NYCC: Giffen New Chief of “Doom Patrol”

Sat, February 7th, 2009 at 2:46pm PST | Updated: February 11th, 2009 at 4:03pm

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer
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UPDATE: CBR News has learned Matt Clark has been announced the artist for "Doom Patrol."

Keith Giffen's "Doom Patrol" will be different than Grant Morisson's

If ever a writer was so perfectly suited to a project, this ink-stained wretch simply can’t recall.

It was announced today at New York Comic Con that legendary creator Keith Giffen (“Justice League International”) is bringing “Doom Patrol” back to the DCU in a very big way with a brand spanking new ongoing series.

The other big news regarding “Doom Patrol” was that his co-conspirator on “JLI” Kevin Maguire is drawing a 10-page “Metal Men” backup series in the title.

The artist was not named for the “Doom Patrol” lead story.

Giffen told CBR News, “I have been actively after ‘Doom Patrol’ for the last five years. The only book I mounted a like campaign to get was way, way back when I kept after Andy Helfer to give me a shot at ‘Justice League.’ And I guess that’s part of history now.”

“I don’t go into the DC offices and ask for Superman or Batman or Justice League books. Or whatever happens to be riding high,” said the DC exclusive writer. “I tend to like the books that either aren’t being published or aren’t doing too well but to my way of thinking have this enormous untapped potential. And Doom Patrol definitely falls into that category. I was actually thrilled when DC called and said I could have Doom Patrol.”

Doom Patrol was devised by writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, artist Bruno Premiani and editor Murray Boltinoff and the team made its first appearance in “My Greatest Adventure” #80 in June 1963. All told, Doom Patrol has been launched, rebooted and revisited a half dozen times by DCU, perhaps most notably by Grant Morrison in the late 1980s.

Considered by many within the industry as a touchstone for the original X-Men, the first incarnation of the super-powered freaks featured Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and their leader, The Chief, the wheelchair-bound Dr. Niles Caulder.

Giffen is going back to the future and re-launching the franchise with the classic lineup.

“We’re not ignoring the other characters; it’s just that the focus will be on those three characters, and of course, the Chief. They’ll be the primary movers in the book. Characters like Mento or Bumblebee or the chick with the four-armed ape, they will play into the book as they play into the book, but not as the primary characters.”

There would be no Robotman if not for The Chief. After Dr. Caulder caused a car crash that destroyed Cliff Steele’s body, the super-genius built a super-powered cyborg shell for the surviving brain to reside. Elasti-Girl was originally Rita Farr, a Hollywood actress, who was exposed to bizarre volcanic gases while shooting a movie in Africa. The end result was that Farr could expand or shrink her body to any size she wished. Larry Trainor was a test pilot but when he flew through a radioactive field in the atmosphere, he not only became the radioactive Negative Man himself but he developed the ability to project a negatively-charged energy being from his body. While the Negative Spirit attacks, Trainor is weakened to near death.

Asked if he was simplifying the team to better manage the title at the outset, Giffen quipped, “Actually, I thought all the other characters were kind of lame, sorry. Keep in mind, opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one. And I’m no different. It’s just my opinion. I just didn’t care for a lot of the characters that were tacked on to the Doom Patrol. I like those three basic characters.

“Somewhere down the line, if we can come up with a good riff that will work within the dynamic of the team, we might bring in somebody else, but unlike Justice League where a lot of the time, you would have characters introduced and they would work within the framework of the group, I never thought any of the extra add-ons in Doom Patrol really worked.

“It was kind of like, well, we have nowhere else to put this guy, let’s put him in Doom Patrol. And I really wanted to get back to the core group. Look, people who are Doom Patrol fans always hearken back to the original Doom Patrol book for better or worse. They had some great moments and they have had some horrifying moments. And I think it’s time to recapture that – without going retro.”

Keith Giffen's "Doom Patrol" will be kind of similar to Arnold Drake's

While being tagged outcasts and misfits easily aligns Doom Patrol with the X-Men, Giffen said the team’s sense of family connects them with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original run on “Fantastic Four,” as well.

