Friday, September 23, 2016

The Morrison Effect

Doom Patrol Book One (Collects issues 19-34 of Doom Patrol Volume 2 1989-1990, 1992, 2004/ Collected 2016): written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Richard Case, Doug Braithwaite, Scott Hanna, John Nyberg, Carlos Garzon, Simon Bisley, and Brian Bolland: DC's Doom Patrol was weird even when it was supposed to be a straightforward superhero team book in the 1960's. Revived in the 1980's, it really did become straightforward until, facing low sales, DC elected to hand the keys to the car to Scottish writer Grant Morrison in 1989. Morrison had already invaded the U.S. with Animal Man and Arkham Asylum. But Doom Patrol would soon become his weirdest 'mainstream' superhero work.

This new reprint volume collects the first third of Morrison's writing stint. It starts with a bang. A Borgesian bang, to be exact, as Morrison riffs on Jorge Luis Borges' strange story "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." An imaginary world is in the process of invading the Earth, and the Doom Patrol gets together to face it, reluctantly. 

While the wheelchair-bound genius The Chief, a.k.a Niles Caulder, and Cliff Steele, a human brain in the body of Robotman, remain from the first iteration of the Doom Patrol, Morrison adds new member Crazy Jane -- a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who now has at least 64 multiple personalities, all of them with superpowers -- and a modified old one, Negative Man, now renamed Rebis and consisting of an amalgam of a man, a woman, and a 'negative energy being.' Josh, a.k.a. Tempest, comes along from the second iteration of the Doom Patrol, but only if he gets to be the team's medical officer and isn't expected to play superhero on a regular basis. Dorothy Spinner, a holdover from the issues just before Morrison takes over, also functions as an occasional member of the team, with her occasionally erratic, reality-shaping powers.

Having survived the threat of the Scissormen and the invading, fictional world, the Doom Patrol moves into the Justice League's original, abandoned HQ on Rhode Island. But their work is never done. A creature calling itself Red Jack (a Star Trek: TOS reference) kidnaps a comatose former member of the Doom Patrol and takes her to his strange pocket universe. Dorothy's powers go haywire. 

There's more! The former Brotherhood of Evil reunites under the new leadership of Mr. Nobody and sucks all of Paris into a magical, reality-bending painting.  Crazy Jane retreats inside her own mind, forcing Cliff to take a telepathic voyage into the wonders and horrors of her fractured psyche. The Cult of the Unwritten Book threatens all of reality with erasure. 

And The Brain and Monsieur Mallah, charter members of the Brotherhood of Evil, invade Doom Patrol HQ in order to secure Cliff's new and improved robot body for The Brain. The Brain is an evil, disembodied brain living in a jar. Monsieur Mallah is the super-intelligent, beret-and-bandolier-wearing gorilla he trained from birth to be his evil sidekick. And those last two are holdovers from the original, 'normal' rogue's gallery of the 1960's Doom Patrol! Somewhat fittingly, the last issue reprinted here has a title taken from a Smiths song.

Hoo boy. Fractured, self-mocking, postmodern, often poignant fun for the discerning superhero fan. And this volume is as normal as Morrison's run on the title gets! Handling most of the pencilling duties, Richard Case offers a seemingly straightforward, crisp art style that makes even the weirdest moments seem (mostly) plausible. And Morrison and Case keep things straightforward when it comes to page lay-out: there's no need to push the boundaries of lay-out. The weirdness is all inside the panels, so it's best one doesn't get too lost. And remember: 'dada' is French slang for 'hobbyhorse.' Highly recommended.

Batman: Gothic (Deluxe Edition) (1990/ Collected 2015): written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Klaus Janson: Writer Grant Morrison's second major foray into the world of Batman (after 1989's Arkham Asylum) take the Dark Knight into a literary hellscape of nods to Faustus, Don Giovanni, Lord Byron's Manfred, Fritz Lang's M., Lewis's The Monk, Melmoth the Wanderer, and a host of other horrific antecedents. There's even an exquisitely detailed, Rube Goldbergesque death trap for Batman to escape.

Batman faces an enemy from his past -- his past as a schoolboy at a private school, that is, in the days before Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered and Bruce's journey towards Batman began. But the enemy threatens Gotham's major mobsters as well, whom this old enemy hunts for revenge. Klaus Janson supplies lots of moodiness and doom as artist. It's one of Batman's most nightmarish adventures, even with the typical splash of Morrisonian postmodernism. This would make a terrific Batman movie, live-action or animated. Come on, DC! Highly recommended.

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