‘Damage Control’ is one of those little, everyday Voight-Kampf tests that you come across in popular culture sometimes. If you sit someone down with a copy of the ‘Damage Control’ mini-series, written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie with art by the wonderfully talented Ernie Colón, and they do not finish it smiling, then you should slowly and quietly get out of the room and call for the blade runners, because the person you just met has no soul. It is pure fun, plain and simple.
The series starts from that weird dichotomy between the two views of “realism” in comics, especially Marvel comics. Some people who read Marvel for its “realism” like it because it’s a world they recognize; New York is a real city, and most of the writers and artists at Marvel either live there or know the place well enough that they can depict it accurately. The world of Marvel feels just like the world outside your window, and it’s easy to imagine that you could visit New York and just happen to see Spidey swinging by. It catches people’s imaginations. The other group, though, see “realism” and think of it as the logical exploration of the consequences of a world with superhuman beings; to them, Marvel is being “realistic” when it has things like Congressional hearings on superhumans, or when we see the futuristic technology of Reed Richards being used in logical ways. This makes them feel immersed in the world, because there aren’t any big and awkward gaps of logic that they have to ignore in order to enjoy the series.
The problem is, these views are pretty much mutually incompatible. Any world that deals with the realistic consequences of power armor, otherdimensional incursions, mutants and superhero battles isn’t going to look like our world for long. (I always wondered how long real-world persecution of mutants would last. “We had ourselves a lynching party last night for that mutant SOB!” “How’d it go?” “Well, we lost about seven people, and the mutant survived. But we think it’ll go better next time!”) The idea of Marvel being the world right outside your window, only with superheroes requires a tremendous amount of mental gymnastics to make work if you assume genuinely realistic consequences. In fact, if you think about it, the whole thing is kind of silly.
Dwayne McDuffie clearly thought about it. The logical answer, he realized, is also completely absurd; you’d need a superhumanly competent construction company, working round-the-clock at insane speed and efficiency, just to repair all the damage to New York caused by all these fights between the Hulk and the Thing. And so he invented one. Damage Control is a group of people that fix the post-battle devastation, collecting their bills from Doctor Doom and raising Avengers Mansion from the bottom of New York harbor. Naturally, this requires a certain amount of finesse…when you’re constantly cleaning up after supervillains, they stop becoming enemies of society and start becoming a source of income. Dealing with the Kingpin, Thunderball, the Punisher, and a cheesed-off Captain America who doesn’t like the way they’re handling the repairs is everyday (or at least every issue) business to them…to say nothing of handling the various construction workers who accidentally get superpowers while cleaning up the messes.
It is a transcendently goofy, yet wholly logical exploration of the consequences of life in the Marvel Universe, and the creators did a wonderful job with every issue of the three mini-series that featured them. (Including tie-ins to ‘Acts of Vengeance’, which was yet another reason why that crossover rocked so hard.) Of course, comics being what they are, we got a “grim and gritty” Damage Control showing up in ‘Civil War’, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus instead on the good, the fun, and the joyous, like Doom showing mercy to an embezzler in his embassy by simply firing him. (Why does Doom pay for the repairs when he causes mayhem in New York? Because a monarch always settles his debts.) The series has sadly never been collected, but back issues aren’t hard to come by. Go, read, and have a little fun with the “realism” of the Marvel Universe.