Sunday, December 27, 2009

DP07-AA Byrne Period synopsis

.....Once upon a time there was a comics fanzine called Contemporary Pictorial Literature . Like Alfred E. Neuman or Irving Forbush, they created their own mascot character, a shambling overworked robot named Rog-2000. In order to get a small self-produced publication out its contributors often have to pitch in and do things that no one could have predicted would be needed, let alone worked into their job description. Rog (possibly named after Roger Stern) was meant to be the kind of guy who sooner or later had every conceivable task fall into his lap. Sometimes attempts to give a publication or institution a face come across as cloying or calculated comaraderie, but Rog-2000 always felt like someone everybody's worked with at some time. In less than a year, in fact, the staff made the bold move of giving him his own little six-page comic format story written by Stern and drawn by a young, squeaky clean John Byrne. When CPL wanted access to the staff of Charlton Comics for a planned article, they provided a sample copy of the fanzine to show they were legit (a common courtesy) and it happened to be the issue with the first Rog story. At the time Charlton was getting some good fan buzz from an original character called E-Man (powers like Metamorpho, looks like Conan O'Brien), but even though the rotating back-up features had name creators (including Steve Ditko) they clashed with the light-hearted humor of the main feature. Rog, however, would fit comfortably. So, with John Byrne drawing from scripts provided by E-Man's writer, Nicola Cuti, he backed up four of the last five issues. By the time the title was cancelled Byrne was already working on Doomsday +1 and others for Charlton but his little robot would languish until the early 80's.

.....And this has what exactly to do with Doom Patrol? Maybe nothing. Maybe much more than is immediately obvious. The artist for the E-Man feature was Joe Staton, a comics creator with numerous credits at numerous publishers. After his book was cancelled he worked on a variety of titles for both Marvel and DC-- including the newly revived Showcase two years later. The first feature was "Doom Patrol", or rather, "The New Doom Patrol" (see DP02-AA, Gypsy Period 1 synopsis). With the original team presumed to have been in a bomb blast, the easiest character to rationalize surviving it would be Robotman. His damaged body is salvaged and renovated by Will Magnus and on the cover of the first issue, Showcase #94(8-9/77), Cliff is holding up the remains of his old Premiani-designed body. The new, Staton-designed body has twin antennae on the sides of the head, sharply sloping 'cheekbones' leading to a narrow muzzle, segmented arms and legs... well, let's face it: it's a tall version of Rog-2000. (Check out Byrne's take on the matter here: and what he's referring to here: By the time Cliff ditches the new team and guest stars in the New Teen Titans he's back in the Premiani body, courtesy of George Perez. By the time those three issues of Showcase came out Byrne was already doing extended runs on Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up, and Uncanny X-Men at Marvel. It's doubtful he was losing any sleep over Staton finding new uses for one of his designs while he himself was drawing Spider-man and getting more positive responses to the X-men than either Steranko or Adams (who, unbelievably, couldn't manage to save the book in the 1960's from going into reprint status). Still, it started a flirtation between Byrne and the Doom Patrol that lasted a long, long time.

.....The mid-80's were a busy time in comics, both as an art and a business. The direct market had begun its gradual takeover of market share from newsstand sales and both DC and Marvel were flooding specialty dealers with Baxter paper reprints to compete with some pretty impressive stuff from the new color independents. Marvel was on the verge of the 25th anniversary of their rebirth in 1961 and DC was into the 50th anniversary of their namesake title, Detective Comics, which prompted a lot of self-reexamination for them both. Despite the fact that both were putting out some of their best work in years, the fact that they responded to the upstarts with reprints silently implied that they themselves thought that their best years were behind them. Secret Wars and Crisis were both, in a sense, a way for each publisher to focus attention on the fact that they were willing to ask "where are we now?", rather than wait for critics to read a year's worth of all their titles and then argue over what it all meant. Even newsstand readers, who didn't usually follow the then-robust fanzine presence, could be brought up to date on the most popular titles' characters. In one decade, John Byrne had drawn The Fantastic Four, Spider-man, The Hulk, X-Men, Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil-- in fact, every prominent Marvel character from the 60's (with the possible exception of Captain Mar-vell, I'll have to double check that[*]) either in their own book or as a guest star. The DC grass was looking greener all the time, since the only icon of theirs he'd worked on prominently had been Batman, and that was in a mini-series. So, he contibuted to a two-year project whose launch was coincided with Crisis, a text-and-spot-illustration monthly called Who's Who that used a variety of prominent comics' artists to provide as often as possible the 'definitive' look for a character to be matched with post-Crisis stats and bios. This was marketed as a reference point for new readers entering a new world. And what characters did Byrne provide? The Chief, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, Robotman (Cliff, not the Golden Age one done by Howard Bender), the DP as a whole in a two-page spread and, just for good measure, Madame Rouge. Wow. He did a few others, too, but nothing that formed such an obvious pattern. Bear in mind, any editor who approved all those (and the accompanying articles) without knowing that all but one were officially dead at the time really shouldn't have been an editor at DC. Any fanboy who bought every issue and occasionally reread them should have noticed that one artist had drawn an entire silver age team at a time when DC was launching new revamped versions of their classic heroes. Something was up, or at least being kicked around on somebody's wish list. Next? Eclipse/ICG was publishing indexes to DC titles, including a two-issue set for Doom Patrol just as Crisis was ending and following a five-issue index for Teen Titans. [That made sense at the time. Despite Kupperberg's efforts, DP was remembered largely as a footnote in New Teen Titans history.] Byrne provided original art for the covers of both issues. Not George Perez or Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Next? At the end of 1986 Wolfman and Perez capped off Crisis with a two-part prestige format History Of The DC Universe. Less well known is that an 8000 copy limited edition portfolio was issued as a companion project. It contained ten plates, each by a different artist or team and each with a different subject. Plate Ten is for the LSH by Steve Lightle. According to the editors' notes, "Steve recently left the series to help launch the new DOOM PATROL series, set to premiere next summer." Ouch. Sorry, John. Plate Nine? "A bit of history-in-the-making: this piece provides the first advance look at a new super-team, part of the future of the DC universe. The creation of SUPERMAN writer/penciller John Byrne, you're looking at the cast of FREAKS-- you'll discover who they are, what they do, and why they do it in the fall of 1987". Don't bother trying to track it down. It never happened. The outfits on some of the characters turned up later in his Next Men series for Dark Horse but the characters themselves are different. So what happened? A reasonable guess would be that the success of Superman and Action Comics made him wary of spreading himself thinner with a third regular title. Byrne did, of course, draw the 30-page "Secret Origin Of The Doom Patrol" that preceded the debut of the 1987 DP series. A year later he provided the Superman half of a crossover story. It could be that he got the DP out of his system.

