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Sunday Slugfest: Doom Patrol #1

Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2009
By: Thom Young

Keith Giffen; Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Matthew Clark; Kevin Maguire
DC Comics
The world's strangest superheroes are back, and they brought the Metal Men with them as their back-up feature. In the first story, the Doom Patrol infiltrates the Latin American country of "Bueno Suerte" on a reconnaissance assignment that results in the type of disaster that's implied in their name.

In the second story, the Metal Men infiltrate Brazil near some sort of Mayan (or perhaps Incan?) ziggurat pyramid in order to recover a large ruby off a pedestal that is guarded by a giant talking stone idol that dates back a few thousand years.

Shawn Hill:
Kyle Garret:
Jon Judy:
Chris Murman:
Thom Young:

Shawn Hill

Here we go again, and why shouldn't we?

The Doom Patrol is an amazing, iconic DC team (arguably doing the whole X-men shtick before the X-men got there), and then they went on to being one of Vertigo's definitive titles for a time. They begat the Teen Titans (well, sort of, sideways) and sometimes merge over into JSA and JLA territory, too.

Back in the original series, they horribly and memorably died, and for the longest time (until an infinite crisis, in fact) Rita was the one who never came bac--but she finally did. So now we can have the core team of Elasti-Girl, Robotman, and Negative Man led by the nefarious Chief. Just like the old days.

John Byrne tried to enhance that group during his 18-issue series that ended four years ago, and his additions are summarily dealt with in this issue. Sometimes deck-clearing is fun!

In Teen Titans: A Kid's Game (issues 1-7), Geoff Johns made the Chief a neurotic bastard (after Grant Morrison had already made him a sadistic sociopath), but Keith Giffen seems to be settling for Byrne's take--a Machiavellian control freak. However, there's something new in the mix--a kindly priest who's functioning a bit like Doc Samson does for X-Factor (the one voice of sanity in a team of crazies). I don't predict much joy is coming his way.

Giffen's stress is on the devil-may-care attitude of his protagonists--all driven slightly mad by the freakish things that have befallen them. So the team is, in a way, evocative of The Suicide Squad, and I'm of the opinion that DC could always do with one of those types of teams. It's one of the few places where long-running characters don't have to be all squeaky clean and shiny. The Doom Patrol are misfits, and Giffen seems to realize that. This series seems to spill out of some of the best ideas he had in 52, and I'm willing to give it a lot of leeway for that legacy.

Matthew Clark's art is serviceable--but it falls down as far as making Nudge clearly Korean, or expressing much of Rita's conflicted emotions. Clark does a fair job with the Species-esque mad scientist, Dr. Amanda Beckett. However, I don't think he's the right artist to really delve into the dysfunctional psychology that Giffen seems to want to explore. If anything, Clark recalls Tan Eng Huat, who did a pretty squeaky clean teen Doom Patrol in a semi-recent iteration that was only weird enough when the late and lamented Seth Fisher did a few issues.

Byrne always cleaned them up too much, too. They need an Alex Toth, or how about a Maleev, or a Gaydos? Does DC still have anyone that dark in their roster? Can we get Kevin Nowlan back on a monthly? Kelley Jones?

Maybe Giffen won't go all Gothic, anyway.

He seems to be settling in this first issue on an X-Files premise; our heroes sacrifice themselves to fight the freaky things that scare everyone else. Only, because they're superheroes, they fight super-villain freaks. I'm all for it. More Brotherhood of Evil, please.

Morrison's the last one to come up with really decent Doom Patrol villains; and he was content to use Monsieur Mallah and The Brain when he could, too. Why fix what ain't broke?

The Metal Men backup by Giffen, JM DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire features that trio's usual tomfoolery. The story is notable mostly for Maguire's delectable art. As far as plot goes, the neighbors don't like the mad scientist in their midst, Platinum is still in love with Doc Magnus, and there's the newest member, Copper, whom nobody pays any attention to. It's fluff--though very pretty fluff

Anyway, with the Doom Patrol, I'm in. We've got the core team, we've got a lot of bad attitudes, now all we need is the right art and some good stories. Weirdly good.

Kyle Garret:

I'm not entirely sure that this issue of Doom Patrol works as a single issue of a comic book. Were it, say, issue #11, I don't know that I'd score it as high as three and a half bullets. However, it absolutely works as a first issue, and does what any good first issue needs to do: It got me interested to read more.

