Wednesday, December 2, 2009

DP06-AA Arcudi Period synopsis

.....One lasting memory I have of late night television is from David Letterman's NBC days. It's of a very old Danny Thomas teaching a very young Macauley Culkin how to set up and then execute a 'spit take'. Even people who've never seen "Make Room For Daddy" probably know what this means; a person is about to drink from a glass while someone else is speaking and takes their first sip while the conversation is mundane and predictable, but when the speaker says something unexpected or alarming the drinker sprays a fine but voluminous mist to signify their surprise, the further the funnier. Thomas arguably perfected this schtick. That (very) oddly touching 'passing of the torch' moment springs to mind on the rare occasion when I find myself in or near a real-life 'spit take' of my own. Such a moment came in the summer of 2000 when I turned on my TV and saw an ad for the Olympics. Actually what nearly sent Coca-Cola through my nostrils was not what I saw but what I heard: Iggy Pop and the Stooges' "Search And Destroy" playing over footage of the U.S. Swim Team. You should understand that I am an ardent Iggy listener ( in the neighborhood of 80 CD's), but my first thought was "I hope the Viet Namese team doesn't take that line about 'a heart full of napalm' the wrong way. We're friends now." My second thought was pure rage. Not at Iggy 'selling out' (good lord, no; it was lo-o-ong past the time he made something back for years of effort), but at a music industry that had spent the previous 25 years telling critics and fans who knew better that such music was not "commercially viable". There were plenty of phrases, all used interchangeably, all meaning "this doesn't sound like last year's hit" or "I didn't get my bribe". Sometimes it was "no commercial potential" or "no mainstream appeal" or my favorite, "we can't play this because it's not well known enough". Yet for the next few years, there was Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" selling Volkswagons and Iggy solo with "Lust For Life" selling cruises, The Ramones, Syd Barrett, Joy Division... someone was looting my music collection and using the appeal of this music to sell their products. TV commercials were full of songs that Americans were always told couldn't sell themselves and shouldn't be given the chance.

.....It was into this climate that John Arcudi gave us Thayer Jost, the billionaire who had the brilliant idea to market The Doom Patrol. Actually, his original idea was a Monkees- style team called "Jostice Incorporated",

possibly with apologies to the Ernst estate, or maybe Kyle Baker. (Actually, Arcudi's editor for the entire run was Andrew Helfer, who wrote the 1989 Justice Inc. mini-series drawn by Baker. That sounds pretty unapologetic.) Jost only gets the idea to co-opt the Doom Patrol name when Robotman appears to resurface while saving lives from a traffic accident. I say 'appears' because we learn nine issues into the new series that the Robotman from issues #1(12/01)- 5(04/02) was one of Dorothy Spinner's projected imaginary friends. The head of the real Cliff is recovered by Jost's four young recruits aided by Changeling.

.....Speaking of young recruits, all but three of the 22 issues are drawn by newcomer Tang Eng Huat, a Malaysian Helfer met at the World Manga Summit in Hong Kong. Although presumably a manga fan because of that, Huat's own style is closer to Korean action comics than Japanese, but even that is an inadequate assessment of his grasp of Western conventions and ability to make them appear fresh. The panels flow smoothly, the word balloons are all given the space they need-- no more, no less. There's also a range and subtlety to expression that works well. As a bonus, he provides all the covers, including the three fill-in issues.

.....Also keeping a consistancy to the visuals is Bob Lappan, who lettered the entire series. Curiously, there are no credited inkers. Huat and the others (more on them below) ink themselves and the book keeps to a monthly schedule for nearly two years. The colorists varied but were generally Dave Stewart, then Dave McCaig. Every issue had a cover price of $2.50. The whole title had a reliability and stability not seen since the Drake/Premiani days. And it failed. Why? It could be that the comics-buying public was burned out after a decade of teams of all-new characters. At DC alone Sovereign Seven, Psyba-Rats, and Young Heroes In Love all came and went since the Pollack series ended. Anyone who didn't look closely at this new DP title might have been forgiven for confusing it with the umptenth reiteration of Gen13. Another possible explanation for the title's failure may be that during that time since the Pollack run the comics market had been consistantly shifting from individual magazines towards paperbacks and hardcover trades. There seemed to be an emphasis on story arcs plotted to run six to eight issues (or consecutive arcs of three to four issues) with the anticipation of an entire series being compiled. Although Arcudi was able to provide the four new heroes with distinct personalities almost from the first issue, it took nine to explain Cliff's (and the rest of the previous team's) absence from and then reintegration into the DC Universe. At that point he had introduced Kolodenko (the scientist who rebuilt Cliff's robot bodies in the absence of Magnus or The Chief) and had not had time yet to flesh out his background, or Jost's for that matter. In fact, the series ended without any of the new members being given any substantial origin story. It would have been difficult to look at this series and see clear demarcations of arcs that could be read and enjoyed independent of the issues before or after. Because of this I've proposed below two trade configurations which could be marketed as a slipcase or separately.

