If there's one comic that has emerged recently as a surprising critical darling, it's Keith Giffen's Doom Patrol.
Since he launched the series one year ago with artist Matthew Clark, Giffen has embraced everything that's odd and bizarre about the team's past while adding his own unique stamp to the team. For example, the book has some of that familiar Giffen-brand humor — particularly with Ambush Bug appearing recently — but the laughs are always mixed with plenty of dramatic mysteries and even shocking revelations.
To the delight of fans, Giffen has incorporated some fan-favorite characters from the Doom Patrol's past, usually giving them a new motivation and a bit of a revamp that fits with the current DCU. From Crazy Jane to Danny the Street to even Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, Doom Patrol has honored what has come before, despite the stops and starts the comic has always experienced.
Yet along with using older characters, Giffen has delivered on a promise he made that he would introduce a new character or concept every issue. The comic now has some new additions that are certainly odd enough to deserve a Doom Patrol appearance — from a sentient black hole to a porcelain-type character who's apparently related to Humpty Dumpty.
In the most recent issue, Giffen also revealed a new twist for Rita, as a hit to the head literally splits her down the middle, although she's able to quickly pull herself together. It's the latest evolution of the Doom Patrol characters, as Giffen gives them a new life on Oolong Island while exploring their complex mental make-ups.
Now that the series has hit 12 issues, we talked with Giffen about the series, how he's hoping to challenge his readers and what comes next in Doom Patrol.
Newsarama: Keith, what can you tell us about the revelation we saw about Rita in this last issue? Is this something new that the character is going to have to deal with?
Keith Giffen: If you go back and look at the earlier Doom Patrols, we've already hinted at the fact that there's something wrong with Rita... some of the proportions. There are actually scenes where she's being pulled slightly out of shape.
So we find out, through this slash, that she's not much more than an intelligent wad of Silly Putty. It's something I knew was coming up.
Nrama: When are we going to find out more about Rita?
Giffen: Doom Patrol #13 is Rita's story. It's like how we had the "My Name is Larry" story. So yes, you'll find out more.
Somewhere down the line, we'll have a Cliff story, and every once in awhile you'll see these little books here and there that will focus on a character.
I know some readers have questioned the portrayal of Larry. But Larry has always been someone who doesn't quite see the world in the same colors the rest of us, and I'm trying to emphasize his difference from the other characters. He's still Larry Trainor. He's just a little fried by everything that's going on.
I also wanted to give Cliff a voice pattern that distinguishes him from the other characters. I'm trying my best to make the characters stand out on their own.
So you'll find out more about Rita in the next issue.
Nrama: Beyond the main characters, were you hoping to make sure you included other characters from past runs on the comic? We've seen a lot of fan-favorites show up over the last year.
Giffen: I just wanted to make sure that everything counts. There are no Doom Patrol adventures that are outside the canon. OK, maybe there are some events within those adventures that are outside the canon because the characters have been around so long, so you have to make some adjustments here and there. But the main goal was to say, Grant [Morrison]'s Doom Patrol counts, Rachel's counts, Premiani counts, but above all else, it was just to have fun with Doom Patrol and its rich history.
I have all these wonderful characters from all the former incarnations of the Doom Patrol. I'd be mad not to take advantage of it while also introducing new concepts to add to the Doom Patrol. So that hopefully, if someone else comes along and does Doom Patrol, they can pluck some stuff I introduced out to use.
Ultimately, though, it's all about having fun -- having fun with the characters and having fun with the book.
Nrama: So often over the years, this comic has been credited as one of the more creative places for new characters and ideas. What's your favorite thing that you've created that's new?
Giffen: I like the black hole guy. I like the idea of the Gentrifiers. My favorite characters, we haven't seen yet. I believe they're slated for Issue #17 or #18.
But again, it's making sure that we're not only touching base with some old characters, like Crazy Jane and Danny the Street and the Animal Mineral Vegetable whatever-it-is man (I can never keep those words in order), but we're also creating new things, like the Gentrifiers. Like the black hole guy. Like some characters coming up, so it's not just regurgitating what I find in the DC Encyclopedia.
I don't care what anyone says: There are so many characters, particularly villains, that have been used so many times that it's hard not to figure out what they're going to do. I heard somebody say that they were taking on a book, and they would love to put the Joker in it because the Joker's never encountered the characters in this book, and the readers aren't going to know what's going to happen with the Joker. And I'm thinking, "Yes they are!" Unless you're doing the Joker completely different, messing up the characterization, we all know what his riff is. We all know where he's coming from.
Put in a new characters, though, and you have no idea where things are coming from. Or taking an old character and giving him a new reason to be.
Like Mr. Nobody's now Mr. Somebody. You don't really know now where the story's going to go, hopefully, and you can come along for the ride.
