Doom Patrol is my favourite team in comics.
That’s a pretty bold statement from where I’m sitting. There’s a whole world of Avengers, X-Men, Justice Leaguers and the like, but the funny little team that could holds a special place in my collection. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my first Doom Patrol book came straight from the quarter bin, quite early in my collecting days.
Tenth grade summer was a special time for me. I had been purchasing regular monthly comics (really only Exiles and the occasional mini) for a few years. Two things changed my reading habits forever—the video game Freedom Force, and the Earth/Universe/Paradise X series by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross. That’s a story for another time, but I’ll tell you this—both of those things gave me a thirst for something new. Suddenly, I had to explore every corner of every comic universe. I needed to know every character—especially the obscure ones. I had to be familiar with every team, major storyline and era. I was also broke.
And so my love for the bargain bin began.
When I discovered my local shop’s quarter bin, I started by picking up some random Doug Moench Spectre issues. I grabbed The Power Company, Ragman and every issue of Alpha Flight I could find. I’d raid couches for nickels, search streets for dimes and should I somehow come across a quarter it was off to the shop—right away. Each book I picked up only made my interest grow. Eventually, I came across John Arcudi and Tan Eng Huat’s Doom Patrol #4. I figured I should at least be acquainted with the team.
My love for Doom Patrol began.
I was floored by Huat’s art and the writing got me incredibly curious about this strange team. I dug deeper, pulled out more Arcudi-era issues and ripped through them, still craving more. The Doom Patrol issues from the 80s (by Paul Kupperberg) weren’t hard to find. Kupperberg’s vision for the team was somewhat standard super-heroics, but I continued to eat it up. I eventually found my way to John Byrne’s re-launch (which I quickly dismissed) and a few old Arnold Drake stories (which I managed to get through). Not every version was a hit, but I still hadn’t had enough. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a few Grant Morrison issues and that sealed the deal. I had to have them all.
Grant Morrison was suddenly the coolest writer in comics.
For those uninformed, who is Doom Patrol? Some say they’re DC’s answer to the X-Men; others say they’re a rip-off of Fantastic Four. Arguments can be made every which way, but to me they’re one-of-a-kind. The original team was created in the 60s by Arnold Drake and artist Bruno Premiani (and sometimes credited to writer Bob Haney as well) and consisted of Robotman, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man and the Chief, Niles Caulder. They got into wacky adventures, often facing bizarre enemies such as the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and Monsieur Mallah, a French anthropomorphic gorilla that fell in love with a brain in a jar. Drake ended the run by killing off the entire team.
The series was revived in the 70s to feature a revamped Robotman, new leader Celsius (who claimed to be Caulder’s wife), a Negative Woman and Tempest, a guy who shot stuff from his hands. This revival eventually led to a regular series in the 80s with much the same cast, as well as a few new characters. Erik Larsen started drawing the team, there was a Suicide Squad crossover and things were neat. And then …
Doom Patrol Vol.2 #26
Written by Grant Morrison, Pencilled by Richard Case, Inked by John Nyberg, Coloured by Daniel Vozzo
Grant Morrison began his run on Doom Patrol with issue 19. To say he shook the status quo would be a major understatement. I don’t expect many regular readers at the time knew what they were in for (having been acclimatized to Kupperberg’s X-Men-like run), but boy were they in for a treat. Morrison infused the series with near-inaccessible bizarreness that is rarely seen from the Big 2 (if ever).
To pave the way for Morrison, Kupperberg decided to pull a Doom Patrol classic maneuver and wipe out whatever characters weren’t welcome in the title’s future. This gave Morrison some room to add some new members—Dorothy Spinner and Crazy Jane. Although he had a handle on each character, Morrison would pay particular attention to these two. Dorothy was technically created by Kupperberg, but didn’t flourish until Morrison took her under his wing. She was a young girl with the power to bring her imaginary friends to life, affection for Robotman (who started going by his real name, Cliff Steele) and a rather unattractive appearance. Crazy Jane, who became romantically linked with Cliff, was able to manifest different personalities (a LOT of different personalities), each with their own super-power. The team quickly reverted from super-heroes into the form they suited best—freaks who needed each other.