“Doom Patrol has elements of a lot of other things in it. I know there is that argument of which came first, X-Men or Doom Patrol? It’s the classic chicken or the egg. And Grant Morrison showed the characters can embrace some really bizarre storylines. But while it has elements of those kinds of outcasts, it also focuses on family, like Fantastic Four,” explained Giffen.

“One of the things that [DCU Executive Editor] Dan DiDio and I talked about extensively about Doom Patrol was accessibility. And the way they use to do it way back when. If you think about ‘Fantastic Four,’ as a kid, I always thought it was ridiculous because in every issue, The Thing and Johnny would fight.

“And now I realize in one page, The Thing and Johnny would have a fight, Reed would get involved, Sue turned invisible so she didn’t get hit by debris and ba-da-boom, in that one page you knew the characters and their powers. Boom! Move onto the next story. Anybody could get into one of those old ‘Fantastic Four’ stories because you knew who they were.

“I’m not saying that the Doom Patrol is going to fight every issue. But I’m going to apply that paradigm to them. So even if you first pick it up with #8 or #9, you know what you are getting into, you know who the characters are and you can start enjoying the story. It’s not like you’re going to be walking in on the eighth or ninth installment of a complicated soap opera. We’re not doing ‘Twin Peaks.’”

Giffen said DC has lots of superheroes, who are in equal or worse circumstances than Doom Patrol, in terms of being outcasts. But those other heroes found a place in the superhero community.

“I wanted to try and explore that mindset as to why Doom Patrol isn’t a part of the superhero community,” offered Giffen. “They are odd outcasts. I think Geoff [Johns] did it real well in ‘Teen Titans’ where Doom Patrol appeared and the Titans were kind of uneasy around them because of their run-ins in the past. Between that and the stories that can be told when you have the name Doom Patrol. It’s like Suicide Squad. Those are two teams that would be really hard to get people to join. It’s like, do you want to join the You’re Going to Die Tomorrow Group? I think I’ll pass. I’d rather join the Happy Ponies Crew.”

Over the years, Robotman has been blown to bits with only his brain remaining, and Elasti-Girl and Negative Man have been killed off completely. The fact all are active once again in the Doom Patrol in and of itself, proves what a convoluted back story this team has. But that won’t stop Giffen from telling a good story that any Doom Patrol newcomer can enjoy.

“There is the opportunity to tell almost any kind of story that you want to tell within the framework of the Doom Patrol book, as long as you realize that you are dealing with characters that have been published for years,” said Giffen. “This isn’t one of those things where I am going to go in and do ‘Doom Patrol’ my way and erase everything that’s ever happened. Everything that Doom Patrol has been through is part of their history. I just want to take that and push the group not so much a different direction but just not in the direction that they have been bumping up against for a long time now. And one of the things I think Geoff Johns does better than anybody else in the comic book business right now is he can take a character and find a way of making all of these events from the past work within the context of the story that Geoff wants to tell.

“So that’s definitely what we’re going to be doing with the Doom Patrol. We’re not going to just ignore what Grant did or what John Byrne did. They’ve got a history and that history will be acknowledged. But I am hoping if you pick up ‘Doom Patrol’ #1 and you’ve never heard of Doom Patrol before, you can get into the story.”

Asked if he considers Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl an alternative version of DC’s trinity, Giffen laughed and then laughed some more.

“They are nowhere near Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and they have nowhere near the mythic impact of those characters. But when you have three characters in a room together, they are bound to play off each other. But come on, the Trinity? The Doom Patrol is a massively dysfunctional family.

“The true measure of devotion and love is not how you act when things are going good, but it’s how much you want to stay when things are going bad. And that’s the heart of Doom Patrol. What makes them stick around?

Keith Giffen's "Doom Patrol" will be different than the mid-80's version

“I’m a freak. You are a freak. OK, then why don’t you go live in a cave? If I thought I was a freak I wouldn’t put on a costume and go fight crime. There has got to be a rationale to that. It’s like the leap between superpowers and wearing spandex. I can’t cover it in my head.

