Monday, November 9, 2009

The Return of the Doom Patrol


The original Doom Patrol were unusual, to say the least, especially for DC Comics in the early 60's.  Whereas heroes like Superman, Flash, and even Batman were beloved by the public and accepted by the constabulary, not to mention mentally and emotionally well adjusted, the DP were a band of embittered outcasts, freakish in appearance, looked on with mistrust by the world, and none too bloody happy about it.  They might have fit in better over in the Marvel universe, and much has been made of the similarities between the Patrol and Marvel's original X-Men, who debuted about the same time. Both are teams of outcasts led by a guy in a wheelchair, however, at least at first, I think the concept was presented better in Doom Patrol.  After all, the five founding X-Men, even the Beast, all looked pretty normal in the early days.  If you saw one of them on the street, you wouldn't be able to spot him (or her, in the case of Marvel Girl) as a mutant.  However, except for Rita Farr, who looked fairly normal, even pretty, if you saw one of the Doom Patrol, you'd know it.  A metal man and a radioactive guy wrapped in bandages don't quite blend in with the crowd.  And despite the lip service paid to their being "feared and hated by those they've sworn to protect", the early X-Men really didn't seem all that upset with their lot in life, whereas the DP where rather vocally bitter about their fates.   These guys didn't really want to be heroes, but, hey, what the hell else were they going to do?

The Patrol's enemies were just as weird as they were.  The DP's Rogues Gallery included a disembodied brain, a talking French gorilla, and the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, who could change his form into almost anything. 

Unfortunately, that weirdness and freakishness was lost when writer Paul Kupperberg created a new Doom Patrol some nine years after the original team sacrificed their lives in the final issue of their series.  The new Patrol, especially the members added once they gained their own series in 1986, were all normal looking, even good looking, and their opponents were fairly standard issue super-villains. 
Then, with the nineteenth issue, the series was handed to up and coming Scottish superstar writer Grant Morrison,  who took the team back to its roots, and made them weird again.  I plan on writing a loving tribute to Morrison's DP at some future date, so I'll save my ravings for that.
Subsequent writers of the DP have failed in capturing the spirit of both the original team and/or Morrison's version.
Until now.

In the new Doom Patrol, the fourth issue of which came out last week, writer Keith Giffen takes an approach to the team that, while it differs greatly from Morrison's, is also, in its way, very "back to basics".  For starters, this is the original team, miraculously risen from the dead.  Actually, the previous DP series, by John Byrne, introduced the original team as if they were brand new characters, but during the Infinite Crisis crossover mini-series, their past continuity was restored.  (I can't explain it, don't ask me.) Byrne added some new characters to the group, but Giffen starts off by killing them off, dismissing Byrne's ill conceived series and leaving us with the original line-up of Cliff Steele (Robotman), Larry Trainor (Negative Man), and Rita Farr (Elasti-Girl), who are once again a trio of embittered outcasts, unhappy with their fate and only reluctantly playing the role of "hero" at the direction of an aloof manipulative Chief.
The opponents they've faced so far have also been very much in the spirit of the original series, though nowhere near as surreal as those they encountered during the Morrison days.  The first story line pitted the group against a sentient "black hole" which could possess people, which manifested itself by their faces being replaced with by a black hole. In the latest issue, which ties in with the latest megacrossoverwhothehellcaresbigevent,  The Blackest Night, they face the re-animated corpses of dead former members. (A full review of issue four is planned.)

To my mind, the only way this series could be better is if Keith Giffen were drawing it as well.  There's a sequence in issue two where the "black hole" takes over a scientist and I thought as I read it how much cooler that scene would have looked drawn by Giffen.  Oh well, we can't have everything, and Keith is a busy man. Still, regular penciler Matthew Clark and issue four's guest penciler Justiniano, abetted by inker Livesay, have done a fine job so far.
As an added bonus, you also get a back up series featuring the Metal Men for your four bucks.  However, I've gone on enough for this one post, and that series really deserves its own review, so  I'll get back to it later.

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