Review by Sarah Boslaugh
Damaged is a prime example of a made-for-the movies comics series which also works well as a comic. It’s also a good example of how to use genre conventions skillfully, so that the familiarity of character types and storylines works in the comic’s favor, allowing the writer and artist space in which to create something new that also feels familiar (in a good way). The same tropes are used over and over again in genre fiction because they work, and you don’t have to get all Jungian to see the appeal of the Damaged setup.
And that setup would be? Two brothers, originally working together as cops, take opposite paths after a pivotal event: one (Frank) continues on the force, rising through the ranks to become a detective, while the other (Henry) becomes a vigilante, pursuing his idea of justice outside the official framework of the law. Particularly since Damaged is set in San Francisco, it’s easy to see the brothers as embodiments of the two sides of Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood’s character in the Dirty Harry movies, for you youngsters out there). Each of the brothers is mirrored in a secondary character who is a more extreme example of the same life philosophy: for Frank this is the straight-arrow Jack Cassidy who replaces him on the force (“a regular Boy Scout” doesn’t begin to express Jack’s naïveté, although once in power he quickly and somewhat unrealistically begins to see beyond his blinkered view of the police force), while for Henry it’s Isaac Lordsman, a tougher-than-tough cop who was brought up on charges for allowing two bad guys (members of the Russian mafia, or Mafiya) to burn to death rather than trying to save them.
Damaged has a fairly complex plot, and information is skillfully revealed over the run of the series—for instance, we don’t get much of the back-story about the pivotal event in the brothers’ lives until issue #4, and spinning out the details this way adds depth to our understanding of the characters rather than simply treating the information as exposition to be accomplished as quickly as possible. Action scenes are an important aspect of this type of comic, but they’re much more effective when set within a good story featuring a cast of believable, sympathetic characters. It also helps that writer David Lapham (Stray Bullets, Young Liars) has a good ear for different styles and voices—there’s a lot of voice-over narration in this series, and each of the characters speaks in a distinctive voice. Lapham can also reach beyond verisimilitude: references to the past sometimes draw on the style of film noir dialogue (Isaac: “In West Oakland we have more liquor stores than teeth in the Cheshire Cat’s grin. If you worked at any of them, you knew my dad.”) while contemporary conversations are written more realistically.
Issue #5 is all about reversals and double reversals—Henry turns himself in, but not because he’s feeling bad about what he’s done; Frank retires from the force, but not to spend more time on his boat; Frank gets involved in a romantic relationship (finally! and with a sympathetic, noir-worthy waitress, no less) but that doesn’t turn out as such relationships generally do in films—and on and on. Push is definitely coming to shove, and everything is set up for a major confrontation in issue #6 (which will conclude the series, or at least this arc of the series).
There are a lot of fires in Damaged, beginning with the pivotal event which sent Frank and Henry down their separate paths: they set a house on fire (way back in 1975) in order to get at members of a pedophile ring that included some high-up mucky-mucks in the city administration. Isaac’s pivotal event involves a car fire, Henry is suspected of setting a house fire which took out a Mafiya leader and a good number of his cronies, and there’s yet another fire in issue #5, so the ad promising that issue #6 will deliver an “explosive finale” is perhaps not speaking only metaphorically. The fires look great on the page and I’m sure they’ll look great on screen when the inevitable film adaption is made. Leonardo Marco’s art is also quite good at placing the story in specific locales (and he takes full advantage of the San Francisco setting), although his action scenes are surprisingly weak—what should be exciting looks stiff and posed, and the effect is more of storyboards than of good comics storytelling.
You can see a preview of Damaged #5 here: http://radicalpublishing.com/2012/01/preview-damaged-5/.
Click here to go to this article at Playback: STL or click the cover image to learn more about Damaged.