Starting out by cashing in on the “bad girl” craze of the mid 90’s, Avatar Press has since gone on to recreate itself as the home of edgy licensed properties as well as creator owned work by talents such as Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Christos Gage. One of the strangest of these creator owned series ran for twelve issues back in 2012-2013. Written by David Lapham (best known for “Stray Bullets”, “Warriors of Plasm”, “Terror, Inc.”, “Young Liars”, and the 90’s era “Harbinger”) and drawn by Rafael Ortiz (“Crossed”, “God is Dead”), this darkly humorous, violent, and very strange series is called “Dan the Unharmable” and stars a man who is exactly that. As described by the Avatar Press representative who sold this to me at last month’s New York Comic Con, it is akin to if “The Dude” from the film “The Big Lebowski” gained super powers. Avatar has collected the entire series in two trade paperback collections.
Going by only his first name and sporting a scruffy mustache and an wildly uncombed mane, Dan seems to be the ultimate superhuman slacker. Able to survive any and all physical harm, he seeks to spend much of his time sleeping in the park with his fellow homeless people zoning out to his favorite CD and fantasizing about women and seemingly imaginary battles against the legendary Fantomas. His lifestyle is so low key that he’s willing to perform “missions” for people (pretty women in particular) which include murdering gangsters for less than fifty dollars. However, his days of rambling to his best friend Tober (whether in person or on a rusted tape recorder) and sleeping in Central Park end when the teenage runaway Chandra Hickenlooper bumps into him. Claiming to be his daughter out of wedlock and on the run from weirdly deadly cultists, Chandra (who Dan soon renames “Lizzy”) leads Dan on a cross country adventure which involves well endowed assassins, cults centered around cheesy smiles, brutal murders, paternity, and more than one uncomfortable joke about rape or incest.
The story itself in this initial volume is very strange, mixing dark humor and strange satire (especially regarding Hollywood and law enforcement) with mysteries involving murder and identity. As the story progresses, readers learn more about Lizzy, her deceased mother Lillian, the deranged cult leader Louie Banks, her uncle “Humpy”, and naturally Dan himself. Many of the series’ best lines and moments come from Dan, whose absolute refusal to bare any responsibility or conform to any expectations make for some of the best bits. Fortunately, his powers allow him to almost sleepwalk through fights with gunmen, a SWAT take down, or battles against an entire cult. With a memory about as fuzzy as his morals, getting him to remember anything about his past is often a Herculean labor. Lizzy often does her best as straight woman, although her position as being a perennial victim (especially of sexual violence) verges on being exploitative and obscene. The series hardly pulls any punches in terms of nudity and violence, saving the most buckets of blood for the climax. Ortiz’s artwork is fantastic, giving the world a look which borders both reality and the absurd. His art becomes dazzling for action sequences, and his realistically designed characters gives some of the violence and sexual mischief which occur within more punch. How much one appreciates this series may depend on one’s appetite for some juvenile humor as well as ability to stomach plenty of gore and nudity in their comics.
This opening volume sets up a memorable and often hilarious lead hero who is within a world which is often strange, violent, and full of sexual misanthropes. In other worlds, only a few shades removed from reality. Those looking for an alternative to “comically immortal heroes” such as the leads in “Incredible Hercules”, “Archer & Armstrong” or even “Big Trouble in Little China” who have strong stomachs might be interested in giving this volume a look. It certainly is unlike almost anything else published out there, for better or worse.