Damage Control #1
Issue(s): Damage Control #1
Of course, DAMAGE CONTROL was sort of polarizing for Dwayne. It was brilliant. But, at that time, many folks at Marvel took these comics very seriously. And DAMAGE CONTROL was a humorous look at the people who put the world back together after the heroes and villains tear it apart. And those folks didn't like that it was actually part of the real Marvel Universe. So Dwayne sort of got labeled as subversive. Which totally befuddled him. He just wanted to make cool comics. And he always respected the characters' histories.
I have to admit that it took me a long time to get over that same concern myself. But the truth is you can't get too serious about the question of how the Marvel world (usually New York) recovers from the endless barrage of city-destroying super-fights. Ignore it and you downplay the impact of the big battles and the relative realism of the Marvel takes a hit. Be too realistic and the economy collapses from endless repairs and the place starts looking more a post-apocalyptic wasteland than a "world outside your window" city. So having a satirical explanation allows us to acknowledge the lack of reality while also laughing it off.
The problem with a lot of in-universe satire is that it gets so goofy that it really does feel out of place, so it helps a lot that Ernie Colon plays it pretty straight. The characters aren't overly caricatured or comedic looking and the panel layouts are as traditional as a typical super-hero comic. And McDuffie equally puts real personality into the characters and doesn't just play everything for zany laughs. Which isn't to say there aren't funny moments.
We begin with the crisis of the day: four Avengers and Spider-Man fighting a giant robot said to be created by the Tinkerer.
The amount of damage caused is of course over the top (and it's only going to get worse).
This issue is also John Porter's first day on the job at Damage control (we saw him get hired in Marvel Comics Presents #19, which came out earlier the same month as this issue).
The depiction of the company's front desk secretary (Anne, although not named in this issue, unless i missed it) is definitely more on the caricature side.
Before Porter's introductions get started, he runs into Thunderball, who is there to get his wrecking ball back from the lost and found.
This is definitely the sort of thing that i can see getting Marvel traditionalists, including a young me and even still to a degree the modern me, getting upset with. Thunderball is surely a wanted criminal. If he's showing up here, someone should call the police or something, not let him get his weapon back.
Porter then meets Mrs. Hoag, who hired him in the Marvel Comics Presents preview, and she introduces him to Robin Chapel, who we learn was up for the same job.
Chapel shows Porter his first assignment, and it's not the mere toppling of the building we saw earlier. It's that when the robot was finally defeated, it fell onto the World Trade Center.
On top of that, Spider-Man is trapped inside the robot...
...and the Avengers have to leave to track down the guy that the Tinkerer built the robot for.
Porter makes what Chapel thinks is the wrong call of going to a guy named Gene (last name Sailors given in issue #2, but he's later named Eugene Strausser) in the bowels of the Damage Control building, in Tech Support. Gene has a copy of the Stilt-Man's legs because "they're useful for changing lightbulbs".
We're also introduced to Damage Control's comptroller, Albert Cleary.
Another introduction is Lenny Ballinger, Damage Control's construction foreman. He's on site at a different location, where one of his workers is "hav[ing] an origin".
By going to Gene, Porter is able to have the robot get up and walk away on its own power.
Porter has the robot transform itself into a car, and Spider-Man gets out the trunk.
Chapel was apologizing for her initial cold behavior even before Porter took care of the robot, and the story ends with the two of them going out for a drink. Well, actually, the issue ends with this.
Post-2001 the Twin Tower scenes might rub people the wrong way and i wonder if that's the reason these issues haven't been reprinted yet. But the jokes about that do highlight the problem with the damage that happens in so many super-hero comics and the way it would affect people in real life and again raises the question of whether or not it should really be addressed as a topic in the Marvel universe. As i guess just a bit of trivia, i should also note that Ernie Colon (whose last name has an accent mark on the second "o" that i don't trust all browsers to render correctly) illustrated the graphic novel of the 9/11 Commission Report.
All that aside, i enjoy this now much more than i did at the time, and accept that the Marvel universe is big enough to handle books like this and Howard the Duck in addition to more "serious" and "realistic" stuff. But it's still not a top favorite of mine. There are some very funny scenes - the "had an origin" bit especially - but it's not consistently that funny throughout the issue and it does threaten to break believability more than i'd like (e.g. the scenes with Thunderball). Still great to have a very different sort of book included in the Marvel universe.
