The Back Room

Published on September 21st, 2016 | by silent brotagonist

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Doom Patrol #1 [DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint]

 

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Let me get this out of the way: The original Doom Patrol were an anti-Fantastic Four. Comparisons to the X-Men are superficial.

Doom Patrol and the Young Animal imprint are two things that I have been waiting years for. The characters originated in 1963 on the pages of My Greatest Adventure #80, only to completely take over the title. Written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Bruno Premiani, the Doom Patrol were the consummate C-lister super-hero team. The team identity wasn’t a special club or a tour of duty that looks good on the resume; the Doom Patrol were broken people brought together to salvage some sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.

The likely most famous run of the team was helmed by Grant Morrison in 1989, where he expanded on the identity of the team. Not only were they consummate C-Listers, they exclusively dealt with foes and enemies that were too abstract, confusing, and fringe for any A-List hero to even acknowledge. Not only were they a patchwork family of a team, they were now a literal therapy group dealing with more confusing, alienating crises of identity.

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Concept art by Gerard Way for Umbrella Academy. Fun subtext: Space Boy’s design comes full circle back to Robotman and the Doom Patrol later.

While the characters have seen print many times since then, I have been waiting for the Doom Patrol to be relevant once again, especially after Geoff Johns set up a potentially Thunderbolts-esque Doom Patrol appearance in the New52 that failed to substantiate any followups and the short lived DC You branding showed that non A-Listers like the Omega Men can be popular with a good creative team. Now we have the Young Animal imprint and the flagship title Doom Patrol back in print, both helmed by Gerard Way.

Gerard Way (the writer, and the man behind the Young Animal imprint) is famous as the lead of the band My Chemical Romance (MCR), but he actually has had a longer history in the comic industry starting as an intern at DC Comics out of art school, then moving on to publishing his own work, On Raven’s Wings, Boneyard Press 1994, and art for a story in The Big Book of the Weird Wild West, Paradox Press (a division of DC Comics) 1998. While that’s a short resume to begin with, Gerard was a competent illustrator, handling the artwork for his designs, and later the Umbrella Academy pitch for Dark Horse, later in 2007.

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Space Boy’s body dysphoria is very reminiscent of Robotman’s identity issues. At least Space Boy still has his whole head.

Mentioning in an interview for Rolling Stone how DC Comic’s Vertigo imprint was influential when he was a young adult, Gerard Way has had the seeds of the Doom Patrol (DP) in him for some time: “Doom Patrol was a really crazy odyssey for me. It’s the most important superhero comic book to me; it kind of always has been, since when I was young reading Grant Morrison’s stuff, and then Rachel Pollack’s run.” This influence came to show in the 2007 comic, for which he is best known: Umbrella Academy (UA). It is hard to avoid using UA as my comparison with 2016’s Doom Patrol, as my reading of Umbrella Academy is Gerard’s take on what made the Vertigo Doom Patrol comics unique.

Umbrella Academy was full of miserable misfits, a family that tried to serve as a therapy group, and Gerard Way even developed two tropes from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run: a villain that was a visual abstraction of the human form and a subversive element who wielded art as a weapon, and a de-facto team leader with a hidden dark past and motives who inevitably became a source of conflict. Of greater significance, Gerard Way nailed the one unchanging truth of the Doom Patrol, originating back in the original Arnold Drake run: even in the face of humor, silly villains, and the levity of the genre, the Doom Patrol were always miserable and alienated. They were “freaks for keeps.”robotman-doompatrol-240

The possibility of Way writing an actual Doom Patrol comic was stuck in limbo for at least a year. Becky Cloonan, artist of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, posted on Instragram in November 2015, art of a previous Doom Patrol pitch to be written by Gerard Way (which also represented one of the first sightings of the character that evolved into the current Casey Brinke as seen in 2016’s Doom Patrol #1). This pitch could have originated from 2013, when the two collaborated on The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, or potentially earlier.

I find out about the most fascinating things well after their relevance: while I was very aware that Umbrella Academy existed back in 2007, it didn’t have any meaning for me until I had found out about Gerard Way’s previous Doom Patrol pitch in 2015. Reading through both volumes of Umbrella Academy, I had come to a crossroads that directly influenced my mixed feelings about the new Young Animal imprint, and the current 2016 Doom Patrol. Creative energy is at a premium with a man like Gerard Way, where he can only balance one career at a time: previously having to split his time between either comics, mostly with Dark Horse Comics while working on Umbrella Academy and the Killjoys comic, or music, with MCR, touring, and other projects.

