Wednesday, May 11, 2011

DP09-AP(a) Retro Stories During Giffen Period

.....In the various Period synopses early in this blog, beginning with "The Wilderness Years", I began to designate period pieces with the symbol [P]. The phrase "period piece" here means the same as it does in theater and film: a whole work that noticeably takes place in an earlier, distinctly different period. There's a qualitative difference between those stories and ones that include flashbacks to earlier periods for exposition purposes or ones that simply take place earlier in continuity within the same period.

.....At the time that I put together the synopsis for Gypsy Period 2 and the accompanying Trade Survey that follows it, I wasn't aware that Ambush Bug was going to play such a significant part of the current series. It's hard to think of him as a team member, since so much of what he is seems to be conscious and willing on his part, while the common bond among the Doom Patrol's members is that they were the results of tragic accidents. Irwin's parents may beg to differ with me, but that's my first impression. Had I known, I would have included the TP SHOWCASE PRESENTS AMBUSH BUG on both lists, early in 2009 (March 25th), right before the first DP volume and after the issues of TRINITY. Incidentally, the issues of TRINITY, which take place in an alternate timeline, pose a question of judgement for me. I've decided to judge them as I would Elseworlds stories. The Doom Patrol have experienced different states and different senses of existence often enough that it isn't immediately obvious which versions are 'real' and which aren't or even what 'real' means. The one time I've cut myself some slack in the 'comprehensive' aspect of these searches was when I decided to dismiss out of hand the Tangent 'Doom Patrol', not because of any concerns I had about the quality of the stories but for the simple fact that they were unrelated characters in a unrelated timeline in unrelated circumstances who were given the same name for Maximum Obfuscation Purposes best understood by DC's Marketing Department and whoever prescribes their medication. Not my kids, not my problem.

.....Speaking of kids, the last entry on the Gypsy Period synopsis is where we should start when considering period pieces, with some careful qualifications.

.....[juv.] Batman: The Brave And The Bold #7 (09/09) "The Secret Of The Doomsday Design!" by J. Torres (script) and J. Bone (art) with a cover by Scott Jeralds and edited by Rachel Gluckstern and Michael Siglain is an original story in the style of the Cartoon Network series. This is made for children but that would only be implied by the cartoon art of the cover. There's little in the way of trade dress that would suggest that to the casual observer. For instance, the checkerboard Cartoon Network logo is not present and DC's kids titles have dropped the Johnny DC logo and imprint identity, although they continue to use the character as the 'voice' of the editorial content. Below the UPC box there is printed "", but that's less than an inch from the bottom of the page, almost literally beneath notice. It's been a long time since Helix, Piranha and Paradox were absorbed into DC or Warner Books' other imprints, but the past year has been an exercise in streamlining with the dismantling of Wildstorm/ABC and Zuda. A casual flip through a recent Diamond Comics Distributor catalog shows that the super-hero titles are now under a "DCUniverse" imprint and Vertigo is still there, but everything else, from Tiny Titans to Resident Evil, comes under the generic sounding "DC Comics" imprint.

.....This is clearly not DCU continuity, but anyone who has seen the animated television series that the comic book is based on would agree that it's a weird synthesis of periods whose result is something unique to the show, something it doesn't even share with DC's other animated projects. Starting with Batman himself, he doesn't resemble the versions from "Batman Adventures", "Justice League Unlimited" or "Young Justice". He doesn't even jibe with the tot-friendly "Super Friends" from the 2008 comic (or the 1970's cartoon for that matter). If anything, he calls to mind the animated opening sequence of the live-action 1960's "Batman" series, a fact they've actually played with when peppering the current animated series with visual in-jokes. In a way that's not entirely inappropriate. The show usually takes place in the present day but Batman's personality is generally like his comic book counterpart in the late 1960's, a period comparatively overshadowed by the campy TV show contemporary to it and the fantastic Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams issues that followed. While I personally prefer the O'Neil/Adams stories, the late 1960's stories weren't bad at all. They tended to distance themselves from the celebrity villains and pop-art self-awareness of the TV show and opt instead for straight-forward self-contained detective stories. In fact, the silliness of the TV show villains seemed to have soured both writers and readers on Batman's fetishistic rogues' gallery. They rarely appeared in the 1970's in either Batman or Detective Comics until Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers brought them back with a vengeance nearly a decade later. Despite the fact that the Batman of the current cartoon is fighting colorful villains, both he and the 1960's comic version are tight-lipped without being grim, relentless without being ruthless, perfect for kids who won't stand for something babyish but aren't quite ready for the Christian Bale version.

