Friday, September 11, 2009

Defining the Periods

(Much of this entry previously appeared in an essay on my Livejournal page entitled "Doom Patrol/Towards A More Precise Outline" on September 1st, 2009 in a slightly different form.)

This entry will attempt to redress the lack of a detailed comparative critical study of the Doom Patrol comics' history in electronic format. The first act in the serious study of any subject is the definition of terms. We'll start with the general and move toward the specific in future entries. I should state up front that I have no intention of getting so specific that I violate intellectual property claims. This blog should leave more the impression of a movie review-- a review of about 200 short films released over five decades.

The first step would be to list the nine distinct periods of the group's history and the dates that they were initially published. (Note that in some cases, specifically the Morrison and Byrne periods, the cover dates of the last issues are actually a few months into the following years.) This framework has been designed to work in the long term; although the nomenclature refers to 'the canon', that is those comic books actually titled "Doom Patrol", I already have methods planned to account for guest appearances in other titles, reprinted stories, retroactive stories and (with a little work down the line) promotional and licensing paraphernalia. And now, let's meet our contestants:

  1. The Original Series - (1963-1968) / plus miscellaneous reprints
  2. Gypsy Period 1 - (1977- 1985)
  3. Kupperberg Period - (1986- 1988)
  4. Morrison Period - (1989-1992)
  5. Pollack Period - (1993-1994)/ plus Wilderness Years (1995-2000)
  6. Arcudi Period - (2001-2003)
  7. Byrne Period - (2004-2005)
  8. Gypsy Period 2 - (2006-2009)
  9. Giffen Period - (2009- present)

Succesive entries will give detailed descriptions of each of these periods in order. Next entry in two days.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Secret Origin of the LGC:Doom Patrol Blog

(An earlier version of this entry appeared previously on my Livejournal page on August 30th, 2009.)

With the current revival of the Doom Patrol by Keith Giffen and Matt Clark looming a few months ago (it has since begun publishing), I went looking for an online fansite devoted to the team. I had prior been able to find fanatically detailed sites for Challengers of the Unknown, Swamp Thing and others. It seemed like a natural for someone to attempt the same for the Doom Patrol: the outsider vibe generally leads to a lack of extensive coverage on the publisher's site of all but the most recent appearances; they'd been around long enough for intergenerational appeal; until about five years ago they rarely made appearances outside of their own title(s), simplifying the research a little; and their adventures were sufficiently bizarre that it seemed plausible that people would seek out the opinions of others as to what exactly we had all been reading. I was expecting something po
sted by someone in their forties back in 2001, something that would point out apparent conflicts of continuity between stories and speculated on possible explanations. Something with four-year-old comment strings piping in about storylines resolved in other titles and decrying the lack of trade paperbacks to bring complete stories together. All I found was a site seemingly put together as a college project before the Byrne stories and never completed, as well as the excellent blog found at the following link:

I've enjoyed the above blog immensely and would recommend it to any comics fan but especially those curious about the current series. It seems to have been started by someone to fill precisely the void I just described with the bonus of viewing the team as a living, ongoing concern and not simply the nostalgia trip I was expecting. One thing that did strike me as odd though is that not only the writer but many of the commentors (beside myself) have mentioned that they were unfamiliar with the issues written by Grant Morrison. Not all, but many. Sure, a few said they were confused by them and one said he simply didn't like them (opinions I don't share but certainly understand). It was my recollection (and I admit that I could be waaa-ay off on this) is that theMorrison isues were very good sellers, as 'Mature Reader' titles go. He certainly wrote more issues than any other author, more in fact than the entire original run of the book back in the sixties, more than the previous two volumes of this decade combined. You just don't stay that long if you're selling poorly. An editor may gamble on an experiment and consider a poor selling issue to be the just cost of gauging the readership's tastes, but nobody experiments for four years. Also, his entire run is available in color paperbacks while even the original 1960's stories are available only in pricey hardcover archives that don't exactly scream "mass marketing" (and yes, the first half of those stories are now also compiled in an inexpensive black & white paperback but that was only recently released). Most of the group's 40+ year history has never made it to color paperback ever but the issues most likely printed in the largest quantity have, yet the persons most devoted to the group, who will not only seek out a blog devoted to it but make the effort to let the blogger know that his work is read and appreciated, those are the persons who haven't read the Morrison issues? That's like Chris Rock's old joke about the Spice Girls. "The Spice Girls are like crack," he told the audience at an MTV awards show, "everybody says they don't like 'em, but somebody's buying an awful lot of it."

