Doom Patrol #1

Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Penciled by Matthew Clark and Kevin Maguire
Inked by Livesay and Kevin Maguire
40 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I love the Doom Patrol. Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol was one of my favorite comics back in the day, John Arcudi and Tan Eng Huat’s revival never got the attention that it deserved, and now that I’m reading the original run of the series, I’ve fallen in love with it too. Keith Giffen’s resurrection of the title, then, had me both intrigued and worried. When done properly, Doom Patrol can be a really fun and clever book. But it’s easy to take a misstep with the basic concept of outcast/freak heroes (the number of failures along those lines is staggering), and without the weirdness, there’s not much point to the book.

The Doom Patrol lives again, with Robotman, Elasti-Woman, Negative Man, Nudge, and Grunt heading off on a mission together. But tragedy lies just around the corner, and this incarnation of the Doom Patrol seems to be more troubled than previous ones. Is this Doom Patrol ready to fall apart before it even truly gets started? Plus, the return of the Metal Men!

I enjoyed Giffen’s revival of Suicide Squad almost a decade ago, one that survived for a year and then went away. It’s strange, then, in that this version of Doom Patrol reminds me of Suicide Squad, but not in a positive way. Like Giffen’s writing there, this Doom Patrol starts in media res, with new support staff characters like Dusty and Rocky, as well as brief appearances of other Doom Patrol members like Bumblebee. And like Suicide Squad, Doom Patrol is certainly full of the violence and sudden shocks. But the problem is, it’s not the right match for Doom Patrol at all. One of the things that I’ve liked about most incarnations of Doom Patrol, be it by Arnold Drake, Grant Morrison, Rachel Pollack, or John Arcudi, is that there’s a certain level of joy and fun about the comic. That’s not something that I would say about the lead feature in Doom Patrol #1. It’s a grim, dark comic where characters gripe at each other, crack sarcastic quips about dead teammates, and generally seem really unhappy.

It’s strange because it feels like Giffen got half of the feel from the original Doom Patrol ("we’re freaks") but missed the other half entirely ("and yet we enjoy each other’s company and that’s why we stick together"). One almost expects the "Doom" in Doom Patrol‘s logo to be three times the size of everything else, it’s taken so literally. There’s an early scene in Doom Patrol #1 that is so gratuitously violent and graphic that I’ll admit I was surprised. I’m not against violence in comics by any stretch of the imagination, but this felt out of place and slightly mean-spirited. (And I have no love or even affection for the characters involved.) The final page of the main story in Doom Patrol #1 promises a sentient black hole, which sounds on the surface like a much better match for the Doom Patrol in general, but after this first issue I’m hesitant. On the bright side, Matthew Clark’s pencils are attractive here amidst the gore and explosions. I like how he draws Rocky’s hangdog expressions, or the general irritation by team members as they’re forced to debrief with him. I’m hoping he gets some strange, crazy, weird things to draw soon, because I think he could tackle them well. Exploding bodies and tanks just seem like a waste of his talents.

Happily, Doom Patrol #1 also includes a nine-page Metal Men story by Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire, and it’s fantastic. All of the joy and fun missing from the rest of Doom Patrol #1 is found here, with the Metal Men taking on a living idol. Giffen and DeMatteis manage to take running jokes and make their repetition funny, as well as keeping everything moving at a quick, snappy pace. I hadn’t realized that other creators had introduced a new robot, Copper, but they do a great job with her in particular. I love the way they give a nod to the audience that you might not have known about her existence, and her presence is well-integrated into the overall makeup of the team. Maguire’s art is beautiful as always, nothing but smooth lines and great figure work. Maguire’s adept at drawing physical comedy, and Giffen and DeMatteis play to his strengths with the stretchy, malleable Metal Men in action.

It seems strange to recommend a comic for its backup feature, but the high point of Doom Patrol #1 was easily its Metal Men story. Hopefully Giffen can bring a little fun to the Patrol itself, because it’s desperately needed. A grim, violent Doom Patrol feels like a back throwback to the late ’90s, and feels wildly inappropriate. More fun, please.

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