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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Young Animal's Doom Patrol -- one year later

Welcome to our third installment on our series of reviews about the *new* Young Animal imprint from DC comics. The first review about Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye can be read here, and a Shade the Changing Girl review can be read here. By the time you read this, Young Animal's Doom Patrol #1 will have been released a bit more than a year ago (hence the 'one year later' bit added to the title of this article) and is already involved in a new Justice League America/Doom Patrol cross-over. 

Doom Patrol v6 #1 - Babs Tarr variant cover

There's a few reasons you might be checking out this article:

1) You've been hearing things about the new Young Animal Doom Patrol series, have no prior knowledge of Doom Patrol, are mildly interested and want to see what other readers/reviewers have to say about it. To you, this article may make or break your decision to pursue this further.

2) You've already a fan of this series, and are curious what other people are thinking.

3) You have very vivid memories of Grant Morrison/Richard Case's run on Doom Patrol from the late 80s/early 90s. You actually consider the Morrison/Case run as the apex of the Doom Patrol's comic book career, and don't believe anything could ever come close to touching that.

If you're in category #1, well, that's a lot of pressure on us. If you're in category #2, there ain't no shame in that and keep on reading. If you're in category #3,... I can totally emphasize. This is exactly the frame-of-mind we came from when writing this review. A better title would've been "Young Animal's Doom Patrol -- how does it compare to Grant Morrison's Vertigo Doom Patrol?"

Admittedly, it's a little pretentious of me to state that the Morrison/Case run was the *best* version of Doom Patrol ever. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy the occasional re-read of the Drake/Haney/Premiani Silver Age stories, and am a big fan of the 1980's Kupperberg/Lightle revival -- but the Morrison/Case run brought a whole new level of weird and interesting to the title, so much so that it's difficult to stop reading once you start.


Doom Patrol v2 #63 (1993) - art by Richard Case

Stating that the Richard/Case Doom Patrol run is the BEST RUN EVER isn't necessarily unfounded, neither. For a series with two Harvey Award nominations (1990 - best writer, 1992 - best continuing or limited series), the Doom Patrol has never achieved the critical acclaim and success as it had during it's Vertigo years. To be exact, since the Vertigo run ended, no Doom Patrol re-launch series has lasted more than 2 years. Why? Our friend Paul Hix, over at the Waiting For Doom (WFD) podcast, summed it up best:
"Volume 3 was a new cast and new villains. It probably suffered for not being Vertigo-ish. The book had a great artist (Tan Eng Huat) who’s art looked amazing but probably was ahead of his time in the mix of other art of the day. Mike [podcast co-host] and I love it and think it is way underrated." (note: published in 2001, lasted 22 issues)
"Volume 4 was almost entirely universally rejected by DP fans because it was continuity-agnostic and [John] Byrne was in decline as a source of imagination. I was a Doom Patrol fan and I never bought an issue at the time because from reviews I could immediately see it had no regard for the rich history of the characters, and was replacing this with something far less imaginative and far less interesting. Byrne said it was [Dan] Didio’s suggestion to do so, but I take that with a huge bag of salt." (note: published in 2004, lasted 18 issues)
"Volume 5 was well regarded, but all sales were slipping. I bought the early issues then switched to trades. When the 3rd trade never came I gathered up the issues I’d missed after the run ended. Getting 22 issues was an achievement at that time, I’d say." (note: published in 2009, lasted 22 issues)

To date, it would seem that Byrne's 2004 Doom Patrol relaunch has been the most 'misunderstood' by fans.

Which brings us to Young Animal's new Doom Patrol relaunch (or, as I like to call it: 'Doom Patrol volume 6'). In the effort of keeping this review totally unbiased, I'm proud to announce that I've managed to go spoiler-free since this relaunch had been announced back in 2016 -- which really wasn't easy considering this series seems to already have a HUGE twitter fan following and updates get retweeted A LOT.