The issue also has Marvel handbook style entries for John and Lenny.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: As the obituary i linked to notes, the story was in the works a while before it was published and so it has to be pushed back in publication time in order to fit it into continuity. A footnote specifically says this takes place before the events of Avenger #294, and Black Knight is not wearing an exoskeleton suit. I haven't listed the Tinkerer (who built the robot) or Doctor Octopus (mentioned by the secretary) but the MCP give them both behind-the-scenes appearances. I did list Jarvis, who the secretary later talks to on the phone, but it's worth noting that Jarvis doesn't seem to be officially restored to active duty until Avengers #291 (not that he couldn't have been helping out with a phone call prior to that). Spider-Man is wearing his red and blue costume and "Die Spinne" is not seen on the back, so i've placed this after Web of Spider-Man #39. There are additional dependencies for Damage Control #2 that force both this issue and next to take place before Fantastic Four #312.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showAlbert Cleary, Anne (Damage Control secretary), Anne Marie Hoag, Bart Rozum, Black Knight (Dane Whitman), Dr. Druid, Edifice Rex, Eugene Strausser, Jarvis, John Porter, Lenny Ballinger, Robert Washington, Robin Chapel, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Thunderball
A later letters column gave someone a No-Prize for spotting a continuity error in this issue but didn't say what that error was. My guess is that it was Thunderball- he wasn't supposed to have powers at this time.
Posted by: Michael | June 29, 2014 4:26 PM
I loved all the Damage Control series. This agency fills an important function just as Heroes For Hire did with PM&IF. They both found a niche that was necessary in NY.
Posted by: clyde | June 29, 2014 4:50 PM
Tried posting my response to this article on the site, but the internet wouldn't let me. I have no idea what's wrong, but here's why "Damage Control" was awesome.
Posted by: ChrisW | June 29, 2014 8:29 PM
Reproducing ChrisW's comment:
This series was probably one of the biggest influences on the way I look at superheroes. Sure, the comics are about the guys and gals in tights, but if real people don't get referenced at some point - which happened less and less as the Dark Ages fell upon us - then the comics fall apart as goofy people in goofy tights punching each other for reasons that nobody has any serious reason to care about.
"Damage Control" went a long way to alleviating that. They took seriously the jobs of superhero and supervillain, and went a long way towards telling accessible stories that gave us a superhero 'fix' but brought believable people.
At the time, I was enamored of the concept of sitcoms, and was sold when I read in "Marvel Age" that it would basically be a sitcom set in the Marvel Universe. That's exactly what it is.
Top-of-my-head example, these are the same characters as "NewsRadio." John Porter is Dave, the naive boss, Mrs. Hoag is Mr. James, the all-encompassing manipulator, Gene is Matthew, the uber-geek, Albert is Bill, the uber-awesome guy, Robin is Lisa, the hot executive in a will-they-or-won't-they relationship with John/Dave, Anne is Beth, the hot lackey, and Lenny is Joe, the cool guy who's seen it all and makes things happen. It wouldn't be hard to translate these character into "Cheers," "Night Court" or other workplace-based sitcoms, which of course was the point.
It's basically the "Astro City" of its day, and by Odin, Marvel needs to reprint the series yesterday.
Ernie Colon will never win any awards from me as an artist, but this is solid work, well-paced, and done quite well, from the superhero part of the story (Spidey and the Avengers fighting the robot) to the personal interactions (Robin freezing out John, and John only finds out why afterwards) to the generic-and-funny (the worker having "an origin") and the layout of John watching Gene bounce around in the Stilt-Man legs is clearly inspired by "Cerebus." In the link you cited, McDuffie was drawing Cerebus on everybody's dorm room, so I'd say it was a good influence.
"Damage Control" was one of the greatest comics Marvel has published in the last thirty years, and I think that's exactly the sort of thing that would win an audience today. Everybody watches the Avengers/X-Men/Batman movies, we basically get the concept of a superhero universe. It's time to tell other interesting stories with that universe.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 29, 2014 10:00 PM
Chris, thanks for the comment and sorry you had trouble posting it. To troubleshoot i copied the text and pasted it above. The problem was a UTF-8 character set issue, which may mean you composed the comment in some kind of word processing software or similar and then pasted it and it has some stray punctuation or something that my system doesn't like. To fix it, i pasted it into Word and saved it as plain text with a US character set. Hope you don't mind if i leave it above as it's a great comment and i'd like to preserve it here.
Somewhat related to ChrisW's call for the series to be reprinted, it just so happens that today House To Astonish put this issue on a short list of candidates for a coordinated vote for Marvel's upcoming 75th Anniversary Omnibus. Of course we'd really want this and the other minis to be reproduced in full, but maybe that would show interest.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 29, 2014 10:07 PM
Thank you, fnord. I composed the post on this website, and am technologically-illiterate enough to not even know what a UTF-8 character set issue is (it sounds like something Rob Liefeld would do). I'm just glad technology works for other people, or I would ban it all tomorrow if I had the power. ;)
Posted by: ChrisW | June 29, 2014 11:28 PM
About the diacriticals, you may want to use HTML entities. They are very reliably interpreted by even ancient browsers.
