Reviews – the wonderfully weird is back: Doom Patrol #1
Doom Patrol #1,
Gerard Way, Nick Derington
DC Comics/Young Animal
Many comics series and characters go through a lot of changes over the years, line-ups, characters, cancellations, re-launches, retconning their history to suit the publisher’s latest strategy, and goodness knows the Doom Patrol has really seen some different interpretations since Drake, Haney and Premiani created them for DC way back in 1963, as an oddball, outcast group who could move between the superhero world and the stranger worlds of the weird and uncanny. Their missions and foes were often bizarre, and probably none more so than one of the later incarnations, the late 1980s run by a young Grant Morrison, which is, I would imagine, probably now the one most of us associate as the highwater mark of Doom Patrol (I still shudder at his creepy Scissor Men).
And now with DC’s new Young Animal imprint we have yet another revival of the Doom Patrol, in the hands of artist Nick Derington and writer and musician Gerard Way. I was among those who were cynical when the My Chemical Romance frontman was announced as having his own comic series from Dark Horse – over the years in the book trade I’ve seen more than a few sub-standard tales published purely because of an already famous name rather than writing talent. And damn my bookselling britches if he didn’t turn out to be terrific at it, creating the excellent, award-winning Umbrella Academy (see Richard’s 2007 review here) . So when it was announced he would be writing the new incarnation of the Doom Patrol this time instead of cynicism I had optimism; he seemed to me to be well suited to tackling a modern take on this fascinating, but often hard to pin down well, series.
We open with a brief series of individual flashbacks, seemingly disconnected – is that Cliff before his car accident and subsequent robotic body we glimpse? – an opening that is intriguing and a little disorientating (in the good, interesting way), before a double page splash. This introduces us to Casey Brinke, a young woman driving an ambulance in a controlled-crazy sort of way, and Sam, her EMT partner treating a patient in the back as they rush through the night to hospital. On their break between emergency calls Sam tells her that she is weird, like his son, with her odd tales and obsessions, before commenting that you never know what’s really going on inside someone else’s head, “there’s a hidde universe in there… full of secret stars”. Pointing to his gyro snack and – perhaps not entirely seriously, or perhaps he is – he pontificates that for all we can see and know perhaps there is an entire miniature universe right inside that wrap he’s eating (which then goes inside him).
“My name is Casey Brinke, and I only want to do good things. When I was a little girl my mother told me “Be a bright light in a black hole…” … Just before she flew into the sun.”
He throws the remains in the bin, where flies circle the leftover food. The story cuts to a strange landscape and figures crossing it, who react to what appears to be a giant fly on the horizon. Is this imaginary, is this happening? Is Sam’s throwaway comment actually true and there’s a whole civilisation living inside his discarded meal? And wait, under a hood, isn’t that a familiar looking metal face…? Yes, it must be Cliff, surely? But where the hell is he and what is he doing? He’s not really in Sam’s discarded gyro, is he?
Casey and Sam are slightly taken aback when the remains of his dinner then appear to explode in the trash can, but before they can react properly they are called out to another emergency. Except on arriving they find no casualty, no police, nothing save an empty, quiet street and an odd, unknown voice on their radio instead of their usual dispatch operator. And that’s when they see our metal man, Cliff, struggling to get up in an alleyway, staggering out right into oncoming traffic, which isn’t be best move for anyone to make…
There’s more – there’s a lot more, actually. But I’m not going into more of it here, partly because I don’t want to run any potential spoilers for you, but also partly because, well, damned if I know what’s going on or how to explain it! That, by the way, is not a criticism – Way has created a narrative with asides and flashbacks and cutaways to other strands (including one with Niles Caulder), which at first glance don’t all seem to be connected. Except you know in your gut that they are, but in some delightfully odd and bizarre way that may make more sense later on, although even then I suspect only parts will make some sort of sense while others will remain just odd.
But that’s what I want here – Doom Patrol doesn’t suit a straightforward, traditional, linear narrative structure, and I think Way’s approach gives a good flavour of how Doom Patrol should be. I think the best Doom Patrol tales always left bits in your mind that you just never quite figured out, and I loved that quality about them, the writers and artists refusing to spoon-feed the reader, trusting them to go on a weird journey with them that would deliver some answers but always with more questions too, often at a right-angle to reality. Frankly I would hate it if everything was explained reasonably and rationally, it just wouldn’t be Doom Patrol, so I applaud this approach. Do I know what is going on? I’ve only vague inklings. But did I enjoy it? Oh hell, yes, more of this please, more, more…
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