Friday, October 8, 2010

Credit Where Its Due: Paul Kupperberg's DOOM PATROL

Yesterday I referred to Paul Kupperberg's run on Doom Patrol as the most reviled incarnation of the team ever, and that is certainly true.   Though somewhere the editors found enough people who actually seemed to be enjoying the series at the time to fill the letters columns with missives of praise, almost no one that I've ever  actually talked to has anything good to say about it.  But does it really deserve its reputation?  There certainly have been other versions of the series that were pretty bad, so is Kupperberg's really the worst? 
No matter how bad Kupperberg's issues were, at least they made sense.  Rachel Pollack's run on the book, which immediately followed Grant Morrison's, was, for the most part, an utterly indecipherable, completely nonsensical mess.  It was as if she were attempting to duplicate what Grant had done on the book without really understanding just what that was.   Despite all the weirdness Morrison piled on, underneath it all there was an actual story.  Pollack's issues just seemed to be unrelenting strangeness for its own sake.  Yet Pollack's Doom Patrol was kind of entertainingly awful, and by the end of the series she was finally turning out stories that made a certain amount of sense, whereas the Kupperberg run at its nadir was simply excruciating.
I'll admit before I go any further that I've only read the first issues of the John Arcudi and John Byrne versions of the title, thus my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. 
Arcudi seemed to have no idea what Doom Patrol is supposed to be about, teaming Cliff Steele with a decidedly non-freakish looking group of new characters on a corporate sponsored team that smelled to me suspiciously like Kupperberg redux.
The general lameness of John Byrne's Doom Patrol #1 was amplified by his crimes against continuity.  For reasons that he attempts but fails to adequately explain on the issue's text page, Byrne chose to throw out the team's whole history to that point and present the original team as if they were new characters appearing for the first time in 2004. 
Neither of these is as bad as the last few pre-Morrison issues of Doom Patrol volume 2, but to be fair, Kupperberg's run didn't start out nearly as bad as it eventually became.  I suppose its possible that the already bad Arcudi and Byrne runs went on to get even worse.  Honestly, I really don't feel like finding out.
Therefore, based on  the evidence before me, I have to conclude that the answer to the questions posed above is a resounding yes.  Paul Kupperberg's Doom Patrol truly does deserve its reputation as the worst version of the title ever.
Still, you have to give Kupperberg some credit, if only for one thing.  It was he who revived the team in the late 70's and who kept them in front of readers eyes over the ensuing nine years by having them show up as guest stars in whatever title he happened to be writing at the time, from Supergirl to DC Comics Presents. (Although the Superman/Doom Patrol story in DCCP #52 is far more notable for being the first appearance of Ambush Bug.)  
Kupperberg rescued the team from limbo, and seems to have had a real affection for the characters, despite his inability to write decent stories about them.  Without him, there wouldn't even have been a Doom Patrol series for Grant Morrison to take over and make into one of the best comics of the late 80's and early 90's.  Nor would I be enjoying the current Doom Patrol series as much as I am, because there probably wouldn't be one.
So, bad as his Doom Patrol issues were, Paul Kupperberg still deserves the gratitude of Doom Patrol fans everywhere, if only for making it possible for talents like Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen to destroy and ignore all that he did to tell some great stories of their own with the characters.

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