By: Keith Giffen (writer), Matthew Clark and Ron Randall (pencillers), John Livesay (inker), Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: Fresh from yet another confrontation with the Chief that has now left them leaderless, the Doom Patrol reluctantly agree to accompany their newest benefactor to a gala in North Korea that’s more like a who’s-who of crazed sadists.  Worst among the violent weirdoes are the Aristocrats, an old family of considerable poise, history, and bloodlust.

The Review: The Doom Patrol is among the last surviving relics of DC’s legacy of exploring the weird.  They truly are an oddball group, with a grab-bag of low-key superpowers and a vague agenda pitting them against the other freakazoids of the DCU.  The Doom Patrol flourishes when writers avoid remaking them into more standard superhero fare, and embrace their inherent strangeness.  Small wonder Grant Morrison worked wonders with them under his pen, and now under Keith Giffen’s, they’re slowly gaining the semblance of liveliness again.

Giffen’s offbeat style is on full-speed from the first page, a “Previously, on Doom Patrol”-type brief written in Dick and Jane syntax (“Now the Chief can fly. / Fly, Chief, fly.”).  It lacks the cleverness that sells Greg Pak’s and Fred Van Lente’s “Previously” pages over on The Incredible Hercules, but it definitely sets the irreverent tone for the rest of the issue.

The self-mockery the characters go through occasionally feel forced (“Does this outfit make my thighs look chunky?”), but what’s really winning about this series is the interaction of its slew of eccentric characters.  Cliff, Rita, and Larry have had plenty of time to develop their voices, but it’s impressive that Giffen manages to make even first-timers sound fully realized from their first appearance.  As far as I know, the Aristocrats are completely new, but from a few exchanges (helped by an extensive expository piece at the issue’s start) you really get a strong sense of how disturbed they, how aware they are of their own twistedness, and how very little they care.

One problem is aside from the glossy personalities Giffen has given them, the Aristocrats lack much depth.  Their weirdness is largely psychological and a bit shallow compared to the canon of Doom Patrol foes.  There is an attempt to give them more interest by connecting them to Jack the Ripper, but unlike the Whitechapel Murderer, their perversions have no pattern or apparent cause, making them come off as one-dimensional.  For my money, I’d have gone for a showdown with General Immortus, whose powers include immortality and, according to Larry, managing to not smell like old people.

Pacing also bogs enjoyment of this issue.  There is zero action throughout; even when the Doom Patrol actually confronts the Aristocrats, what you get is just clever talk.  I don’t mind dialogue-heavy issues as long as they’re rare and they actually advance the plot in a major way.  This issue spends its time briefly dealing with the backlash of the Chief’s departure from the previous story arc and setting up the premise of the Doom Patrol’s new status quo and adversaries.  To fill the chinks, Giffen inserted a pretty sizable amount of smart remarks, most of them from Larry, and about half of them falling flat.  Towards the end, Giffen ramps up the pace, switching in and out of scenes with so little context that you’re left wondering if some pages are missing.

Setting the story in North Korea largely seemed irrelevant and pointless.  It’s a messy business anytime the fiction of comics rubs up against the real world.  A lot of the times, writers boil down real world situations to the most oversimplified and stereotyped versions of what’s actually true, and that’s what happens here.  It just comes across as an excuse for Giffen to poke fun at Kim Jong-Il, which, considering the events of the past couple weeks, couldn’t be more superficial, especially since the jokes are of the “Wah-wah-wahhh” variety—good for a put-down at a bar, but hardly satire.

Maybe it’s the mix of pencillers, but Matthew Clark’s and Ron Randall’s art offer mixed results, at times detailed and textured and other times flat and uninspired.  The blocking of characters sometimes make no sense, as in a panel on page nine, where Rita and Karen have a very intent conversation with Cliff’s butt.  Exactly why he’s bent over with his hands behind his back like a terrorist hostage is, to put it mildly, mysterious.  This dialogue-driven issue is not helped by the scant attention given to drawing scenes where there is action, making them look static and artificial. Some scenes are squeezed into such small panels that it’s unclear what’s happening.

Conclusion: Though previous issues remained true to Doom Patrol spirit, exploring the trauma and twists of superpowers and those that have them, this issue seemed to break away to dwell on the bureaucratic logistics of the team’s world.  The next issue will have to pump a lot of energy into the story to make this somewhat dull departure seem worthwhile.

Grade: C+

Some Musings: – There sure are a lot of immortals walking around the DCU these days.  It kind of makes you wonder what the fuss is all about.

– Let’s get one thing straight: Bumblebee may be small, but there’s no way she can squeeze into Rita’s clutch without suffocating.  An Hermés handbag, maybe.

-Minhquan Nguyen