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Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: FF #6

FF #6
Jonathan Hickman (w), Greg Tocchini (a)

Marvel's cosmic stories always seemed to escape me.  Don't get me wrong, I love Marvel's cosmic stories, but I haven't been keeping up with them lately (my loss since, apparently, all of the stuff that's been happening over in the cosmic section of the Marvel Universe has been some pretty quality storytelling for the last few years), which means the big reveal of Black Bolt leading the Inhumans last issue didn't have as much impact as it should have for me.  Apparently, Black Bolt died fighting the third Summers brother, Vulcan, in the War of Kings storyline a while ago, and now he's back (surprise!) to lead the Inhumans in another impending war, the long(ish)-heralded War of the Four Cities.  This begs the question: Does this even really matter?

I'm more than willing to give Jonathan Hickman the benefit of the doubt on this one.  In his last few years with Marvel, he's developed a reputation for creating some long-game, epic plots.  Black Bolt's return is just another piece of the Fantastic Four/FF puzzle, I'm sure.  I trust that I'll be given a reason to care within the next couple of issues.  But that's kind of the problem, isn't it?  I understand that Hickman is telling a long-form story with a grand design, but he's doing it in a serialized medium, which means that he has the extra challenge of making sure each of these monthly installments matters.  It's difficult because when you're telling a big story like Hickman is, the issue has to serve the grand plot design, but, since he's working in a monthly format, the issue also has to be entertaining on its own.

This issue definitely works to set up another moving part in Hickman's big plan for the Future Foundation, but there's not a whole lot that we can sink our teeth into as a single issue.  Half of the issue is devoted to what the Inhumans are up to after Black Bolt's death (I'm guessing here since I'm not too clear about the timeline of this section of the issue), which seems to mostly involve some standing around and some cryptic arguing.  The other half flashes back to the Kree Empire thousands of years ago.  This part was actually pretty enjoyable for me.  We get a lot of high-science techno babble concerning the Kree's galaxy-spanning eugenics experiments, and there's a cool look into how the Kree Supreme Intelligence works.  However, as cool as it all was, and as fascinating as it is to take a look into how an alien warrior-race like the Kree handle their empire, in the end, the only development we get from this half of the issue is that Black Bolt is basically "The One" destined to explode The Matrix and die for our sins or something, which boils down to "Black Bolt is a tough dude and he's bad-ass" -- something we've known for almost fifty years now.

All in all, it's a pretty frustrating issue because it's not bad, it's just mostly inconsequential.  We get  a new piece to add to the puzzle, but it's a small piece, and we already knew quite a bit about it to begin with.  Now that we've been reintroduced to Black Bolt, maybe next up we'll get a look at what this means to our buddies in the Future Foundation, which is, after all, what we paid our $2.99 to see.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Let's talk about Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol!

Before Grant Morrison had the famous idea of writing the Doom Patrol as a group of misfits using their handicaps as a means of empowerment amidst the discomfort of a support group by way of superhero team, Arnold Drake was writing them as a set of strange heroes who acted as tough and important as any Justice League or Avengers team despite the fact that you'd probably never heard of them.  The seeds for Morrison's famous run on the title were there, of course: Cliff hates his robot body and wants to be human, Rita finds herself doing less acting and doing more freaky superhero stuff, The Chief keeps secrets from his team, Larry is a hermaphroditic being created by an immortal negative spirit kind of a dick -- but Drake's silver age incarnation is more about a group of friends (maybe not the most popular group of friends) who were always out having exciting adventures that were important to them even if they weren't all that important to everyone else.  And, yes, I am aware that likening Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol to a group of neighborhood kids with a treehouse totally downplays how FUCKING INSANE Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol stories are, but please just roll with me on this one, you'll like it.

To say that no one had heard of the Doom Patrol is pretty misleading, I suppose, but the Doom Patrol has never really been that popular.  Sure, people have heard of them, but if you live in the DC universe, your first choice for world saving will always be the Justice League.  And if you're reading Doom Patrol comics in this post-Morrison age, you're definitely not coming to the Doom Patrol for straight up superheroics -- you're coming to the Doom Patrol for something offbeat, something strange.  The superhero stuff is just the chaser.

It's fitting then, that the creators of the Doom Patrol didn't really come from the world of superhero comics writing.  Arnold Drake wrote It Rhymes with Lust, and Bruno Permiani was an Italian romance comics artist.  The Doom Patrol is a superhero team whose creative roots come from pulp/noir and romance -- stories that deal with regular people, not necessarily heroes.  Cliff, Rita, and Larry are regular people  (even though they may not look like it-- Cliff is a brain in a robot body, Larry is wrapped in bandages, and, conversely, Rita is a beautiful movie star) but they are regular people who are also heroes.  Not so much because they chose to be (at least not at first), but more because of the circumstances of their afflictions.

Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol may look like an expert team of superheroes, but the uniforms still feel ill-fitting on them.  They don't call each other by their codenames (in fact, when the shape-shifting Madame Rouge infiltrates the team, Robot Man finds her out when she calls them by their codenames), they agonize over their ruined civilian lives, and ultimately I don't think they're fighting to save the world-- rather, they fight to save themselves.  The Doom Patrol is a team because they give each other a reason to keep fighting.  Without each other, it's easy to imagine the members of the Doom Patrol sinking deeper and deeper into their own depressive states.  Being a part of this superhero team gives Cliff, Larry , and Rita something else to think about, some other external conflicts to keep them from their own internal conflicts.  In the end, the Doom Patrol are not a team of superheroes, but a group of friends-- people who need each other, people who realize that the traumas of life, much like evil brains, bloodthirsty gorillas, and time controlling despots, can't be faced alone.