Monday, February 4, 2013

Rictus Invictus

Doom Patrol: Musclebound: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Richard Case, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Dringenberg, and others (1991; collected 2008): Grant Morrison's post-modern sensibilities flowered early on in American comic books of the 1980's and early 1990's with Doom Patrol and Animal Man. The Doom Patrol, a C-List superhero team created in the 1960's, had always been a bit weird. Morrison made it weirder.

Longtime foes The Brotherhood of Evil became the Brotherhood of Dada. The Doom Patrol's headquarters became Danny the Street, a sentient street capable of teleportation anywhere. Questions of identity, sexual and psychological and physical, became dominant motifs given that the heroes included a woman with 64 super-powered multiple personalities (or 'alters' as we'd say now), a human brain in a super-powered robot body that kept getting destroyed, and a strange amalgam of an alien energy being, a man, and a woman. Good times!

Here we make the acquaintance of Flex Mentallo, an odd superhero who would later show up in his own miniseries in slightly altered form. Flex can alter reality by flexing his mighty muscles -- that's why he's the man of muscle mystery, complete with an origin that's a parody of the old Charles Atlas body-building ads, and a 'hero halo' that spells out 'Hero of the Beach!' whenever he exerts himself to his utmost! But when Flex battled The Thing That Lives Under the Pentagon, he lost his memory for decades. Memory restored, he and the Doom Patrol must seek out the mystery of Flex's origins and probably save the world from some crazy thing or another.

Then it's off to a battle with a man who hates people with beards, written by Morrison as a witty parody of that tersely purple Frank Miller prose style from Daredevil and Batman. In a sequel to an obscure Jimmy Olsen story of the Silver Age of comics. Then comes the Sex Men, on patrol for abnormally elevated orgone levels and trans-dimensional sexual imvasions. Meanwhile, something stirs within The Painting That Ate Paris, where the Doom Patrol left the Brotherhood of Dada imprisoned two years earlier after the Brotherhood's attempt to summon the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse had a surprising denouement.

It's all good, clean, R-rated fun, though it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will require you to buy the next collected volume. A bevy of artists, including the underrated regular artist Richard Case, keep things weird and yet somehow grounded at the same time. Case's style was always closest to that of a regular superhero artist of the time, clean-lined and straightforward and traditionally heroic, which always seemed to make the things he was rendering look even weirder. Though there was something disturbing about the mouths of Case's characters, which sometimes seemed to be clenched in some rictus of over-powering horror or passion. Highly recommended.

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