Comic Book Review: Damaged

Executive Producer: Sam Worthington
Created by Michael Schwarz and John Schwarz
Written by David Lapham
Illustrated by Leonardo Manco
Coloured by Kinsun Loh, Jerry Choo & Sansan Saw
Lettered by Todd Klein
Edited by Renae Geerlings
Published by Radical Publishing

I was fortunate to receive preview pdfs of the first five issues of this six-issue mini-series from the nice people at Radical. I have to admit that I’m an old-fashioned guy who likes his comic books on paper but I was able to overcome my deficiencies to read a well-told story by people who know what they are doing. A sign of a good comic book is that you want to know how it ends; I need to read that last issue to see how the narrative is resolved.

Damaged is a comic book created by the Schwarz brothers (who are partners with the film star Worthington, who helped in the creation of the original outline) but, unlike Rosario Dawson with Occult Crimes Taskforce or Samuel L Jackson with Cold Space who created/co-created and co-wrote comic books with the stars in the lead, the book is scripted by David Lapham, the Eisner award winner best known for Stray Bullets, illustrated by the excellent Leonardo Manco and lettered by the great Todd Klein. This tells you that although the Schwarz brothers might not have a track record in comic books, they know that you get talented artists to produce your comic book for you and the right ones to pick.

Damaged concerns two brothers, both policemen but whose careers diverge: Frank stayed on the force to eventually become head of the special task force on organised crime in San Francisco, while Henry had to leave the police due to events that are part of the backstory revealed in the book. We are introduced to Henry in the opening scene of the book, as he dispenses vigilante justice in a bar in Oklahoma, where four men who were considered responsible for the rape and death of two girls are having a quiet drink with their friends. Thirty-five years after the event that changed his life, Henry returns to San Francisco, executing members of the Russian mob in a violent and destructive fashion. At the same time, the mayor brings in a young detective (Cassidy) to take over the special task force from Frank, while another policeman (Lordsman) is arrested for letting two people burn to death in a car accident (even though they were members of the Russian mob). The story deals with the repercussions of the vigilantism and the escalation that occurs when Henry surrenders himself just so he can get into prison to spring Lordsman and train him up as a vigilante, only for Lordsman to take the initiative and cause events to spiral even more out of control.

The quality of the comic book itself is not in doubt: Lapham writes a lean script, with dialogue that tells the story without feeling expository, inner monologue captions that capture the characters and a strong sense of story, including the elements in flashback that drive the plot and the people. Manco produces great art: his realistic style is a perfect match for the material, portraying the violence in an unflinching fashion that doesn’t fetishise it; the action scenes are particularly effective. His characters all look like individuals, something that still seems to elude some modern artists, so you are never in doubt who is who, and his storytelling is excellent. He also imbues the characters with emotion: Henry’s eyes in the midst of certain action scenes become blacker and you can feel the chilling intensity in them. Credit must also be given to Klein for his excellent lettering, which helps the story flow smoothly.

Regarding the story, the elephant in the room is the fact that this is not an innate comic book – it is obviously a film idea that has been turned into a comic book mini-series. There is nothing wrong with this: there are lots of good comic books that tell a good story that don’t require them to exist in comic book form; however, the atmosphere of this book always feels like it is not in its natural state. Worthington might have talked about creating a work of art in his interviews about the book, but the business strategy of Radical (to create books for adaptation into other media) is apparent here. I spent part of the time wondering which character Worthington would want to play in the film version (I think it would be the new detective brought in to head up the taskforce, Cassidy, but that could change based on how the final issue resolves). This doesn’t detract from what is a good book and a good read, but it makes it feel like a product instead of a little slice of individual creative expression that a great comic book instils in a reader.

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