As I have enjoyed seeing Way work on his own original concepts and characters, and I have little faith in the cycle of working on mainstream publisher-owned characters, who will be run into the dirt the moment the creative team changes, I was convinced that the world, and Gerard Way, would be perfectly alright if there never were a Gerard Way Doom Patrol. If Gerard Way truly was a limited resource, I believed that he would be far better spent on creating more Umbrella Academy.

I had already buried and moved past the concept of a Gerard Way Doom Patrol, but here we are now: his return to comics was announced earlier in 2016 and now we have the first title of Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. The exact opposite has happened: Way is doing comics full time, working on Umbrella Academy and the Young Animal imprint for DC, and that I don’t have to make a Sophie’s Choice over two comics that I like. But my emotional arc had ended and I approached Doom Patrol #1 still numb inside.

1473851461908I want to have the actual write-up make as few comparisons to Grant Morrison’s run as possible. That might be easy, as like I said, it is the comparisons to Umbrella Academy that are more relevant. One of the first things that you’ll notice about Doom Patrol #1 is the formatting of the script, which is entirely consistent with Way’s style, for anyone who has read Umbrella Academy. It develops a bit more, as the interlude with Niles Caulder colors Way’s writing in an almost Wes Anderson light. This is an appropriate comparison, because there are light absurdist moments, and almost ironically understated reactions from the characters throughout the issue.

Comparisons to Wes Anderson movies can make a good transition into the one problem that I have with Way in the issue: Casey Brinke is possibly too cute. We’re told all these quirks that she has, but for the majority of the issue it is only text. Gerard Way tells us about Casey when he should be showing us. As the audience, what we read the characters say is only secondhand information, Way can be as detailed and specific with the characters’ comments as he wants, but we don’t share perspective with the characters unless the event is shown to us on panel. Until the appearance of an appropriately unannounced showgirl and an explosive surprise later in the issue, we are only told how much of a flake and annoyance Casey is, but nothing that we saw as the audience was concrete enough to draw any conclusions about her. 1473850811948

As I’ve said before, deep down underneath the humor, the Doom Patrol has always been miserable, and Umbrella Academy is as pure a study as any of miserable super-heroes, but Casey Brinke feels like the opposite. I’m worried that Casey represents a brighter tone where it might not be needed nor warranted, that maybe Gerard is worried that making his Doom Patrol miserable will be seen as derivative of his own work, or of others’. This ties back to my connection with Umbrella Academy: a subtle fear that a true Gerard Way Doom Patrol can’t exist at the same time as a true Gerard Way Umbrella Academy.

Nick Derington, the main artist, is a separate factor altogether. What I would hope for in an artist for a fantasy ‘All-Star Doom Patrol’ run is someone who can surpass Bruno Premiani: possessing a formal, efficient style for anatomy and faces, but also able to handle the grotesque, visceral detail of a medical illustration for a William S. Burroughs mutant. While Premiani wasn’t exactly perfect at either of those, Derington is adequate. My beef with Derington are the faces and some of the visual design work that he might have collaborated on with Gerard Way.

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The flat, almost cubist, nose doesn’t help.

Derington’s faces look like masks in a few pages: not in the level of detail itself, but that Derington is informal with his style and is sometimes inconsistent and off-model, and the colorist, Tamra Bonvillain, uses harder highlights on the human characters than is necessary, which gives some of the faces a plastic, resin look. The counterpoint to this is that Deringrton handles technical details like Robotman and the gyro closeups exceptionally well, and even entertains an art style change that might have deeper connotations beyond issue #1.

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Exhibit A: Way and Derington’s alien businessmen

My second problem lies somewhere between Way and Derington: The alien businessmen. Their designs are nowhere near as abstract, alien, or grotesque as I would have hoped from the Doom Patrol brand, the worst offenders being the mashed-potato people. Beyond that, this is a concept that Grant Morrison has done to death, and much more comprehensively, and would have been one time that they should have taken more influence from him. Again, as with any artist in the industry, I respect their work. Nick Derington is good, but as of Doom Patrol #1, he hasn’t completely impressed me. But from what I see posted on his Twitter, I have higher expectations for the rest of the run.

 

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Exhibit B: Morrison and Case’s Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (Who coincidentally also had business with Danny the Street.)

