Friday, April 8, 2016

Who Are the Young Animals? And What's So Challenging About Kamandi?

It's convention season ladies and gentlemen, and that means a few things: meeting creators, getting sketches, digging for back issues, and long lines. And of course announcements of new titles. There are three cons in New Jersey this weekend I know of. But this big con of the weekend is Emerald City Comic Con out in Seattle, and DC started it off big with the announcement of a new imprint and a particularly fascinating title outside of it.

The new imprint, called Young Animals, is being spearheaded by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way. Those of you who don't know you who don't know Way from his alt/punk rock band might know him from some pretty impressive comic book credits out of Dark Horse, where he's written three very successful mini-series: two volumes featuring The Umbrella Academy and one called The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. The Umbrella Academy is a group of grown up superheroes who were brought together as kids to train by a professor who was a manipulative jerk, and who now resent each other as adults. As I get into the Young Animals books, you'll see there's a theme with this.

So I looked at this announcement yesterday, and I was like, "Huh, those are some interesting character choices," and so today, I thought I'd give a brief rundown to exactly who the characters are in three of these four titles, and some historical context on the fourth, who is a brand new character. And after that, I'm going to talk briefly about the other new title announced, Kamandi Challenge, and why I'm super excited about it.

Doom Patrol
Story: Gerard Way
Art: Nick Derington

The Doom Patrol are probably the biggest name characters of any of the Young Animals titles, and the best known. Created in the 1963, right around the same time as the X-Men, there's often been a question of who ripped off who when it comes to these two teams of misfits. Both featured heroes who were outside the norm, and both had mentors in wheelchairs. They were probably DC's earliest attempt at Marvel like pathos, with the original three members of the team, Robotman, Elasti-Girl, and Negative Man all being angry at the world and full of angst for being freaks. The original run also introduced Beast Boy, who joined the team and would go on to bigger and better things as a Teen Titan. When the series was to be cancelled in 1968, co-creator and series writer Arnold Drake did something unprecedented at the time: he had his freaky heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good, dying to save a a small town from an enemy. And since this is comics, where death is an absolute, that was the end of the Doom Patrol...

... Ah, who am I kidding? The Doom Patrol would return many times over the course of the decades. The most successful of these series was the mid-80s series, where a young Scottish writer named Grant Morrison took over at issue 19 and made the book weird. Not just a little weird, because Doom Patrol had always been a little weird. But full on, surrealist bizarre, It would be difficult to sum up all the different things that Morrison did in his run, because it defies quick synopsis, and the heroes and villains he created and reinvented all completely defy any categorization. Favorite characters and concepts included the Brotherhood of Dada, a Dadaist group of supervillains, Danny the Street, a cross-dressing sentient street, and Flex Mentallo, the Charles Atlas ad in comics come to life. If you want to read any Doom Patrol before trying the new series, this is the one to try.

After Morrison left the book, which had become a Vertigo title when DC created the imprint (along with Sandman, Swamp Thing, Shade the Changing Man, and Hellblazer), writer Rachel Pollock took over for another twenty four issues which were weird, but never captured the same public acclaim as Morrison's. DC has tried three time to launch a new series taking place in the normal DCU since 2001, the first written by John Arcudi, the second by John Byrne, and the third by Keith Giffen. None proved especially popular, sales-wise, with the Byrne, which was a hard reboot having the Doom Patrol make a "first appearance" in the DC Universe years after they previously had, being the most controversial, to the point that Infinite Crisis had to reboot them to get the continuity straight again. Most recently, the original team returned during the Forever Evil event, but have not seen much use outside of appearances in Justice League.

The Doom Patrol's roster has fluctuated wildly over the years, especially during the Vertigo years and the Arcudi run, where nearly all the original team members were not used. Only Cliff Steele, Robotman, a human brain in a robot body, has appeared in every incarnation. Other notable members include The Chief, Niles Caulder, a wheelchair bound scientist who gathered the team and in some versions, caused the accidents that created them; Negative Man, pilot Larry Trainor who has an energy form that can leave his body, and who under Morrison went through many strange transformation; Elasti-Girl, Rita Farr, who could grow to giant size; Crazy Jane, who had sixty-four different multiple personalities, each with a different super power; and Dorothy Spinner, a deformed girl who could bring imaginary friends to life. Judging by the preview art provided for the series, Robotman will once again be on the Doom Patrol, as will Flex Mentallo, along with two new female characters.

