Dr. Doom Patrol - Keith Giffen Looks to Healthy New Era

An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark

An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark
An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark
An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark

The team may have been around since the 1960s, but when a new Doom Patrol series launches later this year, writer Keith Giffen is determined to make the comic a fresh, new take on the dysfunctional group of heroes.

As announced at New York Comic Con, Giffen will not only launch a new Doom Patrol ongoing series with artist Matthew Clark in late 2009, but the writer is reuniting with his Justice League International co-horts, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire, to create 10-page back-up adventures of the Metal Men each month.

Doom Patrol made its first appearance in 1963 but has been rebooted and revised several times since, most notably in the '80s by writer Grant Morrison. But despite all the stops and restarts, Giffen said this time around, DC Comics is dedicated to creating something "solid" that "epitomizes what Doom Patrol is supposed to be."

Newsarama talked to Giffen about what that means, why he's so dedicated to making this feel new and different, and when the various members of the Doom Patrol might show up.

Newsarama: First, Keith, let's assume there are Keith Giffen fans reading this article who have never read about the Doom Patrol before. Break down what you see the Doom Patrol representing.

Keith Giffen: The Doom Patrol are heroes in spite of themselves. They're heroes who gained their powers through tragic circumstances. They do not look at themselves as superheroes. They view themselves as freaks and outcasts. They're the ultimate superhero dysfunctional family. They didn't make the leap from, OK, I've got these powers so I'm going to be a superhero. They were kind of forced into making that leap. One of the hardest things for me is always to make that jump from, OK, Tim you've got superpowers and you can fly, so now you're going to spend all your time fighting crime. I wouldn't be out there fighting crime if I could fly. I'd be making millions, making personal appearances around the country. I'd do the Spider-Man route, or I might stop the burglar, but then I'd soak in the limelight.

The Doom Patrol are characters who look upon their powers as a curse rather than a blessing. With Blue Beetle, once he got used to the armor, he started to enjoy being a superhero. The Doom Patrol would like nothing better than to go back to their lives and their anonymity. Most superheroes are patterned on the questing Knights of the Round Table going out to do right. The Doom Patrol were more patterned on Frankenstein trying to hide from the public but being thrust into the public eye unwillingly, although I doubt Robotman would throw a little girl into the lake.

NRAMA: Let's get specific here. What characters from the Doom Patrol cast are going to show up in this series?

KG: The Doom Patrol has a rich cast, but at first, I'm going to focus on the core characters: Robotman, Elasti-Girl/Woman and Negative Man. And of course the Chief. Other characters will come in as the stories warrant. But I'm determined to make the Doom Patrol a book that traffics in new concepts. I told Dan DiDio already that if you want an old Doom Patrol villain or another character to appear in the book, you'll have to tell me. Somebody will have to say, OK, Keith, bring in the Joker. Other than that, I'm just going to keep using new characters as much as I can. I'm not going to be the guy who just pages through the DC Encyclopedia and chooses a villain of the month. I want the character to have some kind of resonance with the Doom Patrol.

NRAMA: Wait, what do you mean by resonance?

KG: Well, there's a reason that Dr. Doom is a great villain for the Fantastic Four. It's because he and Reed have back history. I think the best supervillains work in context of the character's relationship to the hero. And the relationship should be kind of unique. That's why they're a member of that character's rogues gallery. I think that's why the Joker doesn't work well with the Flash. That's why Captain Cold doesn't work well in Green Lantern. There's this history that the characters have. And I'm going to be building that for the Doom Patrol, and it's not always going to be some old villain -- it might be a new character, but with a backstory we can tell that provides the resonance. I've already got the first 12 new characters worked out. I joke with Dan that one of the taglines of the book should be "12 new characters in 12 months or your money back." I'm not going to stop. I've already got them worked out. I've been doing that for awhile in every project that I do. I've sort of seeded the DC Universe.

NRAMA: You've certainly done it with Blue Beetle. That kid seems to show up everywhere from TV to Teen Titans now.

