Monday, 12 January 2015

Doom Patrol (version 5) Book One: We Who Are About To Die (#1-6)

"What you've got here goes way past self pity.  They've stopped caring." - Father Leslie.

Teambook month continues with a look at a team I have a massive soft spot for as when I first started reading DC comics in the late 80's, Doom Patrol was one of my favourites even though the team line-up was quite different from the one depicted here. The very fact I've had to include a version number in my title for this first of two volumes collecting part of the Keith Giffen run on Doom Patrol probably should tell you how much they've been rebooted and retconned and relaunched over the years.   This is the last run so far that debuted in 2007 and went on for twenty-two issues before being cancelled in the run up to the reboot of the whole DCU as the New 52. The team first debuted in the 60's, a team of misfits whose powers are often more than a blessing than a curse, led by a brilliant wheelchair bound genius.  Sounds a bit like the X-Men doesn't it?  But the Doom Patrol actually debuted three months before the first X-Men comic came out, both too close together to have influenced each other.  However the most well know incarnation of Doom Patrol is Grant Morrison's seminal run when he took over the failing late 80's reboot that only I seemed to be reading.  Post Morrison, people seemed to struggle with what to do with the Patrol and what tone to take with them. The run prior to this one, by John Byrne had controversially seen him pull one of his "only I know how to write these characters" moves and had wiped out the entire history of the Patrol prior to him taking over and substituted his own history.  This went down so phenomenonally badly (Morrison's run really is very well loved, mess with it at your peril) that it was cancelled after eighteen issues and the events of DC's 2005 crossover event Infinite Crisis was used to bring the Patrol's full history back into continuity.
Grunt, Nudge, Rita, Larry and Cliff.
Anyway, let's introduce The Doom Patrol.  Here we have the core sixties team back together, it includes Rita Farr or Elasti-Woman who can change her size.  Larry Trainor the Negative Man who shares his body and soul with the "Negative Spirit" who he can release to disrupt electro-magnetic systems.  The price he pays is having to wear treated bandages all the time to prevent the radioactivity he gives off harming people. Finally there is Robotman, or Cliff Steel as he more commonly known.  The brain of a man locked in a body of metal.  There is also Niles Caulder back at their base directing them and two additions from the Byrne run that immediately preceeds this one, a young woman called Nudge and her pet gorilla, Grunt.  I don't know anything about them and it doesn't really matter as Nudge is graphically killed not long into the first issue and Grunt flees with what's left of her body (hah! Take THAT John Byrne).

For a run that basically restarted from a new issue number one, it's a surprisingly newbie unfriendly beginning.  The story begins in media res with the Patrol out on a mission, but their backgrounds and recent history are rather inelegantly supplied via small info dumps of computerised text scattered about the first volume.  Anyone new coming to the series lured in by the prospect of a fresh start would be somewhat baffled, especially as writer Keith Giffen has decided to make all of the Patrol's continuity count, especially the run by Grant Morrison which goes on to have greater significance in volume 2.  Interestingly this is fully scripted by Giffen, in the past he's tended to write the plots and have others script the dialogue such as the two Lobo miniseries I looked at a while back.  As a writer known for his comedic writing he injects a bantering aspect to the Patrol's relationships with each other that hasn't really been there in the past.  But it works for me and stamps this run with his own distinct brand of story telling. 
Nudge and Grunt, two fascinating characters we'll all enjoy getting to know...
The story starts with the Patrol on a mission to the rogue nation of Buena Suerte. They discover some nasty looking humanoid creatures in some kind of electronic nursery., apparently a bioengineered human/botfly creation made by villianous scientist Amanda Beckett.  She confronts the Patrol and turns into a more advanced version of the creatures and order them to attack.  During the battle between the botfly people and the Patrol, Larry releases the Negative Spirit and in a big difference from the way the Spirit and Larry were related in the past versions it seems Larry now IS the Negative Spirit and when it leaves his body it becomes an empty shell, whereas before he (or she, we'll be getting to that later) stayed inside his body and controlled the mindless spirit to attack.

Anyway during the fight he shorts out the electronic nursery and the Patrol decide to make their escape before reinforcements come.  Before the reach the helicopter, Nudge is annihilated in a volley of gunfire and Grunt takes of with her remains.  Rita grows to giant size and destroys the attacking helicopters then they leave, their general attitude to Nudge's death being "Oh dear.  What a shame.  Nevermind."  Back at their base on Oolong Island, Father Leslie greets them.

Leslie: "I heard"

Cliff:  "Doom Patrol, right?  It's in the name."

Leslie: "How old was she?  Eighteen? Nineteen?"

