Posts Tagged ‘Bruno Premiani’

Every comic-book reader has it : “their” book. The one that comes along at just the right time in your life and stays with you for the rest of your days. I’ve got a few, truth be told, but one of the big ones is Doom Patrol — specifically, Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol, that began with issue number 19 of the title’s second go-’round and lasted through number 63, a unique amalgamation of the existential, the conspiratorial, the emotive, and the quite-often indescribable that surely still stands as the most unusual “team book” ever set within the confines of a pre-existing superhero “universe.” Filled to the brim and beyond with Morrison’s patented brand of “high weirdness” but underscored with a palpable strain of sheer heart throughout, it had everything I was looking for in a comic as a teenager — when my interest in the traditional, by-the-numbers superhero narrative was waning, and my exploration of the work of  “alternative” cartoonists of the period (Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Chris Ware, etc.) was only just starting to take hold. Doom Patrol was a comic that hit a kind of “sweet spot” right between the two, and I definitely credit it for keeping my interest in the medium alive at precisely the point where it was threatening to wane.

And now, here we are, some three fucking decades later, and what would have been absolutely unthinkable in 1989 has come to pass : Doom Patrol is now a big-budget TV series, newly-launched on the DC Universe website/streaming service.

It’s not precisely “my” Doom Patrol, mind you, nor should it be : a straight adaptation of the Morrison/Case era would reek of the “been there, done that,” but one episode in (that episode bearing the standardized, and entirely unimaginative, title of “Pilot”), it’s clear that “showrunner” Jeremy Carver is cleaving to the temperament of that now-legendary run, while mixing in plenty from the original “Silver Age” version of the book by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani (credited as the team’s creators along with Bob Haney), a dash of Rachel Pollack’s post-Morrison/Case iteration (although, at least as yet, the elements of Pollack’s run that make their way onto the screen include nothing from the brief-but-incredible period when things went really, and wonderfully, far off the rails following the arrival of Ted McKeever as artist), and plenty that’s wholly unique and original in its own right. Something old, something new and all that —

The basic set-up is a fairly logical updating of the initial premise : genius (but quite mysterious) wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Niles Caulder (played with something very much akin to absolute perfection by Timothy Dalton) accrues into his orbit a small group of super-beings whose abilities brand them more as rejects and freaks than “heroes,” outcasts with power to save the world but little desire to do so given they’ve been shunned from it. Their ranks are composed of former test pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), who is now horribly burned, completely bandaged, and sharing his body with a mysterious, and sentient, “negative” energy force; one-time Hollywood starlet Rita Farr (April Bowlby), who suffered a freak accident on a film location and is now a gelatinous, oozing mass of flesh that can only hold on to human form for brief periods of time; multiple personality disorder sufferer “Crazy” Jane (Diane Guerrero), who has 64 distinctive “selves,” each with a metahuman “gift” of its own; and long-since-believed-dead race car driver Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), whose brain was actually saved by Caulder following a fiery collision and placed inside a robotic body. Future  episodes will apparently see the addition of stalwart DC character Cyborg, a fan-favorite from the pages of Teen Titans and Justice League, but since he has yet to hit the scene, we need not dwell on him too much — although I’m curious as to how they plan to integrate him into this far-less-traditional team and, more importantly, why they’re even bothering to do so. Guess we’ll take a “wait and see” approach there.

Based on evidence so far, though, I’m inclined to give Carver the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows what he’s doing, because his script for this first episode is essentially pitch-perfect : Cliff is out point of entry, and through him we get to know the other members of the cast, their “secret origins,” and their coping mechanisms : Larry’s into horticulture, Rita has her knitting, Jane (or a part of her at any rate) paints. Cliff, for his part, is building a miniature town, but when they all go into the nearest real one while “Chief” Caulder is away for a couple of days, the shit hits the fan and they end up needing to save the pleasant little village they’ve entered — from themselves.

Caulder warned them not to go, of course, but with the cat out of the bag, his makeshift “family” suddenly finds itself at very real risk from forces not out of their pasts, but his : specifically a mentally-and physically-fragmented being of immense power known as Mr. Morden/Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk, who doubles as this episode’s narrator), whose been looking for “The Chief” for a long time for reasons as yet unknown. Much as with the first “live-action” DC Universe series, Titans (where a slightly different version of our team made its first appearance in episode four), this  show looks to have a “road trip” as its core conceit, but first they all head back into town to undo the damage/face the music — only to find that Morden is a step ahead of them. As is a flatulent donkey. Things are about to go from strange to stranger.

Director Glen Winter does a superb job with the pacing here, balancing flashbacks with “present-day” action seamlessly, and his cast turn in uniformly strong performances that really sell viewers on the everyday banality of their absurd existences. These are people — and a robot — each in tremendous amounts of pain, and while they all seem to be able to “go through the motions” to a certain extent, that sense of anguish is ever-present just beneath the surface. This is an especially tricky thing to pull off in the cases of Larry Trainor and Cliff Steele, who are each voiced by the “big-name” actors whose names adorn the show’s credits, while their full-body costumes are inhabited by other actors (Matthew Zuk and Riley Shanahan, respectively) charged with the important task of expressing the physicality of the characters. It works — hell, it’s so seamless you could be forgiven for assuming Bomer and Fraser were on set/location and inside the suits — but never forget this kind of apparent “ease” always takes a hell of a lot of work, and the effort Winter puts in behind the camera definitely pays off in terms of delivering a unique, idiosyncratic, highly imaginative product in front of it.

