Doom Patrol/JLA Special #1 review

So, I think it’s been fairly well established that I’m down with weird.  The crazier the better.  A detective chimp named Detective Chimp?  Sold.  Supermen from across the ages fighting a monster that eats time itself?  Amazing.  Cave Carson vomiting up Swamp Thing and also sending out his cybernetic eye to hide a bunch of DC heroes before a climactic battle?  I’m there yesterday.

So weirdness in itself isn’t a bad thing, when it serves a purpose.  I’m all about street-level Batman stories as much as the next guy, mysteries that could play off as pulp noir if not for the costumes, but that’s just it: a costumed crime fighter is inherently ridiculous.  We absolutely buy it because of the story being told, so having a guy dressed as a bat beat up criminals and drive around in a rad Dracula car falls within our suspension of disbelief.

That said, he’s still a guy dressed like a bat, so playing up that weirdness is fun too.  It’s comics.  It comes with the territory.

But as backwards as this may sound, that weirdness needs to make sense.  It has to have a point, a purpose in the story.  Otherwise it’s just craziness for its own sake, which doesn’t make for a satisfying read.

Take the Doom Patrol comic.  That thing is insane, and oftentimes it’s hard to tell what’s going on.  It fits with the series and the characters, though, and always makes for an interesting read.  The “Milky Wars” crossover started off that way, super weird but still pretty compelling.  The idea of an extra-dimensional organization that wants to sanitize and homogenize superheroes because they don’t fit into their “wholesome” ideals?  That’s pretty brilliant, and grounds for some good satire.

Sadly, it never reaches its full potential, as the conclusion is impenetrably weird for its own sake, causing the whole thing to fall apart.

Admittedly, part of that may be that I was expecting something different than what the story delivered.  The idea that the entire Multiverse would be destroyed not by a massive cosmic threat, but instead an incredibly mundane corporate mandate is hilarious to me.  Dweebie dude with a mustache and wide-framed glasses doing what the Anti-Monitor couldn’t?  That’s amazing.

But… I don’t know, it just didn’t work for me.  None of the previous tie-ins seemed to have any sort of effect on the narrative, save for getting everybody in the same place, and the “fix” for the whole problem is a pretty big anticlimax.  I left feeling confused, unsatisfied, and even a little uncomfortable.

This story has been touted as an “un-event,” so maybe I was wrong in expecting more than what we got?  It’s funny, though, because this not-at-all-an-event has more status quo changes than most mega-crossovers, so it’s kind of a “having cake and eating it too” situation.  In trying to not have a typical crossover, we ended up with… a pretty typical crossover, just one that is absolutely bananas from start to finish.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least appreciate some it it.  The ending itself was pretty surprising, with a few changes to the Doom Patrol lineup that should be pretty interesting.  It’s pretty gorgeously illustrated, too, both the main story by Dale Eaglesham and the epilogue from Nick Derington. They’re wildly different styles, yet they work well off each other.  Eaglesham is much more detailed in his figure work and background, while Derington has a simpler style, and they both serve the material well.  I love some of the splash pages and double-page spreads that Eaglesham uses, even the ultimately anticlimactic act that wins the day.  It’s detailed work that isn’t distracting, and he draws a really awesome Cave Carson to boot.

Derington only has a few pages to work, but he’s a regular on Doom Patrol, so I’m familiar with what he can do with these characters.  He has a simple, Darwyn Cooke-esque penciling style that uses clean lines and allows for lots of solid colors.  Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise are certainly a big part of what makes this such an attractive book, as their coloring choices bridge the grounded with the surreal and cover everything in between.  Clem Robins, industry legend and no slouch himself, makes some creative use of his lettering too, playing off the visuals in each scene.  Eaglesham drawing a cup of milk falling and hitting the ground may be effective on its own, but having the word RUMMBLLLE follow the trail of liquid down to impact is a great touch that makes the scene that much more arresting.

But what is the point of it all?  In the end, it seems that the story was told to bring Rita Farr, alias elasti-Girl, back into continuity.  It’s a return that is greeted, at least by her fellow teammates, with mild curiosity.  I’ve nothing against Rita, of course, but her reinstatement as a member of the Doom Patrol lands with a bit of a whimper.  It doesn’t help that she’s overshadowed by the fate of Robotman, which was admittedly a pretty big revelation.  So following a supposedly huge return with an even bigger revelation doesn’t exactly serve her well.

Earlier, I mentioned that I was uncomfortable at points, and it stems from how Rita was portrayed through most of the arc.  In previous installments, she was shown as part of some mock-religious imagery, evoking the Madonna as depicted in classical art styles.  I’m a Christian man myself, so I try to tread lightly with pop art that even attempts to evoke religious figures.  Naturally, I don’t worship the images themselves, so I’m not at all offended by an imitation of a particular style if done tastefully.  Really, the imagery in most of the previous installments played more like a satire of hero worship and our tendency to idolize people, which I could buy if they really doubled-down on the satirical bent.  The final issue here has some more imagery like that, and it just didn’t sit right with me.

Rita is depicted on a cross, adorned not with a crown of thorns but a crown of worms.  It’s weirdness for the sake of being weird, imagery that is likely intended to shock but doesn’t serve any further purpose. Not to say I wanted to be offended by anything, but it’s too random and inconsequential to be inflammatory, so the exact purpose of these scenes is escaping me.  The narration for each of these scenes fails to shed any light on the writers’ intents, so it even the text fails to add context.  Like I said, it’s weird and bizarre for its own sake, not the benefit of the story.  My uneasiness comes more from the fact that it seemed to go for shock value, nothing more, rather than using it as a tool used to explore deeper themes.

And that’s how “Milk Wars” left me feeling.  To give you an analogy, take a look at the (admittedly brilliant) cover:

It evokes a box of cereal, promising to give you both a nutritious brekafast and a sweet prize.  Like a bowl of cereal, though, all you end up with is a stomach full of sugar and a fun little trinket that will be lost within days.  “Milk Wars” has a bright, shiny look that belies the empty calories of the story inside.

Recommended if:

  • You like your comics super weird.
  • You’ve enjoyed “Milk Wars.”

Overall: It’s not for me.  I like Orlando and Way quite a bit, but this story just didn’t deliver.  The early promise of wackiness loses steam long before the conclusion, which comes from out of nowhere thanks to a character’s ill-defined power set.  It generally looks fantastic throughout, barring some pseudo-religious imagery that is too abstract to tantalize and too bizarre to offend, but that’s not enough to make it worth recommending.

SCORE: 5/10