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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Doom Patrol 23 - Red Jack

Morrison, Case, and Hanna begin a two part tale with Red Jack, beginning in Doom Patrol 23 (June 1989).

We meet Red Jack at the top of the story, as he gathers a butterfly that tried to escape from his extensive collection. Little about this character ever gets explained, but he lives in a massive palace in some alternate dimension.

The issue touches on a lot of different threads. Rebis pays a visit to the husband of Eleanor Poole, who is not handling the loss of his wife very well. But the man's emotional state has no effect at all on Rebis, who is much more interested in a set of Russian wooden dolls.

Dorothy Spinner arrives at the cave, where she is met by Josh Clay. The Chief invited her to join the team, as the meta-gene bomb gave her the power to make her thoughts and dreams into reality.

A woman named Holly wakes up on a beach surrounded by death and destruction. She doesn't seem to recall what happened, but is also certain that she is the cause. Mr Nobody shows up and recruits her to his team.

Robotman and Crazy Jane go to the hospital to check on Rhea Jones, only to discover that she has been kidnapped. Jane goes through some more weird transformations, her hair catches on fire and she jumps through a plate glass window to enter a bookstore. I love Cliff's "It's OK, she's a super hero" line. Jane is able to use the books as a kind of scrying oracle to find the door to the realm where Rhea is being held.

Lots of weirdness, but it's all so much fun.

Robotman and Jane explore the bizarre home of Red Jack for a few pages before finding the man himself.

The story concludes in the next issue.

Doom Patrol 22 - Rebis questions the priests

Great cover by Case and Hanna for Doom Patrol 22 (May 89), as they and Morrison conclude the first storyline of the new team.

Right at the start we get introduced to the Ossuary, the centre of Orqwith, where two priests sit waiting to be asked the question that will unmake their world. So the resolution to the story is presented to us at the outset, although without enough meaning for it to seem simple.

Robotman, Crazy Jane, and Rebis are now in Orqwith, fighting off the Scissormen while trying to figure out how to fix things. They find Josh, but like everyone else there he is just a soulless shadow of himself.

The Chief, meanwhile, tracks down one of the authors of the black book, and when the guy doesn't seem inclined to answer the Chief's questions, he shoots him. The guy then becomes more talkative, and explains how the creation of the book was just a mental exercise by some writers and academics, who never expected it to become real. He explains that there is a fallacy at the core of Orqwith, and by being confronted with it, the city will be defeated.

That doesn't sound very helpful. But the action zips along, with Jane taking on yet another bizarre form to hold off the Scissormen.

Rebis crashes through the skylight of the Ossuary, and comes face to face with the two priests. One is a liar, and one an honest man, so he has to solve that puzzle before knowing which to ask the question to. The question itself is fairly simple, why is there something instead of nothing? But it works, and all of Orqwith dissolves, returning all the people to normal.

As the issue ends the Chief talks to Robotman, Crazy Jane, and Rebis about how they are needed, that the madness they have all been through enables them to face and understand dangers that normal heroes never could. It works, and they become a team.

There are two epilogues, the first featuring Rhea Jones in her come, and someone taking an interest in her.

And the second which will turn out to be the origin of Mr Nobody.

Doom Patrol 21 - Orqwith

The new Doom Patrol come together to deal with the Scissormen in the Morrison, Case, and Hanna story from Doom Patrol 21 (April 1989).

Robotman and Crazy Jane find the world changing around them, as more people get reduced to cut outs by the Scissormen, and a bone city keeps growing around them.

They reach the railroad station that had been the team's Kansas City headquarters, only to find it abandoned. Fortunately, the Chief left a note, directing them to Rhode Island.

Of course, they have to face more Scissormen along the way. Jane manifests as Black Annis as she shreds some, a terrifying moment, and this is followed by a damn good sequence that sees the pair escape by plane from more of the Scissormen.

