Monday, September 21, 2009

DP04-AA Morrison Period synopsis

The phase of Doom Patrol history written by Grant Morrison was published in what was initially called "New Format". This meant not only a better stock of paper but a printing process that allowed what is called "full bleed", that is, the artwork can be printed to the very edge of the page. Whatever their opinion of Morrison (the graphic novel "Arkham Asylum" was nearly a year away), DC clearly wasn't absolutely certain about the idea of characters previously published for 'all ages' distribution being sequestered to one age group with a "suggested for mature readers" tag. This wasn't a problem with titles like Sandman or Shadow or Question, characters who were either new or who hadn't been published in years. Starting as a MR title from the first issue on left no room for confusion or mixed signals. For example, Morrison's second issue contains a subscription form that lists titles by price/format but doesn't isolate the MR titles. The next issue, they are on a separate page entirely. It's less surprising, in that context, to hear that despite content that was occasionally disturbing and usually disorienting and frequently encouraged the reader to keep a pre-Wikipedia dictionary handy, Morrison's issues didn't get the "SFMR" tag on the cover until issue #37, a year-and-a-half into his run.

For all it's reputation for weirdness, much of it hard-earned, this period is nothing compared to The Invisibles which was later published under Vertigo. It never becomes completely detached from the DCU. Many people seem to forget that Sandman, a title perceived as read by people who don't read other comics had numerous characters from Justice League and Swamp Thing in its first arc, from Infinity Inc. in its second, from Metamorpho in its third and even a cameo of the Justice Society (don't blink or you'll miss it) in the fourth. That was two years into that title's run. So I don't have any time for whiny mewling about an occasional "Tales of Hoffman" reference in Doom Patrol. Many of it's allusions to DC history are subtle, some would argue hidden, and I'm going to attempt to document as many of them as I can recognize. I'm also going to attempt to decypher as much of Morrison's wordplay and encryption as I can.

A word before summarizing the entries for this period: The Morrison run, as of this writing, is the only period entirely reproduced in color paperbacks making it the most accesible segment of five decades of back catalog. Because this fact raises the possibility of some readers being most familiar with the paperback titles as points of reference I have grouped the issues below to reflect those six trades. However, it should not be construed that the non-DP comics discussed in each section are part of the contents of the trade, only that they are contemporary to those issues. Also, while the first three trades begin and end at natural narrative breaks, the last three trades seem grouped by more pragmatic criteria, which will be discussed somewhat below and at length in future entries.

  1. "CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE"} The actual "Crawling..." storyline was in Doom Patrol #19(2/89)- 22(5/89) and assembled not one but two teams. The Chief relocated to the original Justice League headquarters (a series of caves in Happy Harbor, RI) and after an initial adventure assesses as many survivors of the previous three incarnations of the group as are willing to join and proposes both an 'outer' support team (himself, Joshua Clay/Tempest, Dorothy Spinner and on call Will Magnus of the Metal Men) and an 'inner' field team (Cliff Steele/Robotman, Kay Challis/Crazy Jane, Rebis[Larry Trainor/Eleanor Poole/The Negative Energy Being], and pending her emergence from a coma, Rhea Jones/Lodestone). They would find random allies in different adventures and lose Rhea in their second year, but this cast otherwise held up for almost forty issues. In #23(6/89)- 24(7/89) the field team pursued an alternate-dimension killer and in #25(8/89) we learn the implications of Dorothy's power. Former member Valentina Vostok has meanwhile been drawn into "The Janus Directive" in Checkmate, Suicide Squad, Firestorm, Manhunter and Captain Atom. Steve Dayton shows up briefly in New Titans #55(6/89). Neither character is written by Morrison.

  2. "THE PAINTING THAT ATE PARIS"} The title comes from the first arc, which is also the first adventure for the Brotherhood of Dada in Doom Patrol #26(9/89)- 29(1/90). While that plays out, Morrison also writes an origin for the Happy Harbor location itself in Secret Origins #46(12/89) and Wolfman's New Titans #62(1/90) has another Dayton appearance. During Doom Patrol #30(3/90)- 33(6/90) Cliff expores Jane's subconscious and gets a new solid black body from Will Magnus. Then the team meets Willoughby Kipling who elists them to fight The Cult Of The Unwritten Book. This story is more significant than immediately obvious because the eye symbol that signifies the Decreator summoned by the cult reoccurs both in the final Candlemaker story and the Doom Force parody one-shot. After a walk-on by Cliff and Rebis in Justice League Europe #17(8/90), Cliff's new body takes on a life of its own and foils an invasion of the HQ by the Brain and Monsieur Mallah in Doom Patrol #34(7/90). Vostok continues to appear in Checkmate through #30(8/90).