Since I do enjoy getting updates and breezy commentary on mga80, I neither want to leaden it with lists of facts and statistics or burden the blogger with requests for coverage of the past. I also am wary of recommending to fellow fans to rely too much on the DC wikia, since I found a few factual errors and numerous omissions and ran into too many walls trying to report them. Let this then be the background companion both the mga80 and the new series, a reference appendix built one brick at a time

The next entry should outline the nine phases of the Doom Patrol that I've defined for clarifying research; starting with that each subsequent entry should detail the stories encompassed by each phase and lay down an itinerary for the blog through next spring. See you in two days.

Monday, September 7, 2009

LGC/Mission Statement

The LGC is the Layman's Guide to Criticism, a concept I conceived in college in the 1980's. I developed a love for art films at a time when home video was in its infancy and repertory movie theaters were more common. Researching the films so that you could spend your budgeted time on those that spoke most to you meant books, catalogues, magazines, and (on rare occasions) newspaper archives as sources of information. Some of this was presented as dry data-heavy documentation and some was art criticism but nearly all added pieces to the overall picture. That picture was always more valuable than the sum value of its parts. However, when you veer from the factoid, nuts-and-bolts type coverage to the more subjective analysis it becomes more difficult to distinguish the self-indulgent bleating from the insightful perspective-- especially if you haven't seen the film being discussed. I would increasingly find reviews of movies I knew very well and learned to respect the writers who noticed what I missed, to the extent that they could change my opinion on the movie, pro or con. I also learned to tell when a critic wrote their review by skimming the press release and making up something to meet a deadline without actually watching the movie.
What I hadn't anticipated was how difficult this would make conversations with noncineastes, that is, most other people in the world. While it's true that most people watch movies at some time or another it's also true that most people don't study and disect them. They want a good story but won't go searching for the story behind it. Their idea of a review is a five-star system. (The best rebuke of this system came at the end of a MST3K episode. After watching a typically inept production one of the robots pointed out that a well known, mass-marketed movie critic gave the movie three stars in his paperback guide and proceeded to list all the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films also given three stars by the same critic. Without bad-mouthing either the movie or the critic, and in the space of a few minutes, he demonstrated that the star ratings system only pretends to give you information when in fact it tells you nothing to distinguish one movie from any other, even when they are markedly different. All it really tells you is, "This is a movie", which you already knew. Not bad for a puppet.)
Having realized that I had taught myself a foreign language as regards discussing movies with people I decided to enumerate my choices of paths:
  1. Stop talking about movies with most people. (Nope)
  2. Pretend that I don't know what I've learned. (Nope)
  3. Be condescending to people who don't know what I've learned. (Nope)
  4. Share what I've learned (oh, sure that sounds innocuous enough, even constructive and positive-- "I assure you sahib, these bricks are made of the finest of intentions...")

Wouldn't it be great if there were a manual you could hand people that would explain to them in straightforward language exactly why the local paper's movie critic never seems to like all their favorite "Ernest" movies? Why movies aren't really 'good' or 'bad' per se, but good or bad for a given audience or for a given time period? Why mentioning or depicting a topic is not the same thing as endorsing it? (Well, maybe you can't teach common sense, but still, we'll never know if we don't try.)

Great indeed, but no manual, no finite work, can ever convey understanding that broadly. I had to read dozens and dozens of articles before I began to see that there even was a language and approach required to understand all of what I was reading. Having read a hundred or more, rereading the first of them became a different experience. My learning was interactive; it necessarily changed me and those changes in turn colored the way I experienced the same materials. The Layman's Guide to Criticism (LGC) can only exist in installments and now, over 25 years later, technology has caught up to and overtaken my theories. The blog format not only pares out minute examinations but can be accessed (using labels/tags) as tailored to the needs of the reader.

One addendum specific to this particular blog: The Doom Patrol is a comic book that features a team of super-heroes and more so than most falls precariously close to a Rorschach test. The premise was that the characters be different than conventional heroes and succeeded despite or because of their differences. In different decades and under different creators and editors the group has fluctuated both in membership and general tone. The story-telling approaches have occasionally presented unique problems to conventional data-bases and so this blog seeks to kill two birds with one stone: provide an organized (and as comprehensive as possible) analysis of each appearance and argue for or against their significance to the whole.

More in two days.