Monday, March 14, 2016

Bring on the (Badder)Bad Guys, Part 1: Doom Patrol #70





Codpiece: this guy has one small problem



Not only kicking off a brand-new Crapbox section, but also celebrating the start of Longbox Graveyard's  Supervillain March Madness tournament!

The Doom Patrol has had, hands down, the most oddball, off the wall, and downright goofy assortment of villains of any superhero team ever. Created by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney way, way back in 1963, the Doom Patrol debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80. It came out just a matter of weeks before X-Men number 1 hit the shelves. Similarities between the two teams are easy to draw, both groups being lead by wheelchair-bound leaders and peopled by powerful outcasts who are shunned by the public. Many fans believe that freelancers may have passed information between the Marvel and DC causing the parallels. Whatever the cause, both were here to stay albeit with the accolades of success mainly being heaped on the Marvel mutants.



Doom Patrol went on to take over My Greatest Adventure, which was retitled The Doom Patrol with issue 86. Sales slid over the next two years and when DC cancelled the book at issue 122, Drake made the dramatic choice of killing the entire team off with a bomb blast. The Doom Patrol has come back in various incarnations since and have had their history erased and restored by the various DC Crisis’s. But what we’re here for is their enemies list, and they’ve amassed a rogues gallery of villains that are the strangest ever created.



Don’t believe me? Drake’s run introduced creatures like the intelligent talking ape Monsieur Mallah and the shapeshifting Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. When Paul Kupperberg reintroduced the series in 1977 and again in 1987 he reused several of the big name villains including the fountain of youth-seeking General Immortus, alien blob-thing Garguax and his army of Plastic Men. These were characters that had been created almost two decades prior, yet still seemed shocking and new in the blur that was the 80s.



Then things got seriously weird as Grant Morrison took the helm of the book with vol 2, issue 19. Morrison pulled no punches, pitting the group against even weirder foes like the Brotherhood of Dada. The Brotherhood sported crazy-imaginative characters like the Quiz; a villain who has every super-power you haven’t thought of yet, Sleepwalk; a girl who gains superhuman strength whenever she’s asleep, and Mr. Nobody; an insane shadow with the ability to drain sanity from others. Morrison also created the Scissormen, who would cut people from reality by chopping them from the printed page, and the god-like Red Jack, a being that was part Jack the Ripper and part God. Couple those freshly-minted villains with Morrison giving new twists on the existing characters, like making the disembodied genius The Brain and the talking gorilla Monsieur Mallah lovers, adding in his own unique superhero teammates (a person suffering from MPD and a sentient street, for God’s sake!) and the book had this dark, madcap magical run. It was a cult hit. And then, at issue 63, Morrison left the book.



DC obviously wanted to continue to build on the success that Morrison had left them, but how to do it was tricky. An average writer would take the book back to simple cape and underwear brawls. The big names wouldn’t want it because the work and characters were at that point uniquely Morrison’s. Grant had made the title his own and in doing so made its continuation almost impossible. But DC didn’t want to lose the revenue stream, so they looked outside the industry and pulled in Rachel Pollack.



Pollack is a lot of things. She’s both a science fiction (in her words “magical realism”) novelist and a practicing new-age spiritualist. Her published works on Tarot reading are well known by people into that sort of thing. She has written a non-fiction book as well, exploring the history of the goddess myth. Pollack is also very upfront about the fact that she was born a man. That’s correct, Rachel (Ryan) Pollack is a transgender, or as it was called back in the day, a transsexual. Ms Pollack stated in interviews she liked to call herself a “trance-sexual.” 

I don't know what the difference in any of those terms are because I live in Texas.


I have heard rumors that Pollack would write in frequently concerning Morrison’s work and that all these letters somehow won her a chance at scripting the book. Must have been some really thought provoking letters, if that one is true.



No matter what the cause, the effect was that DC got a pretty good fit for a time, at least until the book was cancelled in 1995. Pollack’s odd stories dovetailed very effectively with Morrison’s. The book’s tone remained the same oddly dark mix of unreality and symbolism even if the subject matter had shifted slightly. Pollack’s Patrol dealt with issues like the generation gap, humanity, identity, transgenderism/bisexuality(of course!) and, in the very issue I hold in my hairy palms, penis envy.