  3. There is a magazine-sized format of Who's Who In The DC Universe ready made for three-ring binders. It begins publishing between these two story arcs and lasts a year-and-a-half, then adds two updates right before the Vertigo launch. As in the Kupperberg Period there are sporadic DP related pages.

  4. "DOWN PARADISE WAY"} In Doom Patrol #35(8/90)- 37(10/90) the team meets Sara Furness, Danny the Street and Flex Mentallo when Danny is attacked by Darren Jones and his ersatz Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. As mentioned before, #37 was the first officially marked, "Suggested For Mature Readers" and prompted an ad with unique art that ran in Ms. Tree Quarterly #2(Autumn/90) if not elsewhere. Marv Wolfman brings Steve Dayton back to New Titans #71(11/90) where he stays until #100(8/93). In Doom Patrol #38(11/90)- 41(2/91) Rhea has awakened from her coma having metamorphosed. In her new state she becomes a pawn in an alien war.

  5. "MUSCLEBOUND"} Doom Patrol#42(3/91)- 44(5/91) reveals the nature and origins of The Ant Farm and the true Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Ultimately it is Dorothy who defeats The Ant Farm but only by summoning the Candlemaker. In the third and last chapter of Red Glass in Action Comics #666(6/91), Superman hallucinates Cliff and Rebis. (There is also an alternate future Cliff who appears in that year's Action Comics Annual #3, one of the "Armageddon 2001" chapters.) The Chief gets a rare solo story fighting The Beardhunter in Doom Patrol #45(7/91). Willoughby Kipling returns to warn of The Shadowy Mr. Evans in #46(8/91)- 48(10/91), although this sub-arc is more foreshadow-y: numerous incidents that seem to be of no consequence in these issues will take on much greater meaning a year later. This was also about the time former member Karma appeared in Suicide Squad #58(10/91). The trade ends with the first two issues of the second Brotherhood of Dada story in Doom Patrol #49(11/91)- 50(12/91). Because everyone but Joshua and the Chief have moved their living quarters onto the Danny at this point and the cave HQ is not seen between #49 and #55, this is probably when Justice League Europe #32(11/91) takes place. As Part 8 of "Breakdowns", Giffen and De Matteis have both the JLA and JLE return to the cave where three members experience a hallucinegenic-induced Morrison parody.
  6. "MAGIC BUS"} The actual "Magic Bus" storyline is continued from the previous trade and concluded in Doom Patrol #51(1/92)- 52(2/92). In #53(3/92) Danny (with help from guest artist Ken Steacy) dreams that the DP are the 1960's Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four. This might also be the last point at which Cliff and Rebis could make their one page guest spot in Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1(9/92), another Giffen credit. The rest of this trade, Doom Patrol #54(4/92)- 57(7/92), is a descent into hell ending in a cliffhanger. In order, Rebis, Dorothy, Jane and the Chief face the consequences of poor judgement and the cumulative effect is disaster, ending with Cliff's organic brain being crushed and the Chief being decapitated. During the same month DC published what seemed like an X-Force parody called Doom Force Special #1(7/92). In what seems like a polar opposite of Danny's dream we get what might be Dorothy's dream of a contemporary super-hero team, in which she is 'Spinner' and the Chief is merely a head. The question is: is this a prophetic dream that takes place after Danny's (it also has ten pages by Steacy albeit in a different style) or a Freudian dream that takes place after Morrison's run?
  7. "PLANET LOVE"} With the help of Danny, Willoughby Kipling and Will Magnus the Candlemaker is destroyed and Cliff's consciousness is now on disc in Doom Patrol #58(8/92)- 61(11/92). Danny finally tells Cliff his origin story in #62(12/92) and expands to become a world. Rebis and Cliff accept his offer to live on him. In #63(1/93) we learn that Jane had been stranded on Earth-Prime until she is finally found by Cliff using Danny's teleporting ability. Dorothy is the only remaining team member.

The last remaining threads from the Morrison Period are actually tied up in the first three issues of the Pollack Period but because there is not only a change of author but a change of imprint I have decided to leave the coverage of those issues in the next section.

The next entry will be in five days.