13 July 2011

Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol is a DC comic focusing on the eponymous superhero team, comprised of a collective of superheroes with various powers. Since its inception in 1963, members of the cast have come and gone and come back again, resulting in a broad range of characters. The mainstay of the series, the character who has been in every incarnation of the Doom Patrol, is Cliff Steele, also known as "Robotman" (who dislikes his superhero name, largely because it's a misnomer - he's a human brain mounted inside a robotic body). Other founding characters include Rita Farr, an actress who gains the ability to manipulate the size of her body (or parts of it) after inhaling strange vapors while making a movie in Africa; Larry Trainor, a pilot who accidentally flies his plane into a radioactive field that causes a bizarre entity known as the Negative Spirit to possess his body, which he can unleash in order to attack enemies. Over the series' almost-50 year history, a number of other characters have joined the Doom Patrol - these include Mento, a man with telekinetic and telepathic abilities amplified by bizarre headgear that also amplifies his paranoia; Crazy Jane, a woman whose identity fractured into 64 distinct alternate personalities in order to bear the brunt of her abuse as a child; Dorothy Spinner, a girl with an ape-like face that could physically manifest her imaginary friends; Danny the Street, a sentient, cross-dressing city street that could teleport anywhere in the world; The Freak, a girl whose body was infested by a creature that allowed her to utilise its tendrils in battle; Beast Boy, a green-skinned boy who can change into animals; Nudge, a girl with six people's minds fused together in her head; Coagula, a MTF transexual with the ability to dissolve or coagulate matter; and many more. Heading the group in most of its incarnations was Niles Caulder, "The Chief", a wheelchair-bound genius who aided the Doom Patrol using his intellect to build technology and machinery. The Doom Patrol members are often reluctant heroes who have been shunned from normal society - or superhero society - for various reasons.

The series is well known for its surreal and off-kilter storylines, which the Doom Patrol are best suited to dealing with due to their own odd makeup. Some of the villains the Doom Patrol have faced include the Brain - a brain in a glass jar - and Monsieur Mallah - an intelligent, gun-toting gorilla - of the Brotherhood of Evil; The Builders, who attempt to build a second Tower of Babel that runs deep into the Earth; the Brotherhood of Dada, a grop of capital-S Surreal villains who embody the principles of Dada and include "The Quiz", a Japanese germaphobe who has "every superpower you haven't thought of yet", Alias the Blur, the ghost of a dead mirror that eats time, and "Agent !", a man with a flamboyant outfit and a cage in his chest housing a bird-plane, whose power is to "come as no surprise", resulting in no-one ever being surprised by encountering him; Porcelain Doll, a girl comprised of porcelain and can fire tiny razor-sharp shards of the same at her foes. The team has also encountered the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse found inside a painting that ate Paris, hyperspatial people who have a building permit for all of the universe, a war between alien races that ended with a potlatch that destroyed both races power, a pseudoimaginary psychic construct that destroys the dreamworld of the Earth. The series explores a number of societal themes such as transhumanism, transgenderism, religious/mystical themes such as Kabbalah and alchemy, and artistic and intellectual themes such as Surrealism, Dada, semantics and semiotics.

The Doom Patrol first appeared in the anthology comic "My Greatest Adventure" only four months before the publication of another comic featuring superpowered outcasts led by a genius in a wheelchair - The X-Men. There has been some speculation by the series' creator, Arnold Drake, that Stan Lee, creator of the X-Men, may have stolen the idea from him.

As of 2011, there have been five volumes of Doom Patrol titles, each of which is summed up on the Wikipedia page for the Doom Patrol. Each volume ended with its cancellation, and in the case of Volumes 4 and 5, continuity was severely altered - in Volume 4, John Byrne's run, the title was rebooted and all previous continuity was retconned. In Volume 5, the retcon was retconned, to the effect that all of the previous continuity is canon, including retconned material. Despite the fact that this leads to some strange continuity "errors", it nonetheless contributes to the odd, surreal theme that the Doom Patrol is known for. The series has once again been cancelled, and the last issue was released on May 2011.

Why I Love Doom Patrol

More than any other comic book series published right now - more than Hellblazer, more than the Authority, more than X-Men or Batwoman - I want to write the Doom Patrol.

I'd be lying if I denied part of it was due to Grant Morrison. Morrison has written so many things that really drew me into the world of comics: in fact, he's written for all of the above titles, Doom Patrol included, as well as a number of other stories I enjoyed, such as The Invisibles, WE3, and X-Men.

That said, Morrison isn't the only reason I'd like to write the Doom Patrol: there's a number of  other writers and artists who've contributed to the series' legacy in such a way that inspired me to want to join their ranks. Rachel Pollack's run of Doom Patrol seemed to polarise the entire fanbase, and whether that was down to following Grant Morrison's act or because of way she was introduced, it certainly wasn't due to a lack of ideas. She tackled some poignant social topics - such as transgenderism and feminism - in a way that didn't feel forced or flippant, as well as utilising a number of concepts - like semi-obscure Judaeo-Christian Kabbalistic practices played mostly straight- that I didn't expect from the series.

I'm a stickler for verisimilitude and internal consistency in just about everything I create and the things others have created that I enjoy - plot holes drive me up the wall, introducing elements from outwith the series' core/related themes annoys me (think Marvel's Curse of the Mutants storyline, where the X-Men were pitted against vampires), and if a series just handwaves a rule that it's set up without any further elaboration of the consequences of that handwave, it bugs me to no end. And yet, Doom Patrol's continuity has metamorphised frequently over the years as many different writers and artists put their own spin on the series, plus its outrĂ©, surreal plots practically beg for things that would normally be outwith the realm of simple superhero stories - and I love it. Part of this, I think, is because Doom Patrol is far different from other superhero titles - in many other superhero titles, the main character is a person with a set theme (Batman is a smart, shadowy vigilante), who has concepts, persons or things that they fight against (Batman fights human injustice) - and then somehow, that character is thrown into stories that disregards either the character's or the universe's internal rules or themes (Batman v. the aliens from the Alien movie series). Doom Patrol, on the other hand, has a band of misfits as the main cast, protecting humanity from undefined evils and/or other misfits - introducing elements that would be inconsistent in other superhero titles is practically begged for in Doom Patrol. And it's for that reason - that allowance for inconsistency a priori - that makes the Doom Patrol more free and open.

That's not to say that Doom Patrol is restricted to only having surreal storylines - it's been shown that the series is more than able to carry social commentary and other "serious" elements along with it. We can enjoy the Doom Patrol being whisked away through a magic circus into space to meet aliens, and we can muse on the ravenous impact (and potential futility?) of war through having those warring aliens commit to a potlatch ceremony. We can watch in shock as the Chief performs abhorrent acts in the name of science, and we can laugh (uneasily) as his fondness for milkshakes means that his detached head occasionally leaks all over the kitchen. The Doom Patrol maintains an equilibrium of both pertinent social issues along with fun fantasy elements in a way that allows for amazing stories, with a bonus helping of giving the reader something to think about at the end.

If/when I get the opportunity to write the Doom Patrol, I'm making it my duty to ensure that all those elements - those avant-garde, over-the-top, tragical-comical moments that make the Doom Patrol what it is - remain within the story and give it something that all the fans of the series can enjoy as much as I did. Here's hoping that opportunity comes soon then, eh?

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