ďFront and CenterĒ
Plot: Nefarious forces have captured Rita and Cliff canít convince anybody to go and rescue her, least of all Ambush Bug!
Comments: Even I know my little plot summaries are meant to be hooks (to get you to read the rest of my review, at least) and that one is likely not to have worked. Ambush Bug? Really? Is Giffen writing? Oh.
Iíve stuck with this series because it keeps surprising me. Not with necessarily great things, so much, but with just enough weirdness that I canít bear to look away. Plus, the Clark/Randall art team has given the series a solid look so far.
Giffen is in fact trying something quite ambitious here. No one has ever come close to the inspired madness of the original Drake/Premiani Doom Patrol. Grant Morrison actually came closest by following not the letter, but the spirit, of the original series (taking the surrealism very seriously, except when it was better to be campy). He came up with all manner of new villains, each odder than the last (many without heads or faces), but had his recognizable anchor characters and his (at the time) quite innovative notion that the Chief was actually the biggest villain of all.
Since then weíve had new characters galore, attempts at odd villains, relocations in time and space, new artists emerging on the comics scene, and old stalwarts trying to place their definitive stamp. Iíd venture to say that, as fitful as it is, this volume is better than all of those. On a simple level, in tandem with the straightforward title, the basic structure of this issue is clear--an ersatz brotherhood of evil has delivered a first strike to our heroes and has set themselves up to be new adversaries. Why? Because theyíre being paid to, mostly.
But things canít be that simple in the Doom Patrol. So perhaps Ambush Bug makes as much sense as anyone else on a team that now includes the living landscape of Danny the Street and Morrison superstar Crazy Jane. On the bad guys side, we have the classic Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (who steadfastly refuses to change his name), a creature made of porcelain who tried to kill the Chief, a mad scientist named Dr. Becket who turns into a broody insect queen when things go her way and the Toy from the last Brotherhood of Dada.
What has Giffen done for the franchise? Heís made sure Rita is as twisted as the rest (her ex-husband Mento was controlling her for years without her consent), dialed Larry back from both his hermaphroditic phase and his macho pilot days to make him more of a slacker dilettante, plodded on with Johnsí neurotic, autocratic Chief, and, of course, kept Cliff the same as always. Heís also folded in Oolong Island as one principal setting, and come up with his own theories of mental instability and faceless monster creatures, which all means weíve had a Doom Patrol less mainstream than Byrneís iteration, but not exactly as wild as Morrisonís (or even Pollackís).
Itís still a superhero book, and current foe Thayer Jost is trying to use that against the team since DC humans have been so traumatized by Blackest Night that all metahumans look evil. I donít think Giffen is moving towards healing any of these fractured psyches. So instead weíre reading an in-the-trenches scenario of soldiers who evince a precariously balanced madness in the face of an unbalanced, mad world. Thatís not a bad take on the concept, and itís brave of him to attempt to integrate the unusually complicated Morrison characters. Iím all about a New Brotherhood, so Iím sticking around to see how this confrontation plays out.
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