Doom Patrol – Written by Gerard (My Chemical Romance and… um, Gerard Way solo work) Way. Art by Nick (it feels like I should have another “R” in there) Derington. Colors by Tamra (don’t call me Blofeld) Bonvillain.
Generation Zero – Written by Fred (should the thing in parentheses go here…) Van (or here?) Lente
Art by Francis (Deadpool wants to talk to you) Portela
Colors by Andrew (Barbie?) Dolhouse.
See, what I do is bring together two distinctly different acts; namely bathroom time and reading time and then write about my thoughts concerning the later because my mind is in a free form state while doing the former. It could be described, metaphorically, as alchemy but only metaphorically because neither lead or gold are involved.
Now you might be a bit worried because this is the first Comics on the Can in a bit of time but I assure you, I’m regular. I’ve just been preoccupied with work and writing this awesome screen pla…
Oh, you don’t care… you accidentally clicked on this while searching for Rob Samo’s MMA updates… Ok. Here we go then…
Old timers like me will occasionally drone on about “The 80’s”; a whimsical time of Iron Eagle, ALF, and near cataclysmic ozone depleting amounts of hairspray. Donald Trump’s 3rd wife was just out of diapers, Anthony Michael Hall only played nerds, and Mario only came in 8-bit.
Every movie starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Every movie soundtrack had Kenny Loggins.
Chris Claremont was writing X-Men, The Micronauts, Fantastic Four fought Psycho Man, and the Comics Code still protected young, impressionable minds from the moral rot perpetrated by filthy pulp writers and their “funny books”.
I bring up all this stuff because of the idyllic picture painted by “Stranger Things” of cool bikes, kids with switchblades (how quaint), and unimaginably terrifying inter-dimensional monsters with venus flytraps for heads. That was part of every 80’s kid’s experience, sure, but there was more…so much more.
I also bring up the 80’s because one time I saw a great concert, which was where I was headed with all of this, but I wanted to get in a comment about Stranger Things (It HAS been a while after all).
The concert was a double headliner of Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop and Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. Both are (were) guitar geniuses in their own way; Beck was fantastic at free forming, tossing out traditional structure and he and the guitar shop just JAMMED. Yes, before that became a thing in the 90’s. It rocked and everyone involved was enjoying the crap outta just being in sync. So understanding of the rules that the group was able to toss them aside or, in truth, bury them so deep as to seem non-existent.
The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan was a total contrast; tight, flawless, diamond brilliant, and precise in execution. I’m not saying that the performance was a note for note replay of the recorded versions… I’m saying that his playing and the performance was all about the rules of musicianship and song structure. SRV’s mastery of his music was a testament to why the rules are there in the first place; because, when done right, they friggin WORK! Time and road tested SRV and Double Trouble had a rock solid foundation on which to build groove, chops and licks. And there is a deep satisfaction from knowing, in your gut, that all the pieces are working together perfectly because watching a master at work is such a rare thing. It rocked and everyone involved was enjoying the crap outta being in sync. So understanding of the rules that the group was able to make it look easy.
Two distinctly different acts, processes and execution but arriving at the same goal.
You can probably figure out where I’m going with this.
First up is Doom Patrol: A reactivation of truly one of the oddest ducks in the DC stable; a human brain in a robot body, hermaphroditic aliens, a guy that can trip people, and a sentient street. Doom Patrol reaches back to the mid-to-late 60’s, but for all intents and purposes, you really only have to reach back to the 90’s and Grant Morrison’s dada-esque, bat shit crazy groundbreaking run. Since that run, there have been several attempts to revitalize the team and capture the core oddness inherent in the original run and perfected with Morrison. But Doom Patrol isn’t an easy sell; made up of misfits and reluctant heroes, Doom Patrol walks a tonal tightrope that, when it doesn’t click, seems to magnify the clichés of the super powered storylines. When not done right it all seems so silly.
That’s because Doom Patrol is the result of DC originally trying to combine two distinctly different acts (action comics and superhero comics) into something new and exploitable. The normal rules don’t seem to work for Doom Patrol, and trying to force its inherent weirdness into a normal structure works against its core being. To write the title successfully, or at least the most interesting and entertaining incarnation, you have to bury the rules so deep they may as well appear to be non-existent. Morrison did this to a spectacular effect with his run. The rule: a group of heroes fight forces of evil; everything else is blown to smithereens.
Enter Gerard Way, who is no stranger to comic writing; Umbrella Academy manages to skip just about every mistake an inexperienced writer usually makes. This cat has the medium down already. The opening issue of Doom Patrol at first look might seem a bit ramshackle; loosely focusing on the extreme highs and lows in the job of enthusiastic, seemingly ADD, ambulance driver Casey Brinke. There isn’t even a hint of any Doom Patrol characters until Robotman shows up halfway through the first issue, and even then nothing is spelled out definitively. In fact, the implication is that Cliff is fighting a war taking place in a discarded Gyro sandwich. Either that, or Way and company are playing at an overlapping interconnectedness that will be revealed further along in the story. Either way it comes across as weird.
