In the opening pages of Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol, an EMT by the name of Samson waxes poetic about the universe. His argument, as his partner – and series lens Casey Brinke – plays retro video games on the side of the street, focuses on the unique medley of food within his gyro, and culminates in his wondering whether a whole universe could, in fact, lie within his dinner.
If that sounds too weird for you, turn back now.
Way, accompanied by artist Nick Derington, has managed to return “the world’s strangest heroes” to the realm of the bizarre. Standing as the inaugural book for the new Young Animals imprint, Doom Patrol manages to bring back the auteur feel that mastermind Grant Morrison brought to the book to make it an endearing fixture in the DC universe.
The new series begins with snippets of Casey and Sampson’s work on the graveyard shift for the hospital. These scenes featuring Casey, revealing small snippets of her strange life (her mother may have flown into the sun, her prom date turned “into a pool of lavender membrane”) are interspersed with the adventures of the Doom Patrol. Robotman fights a battle on a world inside a gyro. Niles Caulder – the “Chief” – experiments with keyboards and sounds. Terry None – a new, possibly future, member of the Doom Patrol becomes Casey’s roommate after turning her old roommate into an exploding cake. And a mysterious man with a name tag reading “Ricardo” searches for some sign of Danny the Sentient Street inside an abandoned factory.
Like I said, this book is out there. But in a fantastic way.
Way is perhaps the best person to be the spiritual successor to Morrison’s run. Having spent years building his persona as the frontman of My Chemical Romance and writing his own strange comics – Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys – Way’s life has been eclectic and strange enough that his writing echoes Morrison well. Gone is any sense of focus or clarity to this opening script, choosing instead to focus on compelling images and an “off-kilterness” to the narrative. This first issue feels more like an issue of Morrison’s The Invisibles as opposed to Geoff Johns’ recent – and grim – take on the Doom Patrol. Despite all of this strangeness, Way never loses sight of the characters. Robotman feels just like he always had – gruff and hard-nosed to finish his missions – and Casey feels like a strong addition to join the ranks of oddball characters associated with the Doom Patrol.
Way also brings an unconventional feel to the building conflict within the narrative. One scene details a group of aliens discussing a new chain of fast-food restaurants being built using an “unending, regenerating supply of stress-free meat.” The only problem is that it involves Danny the Living Street creating the meat, putting it through extreme agony to do so. While other books would see these aliens looking to take over the Earth or enslave humanity, these villains look to wage their fight on a more personal level to the Doom Patrol. These character moments aren’t to be underestimated, and will hopefully pay off in big ways in future issues.
Derington pairs well with the weirdness of Way’s script. His style leans more towards the whimsy of indie artists as opposed to the burly, muscle bound illustrations of “typical” superhero books. There are even times when he will change his art style to reflect a different setting or plane of reality. Robotman’s battle inside the gyro takes on a more muted style and color palette that juxtaposes with the almost cartoonish nature of the scenes around it. Yet it all feels like one artist drawing the book, a high point in this age of multiple inkers per issue and fill-in artists everywhere one turns.
Yet what works as this issue’s defining strength could also be seen as its biggest flaw. Readers looking for a more straightforward narrative might be turned off by the stuttering feel that the issue gives the story. There is also little in the way of actual details given to flesh out who the Doom Patrol are, a key feature of many traditional first issues. People who are coming to the Doom Patrol for the first time with Way’s debut issue might be wondering what the significance of Danny the Living Street is, or even what Caulder’s relationship the overarching narrative would be. In that regards the issue fails.
But that’s also why the new Young Animal imprint is such a bold move for DC to embark on. Way spells out in his editorial – in the back of the issue – that these books falling under the imprint are “comics for dangerous humans.” For those looking to see something bold and new, this is your playground. Hopefully Doom Patrol will only be the tip of the iceberg.
The issue also has several “bonus features” to help bolster the slightly inflated cover price. After the main story comes a five page preview of the next Young Animal book coming out, Shade the Changing Girl, and a lengthy editorial written by Way about the inception of the imprint and his desire for more weird comics akin to the original Vertigo books from writers like Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, and Morrison himself. While not much, they do help justify the extra dollar you’ll be paying for the book.
The first issue of Doom Patrol is a curious beast to say the least. Readers who are familiar with the characters and want a narrative that pushes the limits of abstraction will be in for a treat. Those looking for more traditional fare may be better off waiting for the trade to be released. Regardless of how one reads it though, this series is one to check out. Oddball books like this from one of the “Big Two” are rare indeed, and certainly worthy of your hard-earned dollars.