Friday, June 3, 2016

Make Way For The Demolition Man!

If you took a bulked-up, super-strong ex-wrestler and gave him a costume to make him resemble an amalgam of Wolverine and the original Daredevil (albeit without the claws and the billy club), would he have a future in comic books? We'll try to find out in today's "I see it but I don't believe it" spotlight on a character who was introduced in a 1987 issue of Captain America--though it's never a good sign when even his premiere cover doesn't bother to take him seriously!

Writer Mark Gruenwald is an acquired taste in terms of looking at his run on books such as Captain America--heavy on development, yet providing some of the most plodding stories for an action-oriented hero like Cap that you may have ever read. It's unfortunately the type of environment in which our budding hero, Dennis Dunphy--the Demolition Man (or "D-Man" for short)--debuts. On the one hand, Gruenwald's dialog is fairly realistic as he takes us through his story, and it's hard to fault him for that--but there is no "spark" to be found in how his characters come across (particularly Cap), and, by extension, in how his stories read from beginning to end. As a result, if D-Man fails to make much of an impression on you, bear in mind that he might have if he weren't so weighed down by the exposition that Gruenwald employs in the dialog and thought balloons his characters are burdened with.

Cap meets Dunphy as he's following leads in seeking out a man known as the Power Broker, who's responsible for the appearance of a number of men and women whose level of strength has been augmented to an incredible degree. Many of them have found employment as wrestlers in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation based in Los Angeles--where Dunphy came to know Ben Grimm during the period when Grimm had left the Fantastic Four (a period expanded on in both The Thing and West Coast Avengers). Dunphy provides Cap with background info on the Broker's ties to the augments, which gives Cap cause to investigate a disreputable scientist named Malus. What Cap doesn't expect is that he now seems to have a new (if informal) partner tagging along on the case, someone who obviously has designs on using his mega-strength in another capacity than in the wrestling ring.

And so, with absolutely no fanfare, a new hero is born. Again, there's nothing particularly wrong with the way Gruenwald has handled these scenes; perhaps his method is meant to have the average person relate more to how another person might go about suiting up as a hero. Yet it does nothing to pick up the pace of the story, and certainly nothing to distinguish D-Man in the least.

There's also another plot thread that Gruenwald follows throughout this story--the fact that a recent encounter with another augment known as the Super-Patriot (John Walker, who would go on to replace Captain America and, later, become USAgent) has undermined Cap's self-confidence in his own abilities, and has him wondering if perhaps he should consider the Power Broker's treatment for himself. It's quite a jolt of news for the reader--yet Gruenwald conveys it so casually and matter-of-factly that we get little sense that it really concerns Cap to the degree that Gruenwald would have us believe.

Inside, Steve Rogers' ruse to enter the facility as a prospective subject for the augment treatment is uncovered. Eventually captured, he's taken for augment experimentation by Malus--but help is on the way.

D-Man cleans house with the other augments, and goes on to free Cap in the nick of time. With the facility compromised, the Power Broker escapes, though Malus is captured--and after questioning him, and giving the matter serious consideration, Cap decides against having the treatment performed on himself, though it's obvious he's not comfortable with the choice he's made.

Later, using Malus, Cap and D-Man pick up the trail of the Broker to his lab facility, where a swarm of augments arrives to intercept them. The two become separated, and D-Man goes down--as he must, since he brings no fighting style to the fight and he faces many foes whose strength matches his own.

D-Man is taken to face the Power Broker, who moves him to his private facility in order to experiment on him further. Elsewhere, Cap and Malus find their way underground and face the deformed and brain-damaged augments who didn't make it through Malus's experimentation. Fortunately, they escape with their lives with the intervention of the Night Shift, a macabre group of former criminals led by the Shroud who later join Cap in raiding the Power Broker's lair.

To make a long story short, Cap discovers that the Power Broker is none other than Curtiss Jackson, formerly of the west coast branch of the criminal organization known as the Corporation, whom Cap confronts and forces to lead him to D-Man--currently undergoing joint experimentation along with another augment who would soon be known as the new Ms. Marvel. Unfortunately, Jackson's sadistic treatment of D-Man has gone beyond the limits of his endurance, which Cap learns the hard way.

Gruenwald wraps up the story of the Power Broker in the following issue; but as for D-Man, Cap manages to stabilize him, but he's forced to rely on Malus to attempt de-augmentation treatment on him in order to reduce the risk of another heart attack. The treatment proves to be successful, bringing D-Man back to the level of augmentation he'd attained prior to Jackson's additional experimentation--yet the experience nevertheless appears to have compromised his heart to a certain degree.

Still, D-Man continues to suit up, particularly when Cap goes missing after turning in his stars and stripes following a government review of his modern-day role as America's symbol.

Once Cap is settled into his new role as "the Captain," D-Man joins him in a battle with the terrorist organization known as ULTIMATUM, only to apparently meet his end while trying to save an enemy's life.

It takes another fifty issues of Captain America before D-Man reappears, located by USAgent and the Falcon at an ULTIMATUM installation--and Cap (now back in his stars and stripes) is understandably elated to see him alive, though he finds that his friend has suffered significant brain trauma.

Things become somewhat settled with D-Man after his involvement with the Night People (a legacy from Jack Kirby's run on the book), as he seeks to help these people break free of the misguided leadership of a man who keeps Dunphy's strength in check by absorbing his strength. And in a final street confrontation, D-Man finds himself again, as well as a new purpose.

D-Man's history becomes sparse at this point, the character shuffled into this story or that in an effort to make use of him. Eventually, he was captured by Hydra, brainwashed into becoming the new Scourge, and sent forth to execute criminals in witness protection--finally meeting his end from the gun of Sharon Carter, who, as we've seen, knows her business when it comes to gunning down people.


Rip Jagger said...

Enjoyed D-Man immensely when he appeared. A dandy era for Cap. I did not know he'd been killed off. Sigh. But Cap's partners eventually all come back we now know.

Rip Off

Comicsfan said...

Rip, I honestly wouldn't put it past them to re-work the concept of D-Man as a feature film. Think of the marquee value a name like "Demolition Man" would have up in lights. It's a Vin Diesel role waiting to happen!

Captain Blog said...

He's back again and revealed to be gay in another of Marvel's shake ups of their universe.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.