REVIEW: Dan the Unharmable

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There are comics that I can’t wait to read every month, and I become a moppy-pathetic mess when one of those books gets cancelled for whatever reason. May’s book was: Dan the Unharmable. I should have wrote this review a year ago, but here goes nothing. This is a complete semi-spoiler free review of the entire 12 issue run of Dan the Unharmable created by David Lapham and Rafael Ortiz, published by Avatar Press.

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The series starts off  starring a homeless private eye with a big 80s porn ‘stache that can’t be killed. You can shoot him, stab him, burn him alive, but he keeps coming back like the Terminator. Dan is a lone wolf who doesn’t need or want much but always has The Melvins blasting in his headphones powered by his CD player. (You can see the  glaring reference between Dan and Melvins lead singer Buzz Osborne.) The immortality power reminds me of John Layman’s Chew because Dan only posses one power and is otherwise a relatable character. Dan’s biggest weakness is his naivety and the four children he adopts after his 17-year-old daughter Lizzy finds him; she’s looking for protection from the psychotic cult  that killed their mother, OnesLouie. Dan doesn’t remember his past with Lizzy’s mother or ever having children.
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Throughout the story Lizzy and the reader investigate who her mother is. Lapham and Ortiz force feed you the information in the most enjoyable ways possible. My favorite scene has to be when Dan and his illegitimate step-son are probing a guy for information in the middle of a standoff with the police, sitting in a car that was turned into swiss cheese by the very officers. You’re always getting a wealth of information in the most high intensity situations without  boring talking heads. Ortiz provides all the artwork for twelve issues, and it’s breathtaking. He can draw the most sincere scenes with Dan and his children, or people getting their bodies split in half and graphic sex scenes. Ortiz nailed the covers and gives you a good taste to spirit of the book each month.

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Maybe that’s why the book couldn’t find that larger audience. It was the creator’s mission month after month to make you feel uncomfortable, yet intrigued, but disgusted for reading. There are a lot of very sexual/mature situations with (underage) Liz getting raped and having to remove her clothing while admitting she is a whore to get information about her parents. I can’t say it’s an over kill but it gets old real fast. That’s the kind of things you sign up for when buying an Avatar book.

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(Spoiler Alert) In the final pages the police bust in and arrest Dan as he recollects everything. While he’s getting hauled to the squad car there is a masked freak watching everything he set up from the beginning unfold in front of him, and curtain call. Dan goes to jail leaving the children behind with memories to haunt him. The book is cancelled with this ENORMOUS cliffhanger leaving the reader begging for more.

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Lapham is the king of crime comics, no contest. Dan the Unharmable is a classic noir with a demented twist that you can’t put down from page one, panel one. The book is a hard sell and but you will become obsessed once you read the humor, action, and in depth story linking Dan and mysterious past. The entire series is available for less then $30 at Amazon or ask your comic retailer to order you a volume one and two. It pains me to see such a fine book like this suffer the all too familiar “poor monthly sales” excuse. I commend Avatar Press for publishing this book, but bring it back (damn it). You’re right, Jim. There are some things worth fighting for and this book deserves another shot.

Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies.  He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat.  You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas.

Comments

  1. Carter says:

    “I should have wrote this review a year ago”. Yeah, you should have. ;) This was one of my favorites. I would like to point out that Dan wasn’t naive but simply cared about nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had the theory that his extreme detachment from those around him was related to his physical immutability. His back-story seems to support this.

    It always saddens me to see a Lapham-created book get cancelled.

  2. @Carter – I agree with you and thanks for commenting. You nailed another part of that character I wish I covered. I was thinking he had to be a little naive to just go along with the whole thing.

  3. Francis says:

    I enjoyed the first 6 issues of the run, but the last 6 lost their focus. Because I buy so little monthly comics nowadays I can read it when an issue is first published then go back and read the entire arc at a later date. I really think this book would have worked better as a bunch of mini-series. Here a new case for Dan. Here’s another case for Dan. The last 6 issues faltered because it switched focus from Dan to Lizzy. It seemed like Lapham didn’t know what to do with Dan so he sat him down on Venice Beach or screwing. The story had to come to him. Then again, maybe that was the series Achillies Heel — a lead who didn’t want anything but to be left alone.

    Off the top of my head that could work. The Dude wanted to just bowel, but when they pissed on his carpet he had to break into action. But then what did the Dude do in the sequel? Lapham had to answer that. The Coens didn’t.

    I liked the series, but it really didn’t know what to do with itself toward the end. Also, how about some editorial final words there Avatar? You couldn’t even make the effort say some final words as a sign off.

  4. @Francis – Jim Kuhoric posted on the Avatar website, and that’s how I found out it was cancelled: http://www.avatarpress.com/2013/04/new-this-week-dan-the-unharmable-12/

    I think it really picked up in those final pages and deserves another shot. Even if it’s just a digital title.

  5. filippod says:

    Avatar has some of my favorite writers but I find their brand of gore off-putting. I tried, but I can’t get myself to enjoy any of their books. I stuck with Ferals and tried Dan out of my appreciation for Lapham, but I realized I wasn’t enjoying them and I eventually dropped them.

  6. Francis says:

    @ Henry. I saw that too but it was a coincidence. This was the first Avatar title I bought, and I just felt that the publisher’s interaction via the books was cold. I just didn’t like the aesthetics of their comics regarding the pages surrounding the story itself.

  7. julieta says:

    I love Dan!

  8. Dmike says:

    Ferals/Crossed from Lapham is pretty insane stuff. Blood n’ guts – but is quite the view

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