[Editor’s note: this review may contain spoilers]
Storytellers: Robert Venditti, Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Matt Ryan
The first Damage annual is a glimpse back at the missing memories that continue to haunt Ethan about his time as Damage. But, one memory will lead to a change in how Damage sees himself, the mission, and his enemies. And the reader, the reader will learn just how far the Damage program really reaches.
The primary flashback in this story is a mission in Bialya called Operation: Warm Blanket. Damage is a focused killing machine in the opening pages. Impaled soldiers on debris, wide staring eyes, and shocked horror on the faces of his victims, litter the trail of carnage leading to his target.
Great series of panels with Damage’s fist thumping the nine feet of concrete like the Doomsday teasers in the back of Superman’s titles in the 90’s. It’s a great pacing device in this moment. Damage is breaking into a research facility to kill Dr. Willig. The facility is using the research Willig stole from Dr. Vess about the Damage program.
This leads to a fight with three Bialyan versions of Damage. It’s clear that he only sees them as creatures, and his strength and training allow Damage to kill one and incapacitate another. But, its the third creature who changes the path of our unlikely hero. This monster gets Damage on the ropes and moves in for the kill, but a reaction makes it growl in pain. Damage takes advantage of the pause and puts it on the ground. Blow after blow rain down, and Damage is nearing the kill when the creature pleads, “Don’t,” and the voice of Ethan breaks through begging Damage to stop. The voice begs him to stop, and during the break in fighting the creature transforms into a man. The man thanks Damage and runs away. Damage is left facing the consequences of his actions and the conscience of Ethan. This is the moment when Damage let one get away.
Great twist on the transformation of Damage into Ethan. Dr. Willig’s final words argue that the men he helped only wanted to protect their country like Black Adam did for his country. Ethan is asking what he did and who made him do it. And Damage is telling Ethan that his voice will help Ethan remember, and once Ethan remembers, then Damage will take control.
The flashbacks with Colonel Jonas and Ethan introduces the opposite goals that have brought them both to the program. In both scenes, Jonas is clearly pushing past what is right to what is possible. It supports her line that soldiers, “Need to know they can kill whatever is in front of them and that they are right to do it.”
Maybe I’m picky, but it’s surprising that the military has a cover story for what Damage’s actions in Bialya, but doesn’t bother with a cover story for the mission. Considering the fact that Damage is fighting versions of himself, it would seem likely that a cover story for the briefing would be helpful. I know that they are relying on his lack of recall from past battles, but even on a basic level, it seems that psychology, a key in warfare, would have been more closely considered here.
Robert Venditti does a great job introducing the many elements of Damage’s origin. The development of Ethan’s conscience, his manipulation by Colonel Jonas, and the resulting split in his psyche are all introduced nicely. And thankfully, not so neatly that we can’t have more intrigue down the road. This story will provide ample material on Damage’s journey to change his fate and one day find peace with what he has become.