Comics That Make Tom Cry – Doom Patrol #63


It is easy to gain a reputation in the world of comic book creation. There are internet communities devoted to the dissection of the comic book. We talk about them. We argue about them. We try to unravel them. In all of this kerfuffle, we are quick to throw labels on creators. The distribution system itself demands this from the die-hard fans and retailers. Books are ordered months in advance of release. The act of ordering a book in advance requires a leap of faith. This leap can be shortened by deciphering the creators.  There is comfort in knowing how a  Brian Michael Bendis book reads.  We know how an Alan Davis book will look. That comfort leads to the labels.

One creator whose work has probably been dissected more than any other is Grant Morrison. His critics would describe his writing as impenetrable, overly complicated, and can leave readers cold. Whenever Morrison is mentioned, the phrase "He writes for himself" is never far behind. Those that love his work would say that he rewards close reading, provides tremendous depth, and elevates the medium. Personally, there is another important aspect of his work beyond the complicated plots and subtext. He has written some of the most emotionally touching comics that I have ever read. The issue I am focusing on today is Doom Patrol #63 from January 1993.

 

The Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 from June 1963. It was a creation of writer Arnold Drake, artist Bruno Premiani, and editor Murry Boltinoff. It was a team of outcasts from society who were led by a wheelchair bound doctor. Sounds a bit like the X-Men right? The similarities would only be on the surface The Doom Patrol were not born different from humanity but suffered accidents that altered their lives. Many of the stories featured the tension of RobotmanElasti-girl, and Negative Man coming to terms with these changes. Robotman and Negative Man were especially tragic figures. Due to their accidents their appearances were altered to such a degree that they could not mix in normal company. They were led by the enigmatic Dr. Niles Caulder, The Chief. A man quick to action but who also carried dark secrets of his own. A grand manipulator who at times was not as in control as he would seem. The early stories featured bizarre villains such as Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, General Immortus, The Brain, and Monsieur Mallah. While The X-Men served as an allegory for teenage isolation, The Doom Patrol lurked in a much stranger and darker place. It wasn't the tantrum of the lonely teenager that filled the book, but the scream of lost adults. Eventually the original incarnation would be cancelled in 1973.

 

Within a few years DC attempted to relaunch the team. They featured in several Showcase Presents issues with a revamped team. New members were added and Robotman was the only real holdover. The team would feature heavily in the New Teen Titans as Beast Boy would get his start in the Doom Patrol. In 1987, a new Doom Patrol book would be launched. Written by Paul Kupperberg, the first eighteen issues would feature both Steve Lightle and Erik Larsen art. This relaunch pushed the Doom Patrol closer to X-men territory and tone. The new characters were younger, less obviously monstrous. The bizarreness seemed to have been sapped from the characters. They were involved in all the big crossovers, like Invasion, but the book didn't thrive. With the nineteenth issue that would all change.

 

Grant Morrison would take over the writing with, Richard Case handling the pencils. Together they worked the bizarre back into the title. While still a superhero book, The Doom Patrol would battle foes like the Brotherhood of Dada. This Brotherhood was devoted to fighting reason and would attempt to use a reality eating painting to destroy the world. Trust me, if you read it, it makes sense. New members wold join who truly fit the bizarre tone of the original concept. One of these new characters would feature prominently in the book that makes me cry: Crazy Jane

 

Crazy Jane was a woman suffering from multiple personalities due to childhood abuse from her father. She gained superpowers through an alien gene bomb used in one of the then recent DC events. The catch was that each one of her personalities gained a power. That power could only be used when that personality was dominant. Portions of  Morrison's run deals with Crazy Jane coming to terms with her past and defeating her demons. In the storm of bizarre that Morrison was conjuring up, Crazy Jane was the emotional heart of the tale. It was only fitting that once Morrison got to the end of his run that Crazy Jane would feature prominently in the final issue. 

 

In the final couple issues of Morrison's run we would see the appearance of a villain named the Candlemaker. The villain had been hinted at for a very long time within the series and his appearance would be devastating for the team as a whole. He would kill several of the major characters and toss Crazy Jane into reality. That is where we open with issue #63, our reality and what happens to Crazy Jane. Those familiar with Morrison's work will know that this is a theme he has often explored. Fictional characters interacting with the real world or having knowledge of their fictional nature. It was explored in Animal Man, 52, and Superman: Beyond just for starters. This story though strikes a much harder emotional tone while putting an end cap on Morrison's take on the Doom Patrol.

 

The narrative of the issue weaves it way through two threads. One is Crazy Jane within the wards of a mental hospital in the real world. She is being treated by several doctors. A female doctor by the name of Marcia who has a sexual interest in the attractive patient, and a male doctor by the name of Jaspert. Marcia seeks to help the schizophrenic Crazy Jane by discussing her delusions of robots, pan sexual energy beings, and scissormen. Marcia believes these delusions and personalities are caused by childhood abuse.  Jaspert believes the case is much more serious and that Jane needs shock therapy to deal with her issues. The other thread is Crazy Jane trapped in the Kingdom of Chairs. A world inhabited by intelligent talking chairs. They are being threatened by the Keysmiths, who seek to destroy all curiosity by answering all questions. The Keysmiths will end up destroying the world if their attack succeeds.

