Sep 2, 2015

The First Few Issues: Early Writings of the Giant Box of Comics

(Another old piece of writing. I honestly don't remember who I wrote this for, or where it was originally posted. It's online out there, somewhere.)

The Doom Patrol Volume 2
Review by Tom Miller 

I've tried three or four times to start this review, each time coming up with something less than satisfactory. I tried the history lesson approach. I tried to break the series down into a number of short paragraphs that would give you an idea of the highs and lows of the series. Nothing worked. So I looked back at the series, and realized what I needed to tell you. 

I remember the feeling I got when I finally bought the last issue I was missing of the series. I had long ago purchased all of Paul Kupperberg's mediocre run, and all of Rachel Pollack's much-maligned run. Grant Morrison's issues were understandably the hardest ones to find. But find them I did. Once I had them all (87 issues, 2 annuals and 1 special), I sat down and read them all. Start to finish, Upon reading number 87, I was taken with a profound sadness. No more would I see the wonderful interaction of Cliff, Jane and Rebis, the machinations of Niles Caulder. There would be no more of those chilling moments, no more surreal villains (including God Himself if you can believe itl), no more of the innocent romance between Cliff and Jane. This, then, was what I needed to tell you. Not the plots, devices, characters or stories. I needed to tell you how Doom Patrol made me feel. 

This is not a normal comic book, by any stretch of the imagination. Really, you don't need issues 1 - 18 or issues 64 - 87. They are good in their own ways, especially Rachel Pollack's latter issues, but it is Grant Morrison's run that will forever be the definitive Doom Patrol. While his characters were based in the DCU, never did they encounter the likes of Darkseid or Lex Luthor or any of the multitudes of heroes that seem to infest DC Earth. (Well, there was that one time in Paris, but I'm not telling!) The true magic of this particular series, issues 19 - 63, is that in showing a group of individuals who skirt the edges of sanity and normalcy for their entire lives, Grant Morrison manages to tell a compelling story about human beings. In their own strange ways they search for fulfillment, love and belonging. Few super characters can claim to be as well-defined and multi-faceted, as human, as Cliff Steele. The story begins with Cliff in a mental hospital, having trouble dealing with the death that has recently surrounded him and his own robotic shell. The series, while a team book, seems to focus on Cliff. In appearance he is the most inhuman but he acts as an Everyman, a point of reference for the reader to view this strange world through. Over the course of the series, he is the character that experiences the least overt change, but by the end of the run we see that he has indeed changed, in accepting his inhumanity, he has become more human. I don't think I've given anything away by saying that. The stories of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol are magical and frightening. They grabbed hold of my mind and have still to let go. From the initial threat of the City of Orqwith to the malevolent menace of the Candlemaker, the adventures of the DP are at once mythical and subtle, full of majesty and meaning. 

This all seems flowery language to review what is essentially just another comic book. The truth though is that no other kind of language could come close to doing justice for this series. If The Invisibles is every conspiracy you've ever heard coming true, then the DP is all of them, and then a few you've never heard of. It is the sort of series that permeates the consciousness of the reader, a story that leaves you thinking long after you've finished it. For years in my case. I'll probably never get over it. And that's a good thing. 

The Particulars: Issues 19 - 25 are collected in the "Crawling From the Wreckage" trade, and the rest of the issues are likely available for no more than $5. They're not easy to find, but well worth the search. I can't say what kind of reader will like this book. If you like a great story, read it. 

A small ray of hope for any who've read and sorely miss the DP. Warren Ellis' Planetary is looking to be every bit as amazing and wondrous as The Doom Patrol was. There's a trade of the first issues coming in March. I highly recommend it. Maybe my next review.

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