Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Classics - DC Showcase Doom Patrol #2

It's something of a cheat this week as I review the recently-published second volume reprinting 20 issues of the Doom Patrol from 1966-68.

It's a tough review, because I have a real love/hate feeling about these DC Showcase reprints (I feel the same way about the Marvel Essential reprints).

I love them because it's great to be able to pick up reprints of so many issues, many of them hard (or impossible or just really expensive) to find. They've reprinted comics I never thought I'd see again, including the Elongated Man, Wonder Woman's Silver Age adventures, Metamorpho, the Haunted Tank and the Doom Patrol.

I'm always glad to see these reprints and I eagerly buy them up. But sometimes I hate reading them.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

These stories weren't meant to be read one right after the other - each comic was published with the idea that there would be a month between each issue. Reading one right after the other leaves me feeling overloaded with that character - and the lack of a break between stories just magnifies any flaws in the story, where things don't quite match up from issue to issue.

And of course, sometimes the comics aren't as good as I remember. These issues of the Doom Patrol are a great example of good ideas gone bad.

How I loved the series when it first started! It was dark, dangerous and edgy, and the art was lush and well-rendered. That's all changed by the time we get to the issues printed here - and I have to admit, I don't think I read any of these when they were originally published. By this time I had given up on most of DC's books and was spending almost all my money on Marvel's comics.

It's easy to see why I left. About 20 issues into the run and this comic had completely changed in tone and style. I assume these changes came about by demand of the editors, because writer Arnold Drake was a darned good writer.

But these comics are not his best work. They're jokey, campy, loaded with bad attempts at modern slang, the attempts at adding soap opera elements is ham-handed, the action is plodding and the villains are just goofy - like Mr. 103, Mandred the Executioner and Videx, Monarch of Light.

They tried adding new heroes, but they were dull, too - Mento and Beast Boy (though the latter was eventually brought back, given a personality and renamed Changeling).

Artist Bruno Premiani provided the art for virtually the entire series (though most of the covers were by Bob Brown), and the quality was strong throughout, though not quite up to those first issues.

And those covers! I had heard long ago that one of the reasons Marvel was beating DC in sales at this time was because DC's covers always depicted the heroes losing. I didn't believe it until I read this collection - it's true, almost every single cover shows the Doom Patrol being beaten or overpowered - or running away in fear - from the villain. I'm not sure that's why the comic failed, but it probably didn't help!

It's no surprise that the series was canceled in 1968, although you have to give them credit for doing the unexpected with the final issue - they actually gave the series an ending.

The series started with so much promise and ended so badly - but it's still interesting to see the arc play out. And that's why I enjoy these Showcase books, even when the stories inside fail to impress.

I'm still glad to support the effort - otherwise we might never see these stories. Good or bad, they're part of comics history and they should be available for future generations to read and enjoy. (Or not enjoy.)

Grade: C+



Anonymous said...

Chuck, I think you were more than fair in weighing the good and bad
aspects of the Showcase format and
this particular series, but I also
think your "D" grade is too harsh.
My son has been interested in The
Doom Patrol since he found a coverless copy of the original series laying around my slush pile,
and longed to read more of the title. The Archives are too expensive, but the black & white
phone book style of Showcase is perfect, and inexpensive, for his
needs. And he actually likes the
later issues!
Maybe you'd consider an upgrade to "C+"?

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, the funny thing is, I initially gave it a grade of "C" - then I changed my mind and made it a "D" (I must've been in a bad mood last night), but on reconsideration, I think you're right, I'm being too harsh. You convinced me - I'm upgrading (hah!) to a "C+" - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chuck; I used to argue this
way over grades with my teachers...
it didn't always work...but

Sam Kujava

Kyle said...

I know what you mean about feeling overloaded... It only hits me for certain titles though, some are just way to repetative... I had to put down the Blackhawk Showcase a third of the way through and haven't been back to it yet... On the other hand I devoured the first 4 or 5 Amazing Spider-Man's...! Wow, Lee and Ditko really had it going!

Chuck said...

Kyle, I think the DC books are especially bad about that because they were so strict in the '60s about sticking to the formula. I've found the best way to read those Showcase books is to stack up two or three and read a story at a time, alternating between volumes. It takes away some of that repetition (I had the same problem with the Blackhawk book, and I'm a huge fan of that comic).