When I first heard about the new Doom Patrol, I dismissed it. I’d heard about heavy Morrison influences and figured I didn’t need to read it. I’ve already read Morrison’s Doom Patrol and I didn’t care about lesser creators redoing it. I slowly heard good things about it from critics I like, but the real selling point was Nick Derington’s online presence. I followed him on Twitter after seeing people like and retweet his art, and he posts great pinups constantly. His art falls on a spectrum between Chris Samnee and Tom Scioli. He has some of Samnee’s friendly cartooning sensibility and some of Scioli’s exaggerated movements and unusual coloring. All three share a similar blocky Kirby-esque anatomy, providing for amazing larger-than-life superhero comics. I was hooked.
If you looked at just the plot on paper, this would feel like a tired retread of Morrison and Case’s Doom Patrol. It’s getting the band back together and reintroducing them to some new characters, with a typical Morrison meta “comic book” plot. But when actually reading it, it seems to deliberately avoid covering similar ground. The focus isn’t on the plot, and not like Aliens Dead Orbit where there isn’t really any plot. There’s a ton of plot but it’s in the background. In that way, it’s like a Morrison comic. The key difference is thematic – Morrison and Case’s Doom Patrol uses weird powers and villains as metaphors for mental and physical illnesses and deconstructs superheroics. Way and Derington’s Doom Patrol uses this same weirdness for a celebration of positivity and reconstructing superheroics. Morrison’s Doom Patrol characters have actually gotten better and started enjoying themselves. That might be the craziest thing that could happen to those characters.
This page below is the closest it comes to a retread of Morrison’s run. Jane and Robotman are sad and talk about pain and they frown and there’s a lot of words. This page is unusual for multiple reasons. It’s one of the wordiest pages in the first arc. It’s also one of the darkest color-wise. It provides a slow thoughtful moment in a mostly light action-packed issue to clearly establish characters. Both Jane and Robotman have grown since Morrison’s run. They’re dealing with some of the same questions but they’ve learned from their past and are ready for new things. Despite Doom Patrol consisting of weird ageless fictional characters (who know they’re ageless and fictional), this arc feels like a great 20 years later reunion. Some characters have grown, some have left, some haven’t changed, and there’s a couple new people thrown in. All of the wackiness covers up a standard getting the band back together arc to start a team book.
Derington’s art remarkably bends to the needs of any given page. He does the flashy, pretty, bulky superheroes and their fights, but he also does a great job at the “weird” moments. It’s impossible to praise him and his flexibility, without also noting the importance of Tamra Bonvillain’s colors. Her bright colors make this book a joy to read, but they also bend to fit the story. This page is a good example of a weirder page that works perfectly. Derington’s art takes a backseat to the colors and narration for most of the page, but his character designs shine here. When the Negative Spirit travels through space, it is anthropomorphized just enough for us to understand it. Yet, in the middle comic relief panel, both it and its companion seem distinctly human. The more human character design fits the everyday conversation there, creating a humorous disconnect. They’re just human enough to have frustrating normal conversations but also weird enough for the reader to not understand what the hell is really going on.
Another creative mix of art and coloring comes in this book’s flashbacks and hypothetical scenes. Instead of working in darker colors or using narration, the coloring shifts from its normal digital coloring to a colored pencil shaded style. This fits Derington’s art well and lines up with the work he posts on Twitter, where he colors his own work. It’s calm, otherworldly, and beautiful.
Despite this working so well, it’s easy to understand why the entire book isn’t colored like this. The more traditional digital coloring pops so brightly in a way this penciled style can’t. Not to say this is bad, but it feels quieter than this over the top book needs.
Doom Patrol’s positive mood also comes from the sound effects and Todd Klein’s lettering. The sound effects are consistently weird and vary in shape, color, font, and design. On this early page, the sound effects are a major part of the pacing and the mood. The first sound “SCREEEEEEE–!” is longer than the others, just as the panel is longer. Its speed stands out in its chaotic placement in contrast to the similarly large and bold but stationary EMERGENCY. The sounds here vary in almost every element of design, but they all move left to right in bright warm colors. The last vertical panel transitions from a focus on sound effects to dialogue with the exclamation TEAM WORK!. They move from quick, specific, planned actions into a celebration of their success and cooperation. This is an important early scene because the ambulance and EMTs form a central metaphor for superheroes throughout this book. The characters are bringing a man into an emergency room. This could easily be painful, tragic, and difficult. Instead, it’s a positive moment because Marie and Samson love saving people, and the Doom Patrol will too.
This book is challenging, weird, and adult without afraid of being fun and positive. Every part of the creative team does unique things on almost every page, but it doesn’t feel showy or pretentious. Or maybe I just have a high bar for pretentious comics after reading too much Sandman this year. Either way, it seems like an organic mix. The first volume is a rare DC/Marvel book with the same creative team on every issue. Each issue also feels special as Way and Derington struggle to maintain a monthly release schedule when so many DC books are bi-weekly. I’m aware that when I crack the secret of getting content out in a timely manner, I’ll be making major progress. I’m still trying to figure that out and maybe I will someday. Back to random.org for my next flashback post (selecting a random year from 1935 to 2016).
I’ll be back soon talking about a comic from 1977. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter, share this post, and keep reading comics.