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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 95: Doom Patrol #63

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This week: Grant “Come in out of the rain” Morrison. Today’s page is from Doom Patrol #63, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1993. Enjoy!

Damn, I love this comic

The first page of the final issue of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, the finest comic book series ever written, shows how what Morrison can do when he pulls back on the weirdness just a little. The issue itself is fairly strange in the best Doom Patrol tradition, but this first page is more ominous and sad than anything, and it sets up the framing device used in the issue very well. I don’t know how it works if this is the first issue you’ve ever picked up of this series, but Morrison does give us some good information, and I think it’s intriguing enough to get you to read on.

The first sentence sets the ominous tone – “They still haven’t found the body.” It’s a creepy sentence and implies far more than just what the words say. As we move through page, we find out more – the narrator is a doctor (we infer) and she’s talking about a patient, Kay Challis, who was wandering on a bridge, attacked a cop, broke his arm, and was taken to the “hospital.” Kay was a painter, and she did a picture for the narrator. Finally, the final sentence is also ominous, but in a slightly more hopeful way. We already know things did not end well for “Kay,” but when the narrator thinks “There is another world,” perhaps she’s hoping that Kay has made it there. All of this is foreshadowing – the entire issue is about Kay – Crazy Jane to long-time DP readers – and the issues in her head and how she escapes it all. Morrison manages to get this all on the page with fairly simple sentences – there’s no need for wild wordplay, because he’s dealing with raw emotions – fear, despair, hope – and flowery prose would ruin it. His final sentence leads nicely onto the next page, because there is another world – the Empire of Chairs – and Jane (Kay) is part of that world even more than she’s a part of this “real” world (Morrison makes clear that this is supposed to be our mundane world). This is a well written page because it’s full of possibilities but doesn’t overwhelm the reader at all.

Richard Case doesn’t get much to do, but he does focus on the painting (photograph) of the chair quite deliberately, as chairs are very important throughout the issue. Presumably he re-uses the drawing of Marcia (the doctor’s name is Marcia), but look at her in the final panel, where we see her the closest. If we ignore the terrible 1990s haircut, her eyes stare right at us, assuring us that her statement in the final panel is correct and also implicating us in what she’s about to do – we are “keysmiths” just as she is, and what she’s going to allow happen to Kay is what we would allow happen to Kay, too. It’s a haunting picture, and Case nails it. Daniel Vozzo’s muted coloring just adds to the sense of “realism” in Marcia’s world – Vozzo does a wonderful job switching back and forth between the rich color of the Empire of the Chairs and the dull sepia of the real world. Having John Workman do the letters is just icing on the cake. His lettering looks like thoughts, if that’s possible. We can believe Marcia is thinking all of this, rather than some omniscient narrator.

This is an excellent page in a brilliant issue finishing the best long-form story in comic book history. What else could you want?

Next: Morrison does superheroes. No, “He’s just a man!” doesn’t appear on the first page of an issue. That would be neat if it did! In the meantime, take a walk through the archives!

15 Comments

Would this crack your top ten single issues? Dare I ask what might be on that list?

God I loved this run. It’s one of the few works of fiction PERIOD to actually treat mental illness and disability as something other than the province of the evil and the irreparably broken.

Third Man: Dang, I don’t know. That’s a lot to think about!

Neil: Yeah, it is pretty great, isn’t it?

I liked Doom Patrol okay, but as I experienced it years after the fact, it comes across more like a warm up for Morrison’s later work.

But it did spawn Flex Mentallo, the greatest comic of all time, so there’s that.

There are only two series that I obsessively collected, where I absolutely had to find out what happened in the next issue.

The first was John Byrne’s Alpha Flight run– I got in just when he blew up Guardian, and things just kept getting more intsense.

The second was the last dozen-ish issues of Doom Patrol. I will admit that I thought some of the earlier DP stories from Morrison were a bit of a mess, but at the end he pulled it all together and ratcheted the tension and the storytelling to new heights. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for each new issue to come out.

This issue was a nice coda to his run.

I wanna make sweet, sweet love to Morrison’s DP

If I remember correctly, Case inked himself on this last issue, which he had not been doing for most of the run. The solid blacks here nicely complement the softer palette, giving the book a very “indie” feel.

While overall I ran hot and cold on Doom Patrol, I’d easily rank this issue in my ten best. It’s just a beautifully told story.

My contribution to the Morrison Doom Patrol remembrances –
I was in grad school at the time and $ was really tight. I kept hearing really great things about this run. Somewhere (it seems like a little local comic-con in Columbus, maybe?) I got a couple of mid-50’s issues (#53, #54) but didn’t want to read them until I had everything before that. A few monthes later, #63 came out. One weekend I decided, for reasons I wasn’t even sure of then, I read #63 and was floored. Then I read #62. And #61. And #60. And so on, all the way back to the beginning. It was weird, it was wonderful, it was unlike anything I had every read before, read in a way I had never read comics before. Even now, it’s hard to put into words. But when I finally got to “Crawling From The Wreckage”, knowing where it was all heading (coming from?), it was very emotional. I reread my comics pretty regularly but I’ve never reread that run for fear of losing/tainting/skewing my memories of it. In 41 years of reading comics, it’s still one of those things I cherish the most.

Morrison managed to make a totally surreal, dadaist, off the wall series actually resonate emotionally with me. I found myself caring for them. Even the brain and gorilla characters. Plus, it’s funny as hell and scary as hell

@Matthew: That’s the real brilliance of Morrison’s DP. No matter how crazy, silly, and straight up outlandish the book got, it had great characters to ground it all with, real people with flaws, pet peeves and desires, love and hate. There’s an emotional resonance, a real heart to the series, that gives weight to all the bizarre action.

I’d rank ‘Doom Patrol’ above every other long run Morrison has done. Every time I read this trade, I forget that this is the last issue, because so much real estate at the back is taken up by ‘Doom Force’, and I always think, “How is he gonna follow that up?” and then turn the page and there’s that guy who turns into a mountain.

I just reread Morrison’s Doom Patrol run last week whilst convalescing from a bad cold. It’s certainly the most emotionally resonant of his long-form works (though I think The Filth is particularly strong in that regard as well.)

I am flummoxed that I was unaware of this series when it was first being published in single issues, because I am certain that I would have loved it back then.

I should also add that Richard Case’s art develops extraordinarily over the course of the series. Early on, there’s a certain awkwardness of character that is saved by a quirky design sense, but as the run progresses Case’s art really coalesces into a wonderfully distinctive style.

Andrew Collins

April 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I discovered DP in the fall of 1990, with issue #37, which was the “jumping on” issue for new readers. I was 13 and had recently started reading some of DC’s other “mature” books like Swamp Thing and Sandman and decided to pick up DP after hearing it had similar appeal. The mood, the characters, the overall creepiness of that issue, hooked me and had me riveted. I made a point of tracking down each and every issue from #19-36 and eagerly awaited every issue thereafter. I even bought the promo poster that DC released in 1992, and it still hangs, framed, in my office at home, simultaneously creeping out and fascinating all my friends and family who see it. Morrison’s DP is my all-time favorite comic (narrowly beating out Scott McCloud’s Zot! and Morrison’s own work on Animal Man) and I loved the wonderful write-up it got here a few years ago at CSBG.

This final issue, especially, is one of the best of the entire run and I remember being in tears by the end, both in sadness for it being Morrison’s final issue and in happiness for how wonderfully Morrison wrapped everything up. There’s a reason why 20 years on, Crazy Jane, “Kay,” still shows up in my top 10 favorite DC character lists everytime you guys do that poll…

I will join my voice to this chorus of unabashed Doom Patrol love.

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