Fundamentally, the surprisingly long-running comic book DOOM PATROL is about the misfits, the weirdos, those who have been rejected and live on the edge of society. It always has been, and always will be.
I grew up during the heyday of DC’s Vertigo imprint, but missed out on a lot of the fundamental works apart from SANDMAN and SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN and HELLBLAZER and KID ETERNITY. I caught up with Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING and Morrison’s run on ANIMAL MAN and DOOM PATROL and THE INVISIBLES pretty quickly post-college, but I had no idea about Rachel Pollack’s post-Morrison run on DOOM PATROL until Polygon brought it to my attention.
While body issues has always been a facet of DOOM PATROL, Morrison often would background it and focus on weirdness and mysticism. Rachel Pollack — a trans author with many novels out in the wild — brought the body issues and physical dysmorphia front-and-center. (Also, Jewish mysticism.)
As Polygon notes, Kate Godwin/Coagula is very up-front about being trans. She’s also extremely comfortable with her body and sexuality. She and Cliff Steele/Robotman bond, partially because of some strange merger they have to enact, but also because they have had experiences where they haven’t felt like they were in the bodies they were meant to inhabit. (Cliff’s arc on Pollack’s run is quite something.)
I’ll add that, if you’ve read Morrison’s run or watched the show: there’s no Larry Trainor here. No Rita Fair. No ‘Crazy Jane’, although her presence looms large. Dorothy is there, and her bond with Cliff is very sweet, but this Doom Patrol is completely and utterly fractured, and Pollack makes the most of that dramatic meat.
Pollack also introduces a ton of very sexual active humanoids and, uh, ghosts? that fill the Trainor void in very different, but surprisingly pleasant, very sensual ways. (As you’d expect: they’re all wrapped up.)
The artwork! Richard Case — primary penciller during Morrison’s run — had left after Morrison, and Pollack’s run starts off with a lot of great artists who had the Vertigo house-style: naturalist, thin inks, flat colors; nothing too flashy; but then… then they bring in Ted Fucking McKeever.
I realize I’m going down the fucking indie comic rabbit hole, but Ted McKeever is an indie comic marvel. METROPOL is an auteur masterpiece. His work is so distinct, all thick lines, large — but not grotesque — bodies and astoundingly paced layout work that it perfectly fits Pollack’s DOOM PATROL
(I’ll note that they also brought in the Pander Bros. for one issue. While it’s not as flashy as some of their work — whose very angular lines reminds me of fashion illustration and is always eye-popping amazing — it’s still extremely dynamic and compelling.)
This is a dynamite run, one that often left me stupidly stunned and I wish I’d read it earlier, but I’ve made my way to it now, and I’m so happy to hear that it has helped so many people. DOOM PATROL is fundamentally a super-hero comic, and everyone involved wants to have a purpose — something that Cliff constantly hammers home — but the folks behind the helm have always made it more, about the fringes of society, and if that’s not what the heart of comics are about, I don’t know what comics are about.
This write-up doesn’t do justice to the history of the series, or the complexities of Pollack’s work which — I admit — often went over my head, but I was completely strapped in and ready for the ride, and rode it for all it was worth.
Sadly, Rachel Pollack died earlier this year due to a recurrence of Hodgkin lymphoma, but her work lives on.
I’ll note that the Omnibus includes a few strange divergences, including VERTIGO JAM — a Vertigo anthology with original stories meant to ease folks into the Vertigo universe (yes I still have a copy) — but the closer? It isn’t penned by Pollack and, apart from Cliff, has little to do with the Doom Patrol. It’s not a bad comic — it’s actually quite enthralling — but if you read it immediately after reading several of Pollack’s issues, you’re in for some whiplash, and it felt like it was slightly disrespectful.
That said, the last page is a simulacrum of a comic book letter page, when they’d post letters fans would send in, which allegedly Pollack did during Morrison’s run. (If I weren’t so lazy, I’d check my single-issues to verify!) Letter pages mostly longer exist, but there are more than a few comics lingering around in dollar bins with my fan letters imprinted on the back page.