Why I Sympathize With Cliff Steele: An Introduction

I’ve long considered the idea of blogging, but every time the idea would pop up, I would quickly dismiss it due to the same obstacle: I couldn’t figure out a single subject to focus on. A theme. A reason. Something I could write about with confidence, and something I felt to be enough of an expert on to make my voice relevant.  And, as any good blogger would tell you, you need consistency of quality within your given topic.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can barely get consistency minute to minute in my life, so the idea of writing about one thing, over and over, week after week…it doesn’t seem feasible. That’s not how my life works. There is not a clear theme, by any means. All there is, is “The Weird”. Now, I could go through and explain the subtle nuances of my life in “The Weird”, but instead of opening the window for you to peer in at what I’m talking about, I’ve decided that taking a brick and smashing the window is the better choice. To just pour words and imagery out, and let you process as you see fit. The brick I’m using is Doom Patrol: Book One, the first of three volumes published in 2016 that comprise writer and magician Grant Morrison’s work on the title.

By now, you might be thinking that this is just going to be a review of a graphic novel, but let put that thought to rest right now. Where my life is at this moment compared to where it was just a few months ago is entire galaxies apart, and I’ve realized that the only constant in my life is how strange it can get, and to what extremes it can jump without my input. In this playing out, I found parallels to the character in Doom Patrol, Cliff Steele aka Robotman. Cliff was a star racecar driver who, after a horrific accident that should have killed him, had his brain placed into the body of a robot. Although Cliff and the Doom Patrol had many adventures before Morrison took over, it is where Cliff is at the beginning of his run that hits the implications of his predicament on the head.  This is not a review. It’s the wisdom one finds in fiction that mirrors their life at just the right time. It’s the brick in hand.

 

I.

ACCEPTANCE

Along the stages of grief, acceptance comes at the end. This isn’t the case in Doom Patrol: Book One, nor in my personal experience, and the sooner one can accept life in “The Weird” the better off they will be, along with the people around them,. How do I know this? Because in the opening to this section of Doom Patrol, we are given a glimpse into the denial that has calcified inside the minds of the scattered teammates.

Cliff Steele is having a crisis of existence as he stays in self-imposed exile to a psychiatric hospital. His unfeeling metal body has become a constant reminder that he isn’t a human being anymore, and he considers the Doom Patrol more of a death sentence for its members than a superhero team. Meanwhile, Niles “Chief” Caulder is on the opposite end of this argument, almost going as far as to guarantee that hsi Doom Patrol can and will  be brought back together. His friend and aide, Joshua Clay aka “Tempest”, tells him he’s wrong. It’s over. And throughout the beginning, Joshua keeps insisting that he will be moving towards a career in medicine and leaving the superhero stuff to the “capes”.

Larry Trainor, Dr. Eleanor Poole, and the N-Force entity are on a collision course with each other. The N-Force entity is seeking out Larry to reform Negative Man, and it doesn’t take no for an answer. First merging with Trainor, and then Poole, they become something wholly new in Rebis, a being that is both male, and female, and beyond the capabilities of all three. Then there’s Jane. Crazy Jane is scarred deep past traumas which created her dissociative disorder. Additionally, each personality within Jane has its own unique abilities used to protect her. She is the epitome of rejecting the normal categorization of mental illness, embracing these personality changes to save herself and her teammates..

The villains in this first section are all projections of denial. Beginning with the universe of Orqwith overtaking our universe,but only as long as it remaIns blissfully unaware of its own non existence. Red Jack lives in denial that he is anything less than God. Even Dorothy Spinner, a young farm girl who has the visage of a primate. Her ability to call up things from her own imagination gets beyond her, playing on her fears, and causing her to deny that she’s the only one that can get them in line again.

Acceptance changes the rules in all of these instances. Through the acceptance of the facts as they stand, and owning one’s own actions, the entire first section of the book brings the Doom Patrol back together under a single banner, something that seemed impossible for them.

Except Niles Caulder, of course. He knew it was going to happen the whole time.

 

II.

ABSURDITY

 

So we’ve accepted that life in “The Weird” is the new normal. Congratulations! Get a helmet.

Next we have Mr. Nobody and the Brotherhood of Dada, the best representations of absurdity at its purest form I’ve ever seen. This gives them the unique status of being likely to fail at whatever they do, while being completely contradictory as they are absurd enough to pull off the insane plan Mr. Nobody has concocted. The way I see it, we can all be absurd at times, but when this absurdity is contained in itself, it begins to eat its own head. It’s terrifying.

