Doom Patrol #15 concludes the 2 part story where the Chief is able to obtain Kryptonian powers by experimenting on a prisoner of war from the War of the Supermen.
The fall-out of the War of the Supermen hasn't been touched upon in too many comics outside of Supergirl. It would seem that such a true world war would at least be mentioned here and there. Maybe the brief nature of the war made it easier to forget. At least Doom Patrol touches on it as least tangentially letting us know about the whereabouts of one of the Kryptonians that Superman could not account for when the war ended.
The relationship between the Chief and the Patrol has always been edgy and dysfunctional since the Kupperberg/Lightle reboot so many years ago. It always seems to reach a breaking point where Caulder and the group comes to blows. Last issue we saw that the Chief felt as though his influence over the team was waning and that if he needed to accomplish his goals he would need to do it himself. Grasping the powers of the Kryptonian, he became addled, lashing out at his team and advising them not to try to stop him. Hmmm ... was he protesting too much?
Much like R.E.B.E.L.S., Doom Patrol is a low-selling title that is really high quality. Writer Keith Giffen and artists Matthew Clark and Ron Randall walk the fine-line between mainstream heroics and surreal Vertigo nonsense while keeping the core characters true to their origins. I hope that this title sticks around for a bit longer.
The setting for the book is Oolong Island, the high-tech island nation which formerly housed all the mad scientist super-villains of the DCU. The Chief and the Doom Patrol live on the island and use it as their base of operations, flying from mission to mission.
I always wondered exactly what Oolong got out of the deal. As we know, metahumans like the Patrol tend to be a magnet for disaster. Now I know. Caulder left a clause in the living agreement that in times of danger, the Patrol could be nationalized, becoming a part of Oolong's military defense. Unaware of these details, the Patrol are shocked to find that they have been enlisted to help keep the island safe from the chief.
The Chief has bigger things on his mind than just the island. Suddenly infused with God-like powers, he decided to push the envelope. Sweeping over the world, he gathers all weapons and dumps them in the arctic. Not just nuclear weapons ... not just weapons of mass destruction ... ALL weapons. We see huge piles of missiles, guns, and bombs. It is all very retro-Superman. How many time have we seen Superman try this stunt (usually just the nuclear warheads). He laughs at how easy it was ... and wonders why anyone with super-speed (Supergirl included) wouldn't do this.
Despite that this may be a cleansing of some sort, the Chief realizes that the super-hero community won't allow it. Most heroes agree that they cannot dictate the ways of humanity, only defend what is decided upon. Knowing that these 'heroes' will only re-distribute the weapons, the Caulder knows he needs to take a few more steps.
Throughout the story, the Chief slips into Kryptonese spouting some hackneyed Superman quotes. Here he slips in a Mighty Mouse reference ... 'Here I come to save the day!'
If the heroes won't act against the will of nations, the Chief goes to the nations themselves to try to keep the weapons where they are. Crashing into the UN, he tells the leaders of the world to not thwart his will. If they do, he will strike back.
He says he is 'the will and the way' in Kryptonian. Smacks a bit of hubris.
Back on Oolong, the Patrol has recovered enough from the Chief's earlier assault to be back in the action.
There is a tense scene on Oolong as the Patrol and the Oolong government try to come to grips with what to do next.
Professor I.Q., a D-list tech-villain living on the island, notices the Kryptonese statements and wonders if the K-transfer not only included powers but fears or psychological trauma as well. Maybe that is why the Chief is acting so erratically.
The Patrol realizes that in many ways the Chief is their responsibility. Gearing up to fight him, Robotman asks President Cale for whatever weapons she has to take down Superman. In a nice bit of continuity, Cliff says he knows the island has such weapons because of Black Adam. Remember, in 52, Black Adam razed Biayla and then flew to Oolong to battle. Oolong was prepared.
Ambush Bug teleports the Chief to the war-torn landscape of Biayla to face off against the group.
Amazingly, Cliff first tries to end this diplomatically, trying to talk him down. But the Chief wants no part of it. He has an agenda and he doesn't need foot soldiers any more.
I love how he says 'Kneel before Caulder' in Kryptonese. Maybe some Kryptonian traits really have sunk in?
When Caulder tries to flee, the heroes do attack.Cliff once again gets beheaded after trying to give the Chief vertigo with sonics. Larry sends the Negative Being into Caulder to try to disrupt his neural pathways only to have his shell body threatened. Rita takes a heat vision blast to the face.
It is clear that the Chief could end this in seconds but seems to be holding back. He begins ranting about the nature of family, how children always rebel and leave the home. In his own weird way, the Chief is telling the Patrol that he loves them. I doubt he would pull punches with any other group. My guess is he would have no problem with immolating the Teen Titans.
She tells the heroes that Caulder is basically insane from stimulus overload. She can help them defeat the Chief if they can keep him nearby.
Larry, picking up the 'jilted father' vibe from Caulder's mad speech, calls Niles' "Dad" stopping him in his tracks. But it is clear that Chief is mad. At first he embraces the Negative Man, then threatens to destroy him, swinging from love to hate and back in seconds. It's funny but this is probably the closest we have seen of the 'real' Chief even if he is insane. All the things we are seeing have been in him even if buried beneath his brusque facade. I think he does love the team as children even if he does send them on suicide missions routinely.
He feels emotionally abandoned by the team (remember we have seen him watching films of the team talking about how they have begun to hate the chief). He feels he is the groups savior ... their god. In a great panel (I should have posted it), he yells that he created the Patrol in his image (God complex) but the panel shows the scarred visage of Rita. Is that the Chief's self-image? A damaged ugly freak? I love it when words and art mesh in comics.
Finally, the Chief picks up Cliff's head to have a final quarrel. It is hear that we see how the Kryptonian's trauma has effected the Chief. He begins saying how he lost his world and couldn't bear to lose his last friends. Some of his feelings are the Chief's ... but some are this unnamed Kryptonian soldier's.
Luckily, the Chief built in a fail-safe device in Millicent to take himself down if he should ever lose control. With Cliff so close, his optics emit the shut down code, rendering the Chief comatose. It is a bit deus ex machina ... but how interesting that the Chief was self-aware enough to know he might need to be removed some day.
Like Vril Dox, the Chief is a wonderfully layered and not very likable character that I love reading about. He must be fun to write.
Despite all of what has transpired, the Doom Patrol actually defends the Chief, arguing that his madness was more from the Kryptonian influence rather than from within.
Really? Man, there is a whiff of Stockholm Syndrome here ... willing to go to bat for this man who has done so much damage to them. Yes, the Kryptonian definitely had an effect but there was definitely some Caulder in this episode.
But there is one last wonderful twist here. As Caulder's catatonic body is pushed into cold storage, we get to read some of his journal entries. He realizes that the Patrol has begun to hate him, even wondering if he was responsible for their personal disasters (a wink at Morrison's run).
To stop the Patrol from wallowing in self-loathing, he has been stoking the fire of their hating him. A common enemy would make the team stronger. So ... was all of this ... the weapons, the understated 'fight', the 'shut-down switch' ... just a ruse to help unite his 'children'? Or was their Kryptonian madness? Or was their real madness? Or some melange of all of it? Who can say ... but it sure is fun to think about.
I have said it before and I'll say it again. I thought Grant Morrison made it impossible for me to like any other version of the Doom Patrol but his. Kudos to Keith Giffen for letting me read and enjoy new stories of these characters I love so much. If only DC will keep the title afloat.
I think Matthew Clark and Ron Randall do a good job tag-teaming the art in this issue (as they do each issue). I wonder if it would be possible to have each do alternating complete issues. I'd like to see that.
Overall grade: B+