Review: Doom Patrol: Brotherhood trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

News broke as I began writing this that Keith Giffen would be taking over the new DC Comics Relaunch Superman title with issue #7.While  I have concerns about the implications of the change, the fact that Giffen will write one of DC's flagship titles leaves me overall enthused. Though Giffen has worked for DC since the 1970s, his writing remains modern and fresh (unlike some of his contemporaries). This is apparent as recently as the latest collection of his Doom Patrol series, Brotherhood, lamentably also the final collection. Brotherhood is nothing short of brilliant, a perfect sequel to Doom Patrol: We Who are About to Die, and it makes it all the worse that DC cancelled the third collection, Doom Patrol: Fire Away, due to low pre-orders numbers.

[Contains spoilers]

Doom Patrol: We Who are About to Die overlaid the classic team with a death wish; when a new member died in the first chapter, Robotman Cliff Steele, Elasti-Woman Rita Farr, and Negative Man Larry Trainor each regretted it wasn't them. Giffen's Doom Patrol "chief" Niles Caulder, via Giffen's creative re-translation, now employs the Patrol precisely for their self-loathing; if they don't care about themselves, he reasons, they're more likely to face danger unabashed. The end of the book took the members to their lowest points -- Cliff came face-to-face with the Black Lantern-reanimated corpse of his original body, confronted with the fact he's no longer the man he was; Rita unwillingly had her mind controlled again by ex-husband Steve "Mento" Dayton; and the reader learned that Negative Man was no longer the human Larry, but solely the Negative Man entity itself.

Brotherhood offers, quite astutely, the other side of the coin. The Doom Patrol faces an old villain disguised as a former friend, and escape their adventure even more mistrusted and despised than they were before -- and yet, Giffen serves them up a moment of grace. The team comes to recognize that even if they don't care about themselves, they do care about one another, and when they make a startling discovery about Rita, they handle it together instead of retreating to separate corners to sulk. These are characters with severe emotional damage who constantly make poor choices for themselves, and when they suddenly care -- seemingly out of the blue, but built upon a series of minuscule positive steps -- the moment is all the more powerful. (This is what was wonderful too about Marc Andreyko's Manhunter series, too.)

This book is proof of the versatility of Keith Giffen's writing. There's a healthy dose of Giffen's absurdist humor in the form of a cosmic construction company that makes decisions by committee (it's almost a wonder Giffen doesn't have Cliff try to lie down in front of the bulldozers). Thankfully, however, Giffen is far more restrained here than in Booster Gold: Past Imperfect; I'd characterize the villains as "silly" rather than "stupid." Further, Giffen introduces his creation Ambush Bug to the Patrol, and aside from the Bug's apropos of nothing appearance, his antics are positively tame here (what, no Julius Schwartz jokes?). Giffen simultaneously shows he can handle serious, even dark emotionally complex stories, which is what gives me faith for Giffen's Superman -- Superman is neither the place for "dark" stories nor slapstick comedy, but the fact that Giffen has mastered both extremes suggests to me he can also produce stories somewhere in the middle.

These pages are also chock-full of references to Doom Patrol continuity (which may nor may not be all that important when Giffen takes over the post-relaunch Superman). I have only a passing familiarity with Crazy Jane, Danny the Street, Thayer Jost, and Mr. Somebody, but Giffen explains it all well enough without the backstory being overwhelming. Rita's secret, as well, is one of those perfect revelations that's shocking when it comes out but makes perfect sense in retrospect, with the truth having been there all along. Giffen demonstrates a mastery of these characters, able to bend them toward the story he wants to tell while still staying true to what came before.

I'll gush about two more aspects I rather enjoyed, both in the initial chapter of the book. First, this issue, number seven of the series, only shows the three Doom Patrol members on the last page, and yet still feels like a full issue. Giffen uses the confines of a collection the right way; Brotherhood doesn't feel decompressed, but Giffen still takes time to profile the villains, Niles Caulder, and supporting characters like Veronica Cale and Rocky Davis -- Giffen even cameos Oberon of Mister Miracle fame, for seemingly no apparent reason than it's just fun.

Second, Giffen uses some initial scenes of Brotherhood to show the aftermath of the Blackest Night crossover from the perspective of characters with only a tertiary connection to the event -- namely, the Patrol and the scientists of Oolong Island. This is mildly confusing, since the end of We Who are About to Die took place after this (and apparently out of context), but it's interesting to hear the Patrol recount being whisked away, pressed into a battle they didn't understand, and then essentially abandoned. This "alternate take" presents again some of the absurdism that Giffen is known for, but put to good use, and I found the sequence quite interesting.

I would uncharacteristically wish Doom Patrol: Brotherhood was one issue shorter, however, because the Rita Farr profile issue, as engaging as it is, ends on a cliffhanger, one not to be resolved in the standard North American version of the next book in this series, since DC cancelled it (Twitter friend Bullseye1984 points out that the Titan Books edition of Doom Patrol: Fire Away may yet see the light of day). It's a shame -- Doom Patrol was hardly a prominent DC title, but the writing and characters were complicated (not to mention, the next volume would have shown the forthcoming Secret Six crossover from the Doom Patrol's side) and as someone who was following the series, I feel I did deserve a chance to know what happened next; those issues haven't made it to DC's digital archive, either.

[Contains original and unused covers]

Coming up next week, the Secret Six meet Lex Luthor with Secret Six: The Reptile Brain and Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 2. Be there!
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4 comments:

  1. Since the cancellation of the 3rd and final volume I've bought the remaining uncollected issues. DC has really done the trade waiting Fans a disservice by denying us that volume. Giffen uses Ambush Bug to provide some hilarious insight into the cancellation of the series due to the imminent Flashpoint. This stands out as the most innovative way to cancel a series since, um, ever. Do yourselves a favor and grab 13 - 22 and complete your runs!

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  2. Maybe. The meta-mention of Flashpoint sweetens the deal a bit, crossover-sucker that I am. My luck though will be that as soon as I get the single issues, DC will release a DC Comics Presents of them.

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  3. Yeah..I can smell some sort of re-publication of these missing issues, one way or another..
    I really wanna read those, so I guess I'll order them online sooner or later. (expecting the announcement of a TPB or DC Comics Presents once I get them XD)

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  4. I don't know -- DC Comics Presents have been conspicuously absent from DC's solicitation lists lately. I'd be more than happy to see one collecting the final Doom Patrol issues (and REBELS, and Supergirl, and Manhunter, and JSA All-Stars), but I'm not holding my breath.

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