Right out of the gate, I'm going to declare that I had high hopes for this project (and the Young Animal imprint in general) due to Gerard Way's involvement. If you didn't already know, Way is best known for being a singer/songwriter/musician in the alternative rock band My Chemical Romance, has already authored an Eisner Award-winning comic book series (Dark Horse's The Umbrella Academy), and grew up reading and loving the same 'edgier' comics that I did (ex: Dark Horse's Grendel Tales, Vertigo's Doom Patrol) -- so really, how could this go wrong? Also, did we mention he's pals with Grant Morrison*?

*yes, that's Grant Morrison in My Chemical Romance's 'Na Na Na' music video.

Gerard Way press release photo 2014 -- warnerbrosrecords.com
[How old is Gerard Way, anyways? *checks* Holy crap, he's 5 years older than me! I totally thought he was a decade younger.]

All to say, the prospect of 'fresh, young talent' looking at this team with a new perspective may just be the shot in the arm the Doom Patrol need -- not to mention that a younger, newer audience might start looking at these books (because Gerard Way brings instant street cred).

And yes, we have Gerard Way to thank for the new Young Animal imprint. Gerard Way recounts the birth of the Young Animal imprint in his brainstorming session with Jim Lee and Dan DiDio at the Burbank DC comics offices (from Afterword in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye TPB vol 1: Going Underground):
"It's a really amazing meeting, and the energy in the room is fully charged. We talk about DOOM PATROL first -- I explain that the version of DOOM PATROL I was working on was something entirely different from what was going on in more mainstream books, and that I wasn't sure where DOOM PATROL sat in that universe. I felt that if DOOM PATROL came out on its own, it would feel pretty lonely. It felt like it needed a movement behind it -- the next wave of weird.  At this point, Jim says "imprint", and we start rolling, we start talking about other characters." 
If you're reading between the lines here, you're probably recognizing that the Doom Patrol paved the way for Mother Panic, Shade the Changing Girl and Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye -- and you'd be correct.

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This is a review of the Doom Patrol v1: Brick By Brick TPB -- which collects the first six issues of volume 6, along with promotional art and variant covers for the series.



I'm going to do my absolute best to keep this completely objective and unbiased review spoiler-free, but I should probably mention that I had to read this TPB twice; once because it was so damned good and flew by so fast, and the second time to analyse why I liked it so much. Sometimes it's not enough to just say something is 'good', and you need to explain/understand why it's so good.

The majority of the first issue deals with the introduction of a new character (who will most likely be joining the team). This isn't anything new; every creative team working on a new Doom Patrol series seems to either want to add their own newly-created characters into the mix [see: Fever, Freak, Kid Slick, Faith, Grunt, and Nudge] or add an obscure DC character that nobody has really thought about in a while [see: Metamorpho, Doctor Light, Bumblebee, Vox, Elongated Man, and Ambush Bug].

Since you can't seem to have a Doom Patrol without a Cliff Steele/Robotman (he's in every incarnation of the team), Robotman makes an appearance -- and once he does, everything starts to come together and it starts to feel like a Doom Patrol adventure.

The big 'Robotman reveal' from issue #1 in a scene that kinda reminds me of the opening sequence from 1983's Return of the Jedi. Props to Nick Derington and his versatile penciling skillz for giving this sequence some variety.

The first issue also needs to set the momentum for the series -- typically by presenting some sort of ominous mystery that will keep the reader interested in checking out the next issue. Thankfully, Doom Patrol v6 #1 does exactly that. The pacing in issue #1 is a little choppy (it's obvious that the creative team is trying to set up subplots for a bigger storyline) but everything will make sense by issue #6. I promise.

As a bonus, for any 'continuity sticklers' out there, I'm happy to announce that volume 6 follows the events of volume 5 [aka: Keith Giffen's Doom Patrol -- on Oolong Island]:

so these panels pretty much confirm that previous Doom Patrol continuity wasn't washed away

Issue #2 re-introduces even more former members of the original Doom Patrol, including one who hasn't been seen since he starred in his own 1996 mini-series. [I don't know why I'm trying to keep this a secret, they're all right there on the front cover of the TPB.]  From here on, the story picks up and moves at a very quick pace: villains are revealed, Doom Patrol members have origins explained, there's a healthy dose of weirdness, mysteries are resolved, and the team is reunited with another long-lost member.

