This is the type of issue that happens every so often in the Doom Patrol cycle, a re-evaluation of the status quo of stalwart mainstay Cliff Steele. Usually it happens after his robot body has been destroyed yet again, and it’s necessary to reboot, reload, revive or download his consciousness into yet another of its ever-changing robotic host bodies. Morrison did it at least twice, Rachel Pollack did it, and it’s implied this issue that Cliff has been pretty much body-independent ever since the explosion that seemed to wipe the team out so many many years ago.
This time it’s not Cliff’s body or even his mind that have been destroyed, though. It’s more like his confidence. With their ignominious dismissal and replacement from Oolong Island, with their allies in the DCU viewing them as reckless terrorists, with the Chief inactive and “on ice” in a storage tank after losing his marbles, this band of outsiders have never felt more like the misfits and losers people keep telling them they are. Cliff has come up with one remaining friend, a Vegas entertainer named Super-Hip, and even he thinks their best bet is an alliance with their mortal enemy General Immortus. Is it really so bad as all that? Is it the worse it’s ever been?
Cliff reflects on that question in this issue, affording Randall and Clark the opportunity to look back through several eras of DP history. If there’s one fault that can be aimed at Keith Giffen in the failure of this book to catch on, it isn’t a lack of knowledge of the property in question. The artists nail these splash pages through the past, giving us wonderful pastiches of the Drake/Premiani era, the Kupperberg/Staton revival (folding in the Morrison/Case epic to one tiny panel, okay, maybe that oversight is one of Giffen’s mistakes), and the Arcudi/Huat/Fisher era. The Pollack era is pretty much skipped, and not privileging the Morrison weirdness is probably a conscious but maybe short-sighted choice. The Byrne era gets its due, though, and in each one of these glosses the artists depict the robot body that matches up, capturing the styles of all the originals. It’s fun.
In fact, it’s pretty much what Giffen and Levitz did with the Legion of Super-Heroes all those years ago, mixing and matching the best of every era, forging a new synthesis that revitalized the characters for the pre-Crisis DCU. And it was another crisis that brought this bunch back, even though, as Cliff admits, none of them are really exactly who they used to be.
You’d think the Doom Patrol would work fine in a darker, more realistic era, and that Giffen would be able to keep updating a 50-year old property for a modern audience. Well, aesthetically, he has, as I declare this run the best since Morrison’s, and the run most steeped in the DCU proper. Cliff decides, as he always does, to regroup the team and retake the island. Even as he admits his own complicity in the Chief’s manipulations over nearly every iteration of forming and reforming the team, it’s still a cause he believes in and a way to use what’s left of his life. It’s all he knows how to do, and that makes him the codependent heart of one of the DCU’s most intriguing band of weirdoes.