September 17, 2008

Life, Death, & the Doom Patrol

To be honest, yesterday was not one of my better days.

Not work-related, mind you - I had received a call from my aunt about my mom's recent visit to the transplant center. (Mom has liver damage due to diabetes). The good news - the transplant center rarely turns anyone away, and they had accepted her as a patient.

The bad news - her situation was worse than originally thought.

Ironically, I was working my way through Doom Patrol Archives, Vol. 4. I've blogged about my love for these characters before - but these are stories that I had never really read. (Whether they were reprinted and I missed them, I have no idea). But as I read these stories, there were two things that came to me (and I'm sure I'll get flamed for these being statements of the obvious).

First, death is a theme that permeates throughout the series, perhaps even more than it would in other Silver Age books. From covers that showed increasing damage to Cliff Steele, from plots that involved fake deaths (including a mega-crossover in this Archive Volume that involves several DP foes, a fake death, and a traitor within the villain group...and even if I wanted to spoil it, I wouldn't). Even the final issue of the original run featured the "death" of the Doom Patrol (with writer Arnold Drake breaking the fourth wall). Amongst the wisecracks, bad puns, and rather goofy humor (Aside to Mike Sterling - I'll see your goddammed Batman and raise you one [Samuel L. Jackson's favorite epithet] Negative Man), there's a slight edge of darkness, of almost black humor.

But on the other hand, another prevalent theme seems to be building a family - most notably in the Elasti-Girl/Mento (the freshmaker!)/Beast Boy subplot. It's notable in that not only does Mento (Ok, his civilian guise, Steve Dayton) fight the wicked guardian not through punching, but through aggressive lawyering and legislation. In addition, given Mr. Dayton's ego and Ms. Farr's, well, stereotypical 1960's female behavior (wanting to be a superhero during the day and a mother at night)....makes one wonder whether Gar Logan really needs adoptive parents like that?

But on the other hand, that sense of family extends to the team itself - Robotman and Negative Man engaging in a back-and-forth like two bickering brothers. the Chief acting like a slightly neglectful father...there's something refreshingly familar with the team. Ok, granted, I may be reading too much into it - news about my mom coloring my perception of these stories - but there's something especially comforting about seeing a group of "freaks" bicker and fight while taking on alien invasions, talking apes, and brains connected to neon bodies.

(And to be honest, I think it's a lot more fun than that other team with a guy in a wheelchair leading a group of rejects and "freaks". But that's just me).

Finally, for those of you new to the Doom Patrol, not comics fans, and/or willing to check them out - since the Archives are somewhat pricey, I suggest waiting until April, when DC releases their Showcase Presents collection for about $20. Yes, it's in black and white, but personally, I'm thinking that it will showcase Bruno Premiani's art).

But all in all, what is the point of this post, besides marking time? Perhaps it's that part of the reason why comic fans love the form so much is that, hidden within the pages of four-color splendor, lies hidden meanings and subtle messages that reach us when we least expect it.

But personally, I'll stick to the talking apes. Especially if they have machine guns.

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