Review: Damage Vol. 2: Scorched Earth trade paperback (DC Comics)

May 8, 2019

Artist Aaron Lopresti makes a significant contribution to Damage Vol. 2: Scorched Earth, moving the book away from B movie schlock toward something more superheroic. Writer Robert Venditti's story feels more focused this time too, especially in the straightforward Justice League-centric second half. But "straightforward" is also Damage's downfall, and this book remains so uncomplicated and predictable that it's no wonder it's cancelled after just four more issues. There is much worse on the stands than Damage, but the book fails to rise above being more than just an artist showcase and action romp.

[Review contains spoilers]

Lopresti comes on with the eighth issue, the last part of the book's first arc, and his presence makes an immediate difference. That first arc, "Doing Damage," is representative of what this title is doing wrong, among that some unremarkable art in DC's basic house style atop a crew of uninspired villains. Lopresti is not the grand shake-up that bringing Otto Schmidt or Riley Rossmo on this title would be, but the monstrous Damage here gets less absurdly "extreme" and more realistic-looking.

The mildly gory depictions of a couple of bullet wounds also help ground the geopolitical "subterfuge in a parking garage" aesthetic the book's trying to achieve. Damage borrows so much from the 1990s hulking monster genre as is that the looser art only makes it seem more derivative, and Lopresti short-circuits that; Lopresti also immediately, appropriately, ages down protagonist Ethan Avery quite a bit, reinforcing this as a story about a young soldier in over his head.

In the second arc, "Scorched Earth," Damage ends up against a "Justice League strike force" nonsensically made up of Flash Barry Allen, Green Arrow, Vixen, and Guy Gardner. Continuity quibbles aside, this allows Lopresti to draw part of his old New 52 Justice League International cast, which gives it all some legitimacy. This is fun, if small potatoes — Damage fighting a random group of DC heroes that later includes Superman and Deadman over the course of three issues — but it plays precisely to Lopresti's strengths, and it ultimately emerges as a good artist spotlight even if that particular aim of the "New Age of Heroes" titles faltered some time ago.

I do give Venditti credit for a storyline that includes both Vixen and Deadman (a team-up I'd now be curious to read), and at least with having the Justice League on the scene, Venditti's "Scorched Earth" is populated with characters we care about. This is an uptick from "Unnatural Disaster" in Damage Vol. 1: Out of Control, in which Damage faced off against Poison Ivy and Gorilla Grodd; there too I give Venditti points for randomness, but the pieces never quite made a simple whole in the way that Damage vs. Superman does.

Weak also is this book's first arc, "Doing Damage," in which Damage fights a pat team of bounty hunters we're unlikely to ever see again. Damage's maker, Colonel Jonas, makes the point that for an elite covert team of hunters, the group seems to mess up a lot, which is true and problematic, and there's not a significant amount of suspense or sense of danger to Damage/Ethan within these pages. I did think Venditti depicted Ethan's despair well in the final pages, however, when Superman explains that despite that the military imbued Ethan with Damage, that Ethan is now effectively a super-villain means he has to be locked up even though he's technically "innocent."

I had high hopes, and maybe still do, about Venditti teaming Damage with the Unknown Soldier in these pages. Leaving aside whether the Soldier might be (but seemingly is not) Grant Emerson, at least the presence of the Soldier would to some extent tie this title into the larger DC Universe tapestry. Again, Damage fighting it out against covert goons in a veterans' hospital parking garage is very X-Files/All the President's Men, but the Unknown Solider is really a cipher in this story and could as easily have been the Question or King Faraday. Something — a nod to the Unknown Soldier in the New 52, or the like — would have also helped to ground this and make me care more about the proceedings.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Damage Vol. 2: Scorched Earth

I'm in for a pound now, though I'm not particularly enthused about the forthcoming final volume of Damage except to see how Venditti wraps it up. Judging by the covers alone, I'm expecting less intrigue, more big monster fights, which is not how I myself wanted to see this title go. We also still have the fact that behemoth Damage talks perfectly sensibly when he's contained within Ethan in Damage Vol. 2: Scorched Earth; we as yet don't know what Damage is, whether an individual being or Ethan's split personality or what, and I'd hope at least that Robert Venditti will get into that before the close.

[Includes original covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Damage Vol. 2: Scorched Earth
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

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