Plot: Larry Trainor has a lot of voices in his head. Is it his fault? Or the Chief's? Or just the fickle finger of fate, aimed at a daredevil risk-taker who gambled and lost?
Comments: This issue is an interesting example of a set of compelling contradictions. As a study of Larry Trainor's personality, contradiction is thematic, because he's been a variety of people since becoming Negative Man. Including at least two women.
But the contradiction is also in Giffen's writing challenge, because this issue is a character study (in a series positioned from the start as one that will focus on the psychological quirks of the team of "freaks"), and Giffen isn't really a writer sensitive enough to explore intimate aspects of character with any depth. Whenever things get too emotional, in fact, he'll often go for the crude joke or the easy distraction of an action scene.
Which, circularly, makes him again a good writer for Trainor, who has the same (male? macho? childish?) personality flaws. He's been a favored figure to previous writers of the title, as John Byrne's recent run also emphasized Trainor's sexy pilot skills (as if he were an unlucky Hal Jordan, in fact). Giffen definitely seems to share a similar attraction to the character, but he's complicated things by giving himself a remit to incorporate all the years of the characters history.
Effectively, this means not just Drake and Premiani, or even Kupperberg and Staton, but Morrison and Case, too, and Byrne as well. Some of these versions are inherently contradictory, but then the man (woman?) once known as Rebis is nothing if not a melding of opposites. That portion of the Negative experience (when Larry-as-hermaphrodite seemed so sure of itself and wise) is treated as an aberration by Giffen this issue, a mystery that can't be explained. Except for the fact that the Chief (who is more of an amoral ambiguity than ever before these days) keeps finding new bodies for "Larry" to possess, whether cloned or brain-dead or other variations Larry would rather not ask about.
Rita and Cliff are the two other freaks along for the ride, the other teammates that round out a misfit group in a way not unlike the X-men or Fantastic Four formula. At least structurally. But Rita was never the comforting wife or lover that Jean and Sue could be, and Cliff has had more bodies and identities himself than the Thing ever did.
The issue also serves as a jumping on point, running as it does through every iteration of the team (not exactly in the right order, but then Larry is a textbook unreliable narrator), and hinting that "Larry" may exist for more personal reasons than just the Chief's manipulations by the end of the issue. When Rita shows up to comfort her friend.
That's really what makes this darker take on the team work. Giffen knows that despite their adversities, these freaks banded together for a reason. Outsiders are always the most interesting to write, so I hope this cast keeps challenging him to go further in figuring out their quirks.
Clark is already up to the challenge. He channels all the flashbacks with accuracy, somehow making sense of the Doom Patrol at their wackiest in several different eras. I especially like his look for Larry. Bandages, sure, but also jodhpurs and a bulky green sweater, suspenders and combat boots. It's an adventurer's garb, and Larry is still addicted to adventure.
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