.....After Next Men ran its course, Byrne got the assignment to return Wonder Woman to a more classic, primary-color look. It had elements familiar to his work: Kirby characters, homage covers, old characters disguised as new ones, a supporting cast for exposition, etc. He also worked in a number of characters from the sixties, including a cameo by Sugar and Spike! Most curiously, the second arc featured a plot to collect immortal characters and he included General Immortus (see DP05-AB, The Wilderness Years). The Vertigo DP had only been cancelled for about a year and the team's existence in continuity was 'iffy' (see again DP05-AB). Was this Byrne voting 'yes, bring them back', volunteering for the job, or just beefing up the cast of characters in his own story? A peek at an interview with Craig Byrne(yeah, I don't know, either) in Krypton Club Newsletter #11(June 1, 1995): John Byrne is asked about upcoming projects and replies that he had recently got approval for the Batman/Captain America one-shot and "Paul Kupperberg and I have discussed resurrecting the Doom Patrol." Kupperberg became Byrne's editor on Wonder Woman. Their tenure lasted three years, impressive at a time when most comics' credits seemed to have revolving doors, but that and other commitments must have prevented the series from getting past the planning stage. By the end of that year Byrne took over New Gods as of issue #12(11/96). If a proposal was ever put on paper (or diskette) I'd love to see it.

.....Another paragraph, another decade. With some light hunting, I've found what purports to be Byrne's own brief recounting of the order of events that led to his own Doom Patrol series in 2004: (Hope that works.)

  • "DC starts contemplating a DOOM PATROL relaunch and asks me for a pitch. Nothing is immediately decided upon.

  • [Mike] Carlin becomes JLA editor and asks me to do an arc. I agree.

  • I work out the basics of the arc. (Vampires, 10th Circle.)

  • Carlin suggest[s] we relaunch the DPatrol thru the JLA story. I agree and rework elements of the story to incorporate the DPatrol."

.....This is consistant with what Byrne has said elsewhere, but in the course of searching for this and other material I've found persons posting arguments that hinge on Dan Didio demanding the relaunch, or Chris Claremont (who co-scripted the JLA arc, but not the DP series) or Byrne himself. In fact, it takes little time at all to notice that internet feuds over super-hero comics often require greater suspension of disbelief than the comics themselves. All of which requires me to reexamine the purpose of this blog, which is to (eventually) give a critical review of each issue of the series on its own and in its relation to the whole. A large part of both those takes into consideration the context in which it is published. Before 2000 that context was largely defined as the other comics being published at the time, fan letters, perhaps contemporary events or other media. I am forgoing reviews of the Original Period at the present time because I do not have original copies and would not be able to read the letters' pages or other editorial content. During the Arcudi Period, letters' pages went the way of the dodo for the simple reason that internet response was nearly instantaneous and theoretically without page limitations. But the context now has no concensus. Worse, it often seems as though words have been stripped of all denotation and exist purely as connotation. For the many persons I've read on numerous other sites while preparing myself for this blog, those who have said that they were confused or turned off by Grant Morrison incorporating ideas of dadaism into his stories, I have news for you-- many of you ARE dada. Or at least what you write is dada. I doubt this is intentional but I don't have the patience to put aside work that might turn out to be productive in order to gamble on an attempt to discern what (if anything) is intended by all this noise. Anyone with a desire to be heard should learn sooner or later that their desire can never be fulfilled until it is wedded to a desire to be understood. Each requires the other.

