Sometimes you just fall in love with an artist’s work at first sight. That was what it was like for me reading the first issue of DC’s new Doom Patrol, which was published last week. I don’t know where Nick Derington comes from, but that two-page spread he drew that opens the issue, with a long, narrow panel of protagonist Casey Brinke driving an ambulance, is this kind of a moment for me. Derington has everything I love in an artist: simple lines, fine details, expressive facial expressions. This is the same kind of feeling that hit me when I first saw Marcos Martin’s art, for instance: pure love.
Derington’s art is beautifully complimented by Tamra Bonvillain’s coloring, which straddles the line between digital realism and gaudy comic book fluorescence. Together, you get the sense they could illustrate anything. And so they do: alien worlds, the back rooms where ambulance drivers wait for the next distress call, cramped apartments, heavenly throne rooms, and sterile hotel conference rooms. This is a comic book that charms you with the turn of every page.
I wish I could say the same for Gerard Way’s script. Way, the rock and roll singer who wowed comics fans with his weird superhero series Umbrella Academy, is launching a new weird adult imprint for DC Comics called Young Animal, of which Doom Patrol is the flagship title. And several of the new characters that Way introduces in the book — Casey Brinke, a singing telegram girl from beyond the stars — are absolutely fascinating. But only part of this book is treading new ground.
In a text piece at the end of the issue, Way talks about his love for Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol comic from the 1990s. While that Doom Patrol run was absolutely incredible — I recently re-read it and was happy to find that much of it holds up — some of the elements in this new Doom Patrol feel a bit too eager to retrace those steps. The beauty of Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol was that he took an old, unsettling superhero comic and transformed it into something new and unsettling. It was of its time, and it happily discarded elements of the past to build its own identity. If Way is unable to make something new here, his Doom Patrol could wind up being nothing more than a nostalgia act.
Comics is not hurting for nostalgia; in fact, nostalgia is what is holding comics back. And those terrific books that ran during the heyday of Vertigo Comics — Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Sandman — deserve more than nostalgia. The best homage Way could pay to Morrison’s run would be to ignore it, and to head in a different direction entirely.