My first exposure to the Doom Patrol came with Grant Morrison's run. While not labeled a Vertigo series at the time, it was my first taste of books in that vein, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Since then, we've seen the Doom Patrol return in a number of different iterations, each either trying to make the book something it never was, or trying to revert it wholesale to its roots. As with a number of DC characters, the post-Infinite Crisis Doom Patrol was an amalgam of sorts, a combination of all the stories that came before streamlined for the future.

Sadly, that team was also introduced (and written) by Geoff Johns in Teen Titans. He has never had the subtlest of keyboards. The Doom Patrol needs to be subtle to work. It's a bunch of strange-looking people who routinely refer to themselves as "freaks" and who throw themselves into dire situations from which they most likely won't return. There's absolutely nothing subtle about that concept. Thus, to keep the Doom Patrol fresh, the complexity has to come in the details.

It's this need for subtly that prevents me from raving about this issue, but gives me hope for the future. Keith Giffen does, in fact, hit the reader over the head with a giant hammer that says "death wish." From the quick death of Nudge to the overwhelmingly repetitive dark humor, it's clear that the members of Doom Patrol don't hold their lives in high regard--and that's all well and good, though incredibly reminiscent of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad run.

Rather than subtlety, the greatness of this issue comes in what's suggested underneath all the gloom and doom (and the back-up story, which I'll get to in a minute). The fact that this new Doom Patrol is stationed at Oolong Island is just brilliant--moving them away from a "freak" force to more of a "science gone wrong" force.

Niles Caulder is back to being a calculating megalomaniac--as opposed to the raving dictator we've seen very recently. We've even get a nice moment with Bumblebee, one of the extended cast from the team's most recent appearance in Teen Titans. I like what Giffen has done with Bumblebee here, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with Mento and Vox, too.

I also like the fact that Giffen seems eager to bring in everyone who's ever been a member of the team, no matter what version they were a part of (as evidenced by the brief appearance by Byrne-era members Nudge and Grunt). I hope he takes advantages of the new, all-in-one Doom Patrol history.

It would be very easy for a book like this to drag the reader down. However, no sooner can you say "man, this book is depressing," then we get the polar opposite type in the Metal Men back-up feature.

The set-up for the Metal Men story is hilarious, but it was the second page, featuring Zummazumma, when I knew I'd be buying this book again next month. Sure, I can see how some people might view the jokes to be a rehash of the old Justice League book by this creative team, but I think most of it was unique enough to the Metal Men that it didn't seem generic.

While the story is entertaining, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic artwork by Kevin Maguire. He appears to be inking his own work here, and the result seems to be a heavier style than we saw back in his Justice League days. I really like it, though, and the fact that he's only doing 10 pages a month gives me hope that he'll actually be able to maintain this schedule.

I absolutely love this combination of characters in a single book. Honestly, I'd gladly pay another extra dollar if they could add a good Challengers of the Unknown feature to this, but that's just me. Maybe we'll get that when DC does their next price hike.

Jon Judy:

This may be the "new" Doom Patro book, but we've seen all this before.

I don't just mean that we've seen these characters before--though this is the "classic" lineup of Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, and Niles Caulder. What I mean is that it appears that this comic book is going to be structured like books we've seen a million times before: A team of cynical, hardened misfits takes their orders from some pseudo-military operation.

It's X-Men meets Mission: Impossible--or, to point to a more direct ancestor it's John Ostrander's Suicide Squad (Keith Giffen's Suicide Squad, too, for that matter).

It appears Giffen will even be trying to invoke some of the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol, too: The issue ends with the revelation that . . . umm . . . an object that shouldn't have a consciousness "wants to negotiate terms." Shades of a living street, I'd say.

I'm not complaining. This is the Doom Patrol team we know and should like. I loved Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and I really liked Giffen's take on that team. Additonally, Morrison's version of the Doom Patrol was a mind-effing blast. So if we can patch all of these things together, it sounds like this could be a Frankenstein's monster-esque comic book of fun.

Further, unlike most contemporary first issues, this one manages to hit the ground running (to a certain extent)--opening with some action before finding a way to organically introduce us to everyone on the team so we can learn, to a small extent, what makes each of them tick. However, Giffen's strategy for revealing the characters' personalities is beginning to border on trite--the bitter, cynical soldiers only reluctantly talking to the staff psychiatrist. The Doom Patrol psychiatrist is a direct analog of Doc Sampson, an indirect one of Sidney on M*A*S*H--but the approach gets the job done in a limited amount of page space.

On the other hand, it seems like the aforementioned action at the beginning of this issue will have little to do with the rest of the series--like the opening action sequence in most James Bond flicks--so that at the end all this issue really accomplishes is to introduce us to the "new" Patrol. However, if you're a fan from back in the day, you already know this "new" Patrol, so this issue will actually accomplish nothing for you--it's all setup, and a setup you're already familiar with.

