Sequels are where a franchise either redefines what made it special or risks becoming either stale or a victim of excess. In the case of a property as bizarre and violent as “Dan the Unharmable”, series creators David Lapham (“Stray Bullets”) and Rafael Ortiz have steered their property too far in the excessive direction. Collected by Avatar Press in a second volume in 2013, which covers the second half of what once was an ongoing series. The tale of the titular Dan as well as the strange surrogate family he’s become saddled with extends, but unfortunately becomes lost in a sea of reoccurring themes.
Having moved to Venice, Los Angeles after the conclusion of the previous volume, Dan starts things off close to where he was before. He still spends much of his time sleeping outdoors and he still engages in “missions” for locals on a whim. The only difference is he’s traded Central Park for Venice Beach, and instead of desperate college students as clients, he’s busy attending to the whims (and loins) of a multi millionaire housewife. Yet his life has never been the same ever since he met Lizzy, a girl on the run from a cult claiming to be his long lost daughter. Claiming to “not remember much before the year 2000”, including how he became invulnerable, it has been left ambiguous as to whether they are really kin or not. Having aided Lizzy in setting up an apartment for herself and her three younger siblings, he’s content to leave them all to their own devices. Unfortunately, trouble finds them once again as Lizzy stumbles into the perimeter of an even larger cult (“the Consortium”). She quickly becomes embroiled in the murder of a Hollywood producer as Dan finds himself chased by more hapless henchmen. In the end, both seem to be in the cross hairs of the legendary serial killer Fantomas, a figure who Dan has mentioned before in passing but who seems to hold a very real grudge against him.
To a degree this second volume is very much like the first, for better or worse. As usual, Dan’s one liners and absolute passiveness towards most of the situations he’s in lead to some of the series’ best scenes and moments. His bond with Lizzy’s sister Margaret is among the highlights of the entire run. And much like before, Ortiz’s artwork is on point, able to blend reality and the strange in creating a world and people who only seem to exist just to the left of the world outside. Where the volume crumbles is on dialing up many of the details of its predecessor beyond to where most readers’ taste will accept. These include severed penis, a henchman who gets progressively more mutilated as the story goes on, endless statements about Lizzy’s mother being a whore, and especially mentions or threats of rape to Lizzy herself. In an attempt to push the envelope, Lapham often shoves it completely to the floor in exploring how far he can go with some very disturbing details which seem to serve little purpose other than shock value to the story. Even fans of the first six issues may find the subsequent six to be a bridge too far in certain areas.
Fantomas is both an interesting as well as random villain to introduce as a mastermind in a series such as this. Created in 1911 by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, he represents a transition away from 19th century novel figures such as Sherlock Holmes and Arsene Lupin and closer towards the sorts of “slasher” villains who would become more common sixty years later. A masked sociopath and serial killer, he is hardly the sort of nemesis one would imagine for an unmovable slacker superhuman like Dan. His involvement with “the Consortium” is left ambiguous, and the finale of the is either a tragedy or a cliffhanger depending on one’s viewpoint.
In the end, “Dan the Unharmable” became a victim of its own excesses, much like its star himself. There is a lot to like with the “slacker bum superhuman” premise, and the series often has plenty of hilarious dialogue or darkly comedic moments. Fans of over the top violence bordering on perverse gore will be amused. Others may wonder if the series peaked with its first volume.