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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.