Is there any way to watch X-Men: First Class and not feel betrayed? Maybe not so much betrayed, but cheapened. We were promised something with First Class. Not just a top notch movie (and to a certain degree the movie did just fine as a Cold War era political thriller), but something transformative.
We were promised a long hard look at how Charles Xavier turned his back on childish things to become the sober, dedicated man of peace we recognize from the earlier X-Men films. We were promised the story of Erik Lensher letting go of his anger and his pain to become the powerful protector of mutant rights that is Magneto. We were promised the sight of how the ernest friendship between these two powerful forces, became the very cause of fixing them in their opposing views.
X-Men: First Class was supposed to be the battle for ideas.
And watching the wooden back-and-forth between James MacAvoy’s onscreen Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, over a tedious game of chess leaves you cold. There’s little in X-Men: First Class to save you from feeling cheapened.
But what would a battle of wills and a battle of ideologies really look like?
Coming this August, Radical Publishing’s partnership with Sam Worthington’s movie production company Full Clip offers one of the most thoughtful and severe battle of not just wills, but of ideologies. Written by crime genius David Lapham (who defined the genre with his creator-owned series Stray Bullets) and drawn by the phenom that is Leonardo Manco, Damaged shows opposing views can grow in the rich and fertile soil of brotherly love.
Damaged is the story of Frank and Henry, separated some 40 years ago. Henry has become a vigilante, mercilessly gunning down those people who deserve judgment in the eyes of justice. Frank has remained in the San Francisco police department, dedicating his life to undoing the corruption that runs rampant through the city. And both men have decades of doing things their way.
Lapham writes with a brio seldom seen. There’s an energy to his writing that captures perfectly the mood of these two men. The book’s first 18 panels are wordless, showing the fierce dedication and sober forethought that Henry has used to keep himself alive all these long years. Henry will walk into a bar and be the only one to walk out again. Finding the drama in such mundane violence — and communicating it wordlessly to the reader — is what signals Lapham as being very much at the top of his game.
If Henry’s introduction is impressive — Lapham’s sheer skill ensures that it is — then Frank’s is even more so. Initially we come to hear of Frank secondhand. He’s washed up, a has-been who’s been riding on the coattails of the one good bust he made decades ago. Instead we’re embedded with the young up-and-comer Jack Cassidy who is being offered Frank’s job by the Captain, the Chief and the Mayor.
Lapham leaves just enough in the scene to make sure it doesn’t ring true. And when we finally meet Frank hiding out at McGee’s Diner, the years of disillusion rages almost uncontrollably for him and us both. However, Damaged isn’t simply about the differing points of view that the two brothers take; one vigilante and the other lawman. It’s about the relationship between the two, and the damage that’s done, one to other, in the name of brotherhood.
With unifying events in the nation’s recent history, the question of ideology has never been more important than now. Whose will be done? Can we live together? Or will the idea of Union need to come undone? Brothers Michael and John Schwarz, creators of Damaged, have raised the idea in a cogent and topical way.
There’s no way that Damaged doesn’t succeed. It seems weighty, lofty, aspirational. It feels exactly like all of the last decade: like the debates around how to resolve the financial crisis of 2008 and its causes, like finally delivering justice to Bin Laden. Damaged succeeds because Lapham has sufficient insight to construct a drama of resilience and self-determination coming into conflict with reliance and cooperation. And this drama succeeds because it feels exactly like the ongoing drama of being American.
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PopMatters is proud to present an exclusive 8-page preview of the sleeper hit of the Fall. Be the first to get your hands on artist Leonardo Manco’s beautifully prosaic visual storytelling and writer David Lapham’s blistering pacing. Download and share your copy here.