More of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol
- Including a Guided Tour of Doom Patrols Past led by Mr Morrison himself.
This is a revival of a series of posts on DC’s favourite team of lovable misfits that I left off in October 2009.
We’ve already looked at the stories collected in Crawling from the Wreckage and The Painting that Ate Paris, which covered Grant's earliest Doom Patrol issues, #19-34. I hope I’ve shown that Morrison wasn’t just producing weirdness for the sake of weirdness. In Doom Patrol, he is not just stretching the kinds of stories that can be told in superhero comics, which fold very personal interests into the mix in areas like art, psychology and philosophy. In the particular case of Doom Patrol, he seems to be using these superhero comics to talk about identity and difference, as well as introducing a few new mythologies for exploring the origins of suffering, pain and dissolution in the world. He uses experimental forms and the startlingly original content of these stories to take us inside the shattered dysfunctional world of society’s outsiders. Like all good comics creators, he is showing as much as telling!
I think my approach to reviewing these comics will be a little bit different going forward from here. When I reviewed the first two Doom Patrol collections and the first Animal Man trade, I knew I liked Morrison’s comics, but not really why I liked them. I didn’t really understand what he was doing with them at all. So in the beginning, I broke them down page-by-page and sometimes panel-by-panel to try to comprehensively analyse what was going on in them. (I wrote over 1700 words – 3 Word pages– on the first 7 pages of issue #19, for instance!)
I've been pretty systematically working my way through Morrison's comics since, trying to see if I can glean any signals of information amongst what may often seem like so much white noise.
Since those far-off days, I’ve read The Invisibles and The Filth, and tried to suss out all of their meanings and philosophies, not to mention loads of other Morrison offerings like Sebastian O, and Seven Soldiers of Victory. I’ve managed to read half of both JLA and Grant’s mind-bending Batman Magnum Opus. I don’t know if anyone who has been reading along with me has been in any way enlightened, but I feel I have a grasp by now of what Grant is doing and how he gets it done. It’s been fascinating seeing how much philosophy and commentary on life and comics Grant has managed to squeeze into his work. But I don’t want to repeat myself too much going forward. If we don’t get it by now...
So I think I’ll just be skimming over most of the remaining storylines in Grant’s Doom Patrol and just pick out a few things here and there that are particularly fun or illuminating. We’ll start off with the title arc of the collection ‘Down Paradise Way’, which introduces comics first transgender public thoroughfare, and features the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E.
Doom Patrol #35-36
'Down Paradise Way'
At first glance this two-parter looks like previous story arcs where the Patrol found themselves battling terrifying abstract looking creatures who seem to follow their own inhuman logic. In this case it's the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Check them out! However, this little confrontation brings to centre stage one of the main concerns of the whole series in a way that the encounters with the similar Scissormen and Dry Batchelors didn't. The whole run examines notions of so-called 'normality' and the marginalisation of those that don't fit in, and 'Down Paradise Way' tackles this theme head on.
‘Normality’ is represented by Mr Jones, who lives in a nice suburban home with his wife. The exchanges between them are accompanied by a sit-com laugh track. Mr Jones has created the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. to get rid of the quirks in the world and make it more 'normal'. Mr Jones hatred of difference and deviancy is thematically opposed in the story by Danny the Street, the notorious transvestite bye-road that has a warm welcome for anyone and everyone who wants to take shelter there. Danny allows and encourages everyone to be just who they are, no matter how weird, antisocial or misunderstood.
It's quite a clever juxtaposition. Jones' insistence on 'normality' leads inevitably to the eradication of those that don't measure up. Danny is tolerant and inclusive. Of course, Danny's love is no match for the violence of Jones' strange army until the Doom Patrol arrives. The Patrol don't just embody difference and 'weirdness', they fight for it.
Of course, Danny's attitude is pretty much Morrison's. Morrison's work again and again shows us the view from the other side of the window – that of those outside looking in. It's funny to realise that even Morrison's fiction embodies Danny's inclusivity. Look at his Batman run. It is all built around the notion that every Batman we've seen before now is valid, and all those adventures, no matter how different in tone from each other, or how strange, actually happened. Whilst certain Batman writers are at pains to ringfence who Batman is and try to strictly delineate what the 'real' Batman is like, and what stories 'count', Morrison welcomes all of Bruce's personae into the tent. Even Grant's Invisibles ended up showing us that the good guys and the bad were both on the same side. So Danny's warm inclusivity is very central to Morrison's whole philosophy.
