By E.A. Henson
Books: Doom Patrol and Shade, The Changing Girl
The first time I heard about DC Comic’s Young Animal imprint I was nearly drowned in the sea of buzzwords that accompanied it: pop-up, curated, boutique. Admittedly, it took me a moment to get past all that to see what the books really are.
For me, the press releases should’ve read “BREAKING: COMICS FAN MAKES GOOD, COMES BACK TO OLD NEIGHBORHOOD A HERO.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The new Young Animal imprint from DC is a small, line of comics for mature readers that are (ahem) curated by Gerard Way. Many of you may recognize Way and the front man for the band My Chemical Romance but that’s a Way I never really knew and I feel it’s a small disservice to pigeonhole him as such.
You see, Way is the “real deal.” And what I mean by that is he’s an old school, dyed-in-the-wool comic book fan. He grew up reading DC books. He went to art school. He interned at DC comics. He even created The Umbrella Academy from Dark Horse Comics which won an Eisner award. You may begin chanting “one of us, one of us” now.
The Young Animal line is made up of four books: Doom Patrol; Shade, The Changing Girl; Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye; and Mother Panic. The first two titles are what I’m going to be taking a look at in this part, but first some history.
Years and years ago in the period of pre-history that is the 1990s, DC had launched a mature readers line called Vertigo that still exists to this day. It was a breeding ground for comics weirdness that was being bankrolled by a major publisher and it kind of helped legitimize comic books as an art form. It brought a small-press, punk-rock mentality to mainstream comics and it was backed by a household name you could trust. “DC! You know, they make Superman!”
It was also during this time that I followed the great American tradition of working at The Mall. While I was working there, the cool record store kids would assemble outside with their army jackets and clove cigarettes, clutching copies of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and saying things like, “What’s Mike Watt trying to DO with Ball-Hog or Tugboat? Put together a supergroup like Nugent did with Damn Yankees?” Then they would all laugh derisively and I would shuffle past with my copy of X-Men.
That’s what Vertigo was to me: Comic books for people who were cooler than I could ever hope to be. I eventually grew into the Vertigo books and they used to form the cornerstone of my “comics are serious literature” arguments because they were exciting, well thought out, challenging pieces of art.
All that gets us back to the Young Animal books. These books are… cool. They don’t seem like the rigid Intellectual Property farm that superhero books have become over the last 15 years or so. There’s a certain joy to their creation and the fact that they will only ever properly exist on the comics page.
“Curating” really is the best word to describe what Way is doing with the two titles I’ve read so far. You can feel his hand in the books but it doesn’t feel like a forced Suicide Squad crossover with Justice League because Blu-Ray sales are down for one and hype needs to be created for the other’s forthcoming movie.
Doom Patrol is written by Way with art by Nick Derrington and colors by Tamra Bonvillain and is the newest take on DC’s “World’s Strangest Heroes.” The cover for issue one has a peel-away gyro which really sets the tone for the book. What’s under the gyro? Few can say. But it’s that kind of interactivity that pulled me into the book.
The book is odd in a way that is inviting and not off-putting. Way does a respectful job of taking cues from Grant Morrison’s run on the book in terms of weirdness but still making it accessible enough for people that may pick up the book solely on Way’s name recognition. The art by Derrington is crisp, fun, and versatile to the point where I had to check the credits to see if another artist contributed pages to the issue.
Shade, The Changing Girl is written by Cecil Castellucci with art by Marley Zarcone and colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick. Shade is a semi-takeoff of Vertigo’s Shade, The Changing Man… a book I’ve never read.
There was a certain amount of apprehension I harbored when approaching this book since I was woefully unfamiliar with the source material. This ended up being a complete non-issue.
The book follows Loma Shade, an alien from the planet Meta who is obsessed with the poet Rac Shade and the time he spent on Earth. Essentially, she is a fan of the original book. And because she is a fan it very plainly tells the reader that this is not that.
In brief, Loma winds up on Earth inhabiting the body of Megan Boyer, a high school bully who was in a coma. The first issue provided a fantastic introduction to the characters and concept of the book and the art has a fantastically surreal quality that I hadn’t expected from a DC book.
Next time, I’ll take a look at Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic.