"Hearts of Steel"
Writer/Artist: John Byrne, Alex Bleyart(c)
John Byrne bids twenty-seven-thousand quatloos on Cliff Steele in the current issue of The Doom Patrol. If you are unfamiliar with the quatloo rate of exchange, then perhaps you should stop reading the review and first go rent the classic Star Trek episode "The Gamesters of Triskelion." The plot concerned aliens capturing the crew of Enterprise for futuristic gladiator games. This is a plot that you have seen before and will seen again.
Byrne doesn't really add too many twists to the well-worn plot, but he does pretty up the garnishing that surrounds the main course. He sets the tale in DC continuity or rather Byrne's DC continuity, specifically Suicide Slum. He also addresses the Superman problem by showing on the first page the elaborate means that one must descend to observe the robot gladiator games. No doubt the arena is surrounded by lead pipes which hide it from Superman's x-ray vision.
Byrne keeps the reader interested simply with the concept. The idea of robot gladiators hasn't only been done before. It's done in real life. This immediately makes the reader curious. Why are the Doom Patrol investigating a legal pastime? Sure, it's taken to technological extremes that engineers in the real world can only dream of, but it seems legal.
Byrne very quickly and very smartly generates suspicion with a rather ghoulish act committed by the interesting Max Samson. It's quite possible that he does not know the extent of the crime being committed, and Byrne keeps that knowledge to himself.
Make no mistake though; this is not an issue that requires deep thought. Byrne signals to the reader that you really are not supposed to take this story too, too seriously with the arrival of Dr. Verdalian--whose presence first initiated the Doom Patrol to take action. The robotic expert might as well just be wearing a bucket on his head because Byrne characterizes him through dialogue and appearance as a mad Nazi scientist who perhaps slithered out of Germany before the Allies arrived. He's the type of guy who would save Hitler's brain and as he cackled like mad unleashed the zombies on the unsuspecting valley.
Apart from these assets, Byrne takes the opportunity to work the characterization of the Doom Patrol. We see a little more humanity in the Chief through the flashback of Cliff's origin. Rita as the disguised Baroness quite joyfully takes on the role of feminine distraction and this counters Nudge's utter disgust at being found out and properly preened for the part of the Baroness' servant. Byrne also displays another nuance to Nudge during a tearful farewell for Faith as she returns to the JLA. This is my one real complaint. Faith only worked in Byrne's run of JLA and in these few issues of The Doom Patrol. Otherwise, she was a complete blank. Add Byrne's well known affinity with drawing robotics that goes back to where he and Roger Stern did Rog 2000, and a three bullet comic book easily gets bumped up to four bullets.
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