.....For their part, the Doom Patrol here are a synthesis as well. This story shipped over a year before the team appeared in the episode "The Last Patrol" (October 8th, 2010). A "B:TB&TB" spot was only a matter of time, since there had already been appearances by The Brain ("Journey To The Center Of The Bat", January 30th, 2009) and Mallah ("Gorillas In Our Midst", April 16th, 2010). But the version of the Doom Patrol who eventually surfaced in that episode was very close to the Original Period line-up: Cliff, Rita , Larry and The Chief. Shockingly, they even updated the 1968 self-sacrifice scene. The version in this comic book story not only adds Beast Boy but uses a version of Gar closer to that from the "Teen Titans" animated series, which preceded "B:TB&TB". The squad as a whole most closely approximates the "Homecoming" incarnation of the group. "Homecoming" was a two-part season premiere of "Teen Titans" (September 25th and October 1st, 2005) broadcast during the waning days of the Byrne Period. The premise is that Beast Boy introduces his current teammates to his adopted family, the Doom Patrol, when they are kidnapped by the Brotherhood of Evil. The remaining five episodes in that season's first leg (through November) use the Brotherhood as villains. In "Homecoming", The Chief is nowhere to be found and Mento is the leader of the group. The following spring that team configuration was featured in the comic book counterpart to the series, Teen Titans Go! #28 (04/06) and again months later in #34 (10/06). The cartoon version almost seemed coordinated with the DCU version from Teen Titans #34 (05/06)- #37 (08/06), the "One Year Later" story that immediately followed Infinite Crisis. In that story Gar has returned to the Doom Patrol and they decide to have Mento be their new leader after reassessing Caulder's people skills.

.....When the Doom Patrol eventually appeared in Batman: The Brave And The Bold #7 (09/09) the roster was Cliff, Rita, Larry, Beast Boy and The Chief. Mento isn't mentioned, but curiously although the team is wearing uniforms in the same style they used in the 1960's, the color scheme is Mento's purple and black instead of Original Period red and white. One can only assume that was done in the hopes of carrying over readership from Teen Titans Go!, where Gar has always worn those colors for some reason. The plot of the issue involves Cliff, Rita and Larry being kidnapped by the Mad Mod, who intends to cannibalize the material of their costumes (or in Cliff's case his body) to custom design a battle suit that takes advantage of the materials' adaptability to the DP's powers. The Chief, based on experience no doubt, assumes General Immortus is responsible and dispatches Gar to recruit Batman's help. The scene in which Gar finds Batman shows him swooping into the Batmobile in the form of a green bat crying, "Daddy! Daddy! I've been looking all over for you!" That line is particularly jarring to anyone who knows the personal histories of both characters, even by the standards of Gar's filterless humor. In his own life Gar watched his natural father (and mother) die, was stolen from the African king who adopted him and then was adopted by Rita and a reluctant Steve who years later tried to kill him. Batman not only watched his father (and mother) die but was himself a proxy father to at least three boys: Dick Grayson was his ward for years (for decades to readers) without ever being formally adopted; an adult Dick then stood by and watched Bruce adopt Jason Todd relatively quickly; Jason was killed shortly after that while in Bruce's care; Bruce then took in Tim Drake while Tim's own father was incapacitated, leading to complications when Tim's father recovered; and finally learned that Tim's father was murdered during Identity Crisis as a direct result of Tim's activity as Robin. And then there's Damian. Gee, Gar, why not invite Scandal Savage or Orion of the New Gods and make the adventure a 'daddy issue' trifecta?

.....The choice of Mad Mod as the villain should also be acknowledged as a nod to the animated "Teen Titans" TV show as much as the purple and black costumes. Between the cartoon and the Teen Titans Go! comic book, I can't recall him appearing anywhere else in the past decade. Having made only two outings in pre-Crisis comics, both while the Original Period Doom Patrol was being published in the sixties (the second just barely), it could be that he and the DP's roster were chosen to evoke that period, at least among older readers. Yet, I'd wager his use since being revived for animation in 2003 has caused most fans to forget his turn as a reformed supporting character in Dan Jurgens late 1990's Teen Titans comic book series. So then, is this issue an Original Period story, albeit from the Original Period of an alternate timeline? Only with that conditional 'out' could I feel comfortable saying yes. To argue in defense of that choice I should point out that neither Batman or Beast Boy mention Robin or the Teen Titans even as they're fighting a TT villain. If they had I might have reconsidered what possible analog DCU continuity period the story could have fit. There are few other clues, although there is a wink on the last page as the team are enjoying their restored uniforms. Larry says, "I've been considering a makeover. How do you think I'd look in a trenchcoat?"

.....The 2010 retro stories are next.