Old Comics Weds: Damage Control v3 #1 by Dwayne McDuffie & Kyle Baker
[Thanks to Mr. Witzke for suggesting this comic to review and thus getting me off the Alcatena-Wiseman see-saw for a week.]
Even a professional comics hater like me found it easy to like Dwayne McDuffie, who was clearly a good dude who loved comics even though he was too intelligent to be completely fulfilled by the corporate-pamphlet field that never knew quite what to make of him – a career riddled with interviews that were always more engaging and entertaining than the actual finished product once it came out of the IP sausage factory …. largely to fanboy indifference.
McDuffie achieved escape velocity from Marvel’s editorial offices with Damage Control, three four-issue miniseries published over 1989-1991; I don’t have them all handy, but I remember reading them during my time in the Journal library and thinking the series was fun and pretty thoughtful for something published under Tom DeFalco’s custodianship of the company. I’m pretty sure it was Marvel’s only attempt to cash in on DC’s [maybe I should say Andy Helfer's] successful “Bwah-ha-ha” cycle of comedic adventure comics, which is odd — the company always took after papa Stan and not papa Jack or Steve, and Stan rarely finished an issue without some tongue-in-cheek banter.
Damage Control never really caught on, I think, for two reasons: Most supercomics fans won’t buy comics that don’t have a consistent, reliable amount of superheroes in them, and the series itself strikes what’s probably an untenable balance between broad comedic fantasy and pragmatic logistic realism. This particular vehicle just doesn’t corner that well.
Think of the superduper content in such a comic book as a burger and fries, and any real-world content as the parsley: It used to be that if the
chef cook gave you any parsley at all, it will be as a garnish on the side, which you’d ignore but not resent it for being on the plate. In the comics, these are usually scenes/subplots involving the supporting cast, although I always liked the scenes of Peter Parker on his college campus or realizing he needs a shower badly or discovering that he’s been on the go so long that the food in his fridge has spoiled on him. These days, a lot of burger joints have gotten fancy and chopped the parsley up and worked it into the meat they serve. I can’t think of a good example of this stupid metaphor in action in recent comics — please don’t make me read them — but I’ve heard that it’s there. In Damage Control, the burger joint served a bowl of parsley soup with meatballs on the side, and wondered why few of their regulars ordered it more than once. This might be a rare example of Marvel actually overestimating the intelligence of their audience.
All that said, what compelled me to write about this particular comic can be summed up in two words: Kyle Baker. The other 11 issues of the series were drawn by the supremely versatile workhorse Ernie Colón, and it’s a little bizarre that a miniseries, even in the must-hit-deadline office culture of the late ’80s, would bring in a replacement cartoonist on its first issue. Is there a good office story here?
At the time, Baker’s exuberant cartooniness always had inking that showcased an appealingly polished, careful sheen — a character might look wildly off-model from one panel to the next, but his rendering of those figures would be as unique as his fingerprint. This issue, however, looks like a rush job; drawn with the same pen for almost everything, often with no penciling first. In a lesser artist/storyteller’s hands, this sketchbookish approach would be disastrous but Baker pulls it off with aplomb, even giving the story’s events the kind of coked-out mania it probably wouldn’t have gotten from Colón.
Rush job or not, there must be a good story behind the recurring gags about the width of Albert’s lapels being illustrated with him wearing a solid black jacket:
Times like that, isn’t it better to change the joke to something about tie knot or color, or something about his shoes?
It’s perversely entertaining to watch even the loose sketchbook style of the first few pages devolve and sometimes mutate, presumably as the deadline drew closer.
One of the joys of seeing jobs like this is noting how artists seem to use the same short cuts and often wind up finishing that have the same curiously isolated, haunted affect; some of the panels throughout this issue come off as homages to the infamous Iron Man #39, which Herb Trimpe drew in just a couple of days.
Have I mentioned that I love how Baker uses Morley Safer as his template for Lenny? Altho this panel, WTF:
I know that drawing of John on the right is a swipe/photo reference from somewhere, but I can’t put my finger on it. Publicity photo of Bogie? Lee Marvin? If you know, tell me; it’s making me nuts trying to think of it