Cliff: "Old enough to know better."
... Or not.
Leslie tries talking to them about it in turn.  Rita angrily says she was jealous of Nudge's death.  Larry wisecracks and avoids the issue.  Cliff dismisses it brusquely.  Larry reports back to Niles Caulder about the poor mental shape the Patrol seem to be in.  Caulder says he doesn't care either.  The Patrol are a means to an end and as long as they keep getting results that's all that matters.  Later he is contacted by a scientist called Dr. Ackerman who somewhat hysterically says the "Collider generated a singularity" and the only reason it hasn't destroyed the planet is that "it... it wants to negociate terms."  Sounds like a job for the Doom Patrol.

Back in Germany, Ackerman is being quizzed by a man with no face but a black smear with a light in the middle.  As Ackerman talks to it, his own face distorts until it too looks the same and he becomes part of the "Black Hole's" hive mind. The Patrol arrive at the site of the Super-Collider in Germany.  They are greeted by a team of Black Hole soldiers they meet the Ackerman one and are surrounded by more soldiers who open fire on them with rubber bullets. The Patrol defend themselves but Larry is absorbed by one of the creatures, when Rita and Cliff realise he hasn't returned to his body they panic.  He can't be out of it for very long without falling into danger, the Black Hole person that holds him lets him go and he reinhabits his body safely.

Black Hole Ackerman: "A mechanical contruct.  A mass morph and an organic housing for a sentient energy form. Check. Check. Check."

Larry: "Hey! That's mister organic housing to you."
I'm still calling it Mr. Black Hole, "the Sentience" sounds daft.
This was a test of the Doom Patrols capabilities to satisfy it's curiosity.  He then takes them to the super-collider, but turns it on and they are sucked into.. somewhere.  There the Black Hole talks to them directly.  It considers itself "the first scientist".  Once it became sentient it became curious.

Black Hole: "Having no discernable purpose past existing, I took it upon myself to categorise my enviroment, life-forms, celestial events, cosmic anomalies...knowledge for the sake of knowledge."

It then says it is going to continue examaining people, and a few million should not be missed. Unfortunately the taking over process destroys the host when it is no longer of use.  Watching and listening through cameras in Cliff's eyes, Caulder ponders his next move.  He calls Steve Dayton to his office and tells him to "bring the helmet".

The Patrol are released from where they were and walk outside to find the place empty.  But there is also organic residue on the ground from where the Black Hole hosts were disintegrated after being discarded.  Using his WiFi connection and GPS Cliff determines the nearest population centre is a village called Cottbus, not far from Berlin.  Rita grows large and scoops the men up and they set off in that direction.
Steve "Pervert" Dayton.
Back with Caulder we are introduced to Steve "Mento" Dayton, a powerful psychic and Rita's dysfunctional ex-husband, who still likes to psychically stalk her without her knowing.  Caulder tells him to find Rita mentally now.  Meanwhile the Patrol arrive in Cottbus to find a takeover in progress, the Black Hole has also uncovered one who was a latent meta human who seems to have a forcefield projection ability. Caulder tells Steve he'll have to "override" Rita:

Steve: "Override!?!"

Caulder: "Nothing you haven't done before of course. This time she'll be awake."

Steve: "I..."

Caulder: "Come on Steve. How often do one's obssessions give one the opportunity to save the world?"

After the Black Hole tells the Patrol politely he won't stop his examinations of humans, they start to fight them.  Unfortunately the it uses it's newfound superpower to cut off three of Cliff's limbs. Steve links up with Rita and takes control, she grows to a huge size and this magnify's the psychic blast he sends through her which kills all the Black Hole beings bar the super one who was protected by a forcefield.  It agrees to return to Oolong Island with them and is interested in meeting the person who outwitted him.  Rita is back to normal but extremely distressed.  Before she can do anything about it though it's Crisis Crossover time!
Sucks, but still saves the day.
Blackest Night/Brightest Day was an event that saw a whole lot of killed off heroes from the history of the DCU coming back to life via "Black Lantern Rings" and one I didn't bother to read due to it's mean spirited retcons of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing and the continuity his successors kept to.  So ignoring the wider story, what happens in the next two chapters is several dead members of the Doom Patrol come back as Black Lanterns to make life difficult for our reluctant heroes.  What's interesting from my perspective is three of them are members from when I first started reading the comic in the 80's one of whom - Arani Desai - was killed off in another crossover (Invasion!) to make way for Grant Morrison's reboot line-up.

