Every so often, the powers that be at DC comics decide to reshape their world in some sort of crisis – from Crisis on Infinite Earths, to the Infinite Crisis and the obvious Final Crisis. When this happens, to coin the vernacular, “Worlds Live!! Worlds Die!!” – But what happens to the characters that are left behind, and who decides their fate? Welcome to the world of Doctor Thirteen, professional sceptic.
Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality
was a back-up story in a limited series that re-introduced the Spectre to the DC universe after Infinite Crisis, but that story is not our concern here. This story is – one of the finest, funniest and downright strange stories produced in recent years, but also a poignant and in many ways heart wrenching tale.
Terence Thirteen first appeared in the sixties as an antagonist/opposite to the Phantom Stranger. He called himself the Ghost Breaker, and set out to prove there was a rational, scientific reason for the things he investigated, even in the face of the obvious fact there was something more going on. For this story, we start as he is asked by the Premier of France to investigate a plane crash in the French Alps – and brings along his daughter, Traci, for the trip.
They soon discover, however, that someone or something has been there first – and it appears to be a Yeti. The creature responsible for the events is not the Abominable Snowman, but Lord Andrew Bennett – the star of I, Vampyre, a well regarded series from DC in the late seventies and early eighties. This, however, is only the start of a journey that leads them to a frozen cro-magnon boy – Anthro, a character that appeared in his own series. From there, we are joined by the ghost that haunted The Haunted Tank, Captain Fear (A ghost pirate) and one Genius Jones, who can answer any question for a dime. So when Traci is kidnapped by a band of talking Nazi gorillas known as the Primate Patrol, you would expect Doctor Thirteen to accept something is not right, right?
Even the fact that Captain fear takes the gathered party to the lair of the gorillas in his ghost ship fails to move his natural scepticism – so why should the fact their leader only wants to be respected, or the fact they are saved from his rage by the arrival of a thirtieth century super hero reject change his view? More to the point, why is Anthro continually saying “Prenez garde des architectes”? Even more to the point, why is he speaking French? Better still, how will he react when he learns his own daughter is a mage as well?
As you may have gathered, the writer Brian Azzarello has his tongue very firmly placed in his cheek with this story, but there is a serious point to it. When the architects of a world change, why should those characters deemed unworthy to fit their world just die off? As the loose band come together to challenge the four new Architects, can they win the right to stay in existence, or will they be condemned to a life in limbo?
Cliff Chiang is the artist who had great fun with the concept. Somewhere above her is one scene that typifies the story – when General JEB Stuart and Captain Fear have a sword fight, they may hack each other to pieces, but you cannot kill something that is already dead, so how will they look afterwards? Chiang has the answer.
He also has great fun with the Nazi gorilla general called Count Julius, especially when he saves the life of Lord Bennett and becomes the vampire Nazi gorilla known as PriMaul. It has to be seen to be believed.
This, to summarise, is a fun story that explores consequences of changes, and ends on a very abrupt but apropos note. Highly recommended.