Doom Patrol #1 Review

Written by: Gerard Way

Art by: Nick Derington

Published by: DC

I remember when I got back into comics after a leave of absence. It was a lot of fun discovering DC, a publisher I’d read nothing from before. I discovered new worlds and characters, and fell in love with comics all over again. It wasn’t until later though, when I got more adventurous and daring when I started discovering books like Sandman, Swamp Thing and Animal Man. As my tastes developed and grew, I found a home in 90s Vertigo books, and grew especially fond of Grant Morrison’s utterly bizarre and endearing Doom Patrol a focal point of the experimental comics in the period. Now, famed created and former MCR singer Gerard Way is trying to resurrect this era of experimental joy with DC’s Young Animal, leading the way with a relaunch of the world’s strangest superheroes. Unfortunately, this debut issue leans more towards random for the sake of it rather than experimenting with strange ideas, leading to a confusing and disappointingly unappealing debut that’ll leave newcomers scratching their heads and fans feeling like something’s missing.

The issue starts out promisingly enough by introducing us to a new character Casey Brink, an eccentric ambulance driver. She manages to be an enjoyable enough character, with enough good and likeable lines to make her endearing and enough under the surface cynicism to keep her personality form being overbearing. It’s a good balance that manages to both avoid the over excited special snowflake and the overly angsty depressed teenager. Unfortunately from here, the comic goes completely off the rails in the worst possible way.

Rather than build upon the elements we have and dip us into the strange world of Doom Patrol, Way just shotguns the reader’s expectations by taking us inside a gyro (that’d be the cover) and showcasing Cliff Steele, who gets no introduction, in a sci-fi city of some sort, performing actions we get no context for and talking to a character we never see. From here the comic cuts between completely disjointed scenes, including cutaways to classic doom patrol members, none of whom receive any introduction or explanation for being there other than reminding us that, yes, this is in fact supposed to be a Doom Patrol comic.

What makes this cavalcade of weirdness so frustrating is that none of it feels clever or inventive and misses the very point of early Vertigo books. Vertigo featured extremely creative ideas and presented them in experimental new styles, it didn’t just throw a bunch of shit at a wall and claim itself to be cutting edge. Most “weird” moment feels so predictable, undermining the point, and are presented without context to make them seem like there’s some hidden layer, when really it’s just being deliberately opaque to trick people into thinking there’s something profound. You can almost see the checklist Way was using as he made his way through the script:

  • Boardroom of executives turn out to be evil Aliens? Check
  • Wacky overly fun character turns out to be totally amoral?  Check
  • Food product given unnecessary amount of attention because “BURRITOS LOL I’M SO RANDOM!”? Check

It’s a lazy way to evoke a style that’ll just leave newcomers absolutely perplexed as to what’s going on, with fans noticing instantly that there’s something not right and not being interested. I really don’t know who this is meant to appeal to in this case.

If there’s one shinning light in all this, it’s that the art from Nick Derington is far more what I expected from a Vertigo style relaunch. The almost “indie” style has been making it’s way into more and more mainstream books, but I still appreciate a publisher going outside their usual house style. While the book is terribly disjointed, the moments in it are at least presented with a great deal of care, moments that are meant to be big feel big and get that “explosion” style the script is going for with far more comprehension. The book itself is also rather well designed, the next time page (as rapidly and frustratingly as it comes) looks gorgeous, and the scenes inside the gyro show a versatility in styles from Derington that I hope is explored more in later issues. His art would be the main reason I return, so hopefully he can keep up the quality.

Overall, Doom Patrol #1 is quite possibly the biggest disappointment of 2016 so far. It feels like a kid who makes an obvious yet poorly worded joke, then gets mad at you for “just not getting it.” I had high hopes given the quality of the creative team and their passion for the project, but something seems to have gone seriously wrong. I don’t want to make too many sweeping statements about the project as a whole, but this issue for sure definitely feels like it misses the point of the original to a large degree. I’m willing to give it a few more issues, as I remember the Morrison run taking a little bit to grab me, but this debut feels massively offputting to newcomers and hardcore fans alike. If you’re interested in this, I’d advise serious caution, especially at it’s higher price compared to the rest of DC’s line-up. If the rest of DC’s Young Animals books don’t pick up the slack, the line could quickly find itself doomed.