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BRICK BY BRICK: EXAMINING THE WEIRDNESS OF GERARD WAY’S ‘DOOM PATROL’

In a series of what one might call unfortunate events, and everyone else might say are malicious attempts to ruin their lives, the Doom Patrol is slowly being brought together. Again. Set some time after the events of Keith Giffen’s run of the title–which had the misfortune to end prematurely and in absolute uncertainty due to a lack of readership–Doom Patrol is back with a vengeance. Literally. Sort of literally.

It’s complicated.

Writer Gerard Way (Umbrella Academy, My Chemical Romance–yes, THAT Gerard Way) and artist Nick Derington team up to bring back a series that has been a DC staple on and off since the 60s. But, luckily for anyone unfamiliar with the series or the characters, you don’t have to have read any of the past stuff to get the new series. Actually, I’m not sure it would help much even if you have. This run is weird. Weird. Weird, weird, weird. But that’s okay because Doom Patrol has always been weird. And that’s a good thing.

The story is well paced, well drawn, and just all-around enjoyable. It’s witty and self-deprecating in just the right ways and is just absurd enough to not provoke questions. Or rather, you might have questions, but they’ll either get answered or they won’t and you won’t have time to worry about them either way.

The exact placement of this story in the current DC timeline is pretty vague. The last time we saw the Doom Patrol was back during the Forever Evil crossover event, however, what they’ve been up to and where they went after that was left mostly open for speculation, until now.

Turns out that most of them have been scattered across multiple universes and plains of reality, getting their memories scrambled in the process, with only a sentient universe to guide them back together.

Don’t worry, you’ll meet Danny later.

Hint: Neither and/or both of these characters are Danny.

Casey Brinke is an ambulance driver extraordinaire and a new addition to the Doom Patrol, although she doesn’t know it yet. Her EMT partner, Samson is a generous, fast-thinking guy whose wife left him to join a cult and teenage son sort of worships Satan but is really just acting out.

Don’t worry there’s noooo way this could possibly become relevant later.

Somehow, this powerhouse duo is always exactly where they need to be before they need to be there, almost as though some metaconscious being were directing their actions… Or something.

They get sent to the site of a hit-and-run just in time to watch Cliff “Robotman” Steele get smashed to pieces by a truck. Even during their off hours they get strange calls, like the one that leads them to Larry “Negative Man” Trainor. And Terry “???” None sort of finds them, but that’s really a whole other thing considering the fact that she’s definitely something but maybe not part of their thing.

The story starts at the end and the beginning, but it’s almost impossible to see that without rereading the arc a couple times, which you definitely ought to do. So many small references are peppered throughout the series, it would be impossible to catch them all the first time through.

At first the series feels like it might be stylistically inspired by Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run of Hawkeye. The hard, thick linework and flat coloring style are artistically similar, however, it’s the way that music, sound effects, and ideas are incorporated into speech bubbles–which I know isn’t a concept credited exclusively to that series, they did it notably well–that really connects the two. Not to mention the shift in art styles to represent other dimensions/times.

But as the story progresses, it very clearly becomes its own thing, paying homage to the Doom Patrol stories that came before, while giving Way and Derington plenty of room to keep their own take on the story going.

Although the team has changed quite a bit over the years–with Robotman being the only member who has been involved consistently since the beginning–the strange tone of their stories has always stayed the same.

The original Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 back in 1963. Created by Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani, Murray Boltinoff, and Bob Haney–although that last is debated–the goal was to create a unique team of adventuring superheroes. What they came up with was a crew of misfits who could have been extraordinary on their own, but who were manipulated by Niles “Chief” Caulder into becoming what they were and taking on suicide missions for the good of humanity.

At its core, Doom Patrol is about a superpowered team of freaks working together to save the world, despite the way that “normal” people fear and distrust them… And if that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s more than likely that the idea for Marvel’s X-Men came from Doom Patrol.

Basic idea aside, the most damning piece of evidence is that both teams were initially led by an old dude in a wheelchair with a freaky brain. Beyond that, the members that make up the teams and their powers have very little in common. Especially considering that Caulder orchestrated mishaps and accidents to ruin the lives of people he thought would be an asset to his team, taking everything from them so that they’d be willing to take risks that no other superheroes would. As far as we know, Xavier isn’t the reason mutants exist (although evidence definitely suggests that he isn’t the upstanding hero he seems to be), but that’s beside the point.

Other notable past members of the team include Elasti-girl (Rita Farr), Bumblebee (Karen Beecher), and probably the most well known–Beast Boy (Garfield Logan) who went on to have a stunning career with the Teen Titans.

The Doom Patrol actually showed up in an arc of the Teen Titans animated series, explaining Beast Boy’s origin and introducing his original team/dysfunctional organization turned family to DC’s animated universe. The episodes also incorporated two long-time enemies of the Doom Patrol; Mallah and the Brain.

Now, I’m pretty open minded when it comes to relationships, but I’ve got to say, this is a pretty weird one. What started out as a surreal, co-dependent relationship between a man and his pet gorilla, has over the years morphed into a full-on romance between a talking gorilla and a mobile brain in a jar. The villainous duo has yet to make an appearance in the latest incarnation but it’s likely only a matter of time.

I did say this series was weird. And will be back later this month, but in the meantime, if you need something to fill the weirdweirdweird, Doom-Patrol-shaped hole in your heart, you can always give Animal Man a try, specifically, Grant Morrison’s run, which is also weird in a good way. Or Flex Mentallo, also by Grant Morrison, which also has the added bonus of providing a bit of backstory for that strange guy in the leopard-print short shorts who keeps popping up in Dannyland.

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