Clark's art is terrific; Giffen's writing is, as it almost always is, great; and the team is cool. On the other hand, as is the case with most contemporary first issues, you could probably skip it, pick things up with the second issue, and not feel like you've missed anything.

As for the Metal Men "second feature," my criticism would be largely identical. Yes, the team of Giffen and Dematteis are once-again spot on, and Maguire's art--although it has the misfortune of appearing on the stand simultaneously with Garcia-Lopez's vastly superior take on the team in Wednesday Comics--is terrific.I't's clear, smooth storytelling with the best facial expressions in comics.

On the other hand, all we accomplish is introducing the characters and their current setting.

It's the Metal Men in a sitcom: How will the neighbors react when sentient robots who are mentally and emotionally unstable move in next door?

So if you already know the characters, all that's really accomplished is to let us know that they're living in suburbia now. Oh. Okay.

Readers unfamiliar with either the Doom Patrol or Metal Men will probably find this issue an entertaining, intriguing, and accessible read. On the other hand, readers who are familiar with the characters may find this first issue just covers old ground with which they're already familiar, and that they could have skipped on this issue, saved four bucks, and just picked up the real stories with the next issue. Still, I doubt diehard fans of either team will be disappointed. Overall, I think they'll quite like this series. There's nothing new here, but sometimes that's a good thing.

This is an above average comic book, with every reason to believe the next issue will be better, so my suggestion: Newbies, give it a try; diehard fans, pick it up; everyone else, come back next month.

Chris Murman:

Far too often, we see writers drive one deep over the left-center field wall, and then follow it up with a swing-and-a-miss. Usually, we see it over the course of several months of a writer being on a title. However, with Doom Patrol #1, we get to witness both the home run and the strikeout at the same time.

Inside this issue is a perfect example of the potential Keith Giffen holds as a writer--both for greatness and disaster.

On the one hand, we witness what we all romanticize over when speaking of the Justice League International days in the Metal Men "co-feature." The team that brought fun back to superhero comic books made me enjoy reading about Magnus and his merry band of moving metals much more than the previous attempt by this company to reboot the Metal Men franchise. The art was fun, the story was smooth, and the brief feature left me wanting more.

On the other hand, we have the bland, meandering flow of the Doom Patrol story that accompanied Mathew Clark's great artwork that was littered with word balloons that made me wish this story only had ten pages as opposed to the 20 it received.

Granted, I do not have a long tenure in reading about Dr. Niles Caulder and the people for whom he gave a second lease on life. I have never given Grant Morrison's work on the property a try, and I'm sure I would enjoy this series more if I did.

However, I felt my fresh perspective would give me a unique take on this superhero team, and on what this creative team brings to the table. Instead, I sat there reading panels over and over trying to grasp what was going on. I was unable to hear the voice of this story--mainly because the text was such a challenge to me.

Oh, there were enough nuances that I found enjoyable. The title was clever, the memo about botflies definitely foreshadowed things to come in later pages, and the priest following the surviving members of the team definitely showed flashes of promise. I just had a difficult time following all the dates given in the narrative captions (some dates just made me scratch my head and wonder why they didn't really mesh with the timeline of the story).

Additionally, action scenes that didn't really show a good use of the team members' abilities, and a disjoined feel to the scenes as a whole, all worked to make me want to turn each page and hope for the finale. If this first story is what the focus of this title will be, then I can't say with any certainty that I will be picking up this title in the future.

Conversely, seeing only ten pages of the Metal Men brought back the fun-loving feel to comic books we all remember as youngsters. Comics don't always have to be all doom (so to speak) and gloom, which further makes the combination of these two features a curious decision by DC editorial.

Even though Giffen is working on both, these two features should be in separate books. I completely understand Batwoman and the Question being paired together in Detective Comics, because the two characters are intertwined and the style of the features is not drastically different. I'm sure there are other readers who will most likely read both features in Doom Patrol and get this pairing more than I do. I'm just having difficulty in seeing the connection so far.

All I can comment on is the different tones each story has and wonder if Giffen and DeMatteis's take on the Metal Men would make it on its own with a full 22 pages. Apart from the unnecessary scene with Tina appearing on Doc Magnus's bed, this story would have been great for the Johnny DC imprint--which some may view as a bad thing. However, if I was going to hold on to an issue to give to my daughter when she starts reading in a few years, then a Metal Men book of this sort could have been one of them.

Instead, the brilliant Metal Men feature plays second banana to a bunch of mopey people who should be dead and who don't seem to enjoy their second chance at all.