KG: Well, I would hope the Doom Patrol series lasts a little longer than Blue Beetle's book did, but I would be satisfied if we could give these characters that kind of legitimacy. Aside from sales and fan reaction, I think one of the ways you can measure how successful you've been is if other writers want to feature them in their book. So I'm hoping there will be Doom Patrol mania, but we'll see.

NRAMA: What about some of the later characters like Mento, Beast Boy, Bumblebee or Vox? Are we going to see those characters showing up at all during the series?

KG: You'll see them show up sooner or later. You'll see some show up much sooner. There are a few characters other than the big three that show up in the first issue.

NRAMA: Does that mean the comic may feature more than just those three members and Chief eventually?

KG: Yeah, but I didn't want to start with a team that had, like, eight members right off the bat. I wanted to introduce the readers to the concept slowly. I'd like to think the people who are very familiar with Doom Patrol will see that we're honoring the basic concept of the Doom Patrol and what has gone before, but also showing that there are things you didn't know about these characters. There will be even more for you to learn about them. And for new readers, we're creating even more interesting characters so they'll want to come along for the ride.

NRAMA: We talked about the team of misfits, so to speak, but what's your take on their leader?

KG: The Chief calls the shots. He's not like Professor X who genuinely cares about his students and is trying to do something good for mutantkind. The Chief has his own agenda. He's one of these guys who believes in that saying that if you believe in your heart of hearts that what is good for you is good for the rest of the world, that is the true sign of genius. The Chief's not a nice guy. He's a manipulative, self-serving, borderline-sociopath megalomaniac. The fact that what he's doing happens to benefit mankind has nothing to do with any decision on his part to benefit mankind.

NRAMA: Let's back up and talk about why you're doing Doom Patrol, Keith. You wanted to do this comic pretty badly, didn't you?

KG: It's almost exactly like the Justice League story. It's no secret that I was pestering DC to give me Justice League. I think it was six years I was pestering them before they gave us the chance on that comic. And Doom Patrol was the same thing. I've wanted the book for years and I always thought I could do something with it. For about two or three years, I've been pestering Dan or anybody who would listen to me, 'I want Doom Patrol. Give me Doom Patrol.' And finally they got sick of hearing me.

DiDio said OK, let's see what you can do with it.

NRAMA: Why do you think it took awhile this time for Doom Patrol to come back with its own series?

KG: I think it had to get a little rest. They've been trying to do something with Doom Patrol for awhile. Doom Patrol keeps showing up. And I really think that if you keep shoving a product forward too many times -- OK, we'll do this version of Doom Patrol; that didn't work. OK, we'll do this version of Doom Patrol. That one worked, but now Grant's leaving so we'll do something else -- if you keep doing it back to back to back, you beat the book up too much. Eventually, the project has this stench of failure about it. And you don't want that to happen. So I think spacing a little bit of time between trying the project again, but keeping the characters in the public eye with guest shots in things like Teen Titans or other books like when I used them in the Four Horseman book, I think it's a good idea. You don't want to just keep beating these characters up too badly. Give them a little rest and let everyone take a good, long look at it.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about what you're bring to the Doom Patrol that makes it worth bringing back this time around?

KG: I can't say too much. I don't want to spoil it. But I went back and looked at the entire history of the Doom Patrol and cherry picked the things I wanted to emphasize this time around. I'm determined to keep as much of the Doom Patrol's past intact as possible, but the book is not about their past. It's about their future. So past adventures might be referred to, but never in a way that you feel that you've got to go back and buy a back issue. I want the book to be widely accessible.

An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark
An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark
An early 'Doom Patrol sketch from Matthew Clark

I think one of the mistakes comic books make is they put out a first issue of a book, and somewhere in the book, you get this footnote referencing a comic that's five or 10 years old, and it doesn't feel new. It doesn't feel like a book, then, that you can read that book and get everything you need out of it. So if we're going to go back and have Robotman say, "Remember when General Immortus blew up the island?" My job is to make sure that's explained.

