Saturday, August 08, 2009

"I didn't win a swimming gold medal at the Olympics for doing the dog paddle"

Above you see the character known by many of you, I'm sure, as Elasti-Woman, alias Rita Farr and charter member of the Doom Patrol. She features prominently in the first issue of yet another attempt by DC to perpetuate the license, this time brought to you by writer Keith Giffen and artists Matthew Clark plus the eponymously named "Livesay" on inks (shouldn't you have at least accomplished something noteworthy, a la Cher, Nilsson, Kirby, Garbo or Bowie, before you can expect to be addressed by one name only?). DOOM PATROL Vol. 5 #1: as relaunches go, it's about par for the course for recent DP revivals; Giffen by now is an old hand at this sort of thing, and they display the requisite angst expected of all DC properties right now, and in the case of the DP, that means lots of self-pity and surly attitudes. Not a lot of bwah-ha-ha here. It reminds of the short-lived and disappointing Suicide Squad revamp Giffen spearheaded a few years ago, especially when we're treated, right off the bat, to a mission gone all squirrely and the death of one teammate and the abandonment of her partner at the scene, as the original 3 (because after all, that's all we're supposed to care about, right? Not the lame-o members introduced in failed revivals) make their escape. The rest of the story is taken up by the standard "meet the principles through the eyes of a "normal" person" scenario, as a priest counselor volunteer talks to each member in turn, and then the requisite cliffhanger for the next issue. We also meet what I assume is another leftover character from a previous run, a diminutive young lady called "Bumblebee"- a character I was passing familiar with, especially her animated incarnation, and who has apparently hooked up with the DP as of 52 due to being stuck at tiny size, counting on the Chief to solve her problem. Lotsa luck with that; Niles Caulder is of course every bit as sociopathic as he's ever been (maybe not late Morrison and Pollock run sociopathic, but almost). The way DC operates right now, and since she's a) obscure and b) likeable, I give her six issues tops before she's raped and eviscerated, maybe not in that order. Anyway, nothing groundbreaking at all, but it's reasonably well done, surliness and all. Clark and Livesay's art isn't bad either; sometimes the figure drawings are stiff and awkward, sometimes (as with Rita above) not so; hopefully they'll loosen up a bit before they're is done or the book is canned, whichever comes first. A most atypical Metal Men backup feature rounds out the book; it's slight but since it's by Giffen/DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire (outstanding as always), it is (don't tell Didio, whose bland Metal Men in Wednesday Comics is very weak beer in comparison) a fun read, evoking, unsurprisingly, the old bwah-ha-ha Justice League as well as a gentle tweak of Lee/Kirby's Fantastic Four monster Tomazooma, the Living Totem. It's almost as if someone wasn't paying attention and they snuck a lighthearted superhero tale by the editors- wonder how long before we get the expected rape and evisceration? I give this issue a B+, and even though I've never been the biggest fan of the DP (except for the atypical Grant Morrison run, as well as the last few issues of Rachel Pollack's), I might follow along for a few issues to see where it goes.

Anyway, reviewing this issue isn't the only thing I wanted to do here; something else occurred to me as I was reading it, and it's something I've noticed before when reading the old reprints (I only bought maybe one or two issues of DP as a child in the 60s)...and it has to do with the Rita Farr aka Elasti-Woman character. Below, here's a look at her introduction, along with her origin:

Of course, click to make them biggerer for the easier readin'. Now, that's a pretty standard origin for the second wave of DC superheroes back then; "underground chemical vapors" weren't all that more far-fetched than the "Orb of Ra", white dwarf stars, or a scratch from a magical black diamond. Here's the thing that's always bugged me about this character, though- as far as I can tell, she has no real reason to adopt that "Oh, woe is me, I'm a pitiful freak who is shunned by humanity" stance, especially when compared to her teammates. Cliff Steele's brain was placed in a robot body, Larry Trainor is covered in bandages to keep the negative energy being form getting out of his body. Caulder is in his wheelchair. But Rita...well, she grows and shrinks and stretches a la Plastic Man, Elongated Man, and Mr. Fantastic. Otherwise, she looks perfectly normal and can remain so. In the sequence above, she claims to be unable to control her power, and the implied suggestion is that the Chief can help her learn to harness her ability...but a few panels later, a bomb threat conveniently pops up, and she helps the DP eliminate the threat by shrinking and entering the bomb, defusing it. No other mention is made (and bear in mind I haven't read all the subsequent adventures, it may have popped up again later) of her inability to control her size changing and limb stretching, and she seems perfectly capable of controlling it in both that episode, as well as the first battle with General Immortus later on. She says that she had to hide out of "shame and fear" after her "accident", and it's implied that she was being shunned by Hollywood. Now, I realize this was the early 60's, and in those days a career could be easily derailed by a report of scandal- when I broached this subject on Twitter a while back, I was reminded by Johanna Carlson of Robert Mitchum's pot bust and an affair that Ingrid Bergman had, that set back their careers for a good long while. This may be true, but it seems like something like Rita's "affliction" is different from getting caught in an illegal or immoral (by 50's-60's standards) act; I'd think that as long as Rita could remain at normal height and limb length, and be able to control this, that she would only have to worry about ruthless producers who'd wish to exploit her abilities. If she couldn't, as she said in her origin story, then that would be a problem and she would be perceived as freakish and shunned. But since she's shown every sign (at least in what I've read) of being able to exercise control, shrinking and growing and stretching at will, I just don't see it. She looks the same, which is why I've never been able to buy her as a "freak" and whatever angst she's displayed has always rung false, especially in the new series, which takes place in the modern-day DCU, a place where the extraordinary is commonplace and super-beings of all varieties are everywhere. Which doesn't make her any less cool when she's slamming helicopters around, but in all other aspects I have a hard time staying interested and feeling that she belongs- which must have been a problem with other writers, since only ├╝ber-nostalgist Byrne could be troubled to bring her back after she died at the end of the original series. All this said, I do kinda like the character, although I'm mostly indifferent to the whole non-Morrison Patrol in general; she has a nasty, prickly temperament which sets her a part a little bit sometimes.

One cool thing about her character, though, and one which ties directly in to this blog, is this scene, from her wedding in issue #104 of the original series:

It was at her wedding that the Official Mascot of the Johnny Bacardi Show, that none other than Super-Hip! (bottom right- he kinda stands out a bit in that company) made his only appearance in a DC comic outside of his own Adventures of Bob Hope series. Groovy, baby! This was Arnold Drake having some fun with his creations, I'd think.

ETA: As so often is the case, once I got farther into the run of the early Doom Patrol, I came across a story that addresses some of the complaints I noted above, most notably why Rita couldn't continue to lead her normal life. I'll do a separate post about it at some future date.

Reviews coming soon, I hope- comics, incl. Mike Dawson's Ace-Face collection, Green Lantern-First Flight, and Cliff Meth's Billboards short-story collection.

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