Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Quick Comics Reviews!
Doom Patrol #1, 2
I'm an optimist at heart. So despite terrible buzz I figured I'd try out a few issues of John Byrne's relaunch of DC Comics' venerable super-freak hero team, "The Doom Patrol." I've been a big Doom Patrol fan for years; they popped up in the mid-60s about the same time the X-Men did, but never quite became as popular, with oddball outcast characters like Robotman, Elastic Girl and Negative Man. The original '60s stories collected in DC's spiffy hardback "Archives" series have a fun, anything-goes wackiness as the team fights such menaces as The Brain and Monsieur Mallah (a talking gorilla), or the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (could I make that up?). The Doom Patrol returned in the 80s, and when writer Grant Morrison took them on he created one of the weirdest, finest superhero comics ever, a 40-issue or so run of stylish dadaism, surrealism, humor and parody and insanity that was a trial run for a lot of his later groundbreaking work. The Doom Patrol has since returned a few times since then as standard superhero comics, nothing remarkable, nothing new.

Still, I had some hope for the new version - it's written and drawn by John Byrne, who I've got some sentimental attachment to for his sturdy, epic work in the 1980s on everyone from the Fantastic Four to Superman. Unfortunately, as most comics fans know, Byrne hasn't done much remarkable in the past decade, turning into a bitter crank and leaving his storytelling style firmly stuck in 1987 or so. Byrne and The Doom Patrol could've been a fun-filled classic at one point in his career, but this 2004 version is lame-duck clich├ęs all the way, if the first two issues are any indication. Byrne and writer Chris Claremont reintroduced the Doom Patrol in a recent appallingly dull JLA storyline. Apparently Byrne has decided none of the other Doom Patrol stories "count" and has reinvented them from scratch; thus alienating all the existing Doom Patrol fans out there in one fell swoop. That might work if his reinvention had any charm or style, but it's strictly C-grade comics. The first two issues of Doom Patrol '04 continue the story straight from JLA, with the Doom Patrol and a bunch of generic young heroes fighting vampires who've taken over the bodies of supervillains. Technically, it's competent work, but oh-so boilerplate. It's paint-by-numbers comics.

Like I said before, it seems Byrne is stuck in the '80s -- compared to the fresher, vibrant work contemporaries from Brian Bendis to Morrison to even Mark Millar are doing, Byrne is just boring. Dull, clunky exposition, rote plots, characters uttering played-out "comics-speak" left and right ("The power in this form is almost beyond measure!"), and even Byrne's art lacks the freshness and power it once had. And even though these are the first two issues, Byrne assumed everyone read the JLA story preceding it, jumping into the action with little or no recapping. I came into Doom Patrol '04 with low expectations, and certainly had them met. I suppose I could summon up some mild outrage on Byrne's toothless, retro-blahh take on my beloved Doom Patrol -- but frankly, I don't expect it to last a dozen issues anyway and one day it'll be replaced by the next reboot. The old stories still exist, and seeking out any of the 1960s Doom Patrol or Grant Morrison's version (about to be reprinted in two new trade paperback, by the way) is a far better use of your money. Grade: C-

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