Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s Doom Patrol – A Bizarre Love Story.
Written by Grant Morrison
Covers by Brian Bolland
Before New X-Men, long before All Star Superman, before he become the mainstream writer of some of the smartest comics around, Grant Morrison was the enfant terrible of American comics; resplendent in white denim and looking and acting more like a rock star than a poor little comics writer. These were the days of Zenith (shall we ever, ever see a new print of that?), Animal Man and, most wonderfully of all of them, Doom Patrol.
(Comics were the new Rock and Roll, circa 1990, outside the Dublin Forbidden Planet – from left to right, Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy, Rian Hughes, Peter Hogan and Charles Shaar Murray)
It was in this early period that my abiding and enduring love of Grant Morrison grew to near obsessional levels. And as much as I loved Zenith, as much as I marveled at how deconstructionist he managed to be in Animal Man, it was Doom Patrol that stole away my heart and my reason. But it was just Grant’s Doom Patrol that I loved. And I shall tell you why…..
The Doom Patrol started life as a superteam back in 1963, the creation of writers Bob Haney and Arnold Drake and artist Bruno Premiani, deliberately written to be stranger than every other team, a bastardised Fantastic Four if you will or, as Arnold Drake was later to state; “…Over the years I’ve became more and more convinced that he [Stan Lee] knowingly stole The X-Men from The Doom Patrol”
But over the years this team that was always billed as “The World’s Strangest Heroes” suffered from writers that ranged from uninspired to terrible and merely became yet another bland superteam, and a faintly ridiculous one at that. Morrison took this washed out superteam, too strange to play well to regular superhero comics and written too badly to work in anything but average superhero comics, and breathed incredible new life into it. Indeed it’s been said that Arnold Drake commented that Morrison was the only one who ever really “got” what he was trying to do and the only one who really understood how to write the world’s weirdest superheroes.
(Cover to Doom Patrol 86, 1964. Cover art by Bob Brown. Sadly I couldn’t find any good scans of earlier Doom Patrol covers featuring Bruno Premiani. But underneath is a sequence possibly from Issue 1 showing the origins of Robotman, art by Bruno Premiani. Thanks to Lambiek.net for that one. Published DC Comics.)
Before I launch into my fulsome praise of the story, a word on the art. Throughout the series there are many wonderful guest artists including Ken Steacy, Rian Hughes, Jamie Hewlett, Dougie Braithwaite, Kelley Jones, Steve Yeowell, Mike Dringenberg and Phillip Bond. And they all put in some incredible work. But it’s Richard Case who should get all the acclaim.
Initially I wasn’t convinced and pretty much ignored the art. But over the course of the series, Case’s art worked its way into my affections, until I could see no-one but him as the definitive Doom Patrol artist. He copes incredibly well with everything Morrison throws at him. He does scary, he does terrifying, he does alien, surreal, spectacular, moody, joyous, bizarre and anything else called for in the course of the series. But more than anything else, he brings Crazy Jane to life. And for that, as you’ll read later, I am ever thankful.
(Crazy Jane from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol Volume 6; Planet Love, published DC Comics. Drawn, as she should always be, by Richard Case.)
Morrison’s Doom Patrol consisted of Professor Niles Caulder (wheelchair bound, controlling intellect and leader), Cliff Steele (Robotman – human brain inside robotic body), Josh (Energy powers) & Larry Trainor (Negative Man). But these heroes were instantly redefined by Morrison within the first few issues: The Chief was far too wrapped up in his intellect to be anything other than a complete controlling bastard. Cliff did what anyone would if they were just a brain in an artificially body and started to go mad, Larry’s negative powers developed and changed him into something and someone completely different and poor Josh just did the sensible thing, gave up trying to make sense of it all and stopped using his powers.
After reintroducing us to “The World’s Strangest Heroes” Grant goes one better and introduces possibly the greatest comic character I’ve ever read; Crazy Jane. Grant based her on the life of Trudi Chase, a sufferer of multiple personality syndrome, but Grant went even more extreme and, following the long forgotten Invasion event in the DC Universe took the opportunity to give each of Jane’s personalities a different superpower. Jane is hideously broken, a victim of horrendous sexual abuse in childhood from her father that was compounded by further abuse in adulthood. It was the second trauma that caused her total personality disintegration as the original Jane personality is locked away, protected by the multiple personalities.
