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Monday, 12 March 2012

Doom Patrol - Rachel Pollack's run

Writer: Rachel Pollack
Artists: Various, see 'other information' section for more details
Publisher: Vertigo (an imprint of DC comics)
Issue 64 on the left, issue 87 on the right 

What's it about?
The Doom Patrol are the odd group in the DC Universe.  Members are typically thought of as freakish with strange powers.  They don't seem to fit in well or be accepted in other parts the superheroic or non powered world. Issues 64 to 87 are all written by Rachel Pollack after she took over from Grant Morrison, so Pollack is building on established continuity whilst carving out new stories for her version of the team.

This particular incarnation of the group has the following members:
Dorothy Spinner, a young teenage monkey-faced girl who can make her imaginary friends become real.
Cliff Steele, a man's brain in a robot body.
Niles Caulder, the boss of the group, previously a wheelchair user, now just a self-sustaining head.
Kate Godwin, a woman with coagulating powers
George & Marion the bandage people, made of sentient self replicating bandages.
Charlie, a living teddy bear with the head of a doll.

As for what they get up to, they live in a house full of the ghosts of those who died during auto erotic experiments.  There's a few issues dealing with Dorothy's powers and the dangerous beings she calls out of her head, there's Cliff trying to reconcile his humanity with his body.  There's wild girls and trickster gods using the Doom Patrol to settle old scores.  There's ideas about world building based on the Greek story of the teirasias and then it ends with a few issues exploring Jewish mysticism.  Throughout all this there are recurring themes of sexuality, gender and humanity - what it means to be you, and real.

So, you can understand that this isn't your typical glamorous superhero group.  The Vertigo imprint publishes adult, more mature (that isn't a byword for pornographic), more intellectual books than the regular DC titles.  So, when you combine that ethos with the Doom Patrol's premise, you end up with some really interesting work. 

What's good about it?
It isn't your common superhero story.  There's a whole lot of metaphor and hidden meanings layered throughout the text, which makes it more challenging than your average book and very satisfying once you've pored through all the little hints and been led through the story.

It's weird.  As is right for a Doom Patrol story.  The events are surreal, they don't make sense in our world, they could never make sense, but the beauty of this is that Pollack and her artistic team can create some mind bogglingly imaginative landscapes and worlds and characters.  It's not something you'd want to read at at work, because there is obvious sexual content, but it's not pornographic.  It's more factual.  There is I think one sex scene, but it's not done in the way you'd expect and is actually quite touching.
(don't worry this doesn't segue into a sex scene.  From issue 67)

It's fascinating.  I think this was Pollack's first foray into writing comics and she has a real knack for it.  The way she explores the Doom Patrol's relationships with each other and to themselves makes for a really interesting, thoughtful read.

It has letter pages at the back of each comic.  You can see reader's reactions to the issues as they came out - I love this sort of interactivity. 

It has adverts for Vertigo's other series.  The majority of the ones advertised have stood the test of time so if you wanted to read more Vertigo books, you could pretty much pick anything they'd advertised.

Kate Godwin.  She's a transgender lesbian, and her story isn't all about her being trans.  Sure, that comes into it, but it's not all she is.  How rare is that?  She has the power of dissolving solids and coagulating liquids, so names herself Coagula.  At least until she learns the Doom Patrol don't go in for code names.  She's also immensely likable.  I was originally intending to review this series for LGBT History month but I didn't manage to finish reading the issues before the end of February.  Kate is a fine addition to the small (but hopefully growing!) list of transgendered heroes.

What's bad about it?
Sometimes it lacks subtlety.  There's a villain introduced in issue 70 who names himself Codpiece.  He's very angry at the world because he thinks he's got a small penis, so he builds himself a metal suit, which includes a gun extending from his groin, which blasts away all the competition, or sometimes punches them out.  I honestly cannot decide if this is a good story, in all it's vulgarity and obviousness, or bad, because of the crassness.  However, this issue does introduce Kate, so it's certainly not all bad.
(Codpiece and Coagula, issue 70)

There are several different consecutive stories running through this set of comics, it's entirely possible you won't like all of them.  I'm not a fan of the closing arc (issues 84 to 87) and feel they are a weak end to an otherwise excellent series.