It’s odd to write those last two words. Odd to think that a male to female transsexual would even care about something like penis envy. Odd to have a mainstream company (even in their “mature audience” imprint) try to deal with the subject matter on any level. Odd to sit here and wonder if my own penis is too small. Ok, so that last bit’s pretty much what I worry about every Friday, but still…



Before diving in (and causing shrinkage) to our subject matter, I’d like to point out that I originally came across this book reviewed at one of my favorite sites, Head Injury Theater. The actual review can be found right HERE. When I found this issue in that bundle of 30 for $5 comics, I knew I was holding a treasure along the caliber of the crown jewels of Crapbox comics because of Jared von Hindman and his wonderful HIT site. Moreover, I owe much of the germ of the idea for even beginning the Crapbox to the author of HIT. His wit and taste never fail to find targets in the collective belly-lint of our popular culture. I’ve wiled away many hours at HIT. For that I thank him and I dedicate this review in his honor.



But enough small talk (hee, oh this one’s not going to be easy to get through), on with the review. We begin with two masterfully written pages that explain the origin of our future villain. Turn with us now to his halcyon days of high school.

 

Well, ok not so tranquil. What starts out as an innocent remark meant to let this nameless loser down easy, ends up being a life-transforming insult that will haunt him the rest of his days. You know what they say about how from little acorns mighty crotch-mounted weapons systems grow. No? Well, you soon will. Here he is in college…






And after college…




My guess is that prune-face here has been single-handedly funding those Enzyte commercials I see on late night TV. Anyone this obsessed over one remark back in High School would probably go to great lengths (tee-hee! Stop! Stop!) to cure their “condition”. Turns out, I’m right.

  
I like how the doctor recommends “stretching exercises.” I’m 49 years old and I’m here to tell you that regular “stretching exercises” do absolutely nothing to increase the size of your dong. If they did, I’d have a member the length of an office credenza.



After being chastised by a hooker for worrying about his minor issue, our preoccupied pee-wee gets some advice that he takes to heart. The streetwalker tells him if he’s really concerned about the size, maybe he should wear something to make it look bigger. Thus our wang-worried wonder runs off to his secret lab and, much like Tony Stark, builds a wearable machine that will solve all his problems.





I’m going to ask the audience to cover any children’s eyes that may be present as I give you Codpiece.





I’d call this the worst case of over-compensating that’s every occurred. And don’t get me started about the use of the phrase “coming.” I sure hope that cannon has no noticeable kickback. Truthfully, Eddie Murphy was right, all you have to do is graze nuts to turn a man into a slobbering infant. And the bore on that gun looks large enough to smash your walnuts better than a Christmas nutcracker. I’m very tempted to make this costume for a cosplay event just to see the reaction on people’s faces.



The book shifts gears to visit the current incarnation of The Doom Patrol, the makeup of which is the ever-present Robotman, Dorothy the ape-faced girl who can dream up monsters and The Bandage People, Marion and George. Our story will follow Marion and George’s shopping trip. Here they invite Cliff along but he responds in the fashion any good X-book would.





Angsty, Robotman, very angsty. 



Too much setup for future issues happens when the book needs to get back to Crotch Cannon Commando guy. We take a brief but important side trip to meet this young woman buying a frog mask.


 

*cues Crying Game music.



Meet Kate Godwin. Yes, she’s a transsexual. And she’s also superpowered. I’m not giving away what her exact power is at this point because it really underscores the absurdity of this wonderful story. Hang on to your pants (and for God’s sake keep them zipped up), all will be revealed in just a few minutes.