Something BIG about this series is that it just oozes 'pop culture cool'. I couldn't even get past the cover of the first issue before spotting something that I sort of recognized:

cover of Doom Patrol v6 #1 (left), 1967's Velvet Underground & Nico vinyl LP album cover (right)


The entire series is filled with imagery like this; homages to things from the 1970/1980s -- nostalgia that breeds familiarity. This is like crack to an 80s pop culture nerd like me. Some of these are really obvious and in-your-face (ex: parody of Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 cover in Doom Patrol v6 #3), while some of them are way more subtle and are going to drive you nuts trying to figure what they're referencing.

The cover of Doom Patrol v6 #4 appears to be referencing a classic Burger King ad I can't seem to find on google image search. In the meanwhile, I'll just stick a screenshot from a 1980s Burger King TV ad so you get the idea.



This... looks familiar. I can't 'place' this, but it seems to remind me of a cover of a book I remember reading. Do any of our readers know?




Admittedly, some are a bit easier to recognize that others:
 
page from Doom Patrol v6 #3 (left), cover of 1937's Detective Comics #1 (right)



This resembles the Teddy Ruxpin toy I owned as a kid, just way slimier:
panels from Doom Patrol v6 #4



Hey, any Morrison/Case Doom Patrol fans remember this map?
panel from Doom Patrol v6 #6
If not, dig out your copy of Doom Patrol v2 #30 "Going Underground" ;)

So, all this to say, there's a lot of visual treats in here to keep you paying attention. (I'm sure there were plenty that went completely over my head, too.) As far as pacing goes, Gerard Way's writing brings a lot to the table: it's not always linear, and sometimes there are non sequitur (albeit humorous) interludes, but it's entertaining and full of twists and turns that seem to tie up into a neat little bow by the end.
was there a point to this page? not sure, but I enjoyed it nonetheless

As a whole package, the Doom Patrol is weird and quirky -- but that's the best possible scenario. Doom Patrol, done correctly, needs to be really frickin' weird. Or, more accurately, if Doom Patrol isn't weird, you're doing it wrong.

Anytime a *new* Doom Patrol series is launched, I tend to approach with hesitation and the first thing I take a look at is the team roster. Often, a team book's roster can make or break the series. Putting the band back together (so to speak), was a clever move on behalf of the creative team. In my mind's eye, the Morrison/Case Doom Patrol team was the *best* team. The Doom Patrol NEED to be a crew of reluctant heroes shanghaied into a situation where they're forced to save the world. [They can't be battling petty street crime, either. It needs to be a threat of Eldritch horror proportions.] The Chief NEEDS to be engineering some sort of scheme from the background. Negative Man NEEDS to somehow be involved. Robotman NEEDS to be wanting to punch stuff. All the while, it needs to have a bit of humor and not take itself too seriously.


Grant Morrison (via the Chief) described the spirit of the Doom Patrol best in Doom Patrol v2 #22:


A lot of interesting and entertaining stuff happens in the span of six issues -- and it's enough to make you feel a little sorry that the TPB only collects the first six issues (and not all ten issues) of the sixth volume. Nick Derington's art is gorgeous Tamra Bonvillain colors pop, and Gerard Way weaves an enthralling tale filled with a healthy dose of weirdness, nods to previous Doom Patrol continuity and fistfights.

So, to conclude, yeah I think that this new Young Animal Doom Patrol sticks to the spirit of the Vertigo Doom Patrol, and if you're a fan of the Grant Morrison/Richard Case run you will definitely get a kick out of this.

I'm having trouble deciding whether I should recommend buying the TPB, or tracking down the individual issues. While the TPB has all six issues (and variant covers and promo art) in a collected edition, the singles issues have previews of the other Young Animal titles (including Michael Allred's Bug! The Adventures of Forager!), the extra Who's Who entries, and Brandon Bird's brilliant 'Bane's Coloring Corner'. Tough call, really.

