Friday, October 4, 2013

The Beauty and Brilliance of Grant Morrison’s 'Doom Patrol', Introducing Mr. Nobody: a Savior, a Monster, an Act of Sacrilege, Dada

One of the major players in the realm of comic books has been the United Kingdom, and one of its most important periods occurred in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the British Invasion of American comics. This period saw the influx of British creators, most of whom initially worked for DC Comics, creators such as Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Simon Bisley, Dave McKean, Peter Milligan, and Scottish writer Grant Morrison.

It is Morrison and his work that we will be sampling in this post, specifically, the brilliant and explosive introduction of Mr. Nobody - “the spirit of the twenty-first century” – which occurred in Doom Patrol #26. The issue was published in 1989 during the beginning stages of Morrison’s epic run in the series (#19-63).

cover of Doom Patrol #26 – click image to enlarge

The significance of Mr. Nobody in the DC Universe is minimal. He is a secondary player, a supervillain created by Grant Morrison, the only writer to really make use of the chaos unleashed by his nihilist ideology, motivating him to create the ‘Brotherhood of Dada’, a supervillain group with the core principles of Dadaism.
Dada was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of World War I… Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition…. Dada was an informal international movement, with participants in Europe and North America. The beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. For many participants, the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that corresponded to the war.

“Many Dadaists believed that the 'reason' and 'logic' of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality…. A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that ‘Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.’ Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, a ‘reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide.’

“Years later, Dada artists described the movement as ‘a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the postwar economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path... [It was] a systematic work of destruction and demoralization... In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege.’”
Mr. Nobody is the embodiment of one of the main themes in comics: how heroes and villains lose their sanity and become overwhelmed with a distorted sense of reality. Morrison shows us how through trials and tribulations characters end up redefining themselves. We witness a sane human being turn into an insane criminal mastermind through sensory deprivation and isolation, hell bent on reshaping the world in his own distorted image.

In this story arc, Morrison foreshadows one of the greatest queries of our time: what the repercussions of the institutionalization and normalization of solitary confinement and torture will be to our society? Considering the practices that we have deemed to be acceptable behavior since this series was published, it is a question well worth pondering.

In comic books, some characters that undergo such extreme experiments emerge with super powers. In Mr. Nobody’s case, it was the power “to drain the sanity from his victims”. In real life, however, those who suffer and survive such treatment do not acquire special abilities. The consequences of torture are far reaching and can result in people becoming many things in response, none of which are related to superheroes or supervillains. Sometimes individuals are able to return to their previous lives after rehabilitation. Some become humanitarians, some tools, others seclusionists, dysfunctional and depressed, while at times turning into individuals who seek retribution, which would explain why our governments have been so hesitant to release those that they have abused:
“‘I have a hard time seeing how it is responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these individuals home where they almost surely would be released and almost surely would return to threaten and kill more Americans’. [Republican Senator Ted Cruz]…

“Contrary to Cruz's we-can't-let-them-go-because-they'll-kill-us logic, Wilkerson offers a more compelling explanation for US reluctance to kick its habit of indefinite detention:
    "You've told the American people [that the Guantanamo detainees are] hardcore Al Qaeda operatives; you can't then suddenly say, 'Oh, made a mistake! These people are not really tough Al Qaeda operatives - oh my god, we've got to reverse this, we gotta close this camp'. You can't do that. It's politically impossible"….
“As journalist Adam Hudson remarked in an August interview following a trip to the prison, Guantanamo may be best described as a place of ‘institutionalised inhumanity’.”
The question we should be asking ourselves is: by isolating and torturing individuals, have we given birth to an army of insane ‘villains’, or will our victims go quietly into the night (poem - Villanelle - Villain)?

Like all great art, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is a reflection of our society. It is considered to be a masterpiece of storytelling by comic book aficionados and is well worth the read if you enjoy a little mindfuck.

As for the pages in question providing the origin of Mr. Nobody, below is the introduction of the character taken from Doom Patrol #26 - pages 18-21, 9, and 25 are presented (click images to enlarge):

The story so far is as follows:
    A man is searching for new beginnings, a new identity, a means for him to resume his life. An unscrupulous doctor gives him this opportunity. The opportunity to be transformed into a ‘new man’, and like a fool, he agrees.

…and a couple of splash pages for a full appreciation of what has been unleashed.

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