  1. FIRST STAGE -- Doom Patrol #1(12/01)- #12(11/02) makes for a single story running 264 pages, which should fit neatly into a 272-page format color trade if the covers are relocated to the second volume. During the entire series there were only seven letters' pages, all of them within these issues. If you eliminate the 'next issue' blurbs and the redundant DP logo graphics, all of these comments would fit onto four pages (less with a slightly smaller font). The first issue contains the only editorial, one by editor Andy Helfer explaining how the creative team was assembled. Combine those with a title page , new indicia/printing history and creator bios and that should neatly make up the eight page difference. Helping matters is that throughout the series all issues contained exactly 22 pages of story and all four instances of two-page spreads of artwork occur across pages 2 and 3 of their respective issues. This means that if you simply compile the stories consecutively you will always get the first page of a story on the right hand side (as it appeared in the comics) and the spreads will be maintained without having to add blank pages. Hopefully that would help readers plow through to the explanations for the following: After the Vertigo run ended, Cliff Steele and Kate Godwin learn that Dorothy Spinner's biological mother is still alive. Leaving George and Marion in Violet Valley they drive Dorothy to the Smoky Mountains in Kentucky on the pretense of a camping trip to convince her to stay there with her mother and give up the Doom Patrol, that life in the group isn't the dream come true she seems to think it is and would in fact cheat her out of any chance of a healthy adulthood. Given her history, Dorothy is unable to interpret this as anything other than the latest in a lifetime of rejections and panics, causing an explosion that (presumably) disassembles Cliff, evaporates Kate and leaves herself in a coma. Somehow she wound up at St. Aloysius Hospital in long term care paid for by a very realistic psychic projection of Cliff which took on lucrative industrial work and laid low until making news when it reflexively saved bystanders from a runaway car (because that, and all of his subsequent behaviors, conformed to what Dorothy's idealized vision of Cliff needed to be). The act attracts the attention of billionaire Thayer Jost whose own fledgling super-hero team could use Cliff's experience and, after investigating his personal finances, offers to pay for Dorothy's escalating expenses in exchange for the rights to the name 'Doom Patrol' and retaining Cliff as an advisor. This works until a Jost-initiated mission to save Americans endangered by a hurricane overseas doesn't extend resources to save the natives as well. Cliff resigns and the younger heroes follow him. Jost, with a DP web-site and a warehouse of licensed merchandise to move, forms a new Doom Patrol: Changeling, Elongated Man, Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi), and Metamorpho, who was believed deceased a year earlier. The two groups investigate the same crime and after succeeding Metamorpho reveals that JLA records carry Cliff's obituary, prompting the imaginary Cliff to realize his true nature and disappear. This nullifies Jost's contracts, dissolving both groups. Changeling stays on long enough to help the kids find the real Cliff (his head, anyway) and a black-market ex-Soviet neuro-engineer who can reconnect him to a new robot body. The real Cliff eventually finds the comatose Dorothy and learns what I've just detailed above, albeit in reverse.

  2. THE APOCRYPHA-- As the series begins there is an unrelated concurrent mini-series called Joker:Last Laugh in which Original Series villain Mr. 104 appears two years after being revived (see DP05- AB, The Wilderness Years). A year later he'll appear again, in Superman #189(02/03). [Both to be confirmed.] A profile of the DP appears in Secret Files & Origins Guide To The DC Universe 2001-2002 #1(02/02). Then, in March or April the first Doom Patrol Archives ships. Outside of continuity, Brain and Monsieur Mallah appear in the animation-style Justice League Adventures #6(06/02) and in the Elseworlds' title Planetary/JLA:Terra Occulta #1(11/02) on pages 40-46 there are four panels in which either Cliff or the Golden Age Robotman is exhibited as a trophy in a display of defeated heroes. [Curiously, the Victor Stone/Cyborg exhibit has a miscolored red tunic that makes him resemble Marvel's Deathlok.] The only in-continuity guest spot of the actual DP team (in a way) came on page 33, panel 1, of the original graphic novel JLA/JSA:Virtue And Vice , the hardcover of which shipped at the same time as DC's December cover date titles. Fever and Kid Slick are shown on a monitor screen with Cliff in the body he was in at the end of issue #12, the month before. They don't appear in the prequel story in JLA/JSA Secret Files & Origins #1(01/03), but Metamorpho's revival is retroactively explained in a five page back-up story. At about that time, Brain and Monsieur Mallah show up in Young Justice #50(12/02)- #51(01/03), just before Mr. 104 resurfaces (see above), and again in Outsiders #4(11/03).

