Weird for weird’s sake: Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

I love the Silver Age Doom Patrol. I love Grant Morrison’s 1980s reboot for entirely different reasons.

The Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani Doom Patrol had great stories and exceptional characterization; they’re DC done Marvel style but better than a lot of Marvel at the time. The series finish (one of many cancelled as the Silver Age reached its end) was exceptional too. Trapped by their enemies the team are given a choice: either they blow up or a worthless fishing village holding fourteen people blows up. They choose option A.

A decde later, DC revived the series in the tryout book Showcase, bounced them around as guest-stars, then gave them their own series in 1987. They might not have bothered; while drawing on the history of the original (and bringing back a couple of character) the series was generic. The characters weren’t freaks or misfits, they were just another mostly-teen team in the vein of Chris Claremont’s X-Men or the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans. Then in 1989 Grant Morrison took over.

Morrison has said he found the original series mindblowingly weird compared to other books; his goal was to up the weirdness. He succeeded.

Along with the Chief, Robotman and Joshua Clay (a holdover from the revival series) we had new members such as Crazy Jane (64 personalities, 64 metapowers) and Rebis (Negative Man in Larry Trainor’s body … fused with a woman). And the adventures were several times weirder. Battles against the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., who use toys from Silver Age comics ads as weapons. Danny the Street, a literal living transvestite street. A sorcerer trapping a group of monsters inside a copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses. A painting that holds the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. An encounter with a warped version of Yankee Doodle, a Silver Age hero who got a cover design (intended for Showcase) but his story never came out.

Or the Brotherhood of Dada, dedicated to utter meaninglessness, driving America insane with a bicycle saturated with LSD energy. Or throwaway details such as the Dresden Madonna (it bleeds sour milk from its stigmata every 28 days) and the homonculi known as the Dead Bachelors, composed of old skin cells and animated by the pain in discarded love letters. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I love weird, and Morrison delivered in spades.

Of course it wasn’t all roses (well, insane roses). For all the weirdness, the Brotherhood of Dada’s second plotline turns into a cliched political-outsider satire. The Chief turns out to be a complete villain at the end, a twist I never thought worked. But overall, it was a spectacular run.

Rachel Pollack took over when Morrison left and tried to keep the weirdness going. Her take didn’t work for me, but at least she tried. Subsequent writers including John Byrne and Geoff Johns just reverted to the Silver Age team with a few additions and handwaved the Chief. The results are invariably bland and disappointing. The exception being Gerard Way’s 2017 series, which follows in the Morrison vein very well.

#SFWApro. Covers by (top to bottom) Bruno Premiani, Richard Case, Mike Sekowsky; all rights remain with current holder.

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