I have sung the praises of the current Doom Patrol title in the past over here. I thought the content of Doom Patrol #14 was just Kryptonian enough to warrant a post and review here.
As a long time fan of the group (especially the Morrison stuff, although the Drake/Premiani stuff stands up), I have suffered through reimaginations and reboots of the team. But none have grabbed me post-Morrison until this version.
Specifically, I think Keith Giffen understands that the Doom Patrol needs a couple of things to work with. They need to have bizarre adventures and there needs to be a sense of fatalism, a sense of impending doom as it were. Giffen has put those things into this book. And rather than shying away from the team's confusing and often contradictory history, he embraces it. How can there have been so many versions of the Negative Man? How can there be so many incarnations of this team? How can all of their stories fit into current DC history? Who knows how? Who cares? This is the Doom Patrol ... that is all the answer you need. Bizarre stuff happens. And that is how Giffen sees it. We see bits of Morrison here, but also Arcudi, and Kupperberg, and even Drake. The Doom Patrol's continuity is a soup. Deal with it!
Oh, one other thing you need from the Doom Patrol ... you need the Chief. And more and more, in more and more versions of the team, the Chief has been portrayed as a master manipulator, convincing people to act as his agents, all while being a boor. He is willing to put anyone on the front line and in peril to achieve his goals. Sounds a little like Vril Dox, doesn't it? I wonder what it says about my personality that I like reading books with these sort of Machiavellian leaders.
But unlike Dox in R.E.B.E.L.S., the Chief doesn't 'stir the drink' here. No, in this book it is the members of the Doom Patrol that I want to read about. I care about these characters. And in this incarnation, the team is the original three - solid Cliff 'Robotman' Steele, crazy Larry 'Negative Man' Trainor, and traumatized Rita 'Elasti-Girl' Farr. Rita just recently learned she is more like Proty than human. While Crazy Jane, Danny the Street, and Bumblebee have all been in the book, the stories have revolved around the inital team members. So while I want to see Dox scheming and victorious in R.E.B.E.L.S., I want to see the Doom Patrol triumph despite the Chief.
Doom Patrol #14 starts with a general recap of recent issues in to form of a Beverly Hillbillies style ditty sung by fourth wall busting Ambush Bug (another erstwhile team member and the obvious comic relief on the team).
Immediately we see how Giffen acknowldges and accepts all that has come before. From Morrison's run, Mr. Nobody (now Mr. Somebody) has possessed Mr. Jost, the benefactor from Arcudi's run.
These recaps are usually best done in issues where I expect there to be an influx of new readers ... an event cross-over, a new art team, a bold new direction. So it seemed strange to see it here. I think the same 11K readers have been with this title the whole way.
The most sympathetic character in the book is Rita. Not only has she learned that she isn't necessarily human but rather a blob of malleable protoplasm in the shape of Rita Farr, resurrected/cloned by the Chief, but she also has learned that her ex-husband Steve Dayton, the telepath Mento, has been using his powers to make Rita perform ... unsavory ... acts. Overwhelmed by the truth of her origins and outraged by these violations by the perverted Dayton, Rita lashes out, nearly killing Mento. Only a timely save by Cliff stops Rita from becoming a murderer.
The issue before this one was a great introspective on the character of Rita and is worth reading.
Watching from afar ... always watching from afar through the hardwired eyes of Cliff ... the Chief replays a recent conversation that the team has had after surviving their fight with Jost's/Somebody's Front Men team.
It is clear how much the members of the team love each other, how despite the chaos in their lives they rely on each other, love each other, rely on each other, look to each other as a foundation upon which to build their lives.
It is charming and natural to see how they have become a family. Thrown together in combat situations, the relationships forged are tremendously strong.
And yet the Chief is put off by this. At one point, he was the thing holding the members' lives together. They needed him. Now with this vocalized loyalty and support to each other, the Doom Patrol doesn't need the Chief. And without his 'minions', the Chief is suddenly powerless. Maybe he is jealous that he is shut out.
The Chief speaks with such for the team, as if their friendship with each other is a burden to him.
Suddenly, without operatives, he needs a new plan. And so we are made privy to just how diabolical the Chief is.
We heard at the end of War of the Supermen that maybe some Kryptonians were unaccounted for. Now we know about one of them. Vivisected, this poor Kryptonian has become a lab rat for Caulder.
This is horrific. Villainous. Evil. Inhuman. Suddenly we are looking at the Chief in a new light ... a terrible light.
The reason for the experimentation is clear. The Chief wants to learn the 'how's' of Kryptonian physiology in hopes of obtaining their power.
Interestingly enough, the Chief's analysis shows no major difference between human and Kryptonian cells. There is no obvious cellular reason why Kryptonian cells should absorb yellow sun rays and become gods.
With no difference in form, there can only be a difference in essence. Yeah, I don't understand it either.
And ironically, Caulder's computer knows what he doesn't. The Chief cannot live in a vacuum. He needs the Doom Patrol.
The look on the Chief's face is priceless when he is called on it. He knows it too ... maybe he doesn't want to admit it, but he knows he needs them. To him, it is probably weakness that he needs them. But that silent panel is great, speaking volumes.
But with only a metaphysical cellular 'essence' standing in his way to co-opt Kryptonian power, the Chief is able to grasp it. He suddenly becomes Super-Chief. The flood of information ... sensations ... now that he has Kryptonian abilities seems too much to comprehend, to process even for a mind like Caulder's.
This read a bit like Morrison's Luthor at the end of All-Star Superman. Lex was bombarded when obtained Superman's capabilities as well. But there, Lex seemed to ascend. Here The Chief descends into madness. It was interesting for me to compare the two responses.
But insane and drunk with power, the Chief lashes out at those he feels have betrayed him.
In short order the Chief immolates Larry, beheads Cliff, and bisects Rita.
Brutal and scary. How the heck did we win a war with 100K of people like this?
The Negative being rushes to a spare Larry-body the Chief has held in stasis. Cliff's head and brain are still operable. Rita has no internal organs but is on the ground. It is amazing that they all survive. But that survival also takes away some of the ability of Giffen to create suspense in the future. If the Doom Patrol can survive this, what can't they survive? What cliffhanger will now leave me hanging, worried about the team?
I suppose the Chief could finish them off but he doesn't. Maybe some of that unrecognized, unacknowledged love for his friends is still in there despite the madness.
An insane Chief with Kryptonian powers is a cool concept. But somehow this felt a little premature for this to play out in the book. It took Grant Morrison over 3 years before he showed Caulder's true colors, showed him to be the villain he was. Here we are only at issue #14. How do you come back from this storyline with the Chief still part of the book? Why would any of the team let him back into their lives? I like the friction between the Chief and the team ... but not like this.
Of course, with poor sales it might be now or never for Giffen. This is a good issue NOW. I'll have to worry about the future of the title later.
And I am enjoying this title. It isn't Morrison's Doom Patrol, a run revered by me. But it is a good version of the Doom Patrol and I can't ask for more than that.
The mixed art of Matthew Clark and Ron Randall is fine here, although Clark's line work is a bit more suited for the warped world of this book. That vivesection scene was gruesome.