Turns out the Chief has arranged to take over the old Justice League cave as the new headquarters for the Doom Patrol. Robotman and Jane arrive, and the Chief allows Jane to examine the black book from a couple of issues earlier, the one from the burning car. To their surprise, Jane is able to read and decode it, thanks to one of her personalities, with exceptional speed. It's a self referential book about a group of people who write a book about a fictional world that is slowly taking over the real world. It seems inspired by the Borges short story "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." Even the name of the reality, Orqwith, evokes the title, at least for me.

One of the Scissormen has been captured, and Robotman encounters Rebis for the first time as they try to question it. 

But the creature winds up getting free and attacks Josh, turning him into a cut out.

Despite the Chief's fears that they do not know enough about Orqwith to confront it, Robotman, Rebis, and Crazy Jane plunge into action as the issue ends.

The story concludes in the next issue.

Doom Patrol 20 - the Scissormen

Scott Hanna joins Morrison and Case as the reboot of the Doom Patrol continues in issue 20 (March 1989).

The Chief comes to visit Larry Trainor in the hospital, but winds up meeting Rebis instead. He is intrigued at the creature, and offers it a spot in his new Doom Patrol. Rebis agrees.

That's one of the few straightforward things that happens in this issue. We get a lot of scenes of general weirdness, all apparently connected to the Scissormen, scattered throughout the issue, including a minister getting crushed by a fridge that falls from the sky, a subway train that takes a man to a city of bone, and people being cut out of reality.

I also made a mistake when I said Magnus offered to build Robotman a new body in the last issue. That happens in this one, shortly before Cliff spends some more time with Crazy Jane. It becomes clear that Jane must have suffered some sexual abuse from the comment she makes that Cliff is the first man that one of her personalities, Black Annis, hasn't wanted to castrate. Cliff comments that she'd be too late anyway. This notion gets developed as the series goes on, that part of the reason Jane is able to trust Cliff is that, although he may consider himself a man, he lacks the defining sexual organs.

Things turn really creepy towards the end. Jane manifests stigmata just before the Scissorman show up to attack them.

Robotman has no idea what is going on as the issue comes to an end, and he finds himself surrounded by cut outs of missing people.

The story continues in the next issue.

Doom Patrol 19 - Crazy Jane debuts

How well I remember buying and reading Doom Patrol 19 (Feb 89). I was annoyed that the series, which I was planning to drop, had become the more expensive format, "New Format" being the phrase at the time, but I loved the cover and the new logo. I was completely unfamiliar with Grant Morrison, so the fact that he was writing, with Richard Case and Carlos Garzon on the art, meant nothing to me.

But the very first page, an intense nightmare that Robotman experiences, reliving his car crash and the reduction of his body to nothing more than a brain, was chilling and powerful. Finding out that the hero was now in a psychiatric hospital was also shocking, not the place heroes are meant to be.

The story moves on and we see Josh Clay helping the Chief pack things up as he moves the base out of Kansas City. Mention is made of Scott Fischer's death as a result of the meta-gene bomb, and Rhea Jones being comatose. After all their romantic troubles Josh doesn't really seem that upset that Valentina Vostok has moved on with her life. Josh is a bit puzzled when the Chief starts talking about investigating bizarre, National Enquirer-type phenomena, but doesn't seem inclined to move on himself.

Will Magnus, who had made a new body for Robotman back in the 70s, comes to visit him. This leads to another really powerful scene, with Cliff Steele talking about the psychological strain of not being able to feel anything, culminating in him smashing his head repeatedly into a wall. Magnus' promise to make him an improved body hardly seems like anything that could really help his distress.

Larry Trainor is also hospitalized following the roof collapse, but is healing well under the eye of a black doctor, Eleanor Poole. But things turn scary for him as well when the negative energy being returns, now able to speak. It has its own plans for Larry.

The being grabs both Larry and the doctor, forming the three of them into a new entity, Rebis, that is neither human nor energy being, neither male nor female, neither black nor white. 

Back at the asylum, Magnus introduces Cliff to Crazy Jane, a woman with 64 personalities, each of which gained powers due to the meta-gene bomb. She is a sad and broken figure, and Cliff immediately takes to her. I was very pleased that the Doom Patrol tv show adapted this scene, keeping it largely intact. It's a low key, but moving, introduction to her character.

