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WEEKEND SUPERHERO: Damage Control Rendered Powerless


If anyone thinks NBC’s Powerless idea is long overdue: it isn’t – it’s been done. Sort of. So word has it that NBC has plans for a series called Powerless – essentially The Office, but set within the DCU. If you think Office politics were awkwardly hilarious, consider how having to manage a LexCorp account – while a Lex Luthor robot trashes downtown – might play out. For that matter, how do you serve legal papers to the Batman, anyway?

This is why Powerless is such a good idea. Starting with (and sustained by) the Dark Knight trilogy, DC has built up a lot of tension around its run-up to Justice League – and maybe a little too much, at that. A show like Powerless could come as a fairly loud tension breaker – making the dourness of Snyder’s DCU a never-ending set-up, to a never-ending series of awkward punchlines. Sounds like comedy gold. I should know: I’ve already seen the result.

Damage Control was the answer to a question no one had thought to ask, then all wondered what took so long. The comic book hero was the 20th century’s answer to the age-old question of how to symbolize a struggle of long/ hopeless odds. From Beowulf, to Quatermain, to Uncle Sam, the idea has always been to find an icon to help the masses get through one crisis, or another. The modern superhero was sort of a reaction to WW2 – a global crisis of seemingly insurmountable proportions. When the threat of global fascism was superseded by global communism & nuclear war, the need for larger than life icons persisted. Once the Cold War settled into stalemate, however, the focus shifted to domestic issues – with crime concerns giving rise to the grittier anti-heroes of the 80s. Well, the 80s also made corporate greed the face of evil (and the reason Lex Luthor was remade in the Kingpin’s image); but as works like Robocop would demonstrate, corporate culture wasn’t a problem to be punched, or blasted away – it was just a new reality of modern living.

Damage Control

Damage Control at a glance

Damage Control applied that notion to comics; posing the suddenly obvious question of who gets to clean up the mess – and deliver the bill – from all those glorious battles we grew up taking for granted. Its real genius, however, was in how it simultaneously parodied superhero culture (by way of a bottom line focused corporate perspective), while parodying corporate culture (as the stark moralities, of superhero idealism, would see it).

This is why Powerless is a bad idea. It’s a rip-off of Damage Control, at least on a conceptual level. Something of a public domain concept, to be sure; but, in all honesty, it’s still a rip-off. Thing is, I’m not so much bummed over the rip-off aspect, as I am over the fact that A: the powers-that-be may have figured that not enough people know about Damage Control to call them out on it, and B: they’d be right. Short Attention Span Theater has only gotten briefer, these days. Unless hipsters & old timers post it, it never existed; which is how Alien vs Predator got accused of ripping off Freddy vs Jason (yes, I’ll keep harping on that – fetch me my kvetch shoes!).

It makes my heart sink to think that even if Marvel does go forward with a Damage Control project, there will be short attention spanners calling it a rip-off of Powerless. More cynically, a part of me wonders if DC isn’t somehow trying to preempt Marvel, specifically because they know about past Damage Control mullings, saw an opportunity to redress an old “why didn’t we think of that” moment, and is setting up to drink Marvel’s milkshake.

While DC’s treatment of series creator, the late Dwayne McDuffie, doesn’t help brighten my view, I might be overthinking it (or giving them too much credit); but it would help shake off the stigma of DC playing catch-up, to the MCU, if it were seen as the more innovative of the two, on the small screen.

The fact is, beyond its relatively insignificant place in the Marvel multi-verse, there has been talk of adapting Damage Control for some time. Drew Pearce (co-writer: Iron Man 3, writer/ director: All Hail The King one-shot) had been campaigning to do a film treatment for years. Damage Control was the first thing that came to mind, when I first heard about Joss Whedon developing a Marvel treatment, for ABC (remember Wolfram & Hart?); and it seems I wasn’t alone. Even after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. became the thing, I held out for an appearance (the two having ties, canonically); and after the events of the season two finale, there’s a huge opening left for just that – to say nothing of all that big screen carnage, going all the way back to the original Iron Man.

Big screen carnage would certainly be a big motivator for the Powerless small screen project. Not only will the destruction of Metropolis play a crucial part in the evolution of DC’s joint universe, a comedic answer, to that problem, could also solve DC’s somberness issue. Some may criticize a Damage Control treatment for making the MJU more light-hearted than it already is; while DC stands to benefit from demonstrating that it does, in fact, have a sense of humor – poking fun at itself by way of Powerless. As long as no one remembers Damage Control, it’s out-of-the-box genius marketing – keep your principal properties dark, while unknown surrogates carry the risk of bringing humor to the boss fights.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for Powerless, if it’s done right. My big issue is the notion of NBC & DC actively taking credit, for being the innovators that brought one of Marvel’s better lesser-known ideas to life.

Meh, but why take my word for it? Damage Control is readily available, in print & digital form, kids. Make up your own minds – “go read a book.”

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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