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Doom Patrol Book 1

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Doom Patrol Book 1 back

Grant Morrison & Richard Case, John Nyberg, others


Page 45 Review by Stephen

A wit-ridden, language-loving psycho-hero series of continual metamorphosis, this whopping 424-page collection contains both CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE and THE PAINTING WHICH ATE PARIS.

"What do normal people have in their lives?"
"What do normal people have?"
"You're asking the wrong person."
"I've tried to be like them, I really have. But what happens when you just can't be strong anymore? What happens if you're weak? My painting's ruined. Everything's gone wrong."

Not yet, it hasn't.

"Come in out of the rain."

Welcome to the half-lives of the Doom Patrol who, under Grant Morrison, each pull themselves back from the brink of insanity in order to deal with madness. Meet the consistently bewildered Cliff, a poor soul trapped in a metal body whose physical senses pale in comparison what he was used to, leaving him lingering in a virtual isolation tank where he can only remember what it felt like to touch! Greet Crazy Jane whose disassociation following childhood abuse has left her splintered into 64 unique personalities, each with their own metahuman talent! And frown in perplexity as Rebis reminds you that she/he/it is no longer Larry but a composite being made from black female Dr. Eleanor Poole, white male Larry Trainor and a negative flying spirit that glows green-on-black! Led by the driven but callous paraplegic Professor Caulder, they are the Doom Patrol, and their heads will soon be hurting every bit as much as yours.

The series is packed full of sharp observations like the urban catechism of subway stations which you grow to know by heart and recite as you pass them by. And if you think that because this is relatively early Grant Morrison that you're going to be let off the hook, then think again; for here be memetic theory and metatexts, and the wonderful Scissormen - black and scarlet empty people bearing very large blades, reducing human beings to blank stencils in the air and the English language to a series of cryptic crosswords:

"Defeating breadfruit in adumbrate."
"The leaching will be novelistic for effacement! Curdle your pilgrimage! Curdle your pilgrimage!"

You could try to translate them but that would be like attempting to decipher what Liz Fraser's singing on the early Cocteau Twins' tracks: pointless. Liz Fraser used her voice like a mellifluous musical instrument rather than worry us with real words.

It's like a water park ride where once you start you cannot get off and, scream as you might, you just have to lie back and enjoy the rapids' ride. Case in point: the painting that ate Paris:

The Brotherhood of Dada is on a quest for total global absurdity. So they steal a painting described as "hungry" and then let it lose. It quickly swallows France's capital. Cliff, Crazy Jane and Rebis find themselves in an infinitely recursive world of paintings within paintings and Paris itself is transformed into enough art movements to satisfy even Sister Wendy.

So many ideas and so much fun, from Mr. Nobody (barely glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, railing like Rick Mayall as an aesthete) to the Hiroshima Shadows, Weeping Blades and a plague of bodiless mouths, while the Pale Police will tempt you into spending hours trying to decipher the anagrams which are their only means of communication. And this time you can! Plus Cliff takes a trip into the fractured mind of Crazy Jane and Morrison introduces The Quizz, a girl with a fear of dirt but in possession of every superpower you haven't thought of. Yes, the only way to strip her abilities is to think them up fast. "Flight" won't bring her to ground until you've conjured up "levitation", nor to ground-level unless you remember "height multiplication", "stretching", "spinning of spider webs" and "density reduction".

Why not pair off and role-play the game yourselves? I did:

"In five seconds I will burn you alive."
"Err, flame throwing, heat generation, nuclear fission, napalm breath --"
"Time out, and I'm afraid you missed the transmogrification of others."
"I can't even spell it!"

Richard Case's contribution is hugely underrated. Bringing ideas like this to life is no mean feat. His flat, black Mr. Nobody with free-floating eyes isn't all there - in any sense of the expression! Same goes for the Pale Police: hollow constructs of white ribbons with Joker-like grinning mouths in their chests, a thumbprint of their intended victim drawn on their helmets from the memory of its maze.

In other character designs there's what I would call an opulence. Moreover, Case's recursive occlusions are immaculate, his Crazy Jane can be terrifying, and if the Doom Patrol look a little like toy dolls being tossed about by children in tantrums, to a very great extent they are.