Thursday, March 02, 2006

Join the Legion of Doom (Patrol fans)

I recently had a long-time customer on eBay tell me that he was really getting into the Doom Patrol and whether I had any comics for sale. I’ve got probably 75% of the original series, and this is a guy who is willing to pay a good price for comics, but I had to tell him that there was no way I was letting go of my babies.

So, what is it about the Doom Patrol that makes it such a great series? At first glance, DP looks like an ugly duckling when compared to its contemporaries at DC such as the staid long-running Superman and Batman titles and the stylish titles featuring revamped Golden Age characters.

I have also heard that Doom Patrol is more akin to Marvel books of the early 60s, mainly due to the mixture of in-fighting and outsider angst. I don’t really buy that as the storytelling and characters in Doom Patrol are far too fantastical and silly (for lack of a better word) to co-exist with the likes of Tony Stark and Reed Richards.

Once you scratch the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that the Doom Patrol’s greatest strength is that it is so different from other titles. In fact, the Doom Patrol should almost be allowed to exist in its own alternate universe, without regard to superhero norms. Of course, exceptions could be made, allowing for crossovers with the Challs or the occasional wedding.

So, how’s does such a strange little comic book pop up in the middle of the straightforward Silver Age? Well, I guess it all starts in Arnold Drake’s brain. I imagine that he may be the only person who has written both X-Men and Little Lulu. His strength here is that he was able to create interesting characters; each having a unique angle that prevents them from becoming merely recycled heroes.

Let’s look at Negative Man. He is the team’s nearly omnipotent member whose greatest weakness is a time fatal time constraint. By keeping his exploits to 60 seconds, the creators ensure that he does not overshadow the rest of the team. Rita’s powers have been used almost since the dawn of comic books – but her background as a Hollywood star is a great twist (or perhaps stretch). In a way, a celebrity becoming a freak reminds readers not to get too comfortable with the status quo. In Robotman, we get your typical Ben Grimm, man trapped inside a monster’s body gets through life by alternating between anger and comedy, but the real genius here is that we some pathos is developed through the back-up series in which we series Cliff Steele on the lam.

Of course, these odd heroes pales in comparison to their unbelievably wacky foes. It you were to assemble a Wacky Villains Hall of Fame. I would imagine the liked of Monsieur Mallah, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and Mr. 103 would all be charter members. Finally, I have to mention Mento, Rita’s love interest who would have a tough time cracking the Justice League Antarctica line-up.

And yet, with all of this goofiness going on, the stories are still very engaging and a real pleasure to read. The artwork, mainly by Bruno Premiani, is absolutely perfect for the titles as it is loose and mildly abstract without ever being too over the top. It’s hard to think of another Silver Age artist who could have pulled this one off – although I would have liked to see Steve Ditko give it a try.
Anyway, that’s my attempt to put my finger on what makes Doom Patrol such a fun read. If you’ve never tried the book, I suggest picking up an issue or two. Try browsing eBay, where lower grades copies can be found for peanuts.


J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...


Mickey Coalwell said...

Scott, excellent overview. I agree with everything you said, particularly your point about how different, how unique, Doom Patrol was in the context of DC's other titles. I remember thinking the same thing when I picked these nutty comics up in "real time" in the 1960's. I didn't read any of DC's Batman or Superman stuff, just the distaff titles like this one.

And boy, was it distaff. Strange happenings and outre, grotesque ideas and images that captivated my young brain! Somebody on the CBR board mentioned Bosch, and that is right on, as far as I'm concerned.

I think Premiani captured this "Old World" sensibility better than any American-born artist could have. I wonder if his experiences as an anti-fascist activist in Italy in the '30s had anything to do with the morbid and grotesque elements found in his work. While watching Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," I was reminded of Premiani's work, particuarly on Doom Patrol! Isn't that strange? Have you seen that movie?

Drake was such a great storyteller and imagineer. I haven't been able to bring myself to post anything on the CBR thread concerning his passing. Anything I say would be too much, and too little. He is one of the medium's greatest creators.