Some of the more well-read Doom Patrol readers on this panel will hopefully shed some light on this subject. Is there something I'm missing out on as far as the appeal of this team?

Most likely, I won't be finding out if I'm wrong.

Thom Young:

I'm going to start with the backup feature, Metal Men, before commenting on the titular feature of Doom Patrol (fifth series) #1.

I have never been a fan of the Metal Men, though I can't exactly explain why other than I always thought the idea of malleable robots was essentially a team of Plastic Man-Metamorpho hybrids.

The first Metal Men series (beginning with four issues of Showcase Comics in 1962 before moving into their own series) was sort of before my time, so I never got in on the ground floor of the feature--and that may account for my lack of interest, too.

Actually, a few issues in the middle of that first series came out just as I was starting to read comic books, but I never even looked at any of them. Back then--with a few exceptions--I was only interested in Batman, Detective Comics, Flash, and Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes (and I only owned issues of the first three of those four titles before my mom threw away all my comic books when I was eight years old).

By the time I got back into comics when I was 11, the Metal Men were essentially relegated to occasional team-ups with Batman in The Brave and the Bold, and I didn't care for those particular stories. Later, when the team's series was revived in 1976 with Steve Gerber as the writer and Walt Simonson as the illustrator, I didn't bother trying it--which was probably a mistake on my part, but I didn't know Gerber's work at the time. Additionally, there was no DC marketing machine to let me know in advance that the illustrator on the award-winning seven-part "Manhunter" series from Detective Comics #437-43 was the new illustrator of Metal Men.

However, Gerber only did the first issue of the 1976 revival, so it's probably a good thing I missed it--though I am curious to see Simonson's work on the five issues he did back then.

Anyway, the concept of the Metal Men has just never appealed to me--at least not as it's been executed in any of the stories I've read. However, there's always the chance that someone (such as Steve Gerber, perhaps, in that one issue he wrote) might do something with the basic concept of artificially intelligent robots that are each built out of a specific metal--gold, iron, lead, tin, mercury, platinum, and (eventually) copper--and suddenly make the concept work for me.

Thus, because I was going to get this issue for the Doom Patrol story anyway, I naturally decided to sample the Metal Men story as well.

First, the "new kid," Copper, is not really all that new even though the other Metal Men keep referring to her as the new kid and don't seem to notice her contributions to the team. She's been one of the Metal Men for a little more than two years now--since Superman/Batman #34-36. She was also featured in the eight-issue Metal Men mini-series by Duncan Rouleau that was published in 2007-08--of which I reviewed the first issue.

Kevin Maguire is essentially using Rouleau's designs for the Metal Men--rather than the classic Ross Andru designs, which are what Garcia Lopez is using in the "Metal Men" strip in Wednesday Comics.

Maguire's work here is clean, smooth, and polished. However, if we're to have these new character designs, I prefer Rouleau's more Steve Rude-esque illustrations over Maguire's. There is nothing wrong with Maguire's work, but without Rouleau's retro-science fiction look, I would prefer the Ross Andru designs (as drawn by Lopez--and, perhaps, by Simonson).

The real problem for me with this Metal Men feature is the approach of the story--not the plot, but the approach.

I was not a fan of Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis's humorous take on the Justice League that DC published from 1987 to 1992, and that writing team essentially takes the same approach here with the Metal Men. In other words, an approach I don't care for on characters I've never cared for results in a backup feature that I don't really care for.

However, fans of Giffen and DeMatteis's goofy humor and/or of the Metal Men in general may find something of value in this feature. After all, it's professionally written and illustrated, and I have no specific complaints aside from not being a fan of either goofy superhero humor or these particular characters.

As for the main feature. . . .

Back when I was a kid just starting to collect comic books (after my initial collection was thrown out by my mother), I came across a reprint of the very first Doom Patrol story as a backup in Batman #238 (one of DC's 100-Page Super Spectacular editions from the early to mid 1970s).

That story, "The Doom Patrol" originally appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 in 1963. It featured illustrations by Bruno Premiani, whose career at DC (National) was essentially centered around two features: Tomahawk (from issue #1 in 1950 to #36 in 1955--plus the Tomahawk backup story in World's Finest #79, also in 1955) and My Greatest Adventure/Doom Patrol (from issue #80 in 1963 to issue #121 in 1968).

Of the 177 stories for DC/National that I'm aware of Premiani working on, 79 of them were Tomahawk and Doom Patrol stories. He also did work for other comic book companies--such as the original Classics Illustrated and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's short-lived Crestwood imprint--but most of his US comic book work was for DC/National.

