They’re back, the world’s strangest heroes – Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Woman (she’s grown up!) and the world’s dodgiest leader, the Chief. As we join them, he’s sent the Patrol on a mission to stop evil scientist Amanda Beckett from hatching a batch of monster men. Alongside the classic Silver Age team are newer recruits Grunt and Nudge and what happens to them highlights the veterans’ mindsets as the story continues.
For this is a troubled bunch. As writer Keith Giffen makes clear, it’s their mental health that sets these heroes apart, not the fact of their powers. Granted, Negative Man and Robotoman aren’t set up for Happy personal lives, but the original idea that the then Elasti-Girl was a freak who couldn’t fit into society was unbelievable – she could grow, but equally she could shrink to her normal Hollywood goddess-sized self. But here we have a troubled Rita, her sense of self skewed by her size-changing, making her prone to depression. Negative Man/Larry Trainor and Robotman/Cliff Steele have their own issues which make them believably odd without crossing the line into Nuttytown.
Trying to counsel them into finding a path to peace is team chaplain Rocky Davis, world’s hottest priest, former Challenger of the Unknown and the man with his eyes on the Chief. Oh, if he’d seen what was on Niles Caulder’s computer . . .
Also on hand is Deborah Marlow, nicknamed Dusty, team pilot and tech support. We don’t see a lot of her this time, but we get enough to suggest there are layers to be unpeeled. There’s also Karen Beecher-Duncan, former Teen Titan and a woman with her own problems, ones that Rita could help with a tad more were she less self-obsessed.
Giffen shows why he’s DC’s go-to-guy for relaunches. He parachutes us straight into the action, setting down enough information about personalities and situation to let the story move, filling in blanks in greater detail when things calm down. He understands that a grabby central idea is one thing, but it’s character that will keep us coming back. Here he negotiates the tightrope of the Patrol’s personalities perfectly, making them less vanilla than in the Silver Age, but not as all-out creepy as in their Titans appearances a couple of years ago.
Matthew Clark and Livesay provide stellar artwork here, giving the characters real emotion and managing to convey the off-centre nature of our heroes perfectly. Rita, Larry and Cliff all look like their Sixties selves, but their updates are very today without being outlandish. My favourite is Karen Beecher, her hair and eyes perfectly suiting her superhero schtick.
The Doom Patrol got off to such a great start that I forgot there was a back-up starring the Metal Men. Actually, the heck with back-up, for the first time since DC began expanding books to $3.99 there’s a story worthy of being termed a co-feature. I easily enjoyed this as much as the Patrol strip. Legendary Justice League creative team Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire show that they can make magic anytime you give them room. And it seems 10 pages is enough. We get a mini-adventure with the human robots having some Indiana Jones fun, some laughs with Doc Magnus and the neighbours, perfect characterisation and a mystery involving newest member Copper. There’s plenty of dialogue but the script is never unwieldy – this is superhero sitcom at its best (click to enlarge). Gold, in particular, gets a proper personality rather than simply characteristics accosiated with his base metal, and I love him to bits. Copper makes a big impression too, coming across as a cross between Charlie Brown and Marcy. But there’s not a dud robot in the bunch: individual personalities are entertaining and together the Metal Men make magic.
Maguire’s characterisation is masterful. He’s tweaked the designs a little here and there, but honours the Ross Andru originals (as original writer Robert Kanigher is here feted with his own street). The moments of high adventure are a hoot but the suburban scenes are as entertaining. And adding the final flourish is Guy Major, who also colours the Patrol story.
It’s tempting to demand this strip is spun off into its own book immediately, but it’s perfect as is, and alongside the Doom Patrol strip makes this book an unmissable package. If I had any fears about the Metal Men’s ability to work as a short strip, they’ve been alloyed.
And that’s not all, there’s also a tiny preview of the upcoming Magog comic which does the job of making me decide whether to buy or not. Not. Corpses on a cart and stumpy men are not for me. Forget that though – if you’ve not tried this book and have the cash, grab it – it deserves to be a massive hit.