Kate explains her origin story to her friends over drinks at a bar after a demonstration of her paranormal abilities. Seems she slept with the Doom Patrol’s Negative Man when she was working as a prostitute. This was the Negative Man recreated during Morrison’s run, when Larry Trainor’s energy being had forced him to bodily fuse with Dr. Eleanor Poole. This new amalgam of two individuals was eventually known as Rebis and was also a transsexual. Shortly after Kate’s sexual encounter with Rebis she gains superpowers which might mean that Rebis has the world’s strangest STD. It’s unclear whether this event also turned her into a hermaphrodite, but hints are kind of dropped that it might have been.



When Kate goes to the Justice League to apply for membership, she relates that they liked her powers but that they couldn’t handle her outspoken personality and sexual orientation. So she has decided to take up superheroing on her own. As a hint to what her powers are: the superhero handle she picked out for herself was “Coagula.”



Meanwhile Codpiece has made his debut in a very explosive manner by robbing a local bank. Ignoring jibes like “He must spend a fortune on condoms” and “Hey mister, do you give rides on that thing?”, Codpiece proceeds to blow open the wall of the bank with a single round. Now that’s what I call a money shot.



 This is starting to look like something from the Jackass TV show. But wait, we aren’t finished. Codpiece’s metal phallus has more tools on it than a Swiss army knife. It can do everything from drilling open a vault lock…





…to uppercutting an overzealous police office…





…to clipping and pruning the living gauze weapons of Marion and George…





…to firing off heat-seeking crotch rockets…



…to releasing an intricate series of claws that capture and stun Marion’s purse-people…





…to creating a sonic vibration that both knocks men unconscious AND is a real lady-pleaser, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.




I’ll agree with this officer, it is a bit much to wrap one’s head around. At least it is until Codpiece happens to tangle with Coagula, all decked out in a frog’s mask. 





Let me take a step back from the action here and see if I can glean the broad metaphorical statement that is being put forth by this book. 

We have a symbol of man when he is driven only by his sexual nature being cast as the villain. Male sexuality is shown to be selfish and disruptive, seeking only personal gratification at the expense of both individuals and society at large. The transsexual is presented as having to hide their identity behind a mask of something ugly and repulsive when in fact they are the true hero/heroine. In fact, the mask that they choose has long been associated in fairy tales as a cover for royalty, princeliness and true love. Is this book breaking convention and pushing for a more feminine based society as a way of stemming rampant violence and a peaceful world civilization? Or is it just about a man shooting rockets from his pseudo-penis? Probably the latter. Just look how cool that is.  





No matter what level of coolness that crotch rocket feature exudes, there is little that can make up for what happens next. You see, Coagula’s power is the ability to turn liquid things solid and to turn solid things to a liquid. Thus after a very brief exchange, our newly minted gender-bender girl-boy MELTS Codpiece’s pride ‘n joy. 





Just so you get this:



I’ve had nights like that, too. Men in the audience, tell me if that image doesn’t make you wince just a bit.



That’s pretty much it for the issue. Coagula joins the Doom Patrol and Robotman begins the setup for the next story arch. Codpiece is last seen impotently wrapped up for the police. But something tells me he’ll be back up for more hijinks, possibly after a brief nap and a quick trip to the bathroom. 

3 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha ha. Goddamn, this was a good one. Wow, the Codpiece. Only a book like DP(well Ennis' Hitman and Six-Pack too) would present a villain like this. And such subtext too. I honestly didn't know that Rachel Pollack was a Trans though, Damn, I shocked, maybe not as much as her friends and family were when she came out to them, ha ha, but shocked nonetheless. Crazy, but yeah This really makes me see her run in a fresh way though.

    I became a huge fan of the Doom Patrol back in the 90's when I discovered Morrison's run. Damn good stuff, and to this day I'm still playing catch up, even Trades would technically be easier. So after he left I gave Pollock's run a try, and it's not bad really, and very very underrated, just not Morrison enough for me, but very well written regardless.
    What did you think of Giffen's run?

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    1. I was collecting back then for one of my brief spans of buying new. I have two or three of the Giffen run and, like Byrne before him, it just wasn't weird enough. Even under Kupperberg there was the taint of madness about the book, but Giffen started with what felt like normal storytelling and it just didn't do it for me. DP should never be a clone of Justice League. It needs to be out there.

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