"A Death in the Family"
Writer/Artist: John Byrne, Doug Hazelwood(i), Alex Bleyaert(c)
I'm still trying to grasp why the comicsphere isn't embracing John Byrne's Doom Patrol. This issue in particular surprises with not just living up to the story title but also through the very weird nature of the villain.
Things did not look good when last we left the Doom Patrol. Guest-star J'onn J'onzz had reverted to an ape-like creature that as one character remarks in this book could not possibly have been J'onn's ancestor. Rita had also gone the way of the hairy, and Cliff wasn't doing that much better. This issue resolves those problems in a smart, quick manner that decries decompression and exemplifies the behavior one expects from an experienced team of troubleshooters that come off more like Britain's The Champions rather than the typical sub-JLA super-team.
The real interesting overall theme of the comic book is just how John Byrne seems to anticipate the critics. Apart from his sagely realizing that J'onn being an alien would not likely have evolved from Martian apes, nor even four-armed T'arks, Byrne seems to be hinting that the villain of the piece may be somebody we have seen before in DC's sixty-plus year history. Darned if I can deduce his identity, but Byrne tears off piece after piece of unliklihood and leaves the reader with a truly fascinating puzzle.
Artistically Byrne excels. Under the inks of Doug Hazelwood and the colors of Bleyaert, Byrne shows off his mastery of the super-hero genre.
This is an all ages book, but Rita lost her uniform last issue. When she evolves back to normal her nudity is tastefully and naturally blocked. When she drops in size, which is a smart move, she covers up, and Byrne takes the opportunity to explain one of the overlooked benefits of her powers. In this instance, the nudity was not exploitation but just a consequence of the story.
In the things you've never seen before category, Byrne offers an odd little scene between Cliff and Rita that's tops, and there's simply such an attention to visual characterization that makes Doom Patrol artistically superior to most of the books on the racks. The gestures of the villain mark age and arrogance. The movements of J'onn J'onzz identify his mental powers even had you not heard of them or even read about them. Vortex's powers come to the fore in this adventure, and Byrne at once makes the visual effects intrinsic to the character. Vortex uses "A Silent Scream" but whether or not Vortex's powers are sound-based Byrne still differentiates them from the more familiar look of the Canary Cry.
Attention to detail, a deft handling of the elements to storycraft and pure fun super-powered action added to an enigmatic villain make John Byrne's Doom Patrol a pleasure to read and observe.
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