Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Doom Patrol

John Byrne, Doug Hazlewood & Terry Austin Doom Patrol (2006)
This is a stack of eighteen comic books picked up in continuation of my efforts to catch up with all those versions of the Doom Patrol which happened while I was looking the other way, and comprising a story John Byrne began during his run of Justice League comics. The strangest thing here was Byrne's decision to ignore all previous versions of the book, starting again at the beginning as though we'd never before met any of these characters. There's an editorial in the first issue explaining how this return to year zero has been effected so as to tell new stories without any crippling continuity getting in the way, although I have to say that John Arcudi seemed to do fine with the previous run of Doom Patrol, taking it somewhere entirely different without any need of a reset button; and for all its finer points, I still can't help feel that Byrne simply didn't want to deal with all that weird homoerotic Dadaism.

That said, I suppose there's an argument that Hans Bellmer and the Marquis de Sade probably don't belong in a children's comic; and so far as taking Doom Patrol back to its roots with stories thematically faithful to the Arnold Drake version, Byrne does a decent job without descending into pastiche. This is as mainstream as the book has ever been, although it's still reasonably weird when compared to - off the top of my head - silver age Superman. The premise suffers a little from somewhat modular Thunderbirdsisms with the tidily secret base from which the team go forth to fight crime and effect rescue operations, but this is at least a little offset by the characters, old and new, with their brain transplants, four-armed gorillas, friendly Confederate ghosts, and so on - and not forgetting a pleasing sidestep into alternate Doom Patrol realities somewhere around issue fourteen. John Byrne is quite good at this sort of thing, essentially pulling the characters apart, working out what makes them tick, and then spinning stories from whatever he's found - which he did to great effect with Alpha Flight back in the eighties; but apparently he's not very good at dialogue, which really shows in the wake of Chris Claremont having co-written those issue of Justice League which foreshadowed this book. It's not that the dialogue is bad so much as that it lacks Claremont's flair and thus exposes the fact that we're actually reading what may as well be a peculiar take on Scooby Doo. Characters think about what they're doing within their thought bubbles as they're doing it, or they describe that which we can see with our own eyes, or they point out that they would have got away with it were it not for that meddling Doom Patrol.

Despite this, Byrne's Doom Patrol has enough going on to keep it engagingly odd and even gripping, and the only problem is simply that it could have been better.

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