Jun 4, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 100: My Greatest Adventure #80, June 1963

Before I get to today's comic, I just wanted to say thanks to anyone who's been reading my posts over the last 100 days. I know some were scattered, some more opinion than critique, and some were just me gushing over how much I love comics. But that's how these works affect me, so I make no apologies. In celebration of 100 days, this coming Monday I will be starting my "40 Years of Comics Project Weekly Graphic Novel" series. So that I can give myself the requisite time to read one graphic novel, I'll be presenting them on a weekly, instead of daily, basis. I won't be reading collections of comics this way, rather this weekly series will be long-form graphic works, or collections of newspaper strips, that sort of thing. With trade collections, I'll read each collected comic as an individual one for my daily post.

Writing for 100 days has been immensely satisfying. I've read some really great works, and some really, really awful ones. I've enjoyed exercising my brain and trying to think around each work, how it's affected me and, when I can, what I think it means to the medium.

100 days. It seems like a long time, but it's really just a drop in the bucket.

On to today's comic:

This is, in a number of ways, one of the most valuable comics in my collection. I got it (I think) for my 25th birthday. Despite its age and monetary value, I take it out of its sleeve regularly and read it, because I truly think it's a wonderful piece of comics. My copy is in really fantastic shape, and when I checked an Overstreet a few years back, Near Mint copies were valued around $1500. I don't think mine's quite that valuable, but it's close.

But that's not really why it's valuable. I think that the Doom Patrol are one of the finest examples of superhero storytelling ever. I came to this conclusion, unsurprisingly, after reading Grant Morrison's stellar run on the title in the late eighties. After completing that run, I tracked down and bought every appearance by the team from the previous 30 or so years. And I was not disappointed. The Doom Patrol is weird. Really, really weird. They exist on the fringes of the DCU, thriving in the strangeness that just seems to be too much for the more mainstream superheroes. I can't imagine Superman fighting Gargax. Or Green Lantern taking on The Brain and M. Mallah. But Cliff, Larry, Rita, and The Chief are right at home stopping these oddballs from taking over the planet, or robbing a bank.

You'll notice that I referred to the main characters (Niles Caulder aside) by their given names, rather than their superhero names. That's intentional. I once said of Morrison's Doom Patrol that it was the most human story ever told using characters who were decidedly something other than human. That evaluation doesn't only apply to Morrison's tenure on the title, but the whole history of the Doom Patrol. Where characters like Superman and Batman achieve iconic status, are almost more god than human, the Doom Patrol never stop being flawed, desperate, loving, funny characters...no, not characters - people. They fight with each other but only because they have such deep affection for one another. The original run of the series sees characters getting married, having breakdowns, adopting children (Beast Boy/Changeling of the Teen Titans first appears in Doom Patrol). They have lives. It's just that their lives also involve interactions with some truly bizarre villains and monsters. It's one of the reasons that Morrison's run can be said to cleave really nicely to Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani's original stories. The Doom Patrol are people, survivors, who just happen to deal with the strangeness that no one else wants to deal with.

Sometimes, it's true, comics from the Silver Age don't read particularly well. I mean, this is true of comics from any age, but the older a comic is, the farther from our cultural touchstones and languages, the harder it is to really get into the story. Read an original Superman one of these days and tell me I'm wrong. My Greatest Adventure #80 doesn't totally escape this problem. Remember that it was publishing in 1963. Humans hadn't visited the Moon by that point, so Larry Trainor's origin story of testing an experimental airplane that almost breaches the atmosphere is a bit hard to parse for a contemporary reader. Especially given that one of the hallmarks of the superhero genre is its apparent timelessness. However, the characters are so flawed, so dear, that one can forgive these slight chronological problems. When I sat down to read the comic today, I was concerned that it would suffer this datedness, that I'd have to read it from that ironic perspective with which we treat so much culture that has come before our "enlightened" time. My concerns were unfounded. The comic is every bit as entertaining as it ever was, the characters every bit as close to my heart. I've made it my mission to read everything featuring the Doom Patrol, and I know I'm missing some bits and pieces, but I have just about a complete 52 years of their history in my collection. And I love it all. Even the really bad stuff (yeah, I'm talking about you, John Byrne!). I'll get to it all eventually, but this issue, this beginning of what I think is one of the greatest adventures in the superhero genre, is so important to me, and so wonderful and indicative of all the great and tragic things the genre is capable of. If you can ever find a copy, reprint or what have you, give it a read.

So that caps off 100 days of reading comics. Not a bad way to spend a little bit of each day. I really can't wait to see what the next 100 bring. I'll see you tomorrow.

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