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Doom Patrol

Unearthed: Doom Patrol #19

This is where it all really happens! The first issue of Grant Morrison’s legendary Doom Patrol run!

By this time, Paul Kupperberg had been writing the series still, but it just wasn’t doing well. In 1989 DC took a chance on a relatively unknown Scottish writer named Grant Morrison, who at this point was known for his revamp of the Animal Man series and the graphic novel “Batman: Arkham Asylum”.

Grant’s unique concept took the series from this:

To this:

And this.

Taking its name from Dave Edmunds’s hit single, “Crawling From the Wreckage” was the initial four-issue storyline that re-casts the DP characters in a new light… or I should say, new darkness. This haunting image of a howling Cliff Steele is burned into my brain. And the sound effect itself feels different and strange.

Meanwhile, Joshua Clay, formerly known as Tempest, has retired from superheroics and is just hanging out to tidy up the old HQ.

Joshua’s comment that “It’s just not funny anymore” is typical of Morrison’s wonderful, subversive dialogue, which itself helps really stamp out the previous flavor of the Doom Patrol series.

Niles Caulder, here chomping on a piece of chocolate, is revealed to be a creepier, more calculating figure than we’d seen him before.

Elsewhere, Larry Trainor is recovering in hospital, having been divested of the Negative Spirit. But here it is again, suddenly able to speak, albeit in a weird cadence and speaking in an almost ritualistic fashion.

One of the amazing things about Morrison’s Doom Patrol run is the sense of extreme body dysmorphia that informs every issue. Cliff Steele had never really been written this way before, but you have to wonder why not, as it seems an obvious way to approach a disembodied brain in a robot body.

The Negative Spirit has big plans for Larry and the doctor he’s just summoned, Eleanor Poole. A hallmark of Morrison’s writing is his knowledge of esoteric events, practices, and people. This ‘alchemical marriage’ is merely the beginning.

The “Negative Man” character is about to be changed for the rest of the series.

This fusion of man and woman, Black and White, Knowledge and Action, will be explored throughout the Morrison run of the Doom Patrol.

In the meantime, Will Magnus has had enough of Cliff’s whining. He takes Cliff’s challenge to find him someone with worse problems than his, and introduces Cliff to Kay Challis, painting in the rain.

Crazy Jane was inspired by Morrison’s reading of When Rabbit Howls (https://www.amazon.com/When-Rabbit-Howls-Truddi-Chase/dp/0515103292), the true story of a woman with dissociative identity disorder. The “gene bomb” refers to a multi-comic “event” that DC held just before the printing of this issue, which apparently gave every one of Challis’s personalities its own superpower.

Maya Deren was an avant-garde filmmaker, perhaps most famous for her short film “Meshes of the Afternoon”. Maîtresse Mambo Erzulie Fréda Dahomey is the name of one of the Haitian Voudou loa. So immediately Morrison is introducing Doom Patrol readers to the much wider world that we actually inhabit, which can be much stranger and more wonderful than even the comics.

This “normal people” line of Jane’s is just heartbreaking. She’s aware that her life isn’t typical and acknowledges her struggle to fit in. We assume that the trickles of red down her face in the last panel are simply from the red paint on her hand, but it’s symbolic of her mental trauma.

Cliff’s act of kindness here is the linchpin of the relationship between these two characters, something that the tv show tries to evoke, but fails. The difference is that in the comic, Jane displays actual affection for Cliff, whereas in the show she merely heaps scorn upon him. So when she sees Cliff torn apart by the Daddy figure and screams “NOT HIM!”, it doesn’t make sense that it spurs her on to a partial recovery in Cliff’s defense. We never really get the sense throughout the preceding episodes that she cares about Cliff at all.

But! This marks the end of issue 19. Join us on Wednesday for issue 20, part two of “Crawling From the Wreckage”!

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