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Big thanks to Paul Hix of the Waiting For Doom podcast -- a great bunch of guys who love nothing more than talking about the Doom Patrol. You can find them on facebook and twitter.


If you liked this article, you might enjoy our interview with Steve Lightle about why he left the 1987 Doom Patrol series.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shade the Changing Girl -- one year later

This is the second in a series of reviews about the *new* Young Animal imprint from DC comics. The first review about Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye can be read here. By the time you read this, Shade the Changing Girl v1 #1 will have been released a bit more than a year ago (hence the 'one year later' bit added to the title of this article).   


cover art by Becky Cloonan

My interest in Shade the Changing Girl is two-fold. First, I have high hopes for the Young Animal imprint. I honestly believe that it has that 'punk/indie' feel that will bring new readers to DC comics -- especially with Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance) at the helm. Secondly, I'm extremely curious to see how this series compares to Peter Milligan's Shade the Changing Man from the early 90s (which I loved so dearly).


Since Shade the Changing Girl is a NEW character and will inevitably reference Shade the Changing Man mythos... I suppose I should provide some sort of brief history as to who Shade the Changing Man (aka Rac Shade) is, just in case you're a new reader and not familiar with this character whatsoever.

Introduced in 1977's Shade The Changing Man #1 by Steve Ditko and Michael Fleisher, Rac Shade is an alien from the planet Meta who escapes to earth so he can clear his name for a crime he didn't commit. Thankfully, he didn't come to earth empty handed -- he sports his M-Vest (which grants him flight, a force field, and illusion-casting powers) in order to battle his way to the truth. 

Shade the Changing Man #2 (1977). Art by Steve Ditko.
The original 8 issue series from 1977/1978 was mainly a sci-fi action series. Rac was clean-cut and looked like a dead-ringer for Magnus Robot Fighter. Unfortunately, this title was a victim of the DC implosion and was canceled before it could be concluded. [well, it was actually resolved in 1978's Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2].

Rac Shade would re-appear in the pages of John Ostrander and Kim Yale's Suicide Squad in 1988, joining the team for about two years' worth of missions, and then getting the 'Vertigo' treatment by Peter Milligan in his very own Shade the Changing Man v2 series. 

Milligan's changes to Rac Shade were a drastic departure from the clean-cut secret agent that Ditko and Fleischer had originally introduced; the new Rac Shade was a poet from the planet Meta on a mission to save the earth from madness. His M-Vest was now re-designated as his 'Madness-Vest' (which looks more like Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat) and has the ability to warp reality. This title dealt with a lot of mature themes and concepts and was light-years ahead of its time. [Somewhere I've got a mostly written review of the Shade the Changing Man Vertigo series I need to finish up and post.]

Shade the Changing Man #8 (1991). Art by Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington

Rac Shade would later appear in DC's New 52 relaunch in 2011, and seemed to be following the same continuity that was established in the Vertigo series. By this point, however, he'd been absorbed into the mainstream DCU as a member of Justice League Dark -- alongside John Constantine, Deadman, Zatanna and Madame Xanadu -- which made him an active player in whatever major story arc was occurring in the New 52 Universe at the time. He left the series around issue #8 to wander into the sunset. I actually haven't read Justice League Dark, but it's written by Peter Milligan. so I'm willing to bet that this is why Rac stayed true to his Vertigo version.

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Ok, now that you're up-to-speed on Rac Shade -- let's move on to Shade the Changing Girl.

From the very get-go I was interested in this title; I had read and enjoyed Milligan's Shade the Changing Man v2 when I was *much* younger, I still had fond memories of it, and I was walking into this new Young Animal title with an open mind. In short, it would take a lot to disappoint me. As I write this review, I'm wondering how much I can reveal without spoiling anything. I'll give it my best shot.

Similar to Milligan's Shade the Changing Man, this series begins with an extraterrestrial force taking control of a human host's body. It's only a few pages later that we're introduced to Loma Shade -- the protagonist of this series -- and her cunning plan to escape the planet of Meta by stealing Rac's Madness Vest.

