasy world that is under the mistaken impression that he's their savior.
No, it's not necessarily the most original high concept in the world, but it's done really well with great style and a slick sense of humor. In the fantasy world of Bollucidar, Tesca exists for the sole purpose of poking holes in Randy's predefined notions of what she should be, as well as the rest of her magical world. She's the breakout star of this book. I don't just say that because she's a "hottie," but because of her quick wit and sharp tongue. I talked a bit last week about "Banter" comics. Tesca could easily start in such a thing, if any writer would manage to keep up with her. ;-)
My biggest qualm with the book is in the naming conventions. The names don't excite me. They're not memorable and they don't trip off the tongue too well. Trying to keep names like Bollucidar, Malok, Edrice, Tescam and Gemel straight should prove to be a challenge. Thankfully, I had the promotional material to go with the comic to help keep it all straight.
The book is bi-monthly (another strike against it in this market, sadly), and promises to hold a new self-contained 22-page story with each issue, along with some on-going subplots. The first issue is mostly an origin, but does a great job in keeping the cast small enough to follow and understand. There's plenty of action in the first issue, and not just exposition. Everything is neatly explained as you read along, so you shouldn't get lost at all.
EVERYONE HATES FIGHT MAN!
One more suggestion for your summer con-going reading list: FIGHT MAN #1 is a one-shot spectacular from Marvel Comics, circa the spring of 1993. It's Evan Dorkin's little brainchild and runs 48 ad-free pages of mirth, mayhem, and black humor.
FIGHT MAN is a self-styled crime fighter in the fictional comic-booky town of Delta City. That doesn't sound so odd, does it? The big exception here is that FIGHT MAN is a ludicrous parody of the worst of super-heroes. He lets his fists do the thinking. Everything is just an excuse for him to break stuff, knock over buildings, and toss people around. The villains look straight out of central casting from the DICK TRACY movie. The people of the city he's sworn himself to protect hate him. His last 16 kid sidekicks have all been killed. Even the simplest act of shaking a person's hand results in broken bones. The boy is out of control and refuses to realize it.
Evan Dorkin's wicked sense of humor is on full display. He crams each panel with plenty of background gags. Squinting slightly while reading the lettering on items in the backgrounds of most panels proves most fruitful. The laughs come from black humor, from satire, from parody, and from some bits of slapstick, mostly revolving around the ludicrous nature of the villains.
Format-wise, I can't imagine this book being published today in anything other than a Prestige Format, a la Dorkin's recent hilarious WORLD'S FUNNEST. A 48-page story doesn't get published in a regular double-sized comic anymore. It needs a big price tag and the potential entry into mainstream bookstores that the additional cost and cardboard give it.
The coloring is a bit garish in the issue. Credited to Su McTeigue (is that an anagram for someone?), it just doesn't look very good. There is no color scheme. There are some extremely dark colors that serve to do nothing but obscure the art in places. Yes, the book was done in the days when computers just weren't mainstream yet. You can't expect a ton of gradients and flashy effects for this book. Heck, those would be out of place, too. But a nicer flat coloring scheme would have been nice. (The paper the book is printed on is newsprint, which might also affect the coloring.)
Overall, though, it's the same sort of cynical panel-packed humor you've come to expect from Dorkin. If you're lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh tonight, you can even catch him as the emcee at the Harvey Awards. Speaking of which:
PIPELINE IN PITTSBURGH
As you read this, I'm at the Pittsburgh Comicon. Friday is Day One (of three) of the Con. Stop by this fine website over the course of the weekend for my daily con journal. Those will show up on Saturday and Sunday. I'll go over Sunday's happenings in Tuesday's regularly scheduled column. I packed the digital camera and everything, so this should be a lot of fun. Heck, I even lowered my standards and got a free AOL account for the month so I could get a local dial up line out there. What I won't do for you people… ;-)
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in six short weeks…
This year, I'll be at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego), and the Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend (!), which requires no second name. Hope to meet some of you there.