Forget Alan Moore and his sexually charged reinterpretations of classic literary characters; never mind Neil Gaiman and his uncanny talent for post-modern synthesis. If you want the truly weird in the DC Comics universe, you go straight to Grant Morrison. In his early American comics work, he took an obscure fourth-string superhero in a ridiculous costume with a power straight out of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and turned Animal Man into one of the most innovative and interesting comics in print. His take on the Batman mythology, Arkham Asylum, did much to establish the themes of madness and obsession that were to dominate the Dark Knight’s adventures for the following two decades. And then, with Doom Patrol, he got really weird.
The Doom Patrol had always teetered on the lunatic fringe of super-groups, due in large part to the fact that many of the characters were gimmicky, unlikable, or just plain strange. Wheelchair-bound genius Niles Caulder was Charles Xavier with Doctor Doom’s people skills, manipulative and megalomaniacal. Of his team, the most human and sympathetic was the orange-plated Robotman, and things went rapidly downhill from there. And did I mention the fact that the entire team had been killed off at least once?
All of which made Doom Patrol the perfect title for Morrison’s patented brand of high strangeness, starting with issue 19.
Strangeness it is, often indescribably so, in these seven collected issues. Once again, Robotman is the most normal fellow in the bunch, an average guy in an impossible situation. Working — not always fighting — alongside him are misfits like the chimp-faced Dorothy, whose imaginary friends aren’t rather irritated with her, and super-powered MPD victim Crazy Jane. Her alternate personalities each come with their own superpowers, not to mention their own opinions, including one who mentions casually that she’s killed God. This turns problematic, as the Doom Patrol quickly finds itself in conflict with something that may in fact be God, or Jack the Ripper, or both, and, well, that’s possibly the least nutzoid bit of what’s going in here. Don’t believe me? Then wait until you run into the Scissormen. Their very existence as comic book “villains” serves as evidence that Morrison was in the final stages of revving up for his full-scale assault on traditional comics narratives, approaches, mores, and continuity.
This is mind-blowing stuff, tricky and dangerous to the punchimminnaface comics crowd that just wants to see Doomsday and Orion throw down. Nobody’s robbing banks or poisoning Gotham’s water supply here. What’s at stake is reality and perception, the possibility of a forced marriage in a house outside of time or the horror of being cut out of existence, one slice at a time.
Perfectly complimentary to the utter weirdness of Morrison’s script is Richard Case’s art. It’s all clean lines and bright colors, almost Ditko-like in its classic styling. It’s that apparent simplicity that allows it to work so very well as counterpoint to the intricacy of what’s actually going on in each issue. Superficially similar to standard ’60’s stylings, the character art is aggressively normal, drawing the reader in until it suddenly, savagely isn’t. But by then, it’s too late. Case and Morrison have got you.
Crawling From the Wreckage is not an easy book, nor is it an accessible one. In many places, it’s not even a likable book. It is, however, always a compelling book, and an important one in the history of modern comics. It’s not always fun, but in the final analysis, it’s always good.
(DC Comics, 2000)