I feel like at some point in every comic book lover’s life they are struck with a brilliant idea. Something they’re sure that no one has ever come up with, and that would be a great addition to any superhero world. And, after they do some research, they find that that idea already existed, and Dwayne McDuffie beat them to the punch. Because the idea of Damage Control is so perfect, so wonderful, and makes such sense to exist in a world full of superheros that it should be something everyone comes up with. If you aren’t aware, the basic premise of Damage Control was that there was a company inside the Marvel Universe that specialized in cleaning up after superhero battles. They did some other stuff, including some very specific engineering, but the primary idea followed the men and women who fixed New York after every ridiculous comic book event, putting things back to normal for it all to be destroyed again. It’s a brilliant concept, and one that I’m incredibly envious of. It’s also led to a string of really funny and clever comics that are able to take a look at the weird world of Marvel Comics from the perspective of some normal people, while also serving as a strange workplace comedy in a superhero world. It’s great. And, it just so happens that one of the earliest Damage Control stories revolved around none other than my main man, Doctor Victor Von Doom. It’s been way too long since we’ve talked about the various insane exploits of Doctor Doom, so I felt like the perfect way to rectify that slight would be to check out a time when Doctor Doom faced his most imposing nemesis yet, bureaucracy!
The story begins in a fairly nondescript building in the Upper West Side, which is secretly housing a laboratory full of Latverian scientists, helping Doctor Doom develop new weapons to use in his never-ending war against the rest of the world. And, while working on some sort of ray gun, an accident occurs, and the ray gun goes off. The scientists working inside have to flee for their lives, and by the time they get outside of the building they find that it’s been turned entirely to a glass-like substance. The scientists are terrified, fearing what Doom will do to them when he realizes that they not only ruined an experiment, but an entire laboratory. However, they do have one hope, because one of the scientists is aware of a construction firm that Doom sometimes work with who may be able to help them before Doom becomes aware of the problem. And, as you might have guessed, that firm is none other than Damage Control. But, when their claim gets entered into the companies database, they find that there’s a flag on Doom’s account, which means it gets put before some of the important people in the company, including Anne Marie Hoag the director of Damage Control, Albert Cleary an account manager, Lenny Ballinger the head foreman, and John Porter the hotshot new inspector. And, Cleary reveals that there’s a slight issue with Doom’s account.
Yeah, it turns out that Doctor Doom does have an account with Damage Control, and seems to use it quite frequently, but he’s not exactly a good payer. Which, makes sense. Doom is not exactly the type of man who would find it within his responsibility to pay for things, expecting everything given to him. And, as Luke Cage can attest to, he’s more than willing to screw over random people he owes money to. So, Damage Control is kind of at an impasse here. Doom wants to use their services, but he’s a deadbeat. Which means one thing. They’re going to have to go send someone to shake down Doctor Doom. And, Albert Cleary decides that he’s the man to do this.
And, I’m sure that that sentiment seems a little odd. I mean, who in their right mind would purposefully go irritate Doctor Doom? Well, it turns out that Albert Cleary has no idea who Doctor Doom is. And, before he sends himself out to certain death, John Porter decides to educate him a bit. Which means they’re going to pop in a VHS recording of an old This Week with David Brinkley episode that’s about Doom. And, while learning about his various criminal exploits, the Damage Control crew decide they can’t let Albert go alone, and that the only way to decide who is going to go provide backup for him is by he age-old method of pulling straws.
So, newbie John Porter has drawn the short straw, and is going to have to accompany Albert Cleary to get their owed money from Doctor Doom. Which, doesn’t seem like a good way to survive his first week. But, luckily for John, the Damage Control intern, Bart Rozum, really wants to accompany Cleary to get some on the job experience, and his exuberance is enough to convince Cleary to bring him along. Which is music to John’s ears. Cleary and Bart then hop in to a cab and head over to the Latverian embassy, while Bart does his best to get it into Cleary’s apparently thick skull that Doom isn’t just some random guy they can push around, and that this may be a rather difficult account visit.
And, while all of this is going on, there’s some continuing drama happening at the same time back in Damage Control headquarters. Because they’re recieved a surprise visitor in the form of Benjamin J Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. Except, this story took place at a strange time in the Fantastic Four’s history when the Four were quite a different assortment of characters, and the Thing had grown into an even more unpleasant looking monster after a second-dose of cosmic radiation. And he has arrived at Damage Control in order to get them to to help with some complicated insurance issue where another company is refusing to cover the Baxter Building because they aren’t currently the exact Fantastic Four team that they were covering. Why this is John Porter’s problem, I’m not sure, but together they’re able to convince the insurance company to see things in Ben’s point of view, earning Porter a friend.
