"A Cold Night's Death"
Writers: John Byrne
Artists: John Byrne(p), Doug Hazelwood(i), Alex Bleyeart(c)
Doom Patrol steps out from under the protective wing of the JLA and carves a niche for itself. Without raising the damaging questions that one has regarding certain red-heads confined in wheel chairs that co-exist in a world where men and women routinely break free from the bonds of gravity, Byrne comes up with an interesting role for the Doom Patrol that still fits within the DC universe.
Doom Patrol basically acts like the Quest Team. They are not really super-heroes but explorers, trouble-shooters, and that works because nobody in the DCU fills the void left by the Challengers of the Unknown and/or the Sea Devils. I doubt they even count nowadays, and no it does not matter if they did guest-star in a post-Crisis issue of Superman. So did Siera and Katar Hol.
In this issue, military officials call upon the Doom Patrol to investigate the events seen last issue at the Arctic base. There's no doubt that Byrne's plot recalls John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" That's no crime. There are many really good stories that do the same. The X-Files episode "Ice" and Doctor Who's "Seeds of Doom" both used "Who Goes There?" as a backbone. The success of subsequent story vertebrae depends on what is added and how the plot stretches. As with the examples, Byrne's plot is only similar to "Who Goes There?" in a reduced state. It's not a rip-off. It's original.
What makes the story original in part is the way in which the team deals with the menace. The vivacious and powerful Rita Farr--who should be shivering not only because of the inclement weather in the story but also as a reminder of her previous state--makes smart, short work of the original threat. Cliff Steele due to the consequences of his robotic state finds a unique method to investigate, and the technical details as well as the visuals impel the reader's attention.
The particular nature of the threat--which Byrne keeps mysterious and provides the impact of the cliffhanger--makes Byrne's story unique. There are more similarities to be found in Byrne's previous work rather than Campbell's classic.
The fact that that the reduction to "Who Goes There?" only makes up a portion of the entire issue also gives Doom Patrol weight. The status of an ongoing series gives the opportunity for threads to be woven. Byrne deepens the characterization of Nudge as well as the previously blank creation and for some reason former Justice Leaguer known as Faith. He strengthens the relationships between the team members and at the same time adds to the origin of Cliff Steele. Steele's origin is fairly well known and needs no update. Byrne simply brings a nuance to the story that moves the team closer.
Byrne includes more fun dialogue that also serves many a purpose to the story. The jargon continues to characterize Larry Trainor as an aviator. The observational dialogue Rita asks when regarding the ice's strength shows her intellect. Nudge's conversation with Grunt amuses and lays out her feelings for the four-armed ape.
Equally I'm impressed by the artwork. I expected Byrne to illustrate with his usual attentiveness to anatomy, scale and what not, but he does more in Doom Patrol. He illustrates with an attention to character. For instance, I have a better bead on Faith because of the way Byrne describes her body language. She casually hangs her legs over the arm of a chair in which she sits. The costuming reflects character. The difference in facial and body construction adds distinction. These are subtleties that even I didn't expect and help Doom Patrol exceed.
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