Thursday, October 7, 2010

Comics Face Off: DOOM PATROL #15 vs. DOOM PATROL #15

A friend of mine has apparently been doing some belated spring cleaning recently, which led to his appearing at Crimson Cup coffee house for the weekly meeting of our cartoonists' group with a box full of old comics which he plunked down in the middle of the table, inviting all present to go ahead and help themselves to whichever ones they wanted.  Thus it was that, as a result of this act of generosity combined with my pre-meeting visit to the comics shop about halfway between my apartment and the coffee house, that I arrived back home that evening with two different Doom Patrol #15's in my backpack.  Therefore, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the two.
 The one I got at the comics shop is the latest entry in the currently ongoing Doom Patrol series by Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark, of which I have written previously.  The other is from the most reviled incarnation of the team, the mid-80's series by Paul Kupperberg with art, on the issue under consideration here, by Erik Larsen.  Let's take a look at that one first.
"Hail To The Chief!" is, by no means, the absolute worst DP story I've ever read--hell, if I just wanted to take an awful issue and just totally tear it apart, I'd write about #13--but it's most certainly not good.  The rap on Kupperberg's Doom Patrol these days is that it had devolved into a third rate X-Men rip-off, and on the evidence of the few issues I've actually read, that assessment is pretty much on the money. All the unique elements that had made the original comic a fan favorite had either been forgotten or jettisoned .  The book had become, quite frankly, exactly the sort of super-team title that Grant Morrison would go on to parody in the Doom Force special a few years later.
Issue #15 consists of a group of thoroughly unlikable characters fighting amongst themselves until reluctantly coming together to fight off yet another attack by old enemies the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and General Immortus.  This is also, by the way, basically the plot of #13, which points up yet another of this series problems. 
Perhaps the most outstanding thing about this issue is how ugly it is.  From the rather garish logo to Larsen's awful art, the entire production is, quite simply, an eyesore.
By this time, however, it appears that the writing was on the wall for this version of the Patrol, and with this issue Kupperberg begins the process of tearing down what he had built over the past year and change and setting things up for the beginning of Grant Morrison's run.  The story ends with the return of the presumed dead Niles Caulder, a.k.a. The Chief, and the ensuing final three issues of Kupperberg's run would introduce Dorothy Spinner, kill off Celsius and Scott Fischer, and leave Negative Woman powerless and Rhea Jones in a coma, leaving Morrison free to rebuild the team pretty much from scratch.
There are a few superficial similarities between the two Doom Patrol #15's.  They both center on the character of Niles Caulder, and much of each issue is taken up by a big fight.  Beyond that, however, there are a few huge differences.
The main one being that the new Doom Patrol #15 is good.  In fact, this issue and the previous one have been the best of the series so far.  Caulder has managed to give himself the powers of a Kryptonian, and, having been driven just slightly mad in the process, begins to  think of himself as something of a god and sets out to reshape the world in his own warped image, and guess who has to stop him.
While Giffen's best work has been done with a co-writer, most notably J.M. DeMatteis on Justice League/International/America, he proves here that he can craft a compelling story and witty dialogue all by his lonesome.  There are even a couple of laugh out loud funny moments with Ambush Bug, who has apparently joined the team and is funnier here than in his last mini-series.
As for the art, this Doom Patrol #15, pencilled by Matthew Clark and Ron Randall and inked by Clark and John Livesay, is far, far better looking than its predecessor.  There's not much I can say about the art in this series, except that it has consistently been quite good. I am, however, looking forward to next issue, which will be drawn by none other than Keith Giffen, while a guest writer handles the story chores.
So, what have we learned from this little exercise that we didn't already know? Not much, honestly.  We've simply confirmed our notions that the Paul Kupperberg Doom Patrol was pretty bad, and the current series is much better.
Still, writing this thing kept me busy for an hour.

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