 

Jane tries to explain the potential danger to the two doctors but they are convinced they are delusions, and after awhile Jane herself can't determine if they are real or or not. As a reader you are slowly lulled into the uneasy sense that just maybe all of this is just a dream that a crazy woman is having. That the Doom Patrol doesn't truly exist. While Morrison's origin for Jane in the comic world was a terrible and horrifying story, Jane dealt with it in standard comic book aplomb. She entered her own mind and pulled herself together by battling through levels and levels of her own pain. Along with the sinking feeling that the Doom Patrol isn't real, we are confronted with truth about our nature as humans. We can't just fight our internal problems like they are a comic book villain. As a reader a sadness started to fall over me. This book had always been about the adventure of fiction and the exploration of the unknown. Suddenly there was a whole lot of reality being thrown at me.

 

Within the narrative of the war, Robotman and Rebis (Negative Man – it is a long story), show up to help Jane in stopping the Keysmiths. They enter into battle desparate to save the Kingdom of Chairs. At the same time in the real world, Jaspert has made a bold decision. Jane is going to have the shock therapy. Marcia discovers this and races to the hospital to stop it. In the climax of the story we see Jane switching between narratives quickly, the shock therapy is forcibly removing her from the battle with the Keysmiths. While  being pulled back and forth she sees Robotman and Rebis both torn apart by the Keysmiths. She even sees her own psyche peeled like an onion, all of her personalities strewn on the ground. Her true self the only piece that is left….and the therapy ends.  Jaspert and Marcia have one last confrontation and Jane is cured, in a way. She no longer has access to the world of the Doom Patrol. Jane leaves the hospital, gets a job as a cashier at a grocery store, and lives a normal life. Once an avid painter in the hospital, she gives up all her creative endeavours. She has become part of the real world. In a poignant moment earlier in the book, Marcia says that people like Jane "inhabit a world where everything is alive and significant." Jane might have been damaged and didn't quite fit into the world, but her world was alive in a way that most people couldn't understand. Marcia describes the herself as just one more Keysmith, someone looking to stamp out the weird in the world.

 

In comparing the real world with Jane's fictional world, it is Case's art that shines. He gives the real world a dullness to it that is befitting the tone of the story. The war is bright and alive, while still being violent and destructive. The visual tones created a tension in my own mind. Was I supposed to be happy that Jane was cured? Maybe life in the real world would be easier for her, less dangerous. Or was I supposed to be horrified at the shock therapy? In our world's rush to solve everything do we stamp out the truly unique and creative? Was the real world cure any better then the one that Jane had discovered on her own?

 

It is in this atmosphere of tension where the waterworks start. In the conclusion of framing sequence, Marcia explains that eventually Jane just abandoned her apartment, leaving  a note saying "it's not real." Inside the note Jane says she is going to the bridge. No body is found. Jane is never heard from again.  We have several panels of Jane standing on the bridge while it is raining. She is crying and staring off into the distance. Just as we think she might be getting ready to jump, a voice says her name.  She turns and int he shadows we see the shape of Robotman, Jane's closest friend. Her eye's light up and Robotman says "Didn't I promise? We are going home now. Come in out of the rain." We see them walk off onto a very busy Danny the Street with balloons and banners everywhere. Marcia's narration ends the story by saying, "I hope they never find the body. There is another world. There is a better world. Well…there must be."

 

At that point I am usually trying to tell everyone near me that I have dust in my eyes or I quickly grab an onion to chop. Morrison and Case lead us down a path of doubting the power and function of fiction. We almost leave the story thinking that the real world is all there is. In a beautiful combination of writing and art we are reassured that fiction has power and that imagination has a place in the world. Crazy Jane isn't trapped in reality forever, she can go back down the rabbit hole and it is comforting to know that we can follow her whenever we want by reading the comics. The Keysmiths are never going to win, there will always be questions, curiosity, and the unknown. There will always be people making up stories, and there will always be people that need those stories. Whenever I need to be reminded of how powerful the marriage of words and art can be, I dig this issue up.

 

This story can be found in Doom Patrol Vol. 6 – Planet Love.


Tom Katers would like to blow his nose on your shirt.

Comments

  1. Ah, Tom…. fantastic piece about one of my all-time favorite runs. Morrison’s Doom Patrol was amazing for all the reasons you described. The key for me was that while it abounded with strange, nearly nonsensical happenings, the core characters of the Doom Patrol always remained utterly human. Okay, maybe not Rebis. But Dorothy, Cliff, Jane — these characters were dealt with brilliantly, giving us real emotional complexity and resonance. The characters were as real and well-drawn as the ideas were crazy — which is what made it work so well.

    I hope some folks read this and are inspired to track down this series. Definitely worth the read.

  2. I am definitely inspired to track down the series. thanks for bringing this to our attention Tom. An excellent read too. Good work.