It’s worth stating too, that Jones and Danny are not ideological opposites. Instead, Jones only represents a tiny subset of the huge multivarious world of possibilities that Danny embodies. As at the end of the story, Danny can easily contain Jones little picket-fenced kingdom, but Danny's is by far the larger universe.
Jones acts out of fear and cruelty, whereas Danny is all about love and acceptance. And what does Jones fear? As Danny shows Jones at the end, it's that Mr Jones might actually like the deviancy, and in fact be one of THEM, after all.
THE VOICE OF DOOM ...
You know the feeling: you've just settled down in your favorite chair, with a cool comic book in your hand and a barrel of ice cream Snickers bars by your side. The sun is shining, the rain is falling. You're just about to embark on My Greenest Adventure when some bastard behind you starts to talk and just won't shut up.
"It's like this:
"Years ago, this professor-type called Niles Caulder decided to assemble a team of superpowered freaks; for want of a kinder word. He scoured the neighborhood and found Cliff Steele, Larry Trainor, and Rita Farr, okay?
I love how Drake’s Doom Patrol constantly shows us people who love each other while all the time griping at each other. It’s a far cry from the likes of Claremont and Johns who have their characters declare their deepest feelings every time they open their mouths.
Finally, I’d just like to re-state how startling and unprecedented the Doom Patrol’s original send-off was in Doom Patrol # 121, as referenced at the top of the post in the little excerpt from Morrison’s summary. It was shocking in the 1980s when the villain in Black Orchid just goes ahead and kills the heroine a few pages into Gaiman’s mini-series, but Drake had the villains just do it 20 years earlier. “Dead” dead, too, for quite a while.
Having said all I have about lovely Rita Farr, I’m glad that they kept her dead for so long. She was beautifully handled by Drake, and it was fitting that someone of her moral calibre made the true sacrifice that is rarely seen in superhero comics, even though, given the chances superheroes take, and the ruthless villains they oppose, her fate should be much more common.
Just found this thread as I happen to be re-reading the trades.
I never read any of the original DP and am intrigued enough to put them on my mental to get list.
I love Morrisons version though,wonderfully weird without crossing over to stupid or just weird for weirds sake.Mr Nobody soon became my favourite villain and there are loads of tiny things which make the series great,just something like Cliff insisting on calling Rebis,Larry just a small thing but I like it.
...I believe that , when the original death of the Silver DP happened , the editors/whoever specifically said " Will the DP ever come back ? Only YOU , the readers can decide that ! " , i.e. , they did have - or would have found ! - some way to reverse if if the response/whatever had been strong enough .
Remember , 1968 was a year when DC culled its super-hero titles unmercifully , just in DP's case for whatever reason all concerned weree allowed to prepare a sendoff...Did anyone ever ask Drake - or Boltinoff - what they had had in mind , if there had been a 180() turnaround ?
Donavan5. Between my and the Commander's posts we've highlighted the thematic and continuity links between Drake's originals and Morrison's team. But the originals are well worth reading in their own right. For various reasons they are a notch above most Silver Age DC fare. They are 'about' something more than just brightly coloured musclemen hitting each other.
Also, just like Morrison's, the dialogue continually amuses. Both versions of the DP capture the spiky and sarcastic way these teammates/support group interract. It's very hard to get that across in these reviews.
Anyway, glad you're reading along, and that this little diversion from Morrison's run was of interest to you.
Emer, the final issue of Drake's DP is pretty unique in SA DC. Not only did it end the series on a full stop, (a real rarity) but it alllowed DC to take the series up again should there be enough interest.
I didn't say too much about the publishing context. Apparently Drake and DC had parted ways just before this final issue, but Drake scripted #121 as a favour to Premiani (I think). Was this Drake's last work for DC? Maybe they still had stand-by stories of his on file that they published later?
Does Drake's leaving DP/DC directly coincide with the older creators asking for benefits and pensions and being sacked?...I was thinking about the now-famous/infamous sh*tc*nn*ng of Drake/Broome/Fox when they dared to utter the word " benefits " but decided not to go there/mention it at the time .