Meanwhile, Cleary and Bart have arrived at the Latverian embassy, after Bart was unsuccessful in convincing Cleary that this is going to be a pretty major experience. So, Cleary struts right into the embassy, telling Bart not to speak unless spoken to. And, once they get inside Cleary starts demanding to speak to someone with authority, and is passed along to Count Gunter Flounder, some lesser governmental figure of Latveria who has been tasked with getting rid of Cleary. And, he does this by informing Cleary that they’ve been unsatisfied with their service from Damage Control, and will be suspending their account.
Which, isn’t exactly an overly legitimate way to handle an outstanding bill, but whatever. Cleary points out that they would be more than happy to cancel Doom’s policy, just so long as they pay the remaining balance. Unfortunately, Flounder tells him that they have to intention of doing this, and there’s not much Damage Control can do about that, unless they feel like suing a sovereign government. Cleary is pretty irritated by this outright hostility, and start threatening to go over Flounder’s head. Which, turns out is going to be easier than Cleary might have thought, because this ruckus has drawn the attention of the big man himself, who unbeknownst to Flounder, is actually in the building.
Doom has apparently been lurking around the Latverian embassy without letting anyone know he was even in the country, and when he heard the sound of Cleary and Flounder’s fighting he decided to come make a dramatic entrance and demand to know what’s going on. Flounder does his best to speak over Cleary, cutting the meeting short, but Doom decides to rely on a slight bit of decorum, and lets Cleary speak his mind. Which is when Cleary pulls out a serious flex, and tells Doom that Flounder has been embezzling money from him that has been earmarked for Damage Control payments, while also letting him know that there’s a building in the city that belongs to him that is about to collapse unless they do something about it, which Flounder has also not brought up to Doom.
Bart is pretty terrified by Cleary’s confidence, and becomes worried that they’ve made a tactical mistake, but it ends up paying off. Because Doom seems like the cut of Cleary’s jib, and takes his statements as truth, which as far as we know, they are. Which means that Flounder is in some serious trouble. Now, you’d expect something really terrible to happen to the man at this point, going by Doom’s history, but instead he just fires the guy, which seems a little anticlimactic. But, with Flounder taken care of, Doom brings his attention to Cleary, and makes a rather ominous statement.
But, before we see what exactly Doom means by this, we whip back to the offices of Damage Control where Ben Grimm is still hanging out, being charming as hell. He’s just standing around, telling jokes and making the whole office love him, when one of the Damage Control staff members wonders out-loud what’s taking Cleary and Bart so long, hoping that nothing happened with Doom. And, when he hears that word, Ben gets pretty curious, and asks what’s going on. They then tell Ben what’s been going on, and he instantly jumps to the worst possible conclusion. He tells the folks that Doom is no one to take lightly, breaks a hole in the wall of the building and shoots up a flare, summing the new Fantastic Four, which is comprised of himself, the Human Torch, Crystal the Inhuman, and Sharon Ventura.
The new Fantastic Four rapidly assemble, and hop in their Fantasticar, ready to get to the Latverian embassy and save the Damage Control employees who are almost certainly being tortured or something. They land at the embassy, and prepare to storm the building when something unexpected happens. It turns out that Doctor Doom is a man of his word. He happily pays his debt to Damage Control, even going through with any sort of weird paperwork and bureaucracy that they demand. And, by the end of the interaction he even become so impressed with Cleary that he offers him a job in the Latverian government, which Cleary politely refuses. They then leave the embassy right as the Fantastic Four arrive, and let them know that there’s nothing to be concerned about. The bill is paid, they’re able to start work fixing Doom’s secret laboratory, and all is well in the world.
This story is an absolute delight. Just like every other issue of Damage Control. If you’ve never read these series, I highly recommend checking them out. I’m always a sucker for stories set in the Marvel Universe that largely try to replicate what it would be like to live in that world as a relatively normal person, and Damage Control is one of the funnier and more successful attempt to do that. It’s a brilliant idea, and was able to jump all around the Marvel Universe, because damn near every character could have a reason or two to need Damage Control’s services, even the monarch of a sovereign nation, apparently. And, what makes this story so special to me is the fact that it basically functions exactly like you’d expect a Doctor Doom story to function. Most of the Doctor Doom stories I talk about on this site feature Doom meeting some character who isn’t a member of the Fantastic Four, fighting with them, and then coming to an amiable conclusion by the end where Doom admits that they aren’t half bad. And, that’s essentially what we get here. Doom gets drawn in to the lives of the Damage Control staff, he initially puts up a front, and then grows to respect them in a way, all while actually paying his debts. It’s actually kind of similar to that Luke Cage story, with Doom screwing someone over and then doing the right thing because at the end of the day he’s a weirdly honorable person. If only this story didn’t feature that truly terrible design for the Thing, it would be virtually perfect.
Damage Control #2 “In It Up To Arrears” was written by Dwayne McDuffie, penciled by Ernie Colon, inked by Bob Wiacek, colored by John Wellington, lettered by Rick Parker, and edited by Sid Jacobson, 1989.
Categories: Marvel Madness