Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Doom Patrol

Keith Giffen, Matt Clark, John Livesay & others Doom Patrol (2011)
Here's another stack of comics, specifically a run which lasted twenty-two issues before cancellation, and with which I'm only just catching up in 2018. Giffen's version of the Doom Patrol followed on from John Byrne's 2004 version which dispensed with all the weird stuff and started afresh. Infinite Crisis - which I've never read - apparently revised Byrne's revision, meaning Giffen gets to play with Crazy Jane, Arani Caulder, and even characters from the John Arcudi run. He also rationalises Byrne's resurrection of Rita Farr, which is handy because that one decision seemed otherwise a bit crap at the time. Giffen even squishes Grunt and Nudge, both inherited from Byrne, within the first five pages of issue one, which scans as though it was probably at least a little cathartic. Read as a single body of work, this version isn't quite so satisfying as those of Grant Morrison, Gerard Way, or even Giffen's own run on the Justice League, but it's otherwise decent and the art is mostly wonderful.

My only criticisms would be that the narrative occasionally seems to wander into a room and forget what it went in for, and that the additional Metal Men strips - running for the first seven issues in the back of the book - somewhat disrupt the rhythm, at least from the point of view of the reader working his way through a stack of the things piled up on the bedside table. In isolation, Metal Men is very much a thing of great wit and beauty, as you would expect from Giffen once again working with J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire, his partners on the aforementioned Justice League. The problem is that it's slow and wordy, each panel crammed with dialogue - albeit wonderfully witty dialogue, visually sharing more in common with Windsor McCay than the caped fare in which it is rooted; and Metal Men is perfect as it is, but nevertheless sits heavily in one's reading stomach after relatively breezy instalments of Doom Patrol. Metal Men probably should have been its own book, except of course no-one would have bought it because it's too ludicrous.

As for wandering into rooms and forgetting what we went in for, I suspect Giffen's admittedly infrequent narrative Condor moments result partially from my never having read Infinite Crisis; which brings me back to the subject of revision, continuity, canon, and so on.

I still don't understand why DC feels the need to reboot every five or so years, and I don't believe that anyone likely to pick up a Batman comic in 2018 is really going to give a shit about the character having been around since 1939, or that Bruce Wayne should logically be a septugenarian by now. I was heavily into Claremont-era X-Men comics at the end of the eighties, before it all went down the crapper; and what made those books so readable - at least for me - was that they felt more akin to a soap than generic caped twats fighting crime; and whilst X-Men may well have been bogged down with continuity, it was the continuity which made it work, which gave the narrative a semblance of plausibility - even just minor details like someone reading a newspaper with a headline about what happened to Iron Man in a different comic, a thousand inconsequential strands of faux cause and effect stretched out across the entirety of Marvel's flimsy three-colour reality, just like the real world with all its loose ends and footnotes that never quite add up. The idea that Cyclops should have been in his fifties because he'd hung out with beatniks at the Coffee A Go-Go as a teenager in those early issues simply didn't matter because all of the heavy-lifting was done by the story; which in turn brings me to why I was never entirely sold on DC comics.

Shortly after discovering Marvel, and then Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, I picked up other DC books from the newsagent just to see what they were about. Blue Devil was funny, but that was about it for me. Even in the eighties, most of what I saw felt like a throwback to the sixties or earlier - corny as fuck supertypes throwing on a garish leotard and deciding to fight crime with a sprinkling of generic angst for the sake of texture, the sort of problems you imagine grown-ups must encounter if you're about eight. Most of it made Jim Shooter's Marvel look like Jean-Paul Sartre. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and many of these issues of Doom Patrol showcased sample pages from whatever else DC was publishing at the time - Magog, Teen Titans, innumerable Batman variations, the Flash, plus there's an issue of Secret Six I picked up because the story crosses over with Doom Patrol - and it all looks fucking awful, like they've just about caught up to the seventies, but the worst of the seventies and with shittier art. Maybe that's why they keep rebooting all the time, having failed to realise that Alzheimer's Superman isn't actually the problem. There's not much point giving Blue Beetle a cellphone and a facebook account if the calendar is otherwise still stuck at around half past 1974. This would mean that the good stuff - Doom Patrol, Giffen's Justice League, and a couple of Vertigo titles - have been exceptions proving the rule, which is probably why the good stuff keeps getting cancelled: because the readership would rather have shite like Secret Six or Harley Quinn*.

Oh well. I suppose that's just how it goes.

*: I acknowledge that this criticism is founded upon my never having read a single issue of Harley Quinn, but frankly it looks fucking wank, like DC attempting to cross Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl with that bloody awful Insane Clown Posse comic book that came out back in 2000, drawn by someone who presumably regarded Todd McFarlane's Spawn as the greatest story ever told; and Tank Girl was also pure shite while we're on the subject.

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