  3. I didn’t enjoy everything about Doom Patrol, some things were just a little to weird and complicated, but the ending..yeah there came the waterworks

  4. That synopsis made it dusty at my computer. You have inspired yet another sheltered comic fan to track down this series. Thank you Mr. Katers.

  5. Huge DP fan and this story also gave me a lump in my throat. Can’t remember if it was before or after Cliff says goodbye to Rebis, but that moment combined with the end of this story made me really feel like the Doom Patrol were gone forever (even though they were still around by the time I read it – to Hell with continuity).

  6. i had been meaning to track down this series for a while and its always tempting when i’m in front of the Vertigo section of my LCS. Your review really sold me on this series….i think i’ll be getting one or two trades at my next LCS run. =)

  7. I’ve only read the first Morrison Doom Patrol trade.  I’ve been meaning to check out the rest.  Thank you for the extra motivation.

  8. @RapidEyeMovement – as far as I’m concerned, that’s still that last of the Doom Patrol. I’ve not been a fan of any of the relaunches since (and frankly even the Rachel Pollack stuff that followed Morrison), so I’m kinda pulling a Conor-on-Die-Hard-4 on this franchise. 😉

  9. @stuclach – there are stretches where Morrison gets excessively weird on the series, to the point where it threatens to really weaken the overall run, but he always seemed to be able to bring it back to the humanity of the core characters, as with issue #63.

  10. Another winner Katers. Alot of what you said resonated with me when it came to stories by Morrison. Invisibles vol 1 comes to mind when the boy reaches a demise but wakes up anew, something just broke in me like he was both dead and reborn.

    Anywho, this one is worthy of printing for my wall.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I gotta go wash my eyes. Got some hair in it.

  11. I can think of two comics that have made me cry: Legion of Super-Heroes V4 #38, when Keith Giffen blows up the Earth, and the Neil Gaiman Sandman Orpheus Special, specifically the panel where Morpheus slumps into a chair and puts his head in his hands.  Every time.

    I guess that’s why those two series are so important it me, even today.  They affected me profoundly, all those many years ago, and that kind of thing stays with you.  Good feature, Tom.

  12. I’ve been meaning to read Morrison’s Doom Patrol for years…this is motivating me to stop thinking about it and finally do it.

  13. I just finished rereading the last Doom Patrol trade and Batman 700. It shocks me how little I enjoy Morrison’s writing these days.

  14. Your description of the end gave me chills. That sounds beautiful. I love Grant Morrison. I am definitely going to be checking this out.

  15. @ultimatehoratio – you and I tend see eye-to-eye on this matter. The newer stuff just doesn’t carry the emotional weight that always grounded the previous stuff. I don’t think he’s a sell-out or is just manufacturing cookie-cutter Morrison StoryForms(tm), I honestly think he has "evolved" his super-hero writing to a point where he’s just not as interested in the tropes of traditional humanist drama unless he’s somehow giving it a "spin." That’s my take anyway. Doom Patrol and Animal Man made up a 1-2 punch of awesome in the late 80’s and early 90’s that just rocked my world.

  16. The other book I was considering writing about was All Star Superman #10…so he still hits the notes for me nowadays.

  17. Oh, I think he still has it in him. All-Star is a good example — you’re right about that. I just think it’s a choice he’s made for some of the Batman/Final Crisis works, specifically. I actually enjoyed large parts of Seven Soldiers, as well. And chunks of his X-men run. And most of the Batman and Robin stuff. Okay, okay… so maybe I’m just referring to his Batman run and Final Crisis. 😉  But I stand by my thoughts on those.

  18. @daccampo – I can handle a little weird, so I’ll dive into Doom Patrol.

  19. …and they still don’t have the 1-2 punch that Animal Man and Doom Patrol had for me in their day. 🙂 Getting back to the point.

  20. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Looking forward to reading Doom Patrol. All-Star Supes #10 and We3 definitely left me misty. 

  21. Wow, great  article.  I have read some of Morrison’s ‘Doom Patrol’ but haven’t read the whole run.   That issue sounds fascinating.  Thanks for sharing your reaction!

  22. I think the only thing from Morrison that’s made me weepy was We3. Not…sniff…not the bunny!

  23. I think of all the writers in comics today, Morrison is the only one who can kick me in the balls so hard with his writing (apart from maybe Kirkman on Walking Dead, that guy is a manipulative bastard, lol). WE3, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Invisibles, All-Star Superman, Flex Mentallo, X-Men, even the ending to DC One Million have all made me tear up (especially DC1M, when Superman Prime comes out of the poisoned sun with a GL ring… oh yes). I think it’s in the way he structures his stories, his endings always have a frenetic pace and tension to them that is released in one glorious moment, usually a splash page but sometimes as a piece of pitch-perfect dialogue.

    His most vehement critics always miss the point of his comics. It’s not the weirdness, it’s the human characters underneath all of it that are the real draw. 

  24. All Star Superman 10 gets to me too… that’s Superman! That’s the only comic that’s ever given me goosebumps and it gives me goosebumps every single time. Very nice article!