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Damaged #1-4 Are “Top-Notch”

Review by Rob Lammle

On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss Radical Publishing’s Damaged as a Punisher knock-off. After all, both feature a gun-toting vigilante dealing out his own brand of explosive justice. However, once you start digging a little deeper into Damaged, you’ll see there’s more meat on the bone than you might expect.

In 1975, Henry and Frank Lincoln are brothers and officers for the San Francisco Police Department. In the beginning, they share a similar outlook on working within the justice system to stop crime. But when Henry’s son is kidnapped, his views change significantly. Now, Henry takes matters into his own hands when he uncovers a pedophile ring involving prominent members of the Bay Area’s business leaders. He recruits his brother to help him burn down the mansion where the group meets, but Frank has second thoughts at the last minute. The two scuffle and a Molotov cocktail accidentally sets off one of the gasoline bombs. To save his brother from the flames, Henry jumps on top of Frank, receiving serious burns to the right side of his body, including an imprint on his chest where Frank’s super-heated badge burns into his skin.

After the incident, Henry goes on the lam for 35 years, becoming a world-traveling vigilante that kills those whom he feels are guilty, but slipped through the fingers of the law. Meanwhile, Frank has risen through the ranks to Captain, and now, on the verge of forced retirement, is the head of a special organized crime task force. He must prepare his replacement, an idealistic young officer named Cassidy, for the tough, sometimes dirty job ahead. Much to Frank’s surprise, Henry comes back home to San Francisco to train a new recruit of his own taken from the ranks of the SFPD. In order to stop Henry’s murderous rampage, as well as save his brother’s life, Frank decides he needs to be the one to bring his brother in, to see through what he should have done years ago.

One of my favorite aspects of Damaged is the dichotomy of it all. Right vs. wrong. Working in the system vs. working outside the system. Good cop vs. bad cop. Good son vs. bad son. The unmarred visage of Frank vs. the scarred and burned body of Henry. One man wears a badge on his suit coat lapel, while the other wears the reversed image of the same badge permanently burned into his skin. Frank is training a replacement to practice his brand of justice, while Henry is training a replacement to dole out a different kind. The mirror images add a level of literary sophistication that is rarely seen in comic books, especially those involving psychotic, heavily-armed vigilantes. Only four issues in and the series already has more depth than we’ve seen in nearly 40 years of The Punisher, so the comparisons between the two are superficial at best. Considering the series is written by David Lapham of Stray Bullets fame, though, none of this should come as a surprise; Stray Bullets brought more depth in a single issue of its self-contained, one-shot legacy than most comic books are able to scrounge up through their entire run. With the pieces already being moved into position four issues in, I’m anxious to see where the story is headed. And with Lapham in control, I think we’re in for something special.

The artwork of Leonardo Manco, combined with the coloring of Kinsuh Loh, Jerry Choo, and Sansan Saw is utterly cinematic. It’s rare that you see a title take the time to paint such detailed artwork, but it really pays off here. The lines on Frank’s face, the muscles on Henry’s arms, are suggested with shadows and shading, rather than hard-drawn lines, giving everything a natural look and tone. Seriously, some of the frames are so well done that they look like screen captures from the inevitable motion picture adaptation of the comic. Top notch stuff.

I’m even going to give some love to the lettering (when was the last time that happened?) by Todd Klein. Throughout the story we see snippets of internal dialog from each of the main characters, sometimes overlaid on a scene they’re not even in. This could be really confusing, but it’s not thanks to different colored scraps of “paper” as if from a diary, used as thought balloons. Each character has his own color diary and a different font that his thoughts are written in, both of which are carried throughout the series to help you know whose thoughts you’re reading. This adds yet another layer to the story, as many times the dialog relates to, but doesn’t directly address the person in the frame, helping the reader look for conclusions and parallels they might not have otherwise noticed. It also makes for a really great transitional device, allowing one scene to end, but another to begin, yet having the dialog comment on the next scene in a less direct way. It’s a nice graphical touch that might get a little lost on a month-to-month reader, but for someone that picks up a trade paperback collection and can see the concept in action, it will add a lot to the narrative.

Despite this heaping of praise, I do have one minor complaint. Sometimes the action scenes can be a little disjointed and confusing. Part of it is that there’s so much happening on the page. Rarely does the action just unfold in a linear fashion, but is usually accompanied by a cutaway to another location, another angle, or is told in flashback, so we see the current era in an overlapping frame. It’s a great cinematic touch, but the back-and-forth can occasionally require that the reader re-examine the page to understand what just happened. Once you’re up to speed, its fine, but it can hurt the flow of the story from time to time.  Again, a minor complaint, but one worth noting. Considering they jam so much story into 20-some pages, you get a lot of bang for your buck, even if it does require a little more effort.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m really impressed by every facet of the first four issues of Damaged. The writing is intense, the artwork is beautiful, and even though we’ve moved at a pretty brisk pace, it feels like there’s still plenty of room to move in some interesting directions. If you’re a fan of gritty cop movies like The Departed, loved HBO’s The Wire, or if you’re ok with a Punisher with pathos, give Damaged a try.

Click here to go to this review at TopHatSasquatch.com or click the cover image to learn more about Damaged.

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