“I’d probably do the Spider-Man thing and get my uncle killed. But he was wearing spandex. It’s trying to connect a couple of dots there from you think you are a freak and you are reclusive by nature. And because you are in Doom Patrol, you’re not necessarily going to all the superhero mixers. So why are you doing this at all?

“And the old saw, that the Chief makes them do it, isn’t cutting it for me. That was covered in an issue of ‘Teen Titans’ where Robin called out The Chief on his emotionally abusive behavior. And that’s not something I am going to ignore. It’s something I am going to pick up on. And explore.”

Giffen revealed the Four Horsemen of Apokolips will be featured in the book, but we’ll have to wait a while to see classic Doom Patrol villains like General Immortus, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and the Brotherhood of Evil.

“At least for the first year, I’m putting my promise out there that it will be 12 new characters in 12 issues – new villains, new threats,” said Giffen. “I want to build up the Doom Patrol’s rogues’ gallery.

“Down the road, who can tell, maybe we’ll see someone like Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, but not for that first year. The first year, I think it’s time to populate the book and start contributing to the DC common pool. When did it stop being a good idea to create valid, villainous characters, who could then be used in other books?

“It’s a lot of fun to sit down and decide what kind of threat they will face next. And the Doom Patrol lends itself to odder villains. I don’t have to worry about the fact that Batman’s in Gotham and he’s rooted in quote, reality, unquote so you can’t really bring in an alien invasion. With Doom Patrol, anything goes. You can tell stories that have a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sense of humor. You can tell stories of outright horror, smaller personal stories. It has potential up the whazoo.”

Giffen has moved Doom Patrol’s base of operations to Oolong Island, giving the team an immediate supporting cast.

“You look at Doom Patrol and they are very interesting within the superhero world and the Chief is a super-scientific genius. Why would they live in the House of Secrets or whatever? So they operate out of Oolong Island, which means with Dr. Cale and the cadre of mad scientists, I have an immediate supporting cast.”

Dr. Veronica Cale was a member of the Science Squad, the team of scientists who worked on the Four Horsemen project on Oolong Island. But since the biogenetically-created entities destroyed Kahndaq – the sovereign nation ruled by Black Adam – in “52,” she has worked on putting an end to their reign of terror.

“It’s also establishing an M.O. for the Doom Patrol, where they are operating out of, how they operate, what threats they decide to take on, why do they take on those threats and what makes them different from every other superhero team out there.”

Giffen added that newcomers to Doom Patrol need not know anything about them heading into the new series and everything you need to know is told in the first issue.

“I am agonizing over the first issue to make sure it reads like a first issue. People that know Doom Patrol will recognize their characters and may learn one or two new things about them. But if you’ve never heard of them before in your entire life and have no idea what it’s about, then it’s a crapshoot.

“I hope I am telling a good story. You will understand all of the characters. It will read like a first issue. That doesn’t mean that I am ignoring all of the past. It just means that I’m not bringing the past in to muddy the issue.

“When you do the first issue of a comic book and somebody picks it up and says, ‘Oh boy! I’m getting in on the ground floor.’ And then there’s a footnote saying, see ‘Strange Adventures’ from 1963, you have pretty much defeated the purpose of doing the book. You’ve cut your own throat. You don’t have to go to Wikipedia and research Doom Patrol or go hunting around for past issues. Should you choose to when you find out the characters have a history, that is completely up to you. But you can start ‘Doom Patrol’ from #1 and run on, and I promise I will never throw out a footnote and expect you to do the work for me. It’s not going to happen.”

Giffen said putting “Doom Patrol” on the top of everybody’s comic book stack is a definite goal but realizes he is facing an up-hill battle.

So why not just ask Mr. DiDio for a plum assignment, something guaranteed to sell well?

“Could you possibly do an ‘X-Men’ book that’s not going to sell? It doesn’t matter. And where’s the fun in that.”

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TAGS:  nycc2009, doom patrol, keith giffen, dc comics

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