What's the art like?
There are 5 pencillers used throughout this series. As you can see from the examples posted throughout this review, each artist has a different style.  My personal favourite is Ted Mckeever, see right.  He draws each character simply, using the bare minimum of lines to show emotion, body shape and character, yet it is really effective.  He outlines everyone in thick black inks, giving them a sense of being 2D cutouts but without compromising the flow of the piece.
Other information
These comics aren't collected into trade (more's the pity) but you should be able to get them off eBay or maybe amazon marketplace.  I was lucky enough to find the full run on Bay the first time I looked (hooray!) and paid £13 for all 23 issues.  I regard this as a great price.

If you can't find the full run and are considering buying issues separately or in smaller groups, below is an outline of each story arc.  Be aware that there have been several Doom Patrol series, so make sure you buy the correct ones.  The best way to check is to ask for the writer's name.  This series ran from 1993 to 1995.  Artistic credits after the story summaries.

All written by Rachel Pollack and lettered by John Workman. 

Issue 64 to 67: Sliding in the Wreckage - Dorothy's imaginary friends get more bizarre and dangerous, Cliff and Niles consider life and their humanity
Layout artists: Richard Case
Finisher: Stan Woch and Linda Medley
Inker: Graham Higgins
Guest-colorist: Tom Zuiko and Daniel Vozzo

68 and 69: A Ticket to the Cleaners - The world gets audited
Penciller: Linda Medley
Inker: Graham Higgins
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz and Tom Zuiko 

70: The Laughing Game - the arrival of Codpiece (and Kate, hurrah!)
Penciller: Scot Eaton
Inker: Tom Sutton
Colorist: Tom Zuiko 

71 to 72:  The Fox and the Crow - the trickster Gods go to war (note: a few pages in issues 68 and 70 start off this story)
Penciller: Linda Medley
Inker: Tom Sutton
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz

73: The Dream Patrol: Return of the Windowmen - Niles Caulder hallucinates a lot of things
Penciller: Linda Medley
Inker: Gene Fama
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz

74: Bootleg Steele - Cliff finds out bootleg versions of himself exist.
Penciller: Linda Medley
Inker: Tom Sutton
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz

75 to 79: The Teirasias Wars - Binary vs fluidity
Artist: Ted McKeever
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz

80: The Dogs of Soul - One shot epilogue to The Teirasis Wars, focusing on Dorothy and Charlie.
Art: The Pander Bros
Colours: Stuart Chaifetz

81 to 82: It's That Time of the Month Again - Dorothy deals with adolescence
Artist and colorist: Ted McKeever 

83: Thanks for the False Memories - The Doom Patrol remembers what they couldn't and shouldn't
Penciller: Jamie Tolagson
Inker: Matt Howarth
Colorist: Debbie McKeever

84 to 87: Imagine Ari's Friends - Jewish mysticism and the truth behind Charlie the doll
Artist and Colorist: Ted McKeever

My favourite issues are 69 to 72, 74 to 80 and 83.

Further reading:
Check out Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol (issues 1 to 63 that preceded Pollack's, and available in trade).
Sadly, I don't think Kate turns up anywhere else. :(


  1. I just started reading these classic Doom Patrol issues, because of how much I loved Keith Giffen's recetn run. (which ended up being my introduction to the characters and mytho)

    Though I'm still at Morrison's run collected in TPB.
    So this above hasn't been collected yet, for shame DC!!! Do it! Quickly!

  2. Kate shows up verrry briefly in a flashback during the John Arcudi Doom Patrol run that followed a couple of years after the Vertigo series ended. It was pretty neat to see that the Pollack stories were an accepted part of Doom Patrol continuity, as DC to Vertigo (and back) is often wonky.

  3. Rachel Pollack's Doom Patrol was awful. Just awful.

  4. I'm such a big fan of the Doom Patrol that 8 created a fan page on Facebook called The Doom Patrol:The Ultimate fan page.