Reviews

Between Church & State

Can ideology be passed on without being radically altered? In Damaged #2 creators Michael and John Schwarz along with writer David Lapham and artist Leonardo Manco explore this question that is at once artistic, relevant to the digital economy and core American values. Explore more of the story in the free-to-download preview attached to this story.


Comics: Damaged #2
Publisher: Radical
Length: 22 pages
Writer: David Lapham, Leonardo Manco, Michael Schwarz, John Schwarz
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2011-09

It's probably the Red White and Blue of the cover that first clues in my unconscious. Damaged #2 is about Church & State. Not the dogmatic belief that they ought to be separated, but the underlying realization that hit the Founding Fathers. That Church and State are different kinds of institutions. One enforces a certain kind of idealism, the other invites you accept its idealism.

But that's not what pulls me into the book. Before I flip to the first page even, I'm back at the edge of my childhood. I'm just about 13 and the school librarian slams a pile of books in front of me. This is me before leather jackets, when Guns N Roses was perfectly edgy enough thank you, me before Vegas and Macau. The pile of books is something to build your dreams around. Its filled with Hunters S Thompson, Bills Burroughs, Carlos's Castaneda, Jorges Luises Borges, Franks Kafka. A world beyond the endless summer of kid's things I'd been living until then.

That pile of books was a poem dedicated to the person I had not yet become. Did my librarian sense something about me? Was there something twisting and writhing beneath my surface? Or did she reshape me? Was I clay in capable hands? Or was it neither scenario but something far worse, something unimaginable?

It's this drama that sits at the heart of Damaged #2. What is the real nature of the mentor-pupil relationship. And the expansion of this dilemma to a broader societal canvas; can moral codes be extended beyond the personal?

Writer David Lapham's control of the scope and pacing of the story is supernatural. He flips between the story of Henry and Frank as rookies back in 1975 and the austere, set-in-their-ways Captain Frank Lincoln and Henry the Vigilante seamlessly. Artist Leonardo Manco is equally superhuman. There are no visual tricks, no codes not color-shifts to signal the flashbacks. There's just straight linear artwork. The fact that you don't get lost between the present and the flashbacks is a testament to consummate skill of both storytellers.

A high point of this issue is that there's drama to the exposition and backstory. There's no getting bogged down in the minutiae, you're simply involved in discovering what happened, right from the get-go. Henry's dead son, the child prostitution ring, departmental corruption dating back nearly 40 years; these are all pieces, clues that shaped lives we're now all deeply involved in.

Another high point is Lapham's use of the situational and of misperception to push the story forward. Henry sees something that pushes him into falsely assuming a relationship. This misreading of the situation motivates him to take steps that will actually necessitate that misreading becoming reality. It's that paranoia that was a hallmark of 70s storytelling that Lapham skillfully introduces into a 21st century comicbook.

But the true heart of the story is the question of that moral code. Can you pass on your moral code to another? And how would they interpret and reinterpret it? Would their editing denature that moral code? Or would it be rejuvenated by this sharing?

Story creators and brothers Michael and John Schwarz have tapped a core question in the newly-emerging digital economy; does sharing weaken or strengthen me? And they've done this in such a way that builds upon negotiating American identity in public. When I first encountered the project I was convinced that this was King Lear, because you'd need a Shakespeare to navigate the questions the Schwarzes raised and Lapham and Manco effect. But there's so much more here. Damaged is Bob Dylan and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Steven Spielberg.

Grab a first look at Damaged #2 right here, in this free-to-download preview.

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