Premiani was an intriguing artist whose work I've become very interested in as I've gotten older--though his initial Doom Patrol story that I read as a reprint in Batman #238 was something that I found to be . . . unsettling--mostly because of the characters, but partly because of the art. He had a style that was very different from what I was used to in those days when the work of Neal Adams was the epitome of comic book illustration (to me, of course).

Premiani began his career in his native Italy as a political cartoonist, but he was exiled due to his anti-Mussolini cartoons. He then went to Argentina (ironically, since that's where many high-ranking members of Germany's Nazi Party went a few years later to escape their war crime trials later after World War II).

However, he was then exiled from Argentina for his anti-government cartoons during Juan Perón's first term as Argentina's president and the revelation of his (Perón's) admiration for Benito Mussolini as well as his protection of Nazi War Criminals.

Do you get the sense that Premiani didn't much care for fascism, and that he was considered a troublemaker for his anti-fascism political cartoons? It's a wonder he wasn't executed instead of exiled from both Italy and Argentina.

Anyway, he eventually made his way to New York and to National Comics where he mostly worked on Tomahawk and Doom Patrol while also serving as the original illustrator on the respective debuts of Cave Carson and the Teen Titans in The Brave and the Bold. Aside from those two longish-running series, he was primarily used as a fill-in artist at DC/National. However, he was a natural fit for Tomahawk in the 1950s since he wrote an illustrated textbook on horse anatomy for graphic artists.

He was also a natural for the Doom Patrol since he was perfect for capturing the unsettling quality of that team of so-called "freaks." Granted, the fact that one of the members was a human brain encased in the body of a robot while another member was a man wrapped in chemically treated bandages (like some sort of modern-day mummy) had a lot to do with how unsettling the Doom Patrol were as "freaks" in the 1960s (and even in the mid 1970s when I first saw them). However, Premiani excelled at capturing the disturbing nature of the team--especially for a kid who was used to heroes that looked like Neal Adams's Batman and Curt Swan's Superman.

It's that disconcerting aspect of the "team of super-powered freaks" that Grant Morrison sought when he and Richard Case took over the second Doom Patrol series from Paul Kupperberg who had started the series with Steve Lightle and then Erik Larsen--neither of whom excel at "creepiness" in their approach to superhero illustrations.

That disconcerting aspect is what I expect to encounter in any new Doom Patrol series. However, Matthew Clark has a style that is more akin to that of Lightle and Larsen than it is to Premiani's. (Case was a less-skilled illustrator at the time that he worked with Morrison, but he was able to convey the creepiness that Morrison's scripts required.)

In fact, I'd say that Clark's pencils are very reminiscent of Lightle's pencils, and I would be more enthusiastic about Clark's work if he was illustrating a feature that I believe is appropriate for that style--such as The Legion of Super-Heroes or R.E.B.E.L.S.

Anyway, as with the Metal Men backup story, Giffen and Clark's Doom Patrol story is professionally written and illustrated, and I have no specific complaints aside from the illustrations not conveying a sense of unsettling creepiness.

Additionally, Giffen's decision to base the team on Oolong Island is an intriguing one--especially since I believe that Oolong Island was conceived by Grant Morrison in 52 and it was where Doc Magnus ended up in that weekly series. Perhaps there will be a story where the Metal Men visit Oolong Island with Doc Magnus--and there will be sort of a circumstantial crossover between these two features at some point.

However, while I don't mind the relocation to Oolong Island, I'm not enthusiastic about the decision to make the Doom Patrol into a variation of the Suicide Squad--a paramilitary organization that is given assignments that are considered "doomed" or "suicidal."

I would, though, be interested in a new series based on the original Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru that ran in six issues of The Brave and the Bold from 1959 to 1961. I guess the fact that Kanigher and Andru also created the Metal Men in 1962 is the tie that binds these two features together. Instead of giving us Kanigher and Andru's actual Suicide Squad, we get the Classic Doom Patrol as the All-New Suicide Squad (at least in concept if not in name).

Overall, I'd say that fans of Steve Lightle's five-issue stint on Doom Patrol 22 years ago and/or of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad may find something of value in this new Doom Patrol series. It's just not what I was hoping for, and I don't have the funds to stick with it to see where it eventually ends up.

However, I must admit that an artificially created black hole that wants to "negotiate terms" is sort of creepy in a Grant Morrison sort of way, so Giffen might be on the right track. However, Clark is probably a more appropriate penciler for illustrating a Sun Eater in the 31st Century than he is a sentient man-made black hole in the 21st Century.

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