Fans of standard superhero fare may find the altogether different tone, style, and even premise of Doom Patrol 180 degrees removed from where their interests lie, but they needn’t despair too much : the big and small screens offer no shortage of material in line with their populist sensibilities. For the rest of us, though, this show offers the exact same thing that Grant Morrison and Richard Case did 30 years ago, and Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani some 20 years before that : a superhero adventure series capable of rekindling our interest in the genre by doing something new and different, while simultaneously reminding us why we loved it in the first place.

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Question : you’re a comic book publisher and you’ve got yourself a high-profile “superfan.” What should you do about it?

Answer : if you’re DC, and said fan is Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame — who interned at your offices and was planning on pursuing a career as a writer and/or artist on your books before his band went and got famous — you give him not just a series, but an entire fucking line. For developmental guidance you pair him with veteran Vertigo editor Shelly Bond (who has since, sadly, left the building), but by and large you leave him to his own devices and let him come up with whatever it is that he comes up with. The end result? A new imprint semi-mysteriously called DC’s Young Animal. Its first title? A(nother) re-imagined take on the original misfit super-team : the one, the only — Doom Patrol!

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For anyone ancient enough to have been there in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when this series — then under the stewardship of Grant Morrison and Richard Case — was the place to be for high weirdness on the four-color page, the news that it was coming back with Way and artist Nick Derington at the helm was reason for much optimism Now that Doom Patrol #1 is here, though, heck — it’s reason to celebrate.

Yes, the book is good. Very good, in fact. But I have no idea what’s going on it or what it’s even all about. Which, to my mind, is exactly how it should be.

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At its best — and later, non-Vertigo iterations of the title were anything but that — Doom Patrol was always a comic that threw you in at the deep end and dared you to either keep up or drown. Morrison tends to get most of the credit for “turning it into” a strange and even dangerous book, but really all he was doing was picking up the baton laid down by the team’s creator, the great Arnold Drake, and his artistic collaborator, the equally-great Bruno Premiani. The DP (quit snickering, porn viewers) were outcasts from the outset, and waaaaaayyyy back in the the 1960s, after a lengthy run that saw the original line-up battle such surreal villains as General Immortus (who was more or less exactly what his name implied), The Brain (who was likewise), Monsieur Mallah (who was a hyper-intelligent talking ape) and The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (who — well, shit, you just had to see him to believe him), Drake and Premiani decided to end the book by doing the then-unthinkable : killing ’em all in a plane crash and leaving them dead.

Of course, bean-counters and editors can’t leave profitable characters and concepts mothballed forever, and about a decade later a listless new incarnation of the team came shambling along with only one original member (Cliff “Robotman” Steele) in tow, but it would take some time (and, crucially, a certain Scottish writer)  for the property to well and truly get its “mojo” back — once it did, though, it really did. Fictional cities made of bone that over-write our reality, the painting that ate Paris, a hyper-dimensional sentient transvestite street, a man of “muscle mystery,” and catastrophe worship were but a handful of the magnificently memorable ideas introduced during the legendary Morrison/ Case run, which reached its apex with a shattering climax that was appended by a genuinely heart-wrenching epilogue that still stands out as one of the five or ten best single issues of any comic that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Those who’ve read it will know exactly what I mean when I say that the line “There is another world. There is a better world. Well — there has to be” still sticks in my throat every time.

So, yeah — these characters have been around a long time and have seen some lows, to be sure, but have also had their share of breathtaking, consciousness-expanding highs. Way grew up on Morrison and Case’s run, and while the fact that his new take on Doom Patrol promises to bring back characters from that era who haven’t been seen since like Crazy Jane, Flex Mentallo, and Danny The Street warms my crusty old comic-book-lovin’ heart, what really matters more than anything is the fact that — as this first issue makes abundantly clear — he is determined to do his own thing with them.

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And not just with them, thank goodness, but with his own, all-new, creations as well. Like Casey Brinke, an EMT who seems to think she’s Mario Andretti. And Terry None, who — well, I don’t know what her deal is yet, any more than I know why Casey wears Cliff Steele’s old jacket while Cliff himself seems to be trapped in a universe inside a gyro (that you can get a glimpse of if you buy the cover pictured at the top of this review, which literally peels back). And while we’re on the subject of things that can’t, as yet, be explained,  Way is re-introducing readers to the team’s ostensible leader, once affectionately known as “The Chief,” through a series of one-page vignettes called “What’s Going On With Niles Caluder?” that answer that question before raising the inevitable next one of “okay, why?”and I. Am. So. Digging. That.

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Derington, for his part, is being tasked with having to figure out which of the obviously many styles he can draw in that best brings Way’s absurdist sensibility to life, and so far he’s handling the task with flying colors. His rendered worlds range from the blase to the hyper-kinetic to the quite-likely-dystopian, but labeling them sort of takes the fun out of everything, and if there’s one thing that Doom Patrol has always been — even at its darkest, most confusing, or most terrifying — it’s fun. Derington, like Way, gets that. And we feel it in every last goddamn panel.

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There’s a definite synergy, then, going on here between artist and writer here that can’t be faked, and can only take us in new and interesting directions — even if they can’t really be adequately described (at least by someone of my limited skills). There’s dangerous imagining happening in the gloriously haphazard pages of Doom Patrol #1, and that can only mean two things : I have no idea where we’re going, and I’m desperately eager to take the trip.