  3. SECOND STAGE-- Doom Patrol #13(12/02)- #22(09/03) shows that for any incarnation of this series eventually, perhaps inevitably, the weird will out. The first stage, by contrast, was at its core a super-hero comic book even as it acknowledged its unorthodox source material/history. The villains may have had obscured motives and mysterious objectives, but they provided clearly delineated conflicts in issues #3-5 and #10-12. In the second stage the conflicts are largely internal, both for the group and its individual members. One of those earlier villains returns to reconvene the group for his own purposes after they've split up, but the actual confrontation is largely in #'s 19 and 21 with the other issues devoted to soul-searching, literally in Cliff's case. Issues #13-14 are drawn by Seth Fisher (see and introduce a nameless character Cliff suspects may be God. He appears to Cliff before and after an adventure in which the minds of the current group are sent back in time to the bodies of the Original Series team. The original team also become the basis of a Jost-produced TV series (0n WGBS) because they poll better than the current unknowns. However, by the time the finished product goes to air the focus-group tinkering and network tampering result in something unrecognizable anyway, in #20, drawn by post-underground giant Rick Geary (see; seriously, if you don't recognize the name then you owe it to yourself to follow the link. He almost never works in super-hero comics, yet you know that cute little toucan mascot the San Diego Comic-Con has been using for 30+ years? The Barnes & Noble audio-book icon? Countless issues of Heavy Metal and National Lampoon ? Yes, that Rick Geary.). In #18 the series' primary antagonist relates a Chinese fairy tale (which may or may not expand on his backstory) replacing its characters with the contemporary DP cast. Even though he is eventually defeated, Kolodenko is killed, Dorothy has contracted viral meningitis and is taken off life support, Cliff has one last exchange with 'God' and Jost evicts the four younger members from the building they've been living in. On a brighter note, the Doom Patrol TV show gets renewed.
  4. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMINE SAN VICENTE-- After Crisis DC took a page from Marvel's playbook and increasingly used real cities as the settings for their stories. For most of their history, though,before and since, DC has famously created fictional cities for each of their major heroes. The Doom Patrol has occupied some of both in its time, but the Arcudi Period stubbornly defies location. In issue #10(09/02) Ted tries to find "412 South" on a map to get downtown. That would suggest Allentown, PA. They get sidetracked to the Tribro Rubber Factory, which seems more like Ohio, but could still be in Pennsylvania. Also, the numerous references to WGBS may not be to the one in Metropolis, but to one that had once been in Philadelphia. In our world, Earth-Prime, it was acquired by Viacom and renamed WPSG in 1995 before the Pollack Period group disappeared, but in the DCU that might not have happened. However, in issue #8(07/02) Cliff causes a commotion by running through the downtown area when he learns about Dorothy from a newspaper article. When a TV news van arrives at St. Aloysius to investigate, the call letters on the side start "KX--", which suggests a station west of the Mississippi. The rare exceptions to that rule include two in Pennsylvania: KYW (Philadelphia) and KDKA (Pittsburgh), neither of which have an"X". Curiously, many "KX--" stations are CBS affiliates: KXD and KXLJ in Alaska, KXLF and KXLH in Montana and KXII in Sherman, Texas. The Texas location might explain the occasional Spanish names such as the San Vicente Zoo (issue #3) but not the fact that it snows (issue #15). Further confusing matters is that there is an actual St. Aloysius Hospital in the District Of Columbia (that other DC). It was built during the Civil War and is also relatively small. This factor might be discounted though, since the St. Aloysius in question was likely Aloysius Gonzaga, patron saint of Catholic youth, to tip off that the mystery patient (Dorothy) was a child we knew.
  5. The whereabouts of the actual team is mostly a matter of speculation. Ted Bruder/Fast Forward (who referred to himself as 'Flash Forward' in issue #3) tried to extend his ability to see into the future beyond his sixty second limit and wound up seeing parallel worlds. At the end of the series he's taking Zanax to stay sane. He had been growing closer to Ava/Freak, but the symbiote she contains seemed to be combining with her to form a variety of intermediary states as the series ended. Vic Darge/Kid Slick seems to have dropped off the hero grid, despite being romantically linked to Shyleen Lao/Fever, the only character to appear prominently beyond the series. In the "Titans of Tomorrow" storyline in Teen Titans #51(11/07)- 54(02/08) she appears as Pandemic, one of a future group of Titans who return to our time to avert some tragedy that would prevent them from later forming. However, after being reintroduced as her present-day self, Fever, in Teen Titans #60(08/08) she is murdered in the mini-series Terror Titans #1(12/08), preventing her future self from existing. If I can learn anything more about this I'll include it in DP08-AA Gypsy Period 2.
  6. An alternate way to group the stories would be for one paperback to include issues #1(12/01)- 9(08/02), the second to include #10(09/02)- 14(01/03) and #20(07/03) and the third to include #15(02/03)- 19(06/03) and #21(08/03)- 22(09/03). I prefer the two stage format I detailed earlier because the three-issue arc with the devil Raum (issues #10-12) would remain with the forsadowing pages in the earlier issues.

.....If you have any corrections or additional appearances I may have missed, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you are, or know anyone who might be, John Arcudi or Andrew Helfer and would like to shed some light on the geographic location of the series or the fates of its members, feel free to comment below. When the time comes to review the individual issues I will try to consolidate any updated information on a DP06-AB page.

.....The Byrne Period is next, men.