These days, picking up an issue of an ongoing comics series that you don't regularly read can be a daunting experience. With so many writers either writing their stories with the collected edition in mind, or for an audience of aging fanboys who've memorized every comic ever published since Siegel met Schuster, or both, reading a single issue is akin to walking in in the middle of a foreign film with no subtitles. Writers today have simply forgotten, or perhaps never learned, how to write an accessible single issue. Throw in the complication of an endless stream of universe changing company wide multi-title crossovers intruding on the book's storyline, and new readers become hopelessly confused. Thus, one of the things that really impressed me about Doom Patrol #4 is that the story could be understood by almost anyone, even if they'd never read a Doom Patrol story before or aren't reading The Blackest Night, DC's latest mega-crossover.
A good crossover, to my way of thinking is one where you can read the core mini-series without buying any of the crossover titles and still get a complete story. Too many of these minis are just collections of beginnings of scenes followed by "Continued in..." Conversely, a good crossover issue is one that someone who isn't reading the core mini-series can understand and which doesn't interupt the flow of the book's storyline. John Ostrander is a master of this. In books such as Suicide Squad, Spectre and Hawkworld, he managed to seamlessly integrate the latest ill conceived crossover into the story he was telling. And Keith Giffen does a very good job himself in DP#4.
When I first heard about Blackest Night, which involves dead characters coming back as "Black Lanterns" with the aid of a black version of the Green Lantern ring, my first thought was "Is anybody in the DC Universe still dead?" After all, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman and a host of others have all beaten the Grim Reaper over the years. The current members of the Doom Patrol have all risen from the dead as well, some more than once. Still, there are quite enough former DP members who've remained dead to give the team a run for its money. And when you consider the array of offbeat menaces the Patrol has faced over the years, the walking dead sort of fit right in.
The issue begins with a brief history of the team seen from the perspective of the Chief's erstwhile wife, Arani Caulder, a.k.a. Celsius, founder of the second Doom Patrol, just before she is ressurected to stand beside the other charter members of the "New" Doom Patrol, Josh Clay (Tempest) and Valentina Vostok (Negative Woman). Next, the current team is seen returning home from their last mission, and the Chief recieves an e-mail message outlining for him, and the reader, all we really need to know about Blackest Night in order to enjoy the issue at hand. Then the fun begins in earnest, as the team is menaced individually by one of their deceased counterparts. Arani goes after the Chief, Tempest goes after Elasti-Girl, Negative Man faces off against Negative Woman, and Cliff meets....Well, that's the big surprise twist that ends the issue, so I'll save any discussion of that for when I write about issue five.
All in all, a solid issue of an entertaining series and a good place for new readers to start picking it up if they feel so inclined. As an added bonus, I got a cheap plastic trinket. As a promotional gimmick, DC is giving out various colored rings, representing the newly established rainbow of various Lantern corps, with the purchase of certain Blackest Night crossovers, and for plunking down my four bucks for Doom Patrol #4, I got me a yellow "Sinestro Corps" ring, which I'm wearing as I type this.