And with a really creepy ending, with a burning man clutching a book and muttering about the scissormen, by the time I had finished this I was once again completely hooked on the series.

As later issues came out I realized that what Morrison had done was re-create the weirdness that had permeated the original series, thus keeping it feeling authentically Doom Patrol, without weaving into X-Men territory.

Doom Patrol 18 - Garguax ends the truce

Kupperberg's run comes to an end with Doom Patrol 18 (Jan 89), the second Invasion! crossover issue. For that matter, Nolan and Dzon also have their tenure on the book end with this issue. I was fully prepared to drop the series, having been so let down by it, but was just engaged enough to keep going to see what the new creative team was going to do.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The Doom Patrol and Garguax celebrate the apparent defeat of the alien alliance, following Invasion! 2, but that also sees the end of their truce. Garguax leaves, cheerfully informing the team of his intentions to kill them all.

Scott Fischer opens up to Rhea Jones, revealing that he has terminal cancer, but asks her not to tell anyone else on the team. It's a nice scene between them.

Tempest deals with a funeral arranger who is planning a gaudy memorial to Celsius, but as Josh makes his views clear Garguax and his Sirens attack the headquarters, far sooner than anyone expected.

There's lots of battle for all the characters to take part in, but only a couple of really significant events. Larry Trainor winds up seriously injured when a ceiling collapses on him.

And Garguax's girls have a weapon that so disrupts Negative Woman's energy being that it doesn't come back to her. Although Valentina continues to wear the bandages for the remainder of the issue, it would appear she doesn't need them. Certainly the next time we see her character, as an agent of Checkmate, she looks like a normal human again.

The Chief takes control of  satellite defense system, and uses it to destroy Garguax's ship. Since the villain hasn't been again, it's safe to say the Chief killed him. So much for all his bragging.

Arani's funeral ends the issue, and the Chief refers to her as a "poor, deluded woman." It's not a great epitaph, but she doesn't even get to keep the focus at her own funeral, as the meta-gene bomb goes off.

The story continues in Invasion! 3.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Doom Patrol 17 - Aquaman, Aqualad, and the Sea Devils join the Doom Patrol to fight off the Invasion!

Aquaman, Aqualad, and the Sea Devils all join forces with the Doom Patrol for issue 17 (1988), an Invasion! crossover by Kupperberg, Nolan, and Tim Dzon.

Aquaman, Aqualad, and the Sea Devils get an awful lot of page time in this issue. They even open the story, and one cannot help but think that sales of Doom Patrol must be in the toilet if the team is taking second place in their own book during the crossover event. The Sea Devils have new costumes in this one, unquestionably the worst uniforms they have ever worn. They team up, along with the Doom Patrol, to fight the Gil Dishpan, who are setting up a base under the Arctic ice.

Garguax also shows up, wanting to work with the Doom Patrol. We find out he offered to join the alien alliance, but they wanted nothing to do with him, just his base on the dark side of the Moon. So now he wants revenge on them, and is willing to work with his old enemies to get it.

While everyone preps for their underwater adventure, Arani continues to sulk on her own. It's hard to entirely account for her actions. From the Kalki story we had confirmation that the Chief did know her in India, but here she concedes that she has been lying, presumably about being his wife.

But there is little time for that when you have so many heroes to put into fight scenes. Aqualad is usually shown grieving over the death of Tula, but in this story seems to have completely gotten over that, and is flirting with Rhea Jones.

The story climaxes as Celsius decides to sacrifice herself in order to destroy the alien ship and base. She makes some further odd comments, about Niles knowing the truth, that it didn't work out as she planned, and that no one will now believe her. Once again, this seems to imply that she HAS been telling the truth, and it's the Chief who is lying. Celsius dies as the ship explodes, and at the time I was upset that her story ended without any clear resolution as to whether she was the Chief's wife or not. There were enough statements to justify both positions. And though it seemed at first that Grant Morrison was letting the whole issue drop, he would, in fact, clear everything up during his run.