Mainstream American — read: superhero — comics are a raging dumpster fire that occasionally vomits a chunk of gold from its trashy depths instead of the usual flaming debris of overpriced pamphlets too poorly written to entertain an average adult while trafficking in levels of sex and violence that make them unsuitable for children.
The readership for the figurative flaming piles of garbage exists in the ever-dwindling comics stalwart who rides through awful arcs of X-Men or Action Comics or Spawn because religiously buying a piece of garbage is easier than giving up on a thing that may have once been good, that may have once really mattered to them.
To be fair, one could safely describe most media similarly, but this is a comics site and comics is the dumpster fire we play in.
When is he going to start talking about Doom Patrol, goddammit? I need to know if this comic is worth my $4 and then whether or not I need to yell at his (locked) Twitter account for being wrong!
I hear you.
I get it.
This is a comics review and you want a comic reviewed.
It’s a fair expectation, but I’m not getting paid for this and am assuming the gracious editors at Comics Bulletin will allow me a meandering stroll to reach my point instead of demanding I give Doom Patrol #1 a number rating to be plastered at the top of this review, ensuring you don’t even make it to these words. My 10 ain’t your 10 and you don’t know me and I don’t know you so let’s leave a pretense of a rating metric behind, yeah? The editors get me, right?
They’re good people, those editors.
Doom Patrol is not the kind of comic readers subscribe to for years, riding out the bad arcs and refusing to break the chain they assembled with their first issue as a teenager — it gets canceled too often for that. Anyone who is a diehard fan of the societal misfits manipulated by Niles Caulder has their series on their shelves with half a dozen different trade dresses in a collection that’s as mismatched as the cast of any Doom Patrol book. Weirdness might sell as a gimmick, but a book needs staying power for the long term, and Doom Patrol‘s never going to have it. DC knows it; it’s why they took a chance on upstart Grant Morrison nearly 30 years ago. How badly could the young Scot fuck up the fuckups, especially with Richard Case on art duties?
Putting Gerard Way on Doom Patrol is a bit different; I wouldn’t call it taking a chance so much, but I don’t suspect DC viewed it as a Sure Thing, either. I’m saying we should be grateful Way didn’t have his sights set on Batman or this week could see the debut of another lackluster solo album instead of the first issue of a Doom Patrol era that will fit comfortably next to the Morrison/Case run.
Is it ridiculous to guess at a comic book’s staying power here, the day the first issue drops? Of course! But how else do we get a chance at that sweet sweet pull quote? Maybe they’ll even attribute it to me instead of just crediting “Comics Bulletin.” We were having a conversation earlier, weren’t we? About meandering until we get to the review, right?
You probably already have an idea of how you feel about Gerard Way, a feeling that has significantly influenced whether you read the beautifully strange Umbrella Academy, the embarrassingly awful Killjoys comic, or his scant other comics work. Positive or negative, I need you to set that feeling aside while I talk about the art of Nick Derington (with colors by Tamra Bonvillain) that pepper this review.
Derington has been making comics for a while now, but his work has managed to exist just on the periphery of what I’ve been reading. The only previous work of his I can even remember flipping through was A Scanner Darkly, and while I can certainly see the beginnings of his current style there, he seems to be in a different place as an artist now (and the coloring work of Bonvillain makes that even more apparent in Doom Patrol). In his introduction of new Doom Patroller Casey Brinke on the title page (above), he gives her a Kirby-like feel with a prominent nose, well-defined jaw, and Kamandi-esque moptop. It’s a pretty serious look for a pretty serious moment — propelling an ambulance through the city to a hospital before it’s too late for their passenger — but it only returns a few times throughout the issue. Derington lets Casey’s guard down throughout much of the rest of Doom Patrol, softening her face and stripping her emotions down to just a few lines in order to get across her joy, frustration, and confusion.
Derington’s art makes me believe Way when he writes that Casey only wants to do good things, and while we’re allowed comparably small glimpses into the lives of other characters (because we still serialize comics in 2016), the art gives them as much life and personality as is possible at this point. I see a special kind of sorrow on Casey’s EMT partner Samson when he talks about his weird son and the ways Casey reminds Samson of him. There’s an effervescence to Casey’s magical — or at least magician-clothed — new roommate, Terry None, that makes it easy to forgive her for exploding Casey’s previous roommate into a supernova of cake frosting, streamers, and balloons. The art of Doom Patrol is more than simple lines and classic cartooning, however. As Samson talks about how difficult it is to know what’s going on in the universe of another person, the story shifts focus to a conflict on the gyro he’s eating and Derington’s style changes, sliding the reader into the new perspective.
While there’s a notable change in both his lines and panel composition, much of the gyro world’s dissonance owes itself to Bonvillain’s coloring. While the main world of Doom Patrol exists in a bold world filled with vivid colors, the gyro world — and the reintroduction of Cliff Steele — has a softness to it that makes the gyro conflict feel like it was plucked out of a space opera and dropped into this poppy comic about weird folks getting by with their day jobs. Bonvillain shifts again for the cliffhanger, coloring a heavenly citadel with an otherworldly palette that brightens the red blood pooling around a murdered lion and the blue blood trailing from a hero who looks like he was ripped from a Mike Allred comic. Derington is aces at bringing characters both new and old to life, but it wouldn’t be half as effective without Bonvillain on colors.
I put off talking about Gerard Way this long because it’s a hard thing to do. While Umbrella Academy is one of my favorite comics — one that I admit reads like Way trying to tell his own Doom Patrol stories before Young Animal was a thought in anyone’s mind — I’ve found it difficult to talk about the writing and stories in anything he writes; I’m fortunate that he’s worked with some of the best and most interesting artists in the business and doubly so that Doom Patrol continues in that tradition. I’m inclined to talk about Way’s writing comics in relation to his writing lyrics, but that feels like a project too big for a single comics review (I will say that Doom Patrol feels like the Danger Days to Umbrella Academy‘s Black Parade, though). Way writes this new era of Doom Patrol as one would expect: with fabulous weirdness.
He brings in a handful of characters who appear to be wholly new to put his mark on the team (a bold move in what I assume is a slightly more generous work-for-hire deal than the typical DC contract), giving the audience a stand-in through Casey, a character whose desire to simply do good will likely resonate with the average comics reader. She has lunchtime talks with her coworkers about life, the universe, and everything. She had a shitty roommate and now has a weird one. Basically anyone who is a part of Casey’s life gets a hint at a level of depth that puts them on the path to being fully realized characters (and can one ask for more in a 22-page serial? Yes, and we should. But most comics don’t even bother, so we’re grading on a curve here).
One- to two-page interludes that start to tell the story of what happened to the old team make it clear Way is writing for the collected edition, but he does it in such a way that makes a disheveled man calling out to Danny (presumably Danny the Street) curious rather than a non-sequitur. The mention of Danny again in the presumed villains’ plans weaves those scenes together, foreshadows a conflict, and ties to the Morrison / Case run in ways that feel like more than just winks and nods. The dialogue veers close enough to strange, making it believable; Casey really is that quirky friend who exclaims “holy crow!” when surprised.
Really the whole issue skirts the edge of strangeness just close enough to be fun without being too out there. I’ll be disappointed if things don’t get weird as fuck in the next chapter, but for now, this reinvention of Doom Patrol looks like it’s the exception to the rule of mainstream American comics and gives me hope for the rest of the Young Animal imprint. Way, Derington, and Bonvillain have started to craft an angel from neon and the fucking garbage of the comics industry; here’s to hoping it doesn’t collapse in on itself by the time issue six rolls around.