So on Oolong Island we meet Arani "Celsius" Desai, Joshua "Tempest" Clay and Val "Negative Woman" Vostok, all zombified and back to vex the current line Patrol because reasons. The next two chapters are pretty much one long fight scene. Firstly though Rita goes looking for Caulder to ream him out over not telling him about Steve's violations of her, and she is attacked by Joshua who she doesn't recognise because it was her turn to be dead when he was part of the line-up (ah, comics).
DC Zombies.
Meanwhile Caulder is being attacked by Arani, who always claimed to be his wife when I was reading the series, which he couldn't deny because he was off being dead at the time (ah, comics). Cliff now in a new body and Larry are attacked by Val who even has her own version of the Negative Spirit in her.  Although during her time in the Patrol, Larry wasn't dead (ah, co.. wait), just still radioactive, bandaged and weak and miserable. And then he got better, and then the Val died and the Negative Spirit came back and melded Larry with a woman and called the resultant lady-man "Rebis" and it was Grant Morrison's era so you know, it all made sense to him I guess.  Wait, sidetracked.  Back to the punchening.
It's a double negative! Ahahahaha, haha, ha. Sorry.
Joshua drops a cliff on Rita, Arani melts off Caulder's legs and you know what, just who these people are in relation to the history of the Patrol isn't really spelt out for newbs.  Considering said characters are from an incarnation of the Patrol that predates the 90's and this crossover happened in 2009-10 maybe who they were needed a little more detailing.  Just a thought. Anyway, poor Cliff doesn't have anyone to fight, so why not bring back his organic body to fight him?  Yes, his entirely without superpowers human body.  THAT makes so much sense.

Anyway, Cliff smashes it to pieces quickly, and although it can regenerate, it's really just a nuisiance.  Larry then briefly manifests "Rebis" and obliterates Val and the Black Lantern Ring keeping her unalive.  The Black Hole man saves Caulder by putting Arani in a forcefield.  Rita gets majorly pissed and knocks all the rubble off her and goes for Joshua.  So he drops a tidal wave on her, which sweeps across the island.  Caulder tells the Patrol to lead the Black Lanterns to the entrance to a "boom tube" which is a teleporter linked to a JLA distress beacon.  So they do so, and they all get zapped away from Earth. 
It's a magic door!
How do they fare?  You'll have to wait until the next volume because the next issue, is Giffen officially bringing all of the Doom Patrol's history officially back into continuity.  It would take an post about as long as this one is to cover it, so I direct you to the wikipedia page if you happen to be interested.  It's told via the history of the Negative Spirit, and how the relationship between it and Larry went from a "we" to an "I" and that "Larry" is somewhat in denial about aspects of his history and identity crisises.

I think in summary there are several problems at work in this first volume, yet a lot to like as well.  It's unfortunate that it was involved in a DCU-wide crossover event so soon into the run, with important events taking place outside the series leaving the issues involved almost incomprehensible once the crossover was done with especially if you had no interest in that crossover.  And while the continuity nerd in me appreciates the re-establishment of the Doom Patrol past history, front-loading so much of it into the first few issues might not have been the best idea for kicking his run off vis a vis attracting new or lapsed readers.

Nice arse Larry!  Hmm, and I do find it sad that it was a cold war Russian, an African-American and an Anglo-Indian who got killed off and came back as villians....
 I know quite a bit about various characters featured and even I had to resort to wikipedia a couple of times.  That said,  Giffen manages to include the kind of weirdness that characterised Morrison's run while keeping the characters more grounded and relatable through snark and world weary companionship that makes it enjoyable to read even with the narrative handicaps. Volume two will see the return of the team after helping in the fight against the Black Lantern menace and some familiar faces will also turn up as well, one of whom makes for a surprising yet amusing addition to the cast....


  1. The doom patrol sound pretty confusing!! but they look kind of cool as well.

  2. They are cool, shame this incarnation didn't run for very long, nor has DC given them a new book in the new 52. Bad DC!

  3. Google Translate says that "Buena suerte" means "Good luck."

    Who decides it's a good idea to interbreed humans and botflies? What is wrong with scientists?!?

    I bet Nudge was some kind of minor telepath. Or possibly she was telekinetic.

  4. I think comic scientists just do things for teh evulz. I'm not sure what a human/botfly hybrid could be used for. She is a loony though. Even Lex Luthor's company fired her for being to evil according to one of the small bits of info text.

    I do feel a bit bad for Nudge. It wasn't her fault she was written as part of the run that deleted most of the Doom Patrol's canon from DC history. Especially as thanks to DC's universe reboot in 2011, this version only ran 4 issues longer. She was a sacrifice to appease annoyed fans, and let us leave it at that. I'd have laughed if SHE came back as a Black Lantern though!