When it comes to trippy comics, I’ve only read a few that can compare to Grant Morrison’s tenure on Doom Patrol. It’s time to get FREAKY!
Grant Morrison, Richard Case, and others – Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage (1992)
I’ve never actually read any of the original, 1960’s Doom Patrol comics, but I’ve seen panels, and it looks like it was AWESOME: strange and creepy and very dark. In the late 1980s, though, I did read some D.P., back when it was written by Paul Kupperberg, and I thought it was pretty good. (I was young.) Then, sometime around 1990, I rediscovered the book, and this new guy, Grant Morrison, had taken over—and the book suddenly went COMPLETELY CRAZY!
Morrison, according to a statement included at the end of this collection, was influenced not just by the 1960s Doom Patrol but was ALSO a fan of Surrealist cinema and other modern and post-modern artforms, and Morrison’s comic reflects these strange, subconscious explorations. (I learned later that Morrison is also a practicing Chaos Magician!) The subject matter of Doom Patrol is much less about standard superhero activities and more psychological horror. Instead of dealing with standard threats to society, like stopping bank robbers or traditional thugs, the Doom Patrol tend to do “battle” with more existential, psychological foes. In this collection alone, they are menaced by an imaginary universe, an insane “god” (who claims to be Jack the Ripper), psychological horrors from the subconscious world, and the personifications of one character’s specific childhood traumas.
But who ARE the Doom Patrol? Put simply, they are a collection of misfits and outcasts, each with some kind of severe deformity or psychological issues. First, we’ve got Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, whose body was destroyed in a car wreck, but his “life” was saved when his brain was placed in a robot body. Then there’s Rebis, who is a man fused with a woman AND with a mysterious “dark spirit” thus creating a composite being (who floats around wrapped in bandages and looking like the Invisible Man.) And we’ve got “Crazy Jane,” who suffers from dissociative identity disorder and holds at least 64 different personalities in her head, each with their own, unique, superpower! And we also have Dorothy, the “monkey faced” girl, whose subconscious sometimes LEAKS into the real world. These are just a few of the characters in the book, but they show the range of strangeness that Morrison brings to the table.
The artwork by Richard Case is also quite good, capturing the chaotic and freakish tone of the storylines. The weirder characters, like the “Scissormen” or Rebis or the monsters from Dorothy’s psyche, are very disturbingly rendered, incorporating a collage-like feel to Case’s superb panel layouts, and lots of shadow vs light interplay. Unfortunately, the final story in this book is drawn by a different artist, Doug Braithwaite, who does an okay job, but just doesn’t grab me like Case’s work does. (For instance, Braithwaite’s version of Dorothy doesn’t look monkey faced, but just oddly deformed, with weird bumps on her head. Braithwaite’s handling of the monsters from Dorothy’s brain is pretty good, but overall, the final issue in this collection just doesn’t work as well as the previous issues, in my opinion.)
The story is violent and disturbing and weird—some might say Morrison is just being weird for the SAKE of being weird, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m a Dada fan (and the Scissormen actually spout Dada-like poetry as they wander around cutting people out of reality…) Morrison’s tone, though dark overall, does have a bit of warmth to it, as the strange characters bond together for mutual support—all except the sick bastard in the wheelchair, Dr. Caulder, who leads the group. (He’s not bald like Professor X, in fact he has a full head of hair AND a beard, but he’s just about as nasty as the original Professor X was.) He’s a serious jerk, but maybe you need to be in order to lead a group like this…
Anyway, the book is extremely fun, but it might be a bit too strange for some folks. I’m pretty positive on weirdness, especially in a horror context, so I really enjoyed all the multidimensional, psychologically twisted, freakish goings-on. In fact, I’ve purchased this collection twice already, and I’ve read it several times, enjoying it equally well with each reading—and I’ll undoubtedly read it again, eventually. I’m also going to have to rebuy the next volume in the series sometime soon, so I can review that, AND—if I’m ever rich again—I’d like to get one of those “Silver Age” Doom Patrol collections and see what all was happening back in the deep, dark past! (But those books are pretty expensive. It might be awhile before I can get my hands on one.) And, finally, Frankie tells me that the Doom Patrol has been revamped YET AGAIN, this time for Gerard Way’s YOUNG ANIMAL comic line. Maybe I’ll even give THAT a try and see if that old Doom Patrol lightning can strike a THIRD time!!!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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