Monday, June 3, 2013

Magnificent 7 Part 1: Sunny Doomsday

Doom Patrol, Book 1: Crawling from the Wreckage (Original issues from 1989)

Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Richard Case, Doug Braithwaite, 

Recommended Listening:          Munki-Jesus and Mary Chain (1998)

Meet the “World’s Strangest Heroes”, the ultimate misfits of society led by their wheelchair bound genius mentor in a fight against the bizarre and meaningless. No, I’m not talking about the X-Men. Technically DP debuted before Marvel’s mutants, and although some comparisons can be made, can you actually picture Wolverine slicing his way through Dadaism? Maybe a little.

The DP takes the “Strangest Heroes” title literally. Cliff Steele is a survivor of brutal car wreck with only his brain intact inside a robot body. Crazy Jane suffers from over 60 split personalities all vying for control, and each with their own superpower. Rebis is a hermaphrodite paradox wrapped in specially coated bandages to hold in its radioactive Negative Spirit. 

Having first read their odd adventures during my initial year living in Japan, I could find myself relating more to the DP’s newest ape faced teen sweetheart recruit, Dorothy Spinner than to seXy-Men Gambit, Logan, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, and the rest.

"Walk, Don't Run" with scissors
As part of their duties the DP courts the totally weird. The series is filled with fever dreamed images that will stay with you for a long time. Although an experiment in Dadaism (Video of Morrison’s writing process during the run), you don’t need to regret not paying attention to the boring lecture and slideshow from Art History 101 in order to understand what the hell is happening in the stories. Sometimes you don’t need to understand everything because it doesn’t need to be realistic. It’s a comic! It’s not real! 

 That isn’t to dismiss comics as not being artistic (There’s often more creativity on a single page of DP than in many other books or films), but the emphasis in the late 80s at the time was on how to make superheroes as realistic as possible, which is interesting for a few stories, but has been hammered to death, and isn’t a healthy approach to these impossible characters. What is plausible are the emotions and reactions of the characters in Doom Patrol, which is all you need to jump into the absurdity.

The team is a metaphor for traumatized and handicap individuals, but instead of being depressed and suicidal the heroes are able to actually cope. It’s a process that isn’t made light of, but the possibility is in reach when their working as a team. By realizing that they haven’t been destroyed through their own self doubt they can see life through all its randomness.

Despite the serious issues that come up in the series, in no way is this isn’t your average joyless dark 80s comic. The characters like many real survivors of misfortunes can make fun of their own handicaps and see the absurdity in and around their situation. Cliff “Brain in a Robot” Steele is in a similar mold to the Fantastic Four’s The Thing, a man stuck in a rocky exterior with a similar jaw line. Cliff is a lovable roughneck, leather wearing Tin Man whose heart figuratively also survived the crash. The DP’s Chief has a constant craving for chocolate, presumably to help boost his genius inventions and research. Dorothy Spinner is the Judy Garland of the team, who due to her facial deformity only had imaginary friends. Eventually she said goodbye to those friends with an imaginary shotgun Old Yeller style. The DP characters’ relationships with each other are tender and never feel forced or hokey as they search for an OZ of their own.

Crawling from the Wreckage does what it says. Imagine surviving your own worst apocalypse. What do you do next? Life will always have something stranger to throw at you


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