What Are You Reading? | ‘Unstoppable Doom Patrol,’ ‘Gotham Central’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s reviews include Gotham Central, Doctor Strange, Unstoppable Doom Patrol and Don’t Spit in the Wind.

Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments below or by tagging us on social media.

Tom Bondurant

Recently I revisited the first several issues of Gotham Central, the early-‘00s series which featured the detectives of Gotham City’s Major Crimes Unit. Written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, and drawn mostly by Michael Lark, GC is about the intersection of day-to-day detective work and the splashy, over-the-top capers pulled by Batman’s rogues’ gallery.

Ironically, this seems to help the series hold up over time, even as it becomes less relevant to our current policing debates. Because its characters are only a step or two removed from the superheroes which complicate their lives, Gotham Central isn’t really concerned with systemic discrimination or the militarization of local law enforcement. Instead, it follows a small group of men and women who do their jobs not only under tremendous scrutiny, but with the awareness that some costumed lunatic might blunder in and screw everything up.

GC illustrates this right from the start, when a detective is murdered by a Bat-rogue during a routine investigation into a kidnapped child. Familiar Bat-characters, including the man himself, show up frequently and in various capacities, from a stray Batarang picked up by a teenager to discussions about who is legally permitted to light the Bat-Signal.

However, the two stories which really put Gotham Central on the map are probably “Half a Life” (issues #6-#10, June-October 2003) and “Soft Targets” (issues #12-#15, December 2003-March 2004). The former spotlights Reneé Montoya, one of a few preexisting Bat-characters anchoring the series, as she is framed for the murder of the man who outed her. While the arc ends with a Bat-fight, its gaze is fixed on the personal consequences for Montoya. A cynical reader could reasonably guess that the frame wouldn’t stick, but the point is that Montoya now has to face homophobic colleagues and parents who reject her outright. “Half a Life” well illustrates how Brubaker and Rucka could craft suspenseful, meaningful stories around the foregone conclusion of Batman saving the day.

That said, “Soft Targets” upped the ante by pitting the MCU detectives against the Joker, this time apparently slumming as a concealed sniper. The arc brings in Gotham’s news media, as the threat’s sensational nature almost immediately outweighs the detectives’ reluctance to call in Batman. Once the public learns that the Joker is at large, the press itself becomes a part of the story. There aren’t as many personal stakes in “Soft Targets,” but the creative team presents a scenario that’s terrifying enough to warrant a change in focus.

Slowly but surely I am catching up on new comics, including the latest Doctor Strange #1. Written by Jed Mackay, drawn by Pasqual Ferry and colored by Matt Hollingsworth, it picks up with Stephen Strange reinstalled as Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. Because I really liked the Clea-centered Strange series where she took over while Stephen was only mostly dead, I was hoping that she wouldn’t be shoved aside here. There is a bit of that, as Stephen mansplains a little and Clea is presented as more impulsive; but overall I was happy with the book’s vibe. Ferry and Hollingsworth’s work is lighter and more colorful than previous takes on the Bleeker Street crew, and it fits with the man-about-town attitude Stephen is putting out. He checks in with a few different corners of the Marvel U, from Spider-Man and Daredevil to She-Hulk and WAND, but the end of the issue still hits close to home. This is a good (re)introduction that gives readers a fairly traditional take on Strange and Clea, presented with breezy charm and style.

Finally, I read another new #1, Unstoppable Doom Patrol’s premiere issue. It’s a mostly-standalone story which, like Doctor Strange, reintroduces the team within the context of the larger shared universe. Specifically, writer Dennis Culver, artist Chris Burnham and colorist Brian Reber take the Patrol to Gotham City, where they are met with heckles, AIM-style science goons, and a newly-minted metahuman on the rampage. The Patrol’s differences with the Justice League, Suicide Squad and STAR Labs are called out explicitly, a few very familiar DC faces pop up, and we see how the team has changed since they last appeared. (In this respect I will only talk about Beast Girl, who is not a distaff Beast Boy by any means. She’s still pretty endearing, and her powers are distinctive and useful.) A sequence featuring old DP villains Monsieur Mallah, the Brain and General Immortus bookends the issue, and appears to set up at least one continuing subplot.

Overall I thought this was a very successful first issue. Burnham’s style is a good fit for the Doom Patrol’s offbeat adventures, and Culver’s script lays out the book’s tone and mission efficiently. I’m not sure why this version of Doom Patrol needed to add a Marvel-style adjective to its title, but let’s hope the series is as unstoppable as it claims.

JK Parkin

I feel like most of the Doom Patrol attempts that have followed Grant Morrison’s run on the title have lived in its shadow, whether they completely dismissed it (to their detriment) or attempted to follow too closely in its very large footprints. The ones that have worked found a healthy balance between the two, with the Keith Giffen/ Matthew Clarke run coming to mind, as well as the John Arcudi and Tan Eng Huat title that always felt to me like a really good Robotman title vs. the Doom Patrol, and maybe it was better for it.

This week brings another new “Unstoppable” take on the team, as Tom mentioned above, by Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham. We’re now at a point in time where the Doom Patrol have had their own TV show and they’ve appeared several times on Teen Titans Go!, meaning there are probably more people in the world who know who the heck this quirky team of misfits and adventurers are than at any point before. So the time is right for a Doom Patrol title that can capture the magic of what makes them work, something that pays tribute to where they’ve been without being weighed down by it. And I think Unstoppable Doom Patrol is doing just that. Culver and Burnham focus in on the core team we all know and love, adding a new angle to Crazy Jane that makes her even more compelling and introduce some fun new characters that fit well. In short, I kind of loved this first issue, and I really look forward to seeing more.

Don’t Spit in the Wind #1 arrived this week from Mad Cave Studios; it’s written and drawn by Stefano Cardoselli, with colors and letters by Dan Lee. It’s both a science fiction story with a bit of an environmental message to it and a blue collar mystery of sorts.

Set in a near future where humanity has abandoned Earth after polluting it to near death, the first issue doesn’t spend a lot of time scolding the reader or serving as some sort of parable for where we’re headed as a society — it’s really more about this crew that’s left behind to clean things up, working the shittiest job on the list of shitty jobs. The artwork reminded me of James Stokoe, not so much in style, but just in how you can tell every pencil line in every detail is there with a purpose.

Plotwise, Cardoselli doesn’t overpack the first issue; instead he lets the reader soak up this world — or what’s left of it. Finally, the real story, which concerns the disappearance of a fellow crew member, is introduced in the final few pages. I like that the comic gives the story and the setting plenty of room to breath while still introducing the players and giving you enough context to understand what’s going on. This pacing also gives you plenty of time to soak in the artwork on each page, which is both gritty and beautiful, esp. with Lee’s bold choice of colors. I’m looking forward to seeing where this one goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.