As far as what to look forward to in Doom Patrol #2 and beyond? This issue brings together at least 3 major players in some way: Niles, Cliff, and implicitly Jane. There is implied continuity with Giffen’s Doom Patrol run: referencing Oolong Island, implying how Danny the Street (previously Danny the World) reverted all the way down to a single brick after being hounded by cosmic bureaucracy once already. The ending sequence is fascinating; for me it calls to a different take on the “war in heaven” notion that Grant Morrison has used a few times, though Gerard has separately implied that it has some subtext concerning the passing of David Bowie, but there is not enough information to draw any conclusions.

Some seeds for the future seem to be the dream-logic that might be influencing the events of DP#1 that all somehow center around Casey. Between the scene transitions that Casey perceives as spacing out, her very loose perception of the passage of time, and her narration freely juxtaposing elements that are heavily implied to be from some video games that she’s played, into the events of her “real world” as if it’s all consistent for her, Casey Brinke has to be a dream character of some kind.

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A day for Evil Gods?

The style of the gyro-universe interludes obviously serves to differentiate a separate layer of perception from the outside world, but it is also heavily reminiscent of the enigmatic Number None pages from Morrison’s Doom Patrol run and given the appearance of the character Terry None, who also attempts to use coincidences and accidents to move the story, maybe that is more than just an unintended coincidence. Furthermore is Terry’s throwaway line that she was hired by “Nobody.”

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The future of Robotman? Space Boy comes full circle.

At the end of the day, I’m pleased. I enjoy a good song and dance. But my heart isn’t in it yet. That isn’t a judgment of the issue, more just a consequence of having been emotionally invested in a Gerard Way Doom Patrol a year too soon.

 

My only regret is that the current Young Animal press gives Tom Scioli’s SUPER POWERS back-up for Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye surprisingly little attention. Given that Gerard Way is such a known quantity, and that Nick Derington hasn’t really impressed me yet, SUPER POWERS is what I’ve been actually excited for in the past few months. While material like G0dland or American Barbarian might be more insightful to Scioli as an artist, Transformers vs G.I. Joe seems like a perfect litmus test for what you can expect: because deep down inside Jack Kirby’s original SUPER POWERS run was in fact a tie-in for a toy-line, and still shone brightly with bombast, humor, and its own sense of mythic drama. And my experience with Tom Scioli’s work is still recent, fresh, and untainted by burying previously-false hope only to turn around to dig it up again.

Bonus: Cover Reviews

The standard gyro sticker cover possibly has the best composition and relationship with the actual content of the issue. I am disappointed that they didn’t exactly reference the innuendo of the Velvet Underground cover that it was based on, as a flatbread sandwich (depending on your definition of a gyro) can easily be seen as …yonic.

I have a personal preference for Brian Bolland covers. They are a common occurrence, Bolland is probably the most prolific cover artist that I’m aware of. Yet it still feels like a status symbol when a book that you like is worthy of a Bolland cover. In the case of Doom Patrol #1, his cover is very consistent with the actual content of the issue. (In contrast to guest covers that reference characters who have not yet appeared, and imply events that have not yet happened in the currently published issue(s) of the series.)

The Brian Chippendale cover deserves a very special mention. I developed an appreciation for his cover art after I listened to Gerard Way’s Guest List for Paste and realized that “Word on the Street,” by Brian’s solo project Black Pus, was the only track on the list that I really enjoyed. This cover is represented as the Featured Image for this review! The art coveys the Vertigo Doom Patrol identity incredibly well, though we will have to see how Gerard develops his run with the characters to know if it sets the mood for his Doom Patrol or not. The art itself can seem like layers of peeling wallpaper, and with Robotman looking trapped behind the peeling layers it calls to mind something like The Yellow Wallpaper which makes for a horrifying reference to Cliff Steele’s consistently recurring character in Doom Patrol books over the decades. The Doom Patrol is a hell that he can never escape from.

I was disappointed in the Babs Tarr cover, as I don’t feel that the composition really showcased her style as well as it deserved. Babs Tarr characters shouldn’t face away, or be closed off from the viewer, especially on a guest cover; I imagine the appeal of having Babs Tarr cover art is to bring her bright, fashionable style to the characters, which is diminished if the characters are obscured in any way.  While not as literal as Bolland’s cover, it still gets points for referencing the actual content of the issue.

Written by Gerard Way
Pencils by Nick Derington
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Published by DC Comics via
Young Animal imprint
September 14th, 2016

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About the Author

is still pretty much an amateur at this. When he's not trying to relate everything to the Doom Patrol, you can find him @quietagonist maintaining a pulse.



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