There’s a lot to be said about Morrison’s run—more than I care to mention. His run deserves essays, inspection, evaluation and adoration. Allow me to skip the analysis and fill you in on this bargain-bin gem.
Issue 26 barely features the Doom Patrol. Instead, we get a spotlight on my favourite Morrison creation, The Brotherhood of Dada. The issue opens by introducing us to Japan’s favourite televised super-hero, Sunburst, and his recent capture—a Japanese woman who has every super-power you haven’t thought of.
Said Japanese woman gets abducted by the Brotherhood and we’re introduced to the remaining members of the team. Here we meet a woman who is super-strong when she sleepwalks, a guy made of fog (who has another voice constantly yelling at him), another guy with bicycle wheels on his back and the team leader, Mr. Nobody. A large chunk of the story is dedicated to the origin of Mr. Nobody, and it gives great insight into where Morrison was taking the series. It’s post-modern weirdness, steeped in respect for Doom Patrol continuity. It’s just plain cool.
Penciller Richard Case is the underappreciated second fiddle to Morrison’s run. We&
rsquo;ll forever remember the superstar Scottish writer, but it’s a shame Case has gone so unnoticed. His work on Doom Patrol couldn’t be more fitting. His style is on the blocky side, but it’s his down-to-earth approach that kept the book from becoming a swirling mess of insanity. You can always tell what is happening in a Richard Case panel. It’s not your average superhero art, it’s not a total Brendan McCarthy mind-blast, it’s just right. Also, I can’t credit Case with certainty (it could have been Morrison, the letterer, the inker) but there’s quite a few in-jokes floating around this issue that make this all the more enjoyable.
After Morrison was done blowing minds he handed writing chores off to Rachel Pollack, switching over to the Vertigo imprint. Her run was neat, seemingly trying to match Morrison’s insanity with Case (and later Ted McKeever). I hate to say it, but my favourite part of her run was the handful of Kyle Baker covers we got. Kyle Baker drawing the Doom Patrol … it was simply flirting with a dream.
Doom Patrol Vol.3 #7
Written by John Arcudi, Art by Tan Eng Huat, Coloured by Dave Stewart
Years after Morrison and Pollack’s runs, writer John Arcudi and artist Tan Eng Huat were charged with re-launching Doom Patrol. At first it seemed as though we were getting a clean slate with all new characters Fever, Kid Slick, Fast Forward (also known as Mr. Negative) and Freak. Robotman was back, but seemed to be the only holdover from previous incarnations. Still, this was a team of freaks and with Robotman to guide them, it felt sort of like New Mutants Doom Patrol.
Arcudi is a great writer though, and he had a few tricks up his sleeve. What at first seemed like a total reboot was eventually explained with the inclusion of Dorothy Spinner. Mention of stories from Pollack’s run cemented this volume clearly within the Doom Patrol canon, without relying heavily on the past. Arcudi’s new characters became rich, deep and heavily explored while maintaining light comic touches. From the creator of The Mask we should expect no less. Arcudi knows how to write a funny book that doesn’t rely on the comedy to sell. His Doom Patrol run tackled heroics and the “young mutant freak” experience with a deft hand.
Tan Eng Huat is an artist we see work from every now and again (most recently working on the X-Men Legacy re-launch), but his work in Doom Patrol is easily my favourite. We often see artists start out with a style quite similar to the popular trend and veer off into their own–Bill Sienkiewicz or Keith Giffen, for example. It’s a real shame when we see original talents such as Huat burst onto the scene and water-down as they develop. Every few panels we’re reminded of the creative energy behind the book, but I’ve found Huat’s output after Doom Patrol lost its enthusiasm. I still enjoy his work, but boy did he set the bar high. Of course, that’s my taste; some of you might find his work these days infinitely more accessible (his noses seem to make more sense now). I still get giddy when I see a panel of his signature graffiti-style “energy letters”.