And by creating such a complicated and emotional character in Jane, Grant really makes us care about her as a central character and makes it possible for the gradual reunification of Jane’s personalities and the possibility of a life with love and hope for Jane to form the emotional core to this book.
(Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Looking at this lot you’d never believe it was all just a wonderful love story would you? Art by Richard Case from Volume 4 Musclebound. Published DC Comics.)
From the very fist storyline in Volume 1; Crawling From The Wreckage” Grant lets us know this is a story about shattered people. The very first page has Cliff Steele, racing driver, staggering out of his destroyed car, holding his bleeding brain in robotic fingers and telling us “I saved it, I saved the beautiful bit”. After this introduction, it comes as no surprise to find Cliff / Robotman has checked himself into a psychiatric hospital and his treatment really isn’t going too well.
(You really don’t want to be in Robotman’s dreams. From Doom Patrol Volume 1: Crawling From The Wreckage. Art by Richard Case, published DC Comics.)
This ragtag team of shattered personalities is then thrust by Morrison into any strange situation he could think of. The Scissormen, talking in Burroughs-like cut-up text, Red Jack, who claimed to be both Jack the Ripper and God, The Cult Of The Unwritten Book, The Decreator, The Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E., The Pentagon Horror and finally, the Candlemaker.
And, sitting on top of the weirdness cake, with a bright red weirdness bow and muliticoloured “now we really are weird” candles, is Danny The Street; a sentient transvestite street capable of travelling anywhere in the world, picking up all manner of interesting waifs and strays. One of Danny’s inhabitants was the other great character of Doom Patrol: Flex Mentallo, later to star in his own, incredible, but sadly unavailable for many years series. One day that might get collected. Stranger things have happened. Usually in the pages of Morrison’s Doom Patrol.
Indeed the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol has so many wonderful creations that you’ll just have to take my word for it on how wonderful and original they all are. (Better yet, go and buy the books and find out for yourselves.) But my particular favourites are the Brotherhood of Dada, a group of super-villains intent on freeing the world through the medium of absurdity, The Painting That Ate Paris, Albert Hoffman’s Lysergically enhanced bicycle and a bus that bleeds psychedelics into the air.
Morrison’s Doom Patrol is full of change. Whether it’s Robotman coming to terms with his existance in his metal skin and consequently becoming more human than he ever had been or Rebis undergoing extreme transformations eventually leading to an astonishing episode on the moon, the changes are all around. Of course, according to Morrison, some changes we see aren’t real, they just reveal what’s been there all along. Such is the case with Niles Caulder (the Doom Patrol’s Chief) when Morrison makes us all realise that Caulder’s always been a devious, manipulative scheming bastard rather than the playful eccentric everyone assumed he was. It’s spectacularly well done and manages to completely change the entire history of the Doom Patrol, not by some clumsy ret-con, but by Morrison simply shifting our perception of what the Chief’s motivations were at the time.
(The wonderful Brotherhood of Da-Da, just part of the brilliant Rogues Gallery Morrison and Case came up with for their run)
But for me, Morrison’s Doom Patrol isn’t a tale of weird superheroes and strange adventures. It’s a simple love story. And it’s all about Crazy Jane. When we first meet her she’s a shell of a person, shattered and broken seemingly beyond repair. When Cliff first meets her there’s nothing he can do to help as he’s nearly as lost as she is. But out of this tortuous first meeting, over the course of the story a relationship slowly and tortuously develops between the pair. She gradually accepts Cliff, or her personalities do: As one of her many personalities, Driver 8 says to Cliff:
“Some of the others have asked me to tell you, that … well, that they like you. Rain Brain says your voice is like an old black telephone and Black Annis told me to tell you you’re the first man she hasn’t wanted to castrate. … Oh and Baby Doll likes your name: She calls you Sheltering Cliff”.