Check the fourth row, middle column here: http://www.starr.net/is/type/htmlcodes.html
Or third row, fourth column:
Posted by: Luis Dantas | June 30, 2014 5:21 PM
Personally, I feel that Damage Control is harmless enough. It may just be ignored with no further consequences. Several other trends in Marvel hurt the credibility of the Marvel Universe a lot more - the integration of a solo regular Punisher book springs to mind.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | June 30, 2014 5:24 PM
Thanks for the tip on the HTML entities, Luis. I'm actually aware of these but the problem is that my search is very literal and searches against what i input, and not how it's rendered. So users would have to type Ernie Col+oacute;n in my Advanced search (with the + replaced with an &) in order to find books that he's drawn. I may try to experiment and see if i can display one thing while having something else available for search.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 30, 2014 9:35 PM
Lenny Ballinger looks like a cross between Jack Kirby and Lee Marvin.
This series marks an important point for Marvel purists as it introduces the issue of "meta messages" or having the super-characters and normal folks around them act as real people who might be now aware that they're living in a fictional setting but could likewise be playing it for laughs.
That's groundbreaking enough on its own, but it also unfortunately (your POV might vary) sets things up for the current Marvel era of self-aware characters who seem to be "in" on the joke, (Deadpool) much to the detriment of stuff such as having Marvel's classic unseen narrators go the way of the dodo.
And don't even get me started about the ensuing frenzy among modern writers in using strictly minimized dialogue (Bendis and his contemporaries) as they embrace the present trend of highly "decompressed" storytelling.
But I'm not sorely blaming Damage Control. It's just that the clues are there for all to see starting with that initial Thunderball sequence. Had this been set in the What The--?! universe, everything would have turned out differently.
Back in 1988, this was still a fun series which featured a unique premise and some interesting art by Ernie Colon, a long underrated artist whose bread and butter work was strictly done for DC on books such as Amethyst. It's likely to remain the late great Dwayne McDuffie's masterpiece. If anyone knew how to connect the dots dividing fiction into a cohesive universe, Dwayne was your man. Just read his essay about how every program you've ever watched on TV is interconnected into a single "universe" not unlike those found in comic books.
Posted by: Clutch | July 5, 2014 10:18 AM
As hilarious as DAMAGE CONTROL is, I have to skip the first issue nowadays, for hopefully obvious reasons.
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 1, 2014 2:26 AM
Dwayne McDuffie said in Amazing Heroes #159 that the inspiration for Damage Control came from when he saw an episode of the 1960s Batman TV show featuring a "Batmobile Drag Chute Pick-Up and Dry Cleaning Service".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 1, 2015 2:19 PM
Does it get explained in the issue that the robot grows or does he suddenly go from like 100 feet tall to well over 1000 feet tall with no explanation?
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 2, 2015 1:03 PM
It is explicitly shown to grow "to over three times its former size".
Posted by: fnord12 | August 2, 2015 1:07 PM
Yeah, not buying that. Given its size in the first few panels relative to the super-heroes and given its size in the last panel, relative to the towers, it's grown something like 15-30 times its former size.
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 2, 2015 2:47 PM
A trade paperback collecting all three Damage Control miniseries, the MCP prologue, the World War Hulk tie-in, and a few other odds & ends, was finally released by Marvel in November 2015.
Posted by: Ben Herman | March 20, 2016 11:23 PM
There's plans for a Damage Control show set in the MCU.
Again, a shame McDuffie didn't live long enough to see this moment, when his ideas (and his ideas about what comics could be) seem like they finally have a chance to shine.
Posted by: cullen | March 20, 2016 11:37 PM
I especially like addendum "his ideas about what comics could be"- well said, and I couldn't agree more, he was a true loss. His characters and co-creations, I think, are still not done rocking the world. A generation's coming up that loved his cartoons.
Posted by: Cecil | March 21, 2016 12:04 AM
Ben, thanks for the information. A collected "Damage Control" book is now on its way to my mailbox.
Posted by: ChrisW | March 22, 2016 2:18 AM
I have received the Complete Damage Control. There is no cause for alarm. Repeat: I have received the Complete Damage Control! Go about your business. Have a nice day.
Posted by: ChrisW | March 24, 2016 2:01 AM
The "Creme-Filled Twinkie" model of space-time? That's a big Twinkie.
Posted by: ChrisW | March 1, 2017 8:40 PM
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