If reviews function as some mixture of recommendation and critique, the former is an easy and quick case to make. if you ever wanted to see Lobo, edgelord avatar of a generation, reconceived as a Fred MacMurray-esque patriarchal figure “JLA/Doom Patrol Special” is for you.
Written by Steve Orlando and Gerard Way
Illustrated by ACO, Hugo Petras
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain, Marissa Louise
Lettered by Clem Robins
“MILK WARS” part one! Welcome to the un-event of the year! Kicking off a line-wide adventure, DC’s Young Animal collides with the DC Universe to bring you a different kind of crossover.
The Doom Patrol has discovered that an interdimensional corporation called RetCo has been stealing stories, reconfiguring them and repackaging them for new markets. Our gang of misfit heroes have felt the touch of this nefarious company, and it has already started to change them. Even scarier, though, is how deeply RetCo has embedded itself into current continuity, using the radioactive milk of psychic cows to quell the more dangerous impulses of the Justice League and turn them into heroes safe for the masses. And to kick this off, RetCo has gone all the way to the top.
Meet Milkman Man, heretofore unknown final son of Krypton, who was sent to our planet to save him from the destruction of his homeworld, only to be adopted by an evil dairy farmer and raised to love all things dairy!
Co-plotted by Steve Orlando and Gerard Way, with art by ACO (MIDNIGHTER), this extra-sized special starts “Milk Wars” with a splash!
Plus, who is Eternity Girl, and how does she connect to this whole scheme? A special four-part back-up feature by Magdalene Visaggio (Kim and Kim) and Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) begins here.
One quick note, the whole ‘Milk Wars’ crossover appears to be pretty tied into what the current Gerard Way “Doom Patrol” has been dealing with. While the issue does a decent enough job of expositing the necessary information, it might take a bit for what they mean to really click. This information isn’t dense or tied into ages and ages of continuity, though as a meta text it kind of explicitly is. How writers Steve Orlando and Gerard Way and the art team present it, though, is just kind of absurd. Retconn, an extra physical corporation, can no longer monetize the reality TV-like presentation of the DCU, so they’ve begun talks to sell it to Lord Manga Khan but first must homogenize it through their agent Milkman Man and their whitewashing milk. This setup nicely hits the usual “Doom Patrol” notes of existentialism and metaphysics. All of that, the majority of which is presented by artist ACO and colorist Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise, is done in such literal fashion it takes Johnsian-literalism to it’s logically absurd conclusion. What other word is there to describe the conceit of this crossover besides “absurd?”
At the same time, for all the panache this issue features, at its core, it is pretty much the start of a traditional superhero crossover between two separate teams. One team comes into the others territory. Hijinks and misunderstanding ensue, leading to a series of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, only to eventually calm down, realize they have more in common than they thought, and team up to take down an antagonistic third party secretly manipulating things to their own ends.
These two elements, the absurdist presentation and traditionalism, create for an interesting tension running through this book and, to a degree, Young Animal as an imprint, that push and pull between its punk posture and the mainstream, represented by DC Comics proper. ‘Milk Wars,’ according to Gerard Way, was a suggestion/challenge to them by DC as an attempt to draw “mainstream” readers in. Which explains the pop punk feel to things. This tension is also why this issue is both not as “out there” as it thinks it is while quietly smart in how it uses aesthetics to subvert narrative expectations.
Retconn’s homogenization of Happy Harbor has transformed it into the mythical representation of mid-21st century suburban America Donald Trump opines as some sort of Golden Age. This vision is rightly rejected and itself a commentary on what the gatekeeping media powers that be imagine is commercially viable versus reality. Those rejections act as cover for what is mechanically a very standard superhero team up story. Much like the mainstreaming of punk culture, the means of production and their ethos have been co-opted and commodified rendering them a new veneer for the same old song, resulting in some banal critiques of superheroes, but also a surprisingly empathetic message.Continued below
At the same time, if the intent of the piece is to be an example of what “Doom Patrol,” and Young Animal in general, can be while telling a story that would be palatable to a larger mass of people, it more than succeeds. Artistically the work of ACO, colorists Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise, and the single page by Hugo Petrus, create for an beguiling book that mixes psychedelic coloring and patterns with pop art that works sequentially.
After things calm down, Jane Challis explains to Black Canary “superhero fights aren’t usually our thing.” Which goes back to the sneaky cleverness of how it goes about its business. Superhero fights are a dime a dozen, with the big ones only lasting in the consciousness because of the intense emotional baggage tied to them. This book has neither the time nor place to build that baggage for a cheap trope fight. Instead the art team decides to go BIG with a pair of double page splashes that connect! Harkening back to Bryan Hitch’s eight-page foldout from “Ultimates 2.” Reading digitally dose not do this four-page spread justice, but what it does do is encapsulate every hero in a key pose that explains them to the uninitiated. So, is it a big superhero fight, and is it kind of dumb? Yes. However, it is beautiful and an example of the kind of style you find in “Doom Patrol.” Bonviillain and Louise use patterns running through the background as room to spread their pallets so that everything reads as balanced despite the overall high luminosity to everything.
From a figures and layout perspective, perhaps ACO provides an answer to the tensions running through this book and my ambivalence. While the issues goes through several different tones at the turn of the page, everything comes across as incredibly balanced. Pages are filled with mirrored images. As Vixen punches Negative Man with the power of the Rhino at the top of one page, Negative Man’s inner beast comes out and returns he favor at the bottom. This issue is dominated by be recurring circular imagery, either assumed ones or ones used to create panels. The circle represents the whole and in the context of the issue it represents the equal of experience, heroism, humanity, of both the JLA and Doom Patrol. As they leave to go battle beings beyond their comprehension, they are shown both in a circle and forming one. Surrounded by even more circles. This imagery is why the dueling narration between Killer Frost and Casey doesn’t come off as overdone. How it’s laid out plays into the overall balance of the page, but their separate but similar conclusions further represent motif of equality this issue is meant to convey.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “JLA/Doom Patrol Special” #1