Shade, The Changing Girl
Story:Cecil Castellucci
Art: Marley Zarcone (Covers by Becky Cloonan)

While Shade, the Changing Girl is a new character, Shade the Changing Man dates back to 1978. Created by Steve Ditko, Shade was an alien from another dimension, who wore an M-Vest, which initially meant Miraco-Vest but would change to be called a Madness-Vest, that granted him super powers. Initially the story of an alien fleeing his home dimension to clear his name of treason charges and a death sentence, Shade would pop up as a member of the Suicide Squad in the 80s.

But, like Doom Patrol, the series that this new one seems most influenced by the was the early 90s Vertigo incarnation of Shade. Here is where the M-Vest became the Madness-Vest, and it allowed Shade to warp reality. The series explored themes of identity, both on Shade and in others. Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo created a strange and unique view of the character, and the series ran for seventy issues before ending. Since then, Shade has popped up occasionally in other Milligan written projects, both in the Vertigo imprint and the main DCU.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye
Story: Gerard Way & Jon Rivera
Art: Michael Avon Oeming

The deepest of deep cuts, Cave Carson was a science hero in 1960s DC Comics, along with characters like the Challengers of the Unknown and The Time Masters. Not surprisingly by his name, he was a spelunker and explorer of the deepest recesses of the Earth. There's not a lot more to say about Carson. He's popped up on and off over the years, often in gathering of scientists and science heroes written by writers with a deep affection for the Silver Age, like Mark Waid in JLA: Year One. He was a member of The Forgotten Heroes, a group of random characters DC threw together to make a team. They appeared a few times, most notably with Superman in an issue of Action Comics and DC Comics Presents, and in the final arc of the original Resurrection Man series, where they thought Resurrection Man might be their lost teammate, the Immortal Man.

Mother Panic
Story: Gerard Way and Jody Houser
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards

Shockingly (or not at all), the title I'm most excited for takes place in Gotham City. Mother Panic is a completely new character, so I don't have any history to dig into here. I can say that, based on her writing in Valiant's Faith, I'm really excited to see what Jody Houser does in the DC Universe. Also, this isn't the first time a non-Bat aligned vigilante. The Helena Bertinelli Huntress first appeared in her own title with no connection to Batman, who only appeared in the final arc of her series. Garth Ennis's Hitman was based in Gotham, although Batman appeared infrequently, mostly because of Ennis's disdain for all things capes and tights. And Steve Niles and Scott Hampton's short-lived Simon Dark, about a patchwork man protecting a Gotham neighborhood, also featured no appearances by Batman. Judging by the Bat Signal on the preview art, Mother Panic will probably intersect a little more with Batman then these titles, but we'll have to wait and see.

The other announcement yesterday was about DC Challenge: Kamandi, a twelve issue mini-series with each issue by a different creative team. Kamandi, if you don't know, is the last boy on Earth, who lives in a world of anthropomorphic animal men. He was created by Jack Kirby and was featured heavily in Final Crisis, so that's a pretty solid pedigree. This title hearkens back to a 1985-1986 mini-series called just DC Challenge, which featured many of comics top creators at the time playing a game of exquisite corpse, a literary term for a story or even a sentence where each writer adds the next chapter/word without knowing exactly what the previous creators would do until they get the story. I picked up a set of DC Challenge a couple of years ago at a con and read it last year, amused but figuring ti was a fun artifact to read, but I wasn't going to write about it here, since it was not relevant and not exactly easy to track down. But now? Heck yes I'll be writing about it. Expect a Lost Legends in the next couple weeks about what is the most bizarre comic I've ever read. Not Grant Morrison bizarre either. Any series that has an issue end with a time displaced Jonah Hex having to save nuns from a runaway truck? That's a freakin' weird comic.

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