Issue 7 covers some of the basics of the run while giving us great insight into the new characters on the team. Beast Boy is here and we’re all reminded that he’s an integral part of Doom Patrol mythos (being the son of Elasti-Girl and occasional 1960s character Mento) while he helps the team search for the lost head of Cliff Steele. We get a small scene with Thayer Jost, the millionaire who purchased the Doom Patrol, a preview of the next upcoming villain and the introduction of one of my favourite characters from this volume, Zviad Kolodenko—the Georgian robotics whiz. This is just a taste of the series; after you see Arcudi’s brilliant handling of the characters and Huat’s gorgeously crisp art, you’ll want more.
After this run came to an all-too-soon close, DC tasked John Byrne with re-launching Doom Patrol. He basically decided to do away with continuity and originality. The team consisted of Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, the Chief and some new Byrne creations. They went on adventures and were generally pretty boring. This run should be avoided. Even as a hardcore Doom Patrol enthusiast, I can’t bring myself to complete this run. It took Superboy Prime punching the walls of reality to fix it.
Then Geoff Johns came along and wrote some great issues of Teen Titans featuring the Doom Patrol. We got some keen insight into Beast Boy’s role on the team and were treated to the first proper characterization of the team since Arcudi finished. These issues are well worth tracking down as they are the perfect primer for …
Doom Patrol Vol.5 #6
Written by Keith Giffen, Pencilled by Matthew Clark, Inked by Livesay, Coloured by Guy Major
In 2009 it was announced that Keith Giffen would be re-launching Doom Patrol. I nearly cried. I’m a huge fan of Giffen’s writing and art, and couldn’t imagine anyone better to restart my favourite team. Artist Matthew Clark came aboard and though I was unfamiliar with his work beforehand, I found him worthy. It seemed like DC was reading my mind. It seemed too good to be true.
Giffen proved to be the perfect writer for the re-launch. He took everything I loved about what had come before (the weirdness, the great characters) and infused Doom Patrol history with a little bit of Giffen history. Ambush Bug found his way into the series, Oberon made an appearance and Giffen even drew an issue. His book focused on the core team—Robotman, Elasti-Woman (she was a grown woman after all), Negative Man and the Chief. He also incorporated the recent additions Johns had made and added a few of his own. The villains were a mix of old and new as well, with Giffen going the distance and creating new threats at a time when DC seemed to be creatively stagnant.
Every panel seemed to respect the continuity of Doom Patrol, and as a fan, I loved that. This issue is the most evident example of that respect as it’s a retelling of the entire history of the team. No easy feat, but Giffen pulls it off. The entire book is narrated by Negative Man, who under Giffen’s pen is hilarious (perhaps driven insane by the very history he’s retelling). Yes, Giffen retells the entire Doom Patrol story in a single issue—skimming but staying true. The history may be dizzying but it legitimizes everything that came before it and enriches anything that’s to come after it. (Thanks The New 52 for blowing that.)
Clark does a decent job handling the art giving each era its own vibe. At times I feel as though there’s a touch too much computer manipulation with a single drawing being altered for use in multiple panels, but it isn’t too much of a put-off. For an issue teeming with exposition, Clark keeps it dynamic.
The icing on the cake comes at the end of the book. This was during DC’s flirtation with “second features” and Doom Patrol was lucky enough to get Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire’s rendition of Metal Men. That trio of creators is one of my favourites in comics and this extra little treat is a great addition to a great book.
Not just a great book actually, I’m feeling bold and I’ve half a mind to admit it. Giffen’s Doom Patrol could be my favourite DC book of the last 10 years. And you know what? You can find it in the bargain bin. If you love Doom Patrol in any of its incarnations, you owe it to yourself to read this loving swan song.