It's almost a Watchmen approach, where you have events that never happened in the comic, but you go and flesh them out so you understand what's going on. None of this, "Oh no! It's Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man again!" without first introducing Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man almost as if no one had ever encountered the character before. And I want to make the comic so that it's just as accessible to someone picking it up on Issue #20 as someone picking it up with Issue #1, never assuming prior knowledge at any point in time.

I am determined that when you pick up Doom Patrol, by the time you're done with that issue, you know who the characters are, you know their shtick, you know their personalities and powers, what the book is about, and if you choose not to, you don't have to go back and buy the back issues. Every issue is potentially a springboard issue for a new reader. I'm going back to that idea that every issue of a comic is someone's first.

NRAMA: But this isn't a reset or anything, right? You're not making the Doom Patrol characters themselves new. They have all their history in place when you begin, but you're just kind of reintroducing them?

KG: They have all their history in place. We're just introducing them to a new situation. We introduce them setting up what they do, and then we establish their base of operations. They operate on Oolong Island now, so Dr. Cale and all the mad scientists are there. In the first issue, you're going to meet the characters, you're going to see what they're capable of doing, you're going to get the basic tone of the book, meet a brand new villain, follow them home and see what's going on, and hopefully follow them to the next adventure.

NRAMA: And this is going to have Metal Men back-up stories?

KG: Yeah, the Metal Men are going to there. For some reason, DC decided to corral the "Bwa-ha-ha" bunch again, so it's me, Marc [J.M. DeMatteis] and Kevin [Maguire] back in the saddle, thrashing around and making no sense at all.

NRAMA: Will that cross over at all with the Doom Patrol?

KG: Not if I can help it. I mean, I'm sure eventually it could, but again, either my editor or Dan will have to say, hey, it's time for these to crossover. But the Metal Men falls under the exact same restrictions I placed on myself for Doom Patrol: New, new, new, new, new, new, new.

In other words, don't expect the Cobalt Man to be wandering through anytime soon. If I need an evil robot, let's come up with a new one! What's wrong with that? If you read a solicitation and it says, in this issue the Flash fights Two-Face? Well, we've seen Two-Face, we know the shtick, and we're going to have a basic idea of what the story's going to be about. But if it's the Flash vs. a brand new villain you've never seen before? You have no idea what to expect. And I think that's critical in comics right now. The old communal well has been plundered to the point of depletion. Time to start restock it.

NRAMA: Even for Metal Men?

KG: Everything I touch from now on. Every new character might not be a winner. But remember that for every Doctor Doom, they also came up with Molecule Man or whatever. So not every character is going to be a winner, but I'll certainly be trying.

And by the way, I just got some artwork from Matt Clark. I knew the guy was good, but he really must be into Doom Patrol because this stuff is beyond anything I've ever seen him do before because it's just stunning.

He wanted to do Doom Patrol and it shows. It really, really, really shows. When I saw those pages, again, I was familiar with Matt's work, but I've never seen him put this much into it. The artwork's worth the price of admission. Just buy it and if nothing else, look at the pictures.

NRAMA: Is it a little daunting to take on this team after begging for it for so long?

KG: Well, I was kind of forewarned that this time DC really, really wants it to work. They want something solid. They want something that epitomizes what Doom Patrol is supposed to be. And I threw a little something together that I think works. I really feel good about what we're doing here.

And it turned out that Matt Clark, who was going to be the artist on Reign in Hell but couldn't be for personal reasons -- and believe me, if I had those personal reasons, I wouldn't be doing it either -- it turns out that he is a huge, huge Doom Patrol fan as well and has been after the book as long as I have. So it was kind of serendipity. You've got a writer on the book who's dedicated to the book and loves the concept, and you've got an artist on the book who said openly, 'I could draw Doom Patrol for the rest of my life,' and an editor who understands Doom Patrol and wants the book to succeed, and a publisher that Doom Patrol and Metal Men are two of his favorite teams.

So yeah, it's a little daunting realizing that there are so many expectations on the part of the team going into the book. But I've never backed away from a challenge.

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