Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Doom Patrol

John Arcudi, Tan Eng Huat & others Doom Patrol (2003)
Not a collected edition or an - ugh - graphic novel, but a big old stack of comic books just as nature intended. I don't think this one did very well judging by the fact of it never having been reprinted. In fact I wasn't even aware of its existence until someone pointed out that DC had attempted to revive Doom Patrol a couple of times prior to the current version written by Gerard Way; and thusly intrigued I've been hunting them down, issue by issue.

John Arcudi's version of the Doom Patrol began back in 2001 and lasted twenty-two issues. I've no doubt it was a tough act to follow the Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack versions of the comic, but Arcudi managed it fairly well by acknowledging the weirdness without necessarily duplicating it. It's probably closer to the caped mainstream than the book had been since Kupperberg, but it's still pretty odd. John Arcudi wrote The Mask for Dark Horse and you can sort of see his stamp, not least in the ongoing saga of the Doom Patrol menaced by the spirits of ancient Chinese demons trapped in a suit of armour, although admittedly my experience of The Mask is based exclusively on having seen the film with Jim Carrey a couple of times. Arcudi replaces whoever was left standing at the end of Rachel Pollack's run with neurotic superpowered teenagers, much like those we saw in New Mutants I suppose, but with the twist being that they really are a bunch of useless, whining emo fuckers, and as such are actually quite likeable - as distinct from teens who successfully fight crime whilst agonising over whether they'll pass their exams. It's initially difficult to see why this was even called Doom Patrol, but the book really comes into its own after a few issues, feeling very much a legitimate continuation of the mythology.

This is greatly aided by Tan Eng Huat, artist on all but three issues of the run. His figures are sometimes a little awkward, as are his faces, but the overall effect wrought with all those sleek little lines tidily splayed across the page is wonderful, and much, much greater than the sum of its parts. His art resembles that of some of those people taken on board 2000AD during the early nineties, sort of raw and untutored but otherwise working in spite of shortcomings - like the late John Hicklenton with a vague manga influence sent to a couple of life drawing classes; and I wouldn't ordinarily even notice the work of letterers or colouring people, but Bob Lappan and Dave Stewart really made this thing what it was. The lettering in particular somehow reminds me of both Glenn Baxter and Windsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, very much enhancing the peculiar, haunting atmosphere of the enterprise.

In all honesty, I picked this up expecting it to be awful, Doom Patrol restored to wholesome mainstream tedium with all of the strangeness sanded down so as to facilitate sales boosting guest appearances by Superman, but it's as good a sequel to the Pollack run as anyone had a right to expect, and it's a real pity it didn't last.

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