And after accepting Cliff as a form of stability in her life, Jane lets him further and further into her tortured psyche as he’s allowed to assist her with the process of integrating her various personalities. Their relationship changes, slowly, tortuously until a breakthrough when Jane exhibits a new personality, Liza Radley:
“You don’t know me yet, Cliff. Even though you brought me out. I’m new. I’m going to save us all. You saved Crazy Jane and gave me strength to evidence myself. I’m the first of the woman’s personalities to manifest itself to love instead of cruelty”
Eventually, the trust and friendship begins to grow and attempts to become something more, but seems doomed to fail as Cliff rejects her advances thinking he is incapable of finding love. With this rejection, Jane moves on, and bravely confronts her fears, her past and her traumas. In one glorious moment she completely accepts her personalities and integrates them all into one sane personality. Whole, but powerless, she returns to the Doom Patrol where they are in the midst of the climactic fight with the reality destroying and seemingly all powerful Candlemaker. Trapped, facing death and alone, Jane finally admits her feelings to Cliff:
“Don’t you know there are people who love you? Stop feeling sorry for yourself! …”
But she never finishes the sentence. The all-powerful Candlemaker shows up at this point and sends Jane to her own version of hell. It seems like everything is over and by this point the tears were starting to well up in my soppy old eyes, because it really looked like the ending I desperately wanted, the happy ever after just wasn’t going to happen.
(Richard Case’s pre-colour version of the cover to Doom Patrol issue 63. The Empire of Chairs by Grant Morrison and Richard Case. Published DC Comics.)
With the Candlemaker defeated and the team in pieces, Grant delivered his final issue: The Empire of Chairs. It’s a powerful and endearing issue and perfectly sums up Grant’s run on the series. Jane has been sent to “hell” by The Candlemaker, this hell is a world of utter blandness, where dull normality is the rule and the doctor’s want to cure Jane of her thoughts of Doom Patrols, Robot men, Negative beings and sentient streets. The newly integrated Jane is subjected to psychological assessment and eventually Electroshock Therapy. This final trauma, final violation tips Jane into what looks like a barely functioning catatonic state and it’s this “normalised” Jane that is released into the world where she stumbles through life, aware that something is very wrong, but unable to identify the source of this mental itch. The scenes of her drifting through normal life, a casualty, a shell are devastating, this isn’t the way she was meant to be, this wasn’t the ending she deserved. Not after battling so hard to change, not after finally accepting herself.
But finally, gloriously, she rejects the world, writes a last goodbye note that simply says:
“It’s not real”
Standing on a bridge, looking into the water she’s finally reunited with Cliff.
He stands on Danny The Street, reaches out across worlds and gently says “Didn’t I promise, We’re going home now.” There’s love in his voice and we know that there’s a future.
And Morrison ends the issue, ends his run with:
“There is a better world. Well … there must be.”
And I ended the series in tears, absolute floods of tears. But through the tears there was a smile. It’s a glorious, emotional and heartfelt ending to a quite wonderful comics experience. I can’t recommend it enough.
(The end of Morrison and Case’s run on Doom Patrol. The happy ending I wanted and a guaranteed lump in the throat moment every time for me. Art by Richard Case from Doom Patrol Volume 6 Planet Love. Published DC Comics and it’s their fault that it looks so bad – and that’s after Photoshop cleanup.)
Of course, the collected volumes manage to completely ruin this ending by tacking on the lightweight Rob Liefeld pastiche Doom Force onto the end of the book. If you really want the correct effect of reading the comics, if you really want the climactic, wonderful ending that Morrison intended you either; ignore Doom Force completely and close the book at the end of “The Empire of Chairs” or you read Doom Force first, have a quick titter at the satire and then launch into the book proper. Either way, you have to end your Doom Patrol reading on that final “Empire of Chairs” page. That’s how it was written and that’s how you get the magnificent payoff.
In a final bit of delightful synchronicity; as I was pasting up this review and getting pictures for it I came across Richard Case’s blog and I saw this post; Cliff and Jane, exactly how I always imagined they’d be.
(Cliff & Jane, happy at last. From Richard Case’s blog 2008.)
Doom Patrol Volumes 1-6. Still makes me weep with absolute joy. There’s a tear in my eye as I write these last few words. It’s still one of the most wonderful love stories in superhero comics. It’s still my favourite Morrison comic.
All 6 volumes should be readily available at your comic shop. If they aren’t, you’re shopping in the wrong place.