Mr. Nobody is the result of Nazi science that’s waaaaaay past its expiration date, and Morrison’s cracked lens that the story plays through; Sleepwalk is a woman with headphones, face paint, an outlandish getup, and uncharted strength…but only while she’s asleep; The Fog has the ability to turn himself into a living magical cloud that can swallow people, only to retain his victim’s minds within himself after, each of them putting in their two cents every time he speaks; The Quiz, a young Japanese girl in a question-marked hazmat suit and gas mask that is both an extreme germaphobe, but also in possession of every single superpower you haven’t thought of; and Frenzy, the eccentric, outlandish, and completely illiterate human cyclone.

Their plan is to steal and unleash a “hungry painting” on the city of Paris. They succeed at doing this, leaving nothing where the city and its population was except the painting and the easel it sits upon. We see a few of DC’s more mainstream and recognizable characters standing around the painting, completely puzzled at what they are looking at. That is, until the Doom Patrol shows up. This doesn’t surprise any of the “capes”. This is what the Doom Patrol does. But as benign as the painting looks, the problems only begin once they are inside “The Painting That Ate Paris’

The Brotherhood of Dada wipes the floor with the Doom Patrol in their encounter within the painting, bringing them to the Kingdom of No, a realm they’ve created inside the painting. Making this place has had the unfortunate result of inadvertently unleashing the forgotten Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Extinction. Realizing that the only way to survive is to join forces with the Doom Patrol, the Brotherhood shows us that they are so acutely absurd that the only thing that could defeat them is themselves. The Brotherhood, in particular Mr. Nobody, fight Extinction and win, escaping the painting as Superman stands outside of it, peering into the endless layers, totally helpless to do anything. The 5th Horseman, of course, becomes a wooden rocking horse on its way out.

Wait…what?!

Nevermind.

The point is, when navigating the irreverent and strange plains of “The Weird”, you will run into completely absurd circumstances that have to be met on their own terms. It is usually best to forge ahead when this happens instead of turning back the way you came. You’re certain to come out on the other side wholly changed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and who knows? Maybe you’ll get a rocking horse out of the deal.

 

III.

APOCALYPSE

Things end. It’s one of those certainties in life that’s right up there with things changing and things staying the same. But when you speak of the end in the context of the Doom Patrol, you know it can’t be good. Now, full disclosure, there are two entire volumes (aka a Book Two and Book Three) that come after this volume, so anyone with a phone can find out that I’m not coming up on the series’ finale, just the volume. It’s a bit all over the place, but bear with me.

First, as a result of fighting Extinction, Cliff needs to enter Jane’s mental subway system to bring her back from the brink of death. Things get strange, even for Robotman, and the result is him getting a new, jet-black body courtesy of Will “I’ll only be known for making the Metal Men, won’t I?” Magnus.

This goes right into the end of the humanity.

Or the world.

Or the universe. It’s sort of unclear, but the outlook is grim.

Starting with the K-Mart John Constantine known as Willoughby Kipling, and a set of villains both outrageous and terrifying that all going under the banner of the Cult of the Unwritten Book. The goal of the Cult is to bring forth the Decreator, aka the Anti-God, which they end up doing, and it manifests itself as a gigantic eye in the sky,    

As a result of their monumental efforts, the Doom Patrol is able to get rid of the Decreator, but Kipling assures them they have only slowed down it’s destruction of the universe. The apocalypse will happen no matter what now, but they have a lot of time before that comes around. The inevitability of the end hits home, just as it should in life. In comic books, it’s only at the death of a hero that a hero is considered able to die. Before then, they are a permanent thing against the fictional backdrop. But for the Doom Patrol, the end is always coming, and they will simply be waiting for the eye to turn its gaze upon them again.

The final issue collected in the book…well…I’ll leave that one to you. Although it may be the clearest philosophical point made throughout the entire volume, I won’t deprive you of the opportunity to read about a robot, two brains, and a super-intelligent monkey doing their thing.

At the end of Doom Patrol: Book One, with the insight I managed to glean, I felt good. I still feel good. The truths I found at a difficult time in my life within that book are rock solid, even if the interpretations I used to extract them may be a bit questionable. Dare I say, even a bit weird. But that’s the point: High strangeness is my normal, and my world turning upside down is just another expression of that. I just have to accept it, know it will be absurd, and eventually, the apocalypse will take us all as the eye moves to look upon us.

I couldn’t ask for a better ending to the start.

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