.....How these issues will eventually be reviewed if their contemporary environment has been gradually deleted bit by bit every year since their publication (and resembled Wonderland at the time) is something that can't be addressed now. Below is something concrete and finite: groupings of the Byrne issues by story arcs and other topics to be addressed in the reviews.

  1. "THE TENTH CIRCLE"-- From JLA #94(early5/04)- #99(late 7/04) and Doom Patrol #1(08/04)- #2(09/04), this is the only arc represented, in a way, by a trade. Only the JLA issues are in the trade, except the last two pages of #99, which extend the story with a cliffhanger that leads into the DP series. Half of the same JLA characters appear in those first two issues, as do resolutions of loose threads left by the JLA arc. All eight issues have 22 pages of story ( except DP#1, 21 pages and a 1p editorial) and could-- should -- be collected as a second edition. It would be a little more radical reworking than the restoration of Crawling From The Wreckage, but couldn't possibly raise objections from either JLA or DP fans since both teams appear in all eight issues.

  2. [After the first story arc, grouping the remaining sixteen issues into trades becomes problematic due to Byrne's method of storytelling. Instead of narrative omniscience, he chooses to give the reader the perspective of at first one character walking into a situation and then restart at some earlier point from the perspective of another character and show how that situation came about. When the first character stumbles in at the appropriate point the narrative then reverts to the present time until the technique is employed again. This was used occasionally in Wonder Woman but with Doom Patrol's much larger ensemble cast it has a disorienting cumulative effect. With so many more characters and no one star, in order for the reader to be equitably empathetic to their experiences the narrative line is constantly jumping back and forth in time. From #5(12/04)- #14(09/05) this not only happens within issues but across issues as well, leaving no clean breaks between stories without reordering the pages. One possible resolution is to simply make two more trades of eight issues apiece and market them in a slipcase with a 48-page prestige format book reproducing the first two issues and leave room for the existing format "JLA:Tenth Circle" trade. If a limited run of the slipcase sells through quickly enough, the two new trades could later be published separately with a new edition of the first.]

  3. The controversial move of pretending that the world had never heard of the Doom Patrol and rejecting continuity as some obstructive albatross around the creator's neck instead of a foundation or common set of reference points is something best left to the indivdual reviews. By the time they are written, Giffen will have weighed in on some of the matters they will have the advantage of noting not only what differed from the past but how much will later be retained (or if not, why).

  4. Byrne provides origins for every member but Rita Farr, who occasionally meets people who seem to recognize her from the past as an associate of Caulder, but whose memories often contradict hers on some seemingly trivial point (the length of her hair, for instance). Of the new characters, Vortex returns to where he came from by the end of the series, JLA member Faith leaves in #5, Confederate corpse Elihu Washburn and potential metahuman Gary Kwon seemed to have vanished completely, associate Metamorpho returned to his own career, and Nudge and Grunt appear only in Infinite Crisis after this series. The only contemporary appearance outside of this series is in a two-page spread in The OMAC Project #6(11/05), pp.14-15. You can see Rita (in the black-and-white X-Men uniform), Larry (with the skeleton-image N.E.B.) and Cliff. The scene must take place between Doom Patrol #14(09/05) and #15(10/05), before the "Convergence" story where the N.E.B. loses the 'electric skeleton' look and becomes more like the Premiani or Case versions.
  5. The Brain and Monsieur Mallah are fairly active during this series, appearing in Flash #214(11/04), Batgirl #60(03/05)- #62(05/05) and Villains United #4(11/05)-#5(12/05). The Original Period is relived in DC The New Frontier #6(11/04) and an eight-page Mike Allred story in Solo #7(12/05). It was also reprinted in Doom Patrol Archives Vol. 2, due out March, 2004 but shipped to Amazon in August (unless there were direct and non-direct market editions... or more likely, the date is when reorders were filled?). Other trades include two Morrison Period titles: The Painting That Ate Paris (10/04?), reprinting #26(09/89)- #34(07/90) and Down Paradise Way (11/05?), reprinting #35(08/90)- #41(02/91).

.....The next entry will be a rough draft for the outline of Gypsy Period 2 (2006-2009), but will be subject to revision if/when the current series is impacted by events during that period not previously noted here. That will be folowed by a mere place holder for the current series.

[*] = I haven't looked too thoroughly, but I managed to find one by looking backwards, chronologically. I knew Byrne never did Mar-vell's 1970's series, so I tried Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One-- nothing. The closest is MTU #62(10/77) with Ms. Marvel, who remembers CM. An actual CM/Byrne appearance is in Avengers #181(03/79), but it's only a few panels. The whole issue is the follow-up to the "Korvac War" story, where the numerous characters who were brought into it the previous year each decide what to do next and the Avengers chose a new roster. I haven't yet found my Marvel Spotlight Vol2, but I'm pretty sure the CM stories are by Pat Broderick, Frank Miller and Steve Ditko.

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