Nrama: With Ambush Bug in the comic, there's a real mix between humor and the much more serious reactions of the other characters. Were you hoping to create a unique type of style for this comic that mixes those elements?
Giffen: I think it's just like life. There are small moments of humor in life and there are moments of terror. Doom Patrol is a serious comic book. The threats they're facing should be serious.... kind of. You know? I think there's room for some tongue-in-cheek situations, as long as it doesn't spiral into vaudeville.
Yeah, some of the situations have a wink-wink, nudge-nudge feel to them. But that doesn't mean I'm turning the Doom Patrol into Mad Magazine.
Nrama: It's completely countered by how you're exploring the psychology of these characters, beginning with your introduction of the priest in the first issue.
Giffen: And all of that counts. Ever since the beginning.
For example, they went to South America and encountered the Botfly. And everyone said, what happened to her? Well, I have plans for her. Just wait! I will get back to these characters.
Hopefully, as you move on through the Doom Patrol book, sticking with the book, and wading through this stuff, you can be confident that somewhere down the line, it's going to pay off.
Nrama: One of the things this comic has had in the past is a commentary on the world, whether it's a twisted version of it or not. In this story right now, you seem to be specifically commenting on the press. Was that just a natural extension of the subject matter?
Giffen: I didn't go into this story, and I don't go into stories, going, "OK, now I'll comment on the press." That whole thing kind of grew organically out of Jost's scheme, which was to introduce a new group of superheroes and manipulate public perception so the Doom Patrol looked like the villains. His guys would look like the heroes because he wants to manipulate public perception enough that Mr. Somebody Enterprises can eventually just take over.
It's almost like waging war without weapons. Although we have to have the fight scenes there. I didn't go into it wanting to take on the press, but when the press showed up, I guess my disappointment with the way our press is reporting things, and just regurgitating whatever is fed to them, is just coming through. I suppose that's natural. Whatever I'm pissed off about at the moment is usually going to work its way into the book.
But its secondary to the basic story being told.
Nrama: So what did this scene reveal about the porcelain doll character? Is that Humpty Dumpty on the wall?
Giffen: Yes, she's related to Humpty Dumpty.
Nrama: So those small creatures who are putting her together again -- are they all the king's horses and all the king's men?
Giffen: Eh.... symbolically. Look, I'm not going to spell out exactly who she is. That's part of the fun. Somewhere down the line, I will state it plain. But not right now.
In Doom Patrol, I'm not into just laying it out for people. I want to just sort of bump up against it and let the fans draw their own conclusions. Yes, I know I'm asking a lot. But I refuse to accept the idea that the comic book fan is not that bright and has a short attention span. I refuse to buy into that. At almost $4 a pop for a comic book, you'd better bet your ass that I'm going to write the hell out of it, because you'd better get more bang for your buck. And if I'm going to pay $4 for something that I can read on the way home while driving and completely figure out everything before it's revealed? Something's wrong.
I don't think it's necessary for a character to walk onto the stage and do a Mort Weisinger, where in one word balloon, you force feed the reader the information about the character like he's a moron. Like, "Oh, look! There's Jimmy Olsen, a cub reporter for the Daily Planet and Superman's best friend!"
I hear people go, "but the fans aren't going to get that reference." And that drives me crazy. You can't be in the business if you don't respect the readers. I think comic book readers want to be challenged. I think they want to have their intelligence respected.
Nrama: You've also been using a little non-linear storytelling, although not in a way that's overly disruptive or confusing. Is that part of your approach to this comic? I noticed it in this issue, that the fight ended without a clear explanation, but the reasons came later.
Giffen: Yeah, in this case, there was a bunch of TV screens and news reports that showed what happened. But I wanted to show what happened in a different way. It would have been very easy for me to have someone say, "Wait! The Chief's contacting me! What? Run away? Why? OK. Hey guys! Run away!" But we've seen that a million times. The fans aren't stupid.
I'm not doing anything new. It's just a storytelling technique, and I think it works, especially in this comic.
Nrama: You mentioned the Rita-centered issue we have coming up. What can you tell us about that issue, and what else is coming up for the Doom Patrol?
Giffen: Issue #13 involves not only what the hell is going on with Rita, but also some of her background, her story, her past, and also the one thing that the fans have been waiting for for a long time. Rita is going to face down Mento.
Then in Issue #14 and #15, we see the Chief losing faith in the Doom Patrol and their ability to protect him. And we find out that he's figured out a way to give himself Kryptonian powers. And we'll see one of the most grisly scenes in the book.
Then in Doom Patrol #16, we'll have a special change-of-pace issue that I can't say too much about. And then #17 and #18 will get back to the same nonsense we've been doing.
What obscure character would you like to see in the Doom Patrol?