Review: Doom Patrol #1

Doom Patrol

Following a failed relaunch five years back from John Byrne, Doom Patrol returns, now with Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark at the helm.  Doom Patrol has always been something of a tough sell – though they begin, much like Marvel’s ultra-successful X-Men franchise, as a group of misunderstood heroes whose powers set them apart from society, the similarity ends there.  While the X-Men were almost all model-gorgeous people with awesome powers, the Doom Patrol’s powers were generally fairly limited, the source of their angst, and their physical appearances were often strange and off-putting to say the least.  And while the Doom Patrol certainly have their own gallery of bizarre supervillains, they’re known as the team who deals with the stranger, far more dangerous issues, ones that no sane team would generally be willing to tackle.

Though the opening issue of the new series is a little mundane, Giffen at least seems to get that.  This exchange…

Father: But what you’ve got here goes way past self-pity.  They’ve stopped caring.

Caulder: Whether they live or die? That’s hardly news, Father. Truth be told, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to function effectively were they too concerned with their well-being.

… says a lot about what’s different about this team of heroes.  It is a bit too blunt for my taste, as is the entire issue, which deals largely with the fall-out from a mission that ends badly within the first few pages, but it does a fair job at suggesting a possible mission-statement for the book to new readers.  

The mission itself is displayed in a few action-packed pages, quite ably illustrated by Clark, but the effect of losing a pair of characters we know nothing about mere pages into the book is negligible at best, which in turn makes the emotional fall-out less gut-wrenching than it could have been.  It’s a good way to introduce the team and see them in their element, but those hectic opening pages lacked punch.

Clark does a fine job throughout the issue.  After the early pages, the remainder of the book deals with the fallout, but Clark’s facial expressions and body language throughout the issue does a respectable job of getting us beneath the skin of the Patrol as they are confronted each in turn by a young priest working with Caulder to counsel, and perhaps manipulate, the team.

Though it wasn’t the most exciting opening issue, I’ll stick with it.  Giffen is clearly still in set-up mode and wants to introduce the team to new readers as quickly as possible so we can see what his book will be all about, but the last page set-up for next month’s story is intriguing, bizarre, and has a lot of potential.  We’ll see what he does with it.

Of course, there’s sure to be another pull to the book, this time from the back-up feature.  While the Metal Men have never had that much of a draw in and of themselves, the team that’s working on them – Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire – bring to the back-up a familiar sensibility, and a cult following, from their days together on a number of books, most notably Justice League International.  The back-up is fast-paced and fun, setting up a dynamic for the team and introducing a new member in the form of Copper.  It’s slight but humorous, and a solid addition to the book.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Review: Final Crisis: Submit – Spoilers!

Final Crisis Submit #1 (Cover A)

All the people who cried “I don’t understand Final Crisis” will be very happy this week. Not only did the main title get more straightforward, but Submit is very much like a summer blockbuster. It’s the action movie answer to the sci-fi Superman Beyond. Oh and before I forget, please read this before Final Crisis #4 (and yes it is very annoying that they came out in the same week).

I’m a big fan of this type of story. Few against many, people overcoming their fears/prejudices to deal with evil, all about the characters, it’s kind of like a George Romero zombie flick. Ooh there may even be some social commentary in here too! The stars here are Black Lightning and Tattooed Man. I know I know who cares? There’s a right way to write C-listers (52, also Morrison) and there’s a wrong way to write C-listers (current JLA, also Black Lightning. He is still on the team right?), this is definitely the former. You could read this issue without knowing (or caring about) the characters at all and you’ll still walk away with at least some respect for these guys.

Besides the awesome action and the cool characters, there are some intriguing ideas in here as well. I mean this is Morrison, so you pretty much know you’ll get more than just a blockbuster. Oh and speaking of the creative team, Matthew Clark does a great job providing the pretty pictures. I’m not very familiar with Clark’s work, but he handles both the action and the character moments extremely well. Although, there are a few times when he couldn’t quite keep up with Morrison’s script, but then who can?

One thing that was interesting was the way Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species was treated. It’s first spotted by Black Lightning as it is about to be used as fuel for a fire. “These are the treasures of our civilization” he says. Then, after he gets one of those anti-life helmets, he says “Garbage. What disagrees with Darkseid is heresy. Fire needs no teacher! Flame needs no introduction! Anti-life justifies my ignorance”. If you live in America (especially for the last eight years), this will definitely get you thinking. That’s the more obvious observation. The more subtle one is that all the heroes in here are black. I never read Milestone comics so for me this is pretty rare. Throughout this comic these black heroes are hounded (ha ha!) by men with dogs. I could go a little bit further with that but I’ve gotten political enough. Whether you think I’m reading too much into this or if I’m right, shouldn’t you at least appreciate that this comic gets me asking those questions? I believe that was intentional. Morrison wants you to think about these things. This is a thought provoking comic that also contains impressive action. How cool is that?

Review: Final Crisis #4 & Final Crisis: Submit

Final Crisis: Submit

Post-apocalyptic fiction. The Last Stand. Do you like stories were one or two heroes struggle silently against an overpowering force to defend a single small town, small family, even a single person? If you do, you’ll love Submit, a Morrison-penned tie-in to Final Crisis in which Black Lightning teams up with the Tattooed Man to try and haul Tattooed Man’s family to safety before the Justifier shock-troops of Darkseid track them down and infect them with Anti-Life.

There’s some good action, and this is an excellent example of how to make a reader care about B-D list characters in a single issue. The trials of Black Lightning and Tattooed Man as they try and protect this single family from the hordes of Justifiers is touching, and the end has made me hope to see more from both characters in the near future.

There is some blatantly obvious religious commentary in the issue – I’d say, if you’re of the hardcore religious right and are particularly sensitive, you may not enjoy the issue (though I don’t know how many of the hardcore religious right are reading Final Crisis in the first place), but it is nonetheless a solid action comic, a single bad day, a demonstration of how harrowing it might be to live in a world ruled by Darkseid…and the decisions and sacrifices that go part and parcel in with being a hero.

Grade: B+

Final Crisis #4

Final Crisis has had an excessively long wait thanks to the apparently epic slowness of artist JG Jones, and while the decision to use Jones will doubtless read well in trade, it’s undeniably frustrating fight now. That said, there are a panels right now that definitely showcase Jones’ particular talents, towards the end of the book in particular, and I don’t know another mainstream comic artist so capable of imbuing such a sense of menace or dread into super-heroic art.

Morrison knows how to use his art team quite well, and this issue is definitely a turning point in Final Crisis. Darkseid has won, and everyone knows it. True to the spirit of super-hero comics, the heroes won’t give up, but as every page passes, the dread increases both for us and for them.

As a mainstream event, it’s doubtless too dark, too ‘unheroic’ for the Big Event genre, not to mention the fact that it follows mostly B-D list characters (and I love them for it), showing that the end of the world effects everyone equally..and everyone fights this equally as well. Turpin’s running narration of the issue is a chilling example of the cold, hard fact that sometimes it takes more than fighting the good fight to win – and that theme, that sense of alienation, runs throughout the entire issue, making this one of the strongest issues of the series thus far.

Final Crisis is a dark epic of cruelty, of tyranny, as universal mathematics. This issue demonstrates that to chilling effect, making all of the tried-and-true formulas of super-hero comics strip us slowly of the very hope they once inspired.

Grade: A-