Propaganda visits the Doctor. All is okay.
The nicest thing I can say about this is that it’s okay.
The idea; okay. The story: okay. The art: okay.
But in a world where okay is everywhere, wouldn’t it be nice if okay wasn’t okay anymore? There’s nothing quite so disheartening for me as a book that makes me just give a faint shrug of the shoulders when I finish it. I’d much rather hate the damn thing than have the lack of reaction I had on finishing Doctor 13.
So, here goes. Doctor 13 is Terrance Thirteen, a parapsychologist in the DC universe who spends his time investigating all the weird and unnatural goings on with a view to debunking them all. Obviously in a world of Men of Steel, Wonder Women and countless magical and spiritual beings, his refusal to believe in any of it makes him delusional to the point of madness and/or stupidity.
And over the years he’s become a bit part player, one of a host of DC characters lying unused and redundant. Architecture & Mortality sees him teamed up with a cast of the detritus of the DC Universe to go in search of the reason they’re being wiped out of reality. They quest leads them to The Architects, the shapers of the Universe “who decide Who’s Who and Who isn’t.” Seeing as this came out around the time of 52, when Messrs Morrison, Waid, Johns and Rucka were busy deciding who lived and who died and who made it back into the 52 alternate DC worlds, it’s an easy guess that this is who the Architects are meant to represent.
At the very end, it’s not the Architects threatening Doctor 13 and his pals, they just came up with the idea. Terrence learns just a touch too late that it’s us, the readers, who can wipe the good Doctor out of existence with a casual turn of the page.
But of course, they do force the issue. Panel from Doctor 13, art by Cliff Chiang, published DC
It’s another one of those “let’s all break the fourth wall and oh, aren’t we clever” books. Which is not to say that I’m against these books per se. Indeed, two of the finest books I’ve ever read – Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Alan Moore’s Pictopia both played to this idea. The difference is they did it with a style, originality and passion that made the stories affecting and important. Hell, I can still cry at the end of Animal Man if I’m in the right mood.
But Doctor 13 just doesn’t connect with me in the way those great books did, at no point in the story do I genuinely care what happens. I can acknowledge that it’s very well crafted, well written and well drawn. But that really doesn’t mean a thing when it gets the same emotional response from me as a nicely designed tin of baked beans. There’s some nice touches, some fun wacky ideas, a bit of pastiching of the comic book industry, a few swipes at DC and Marvel that will raise a smile. But nothing more. It’s okay. And for me, okay just isn’t good enough.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.