Way assumes, correctly I might add, that the reader already knows how these comic things work. He parcels out snippets of information; enough to catch the imagination but not enough to really put together anything solid. This makes seemingly random, train of thought ideas like Gyro sandwich wars, Niles Caulder playing house fly notes, and spontaneously exploding roommates all strange for strange sake. Like I said; Way has faith in his audience and as such he can mix up the narrative, so understanding of the rules that is able to toss them aside or, in truth, bury them so deep as to seem non-existent.
But the structure is there; Casey and her partner get a call from dispatch for a hit and run. When they get to the location there is nothing. Moments later Robotman stumbles out of an alley and gets shattered by a garbage truck. A group of alien franchise investors attend a sales pitch for the new “Danny Burger”, house flies are a recurring image.
This might not be the way a lot of traditionalists would enjoy a comic but that’s not the mission statement of Way and the new imprint he’s founded with editor Shelly Bond: Young Animals. Doom Patrol is ripe with potential. I have as much faith in Way as a writer as he puts in me as a reader.
Naturally this makes Generation Zero the Stevie Ray Vaughn of the piece.
Now, Generation Zero doesn’t have the history of Doom Patrol; in fact, this is the first outing for the team in its own book (I think they were introduced in the Harbinger Wars crossover). Don’t get bent if I’m wrong, OK, but the beats are familiar; a group of super powered kids do their growing up while fighting evil. The details are negotiable.
Enter Fred Van Lente. FVL is no stranger to comic writing having done a few Marvel Zombies and adjacent titles, Valiant’s own Archer and Armstrong (which gave us the Highlander, Three Stooges, and Illuminatus trilogy we didn’t know we needed) and he just finished up Big Trouble in Little China for BOOM! Comics. This cat has the medium down.
The book opens with a girl named Keisha trying to track down ways to contact “Generation Zero”, a group of rogue psiots (the Valiant universe’s mutants for those uninitiated). Every person she talks to has a different story of who and what they are from urban legends “Like Slenderman or Donald Trump” to them being blamed for the destruction of Mexico City (from the Armor Wars crossover… Spoilers: they had nothing to do with that). This does an excellent job of building up the mystique of the group while at the same time getting us emotionally invested in Keisha’s journey. In fact the opening sequence does triple duty because Keisha serves as the audience proxy. Smart, tight writing boosted by sharp dialogue. Van Lente just plays the notes so well that you as the reader is swept along without fully really realizing just how skillfully the story is being told.
This is where that mastery of structure and the rules come into play; all the pieces click together so well you’re not even aware of the foundation you’re standing on. Keisha’s story has you deeply intrigued that it’s an epic payoff with the reveal of Generation Zero at the end of the first issue. Even introducing the team to Keisha a few pages before as normal teens doesn’t blunt the effect, in fact it enhances it. You know how the story beats are going to play out and regardless it’s thrilling because Van Lente has already stoked your excitement about the team showing up.
What is being done may have been done before but, as is the case for Generation Zero, you realize why the rules are there in the first place; because, when done right, they friggin WORK! The book still has its own groove and distinctive voice; Keisha is smart, capable and possesses her own agency. If she didn’t you wouldn’t be drawn in so quickly. Generation Zero has a rock solid foundation on which to build and instead of coming across as rote Van Lente knows the rules so well that he makes them work in his favor.
I make no secret of my fondness for Van lente’s work, and with him hitting on all cylinders out of the gate it should be no surprise, because watching a master at work is rare. Tight, flawless, diamond brilliant and precise in execution; Van Lente makes it look easy.
Both Doom Patrol and Generation Zero follow distinctly different paths but arrive at the same destination. We reap the benefits.
Tangential things I couldn’t fit into the main body of the text organically
Micronauts was my gateway comic for Marvel. I thought that Wolverine guy was pretty cool first time I saw him.
Sadly a few months after I saw Stevie Ray, he died in a helicopter crash.
“Couldn’t stand the weather” by SRV… just listen to it.
Gerard Way is no slouch in the music department either; “The Black Parade” is ten years old this month, and new people will be enjoying the album on its twentieth birthday… its thirtieth…
Gerard Way’s solo album “Hesitant Alien” channels glam era Bowie better than anyone else I can think of, and that includes Marilyn Manson and Scott Weiland’s efforts.
Grant Morrison’s influence on Way’s take on Doom Patrol is obvious. What isn’t well known is that there is a mutual admiration society there; Grant mentions meeting Gerard in his autobiograph-ish book, Supergods. I’d like to hear Gerard’s side of that first meeting considering how he feels about Grant.
Doom Patrol creator Arnold Drake seems to believe that X-Men is a knock-off of Doom Patrol.
I really hope there was a whole universe inside that gyro. Before it seemingly got bombed out of existence, that is.
Doom Patrol is actually responsible for my renewed interest in Gyro’s as a meal.
Rafer Roberts is doing a great job on The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong the humor is a bit more pronounced (I don’t think Davey the mackerel will ever really catch on), but when you have a story arc featuring cloned communist clowns, you are following your bliss.
Weaponized geometry: Doom Patrol or Generation Zero?
Surprisingly Generation Zero; FVL can spin the cuckoo idea with the best of em.
One of my favorite titles from Van Lente is Modok’s Eleven, a heist story by way of misfit super villains.
Next: still see Black Panther in the box.
Later: Whatever catches my fancy.