Loma with Rac Shade's Madness Vest. Shade the Changing Girl #1 - art by Marley Zarcone, colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick

Right away, the first issue introduces a few mysteries that quickly drive the story forward: Who was the comatose human host? Why was she brain-dead when Loma Shade hijacked her body? Why are people acting so nervous now that she's out of her coma? (She's just a teen-aged girl, after all.) There's also an established sense of urgency as it is quickly revealed that the authorities on Meta want the Madness-Vest returned. A great start for a first issue -- lots of things to keep a reader coming back for more.

The art team of Marley Zarcone and Kelly Fitzpatrick strongly compliment the writing and mood of this series. Zarcone's pencils and inks are clean with very thin lines, there's not much shading, and kinda emits an 'indie comix' feel [which I totally mean as a compliment, because it works]. Fitzpatrick's coloring is filled with bright blues, greens, purples and pinks and keeps the illustrations vibrant. The panel layouts are easy for the eye to follow and, as a whole package, reminds me of Mike Allred's early Madman art -- and I'm a big of Allred's art, so that's saying something. 

page from Shade the Changing Girl v1 #5. art by Marley Zarcone, colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick

So, how does this series tie into the legacy of Shade the Changing Man? Very efficiently. As Loma's idol, Rac Shade is elevated to mythical rock god status (think: Jim Morrison) and his poetic prose is often cited throughout the series. It's Rac's Madness-Vest that Loma ultimately steals to escape to earth, and it's Rac's former sweetheart, from 1977's Shade the Changing Man v1, who is revealed as the driving force behind the retrieval of the vest. While it references Rac Shade, I appreciate the fact that it's written in such a way that you don't need an in-depth knowledge of any volume of Shade the Changing Man to understand what's going on.

A major theme of this series (or at least the first six issues that I read) were Loma Shade's attempts to adjust to her new 'earth body' (i.e. introspection and self-discovery) and understand her new environment (i.e. navigating the social minefield that is high school). In that sense, Shade the Changing Girl reads like a coming-of-age story with elements of science-fiction mixed in. This is familiar territory for writer Cecil Castellucci (aka Cecil Seaskull) -- who is already an accomplished author and has penned several young adult novels such as The Queen of CoolBeigeRose Sees Red, First Day on Earth and Boy Proof .

panel from Shade the Changing Girl v1 #2. art by Marley Zarcone, colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick

While this series had me hooked since issue #1, it didn't have that "holy crap this is the oddest thing I've ever read, yet I can sense there's a bigger message here" feeling I got from the first time I read Milligan's Shade the Changing Man [and, let's face it, that *is* a hard act to follow]. Shade the Changing Girl reads like young adult fiction with some mature ideas and some expletives thrown in, but don't confuse this as mindless teen drama targeted to a young adult audience -- thanks to Castellucci's writing, the characters have a lot of depth and you can't help but get wrapped up in it all. Shade the Changing Girl is a great read because it's NOT a shallow imitation of Shade the Changing Man.

As explained by Gerard Way in the Afterword of the Shade The Changing Girl vol 1 TPB: "Loma Shade was born of a simple idea: she was to be an alien connected to Rac Shade in name only -- inspired by him and in possession of his madness coat. [...] In our first meeting, Cecil [Castellucci] responded to my drawing of Loma's alien body by immediately calling out, "She's a bird!" [...] As Cecil constructed a Loma that was every bit a free spirit as she was a fan of Rac Shade's poetry, we began to notice that Loma was a very different character than we had seen before." 


panel from Shade the Changing Girl v1 #3. art by Marley Zarcone, colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick

In summary, I feel that this creative team 'gets it'. This series captures the spirit of the Young Animal imprint -- it uses a previously existing DC character in a new and interesting way and it's an engrossing story with characters that a young adult reader can relate to. I eagerly await more Young Animal titles if this is the type of content they are producing.

I'd recommend giving this title a shot if you haven't already. Start with issue #1 and work your way from there. I'd strongly recommend checking out the Shade the Changing Girl v1 TPB: Earth Girl Made Easy.

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If you liked this article, we also wrote a non-spoiler review of Young Animal's Doom Patrol, too. ;)