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Sep 14

All-New Doop: “The Real Battle of the Atom”

Posted on Sunday, September 14, 2014 by Paul in Uncategorized, x-axis

It’s been over a week since All-New Doop finished up, so we’d better get it done before it slips out of memory.  Another sequel of sorts to Peter Milligan’s X-Force/X-Statix run, this picks up on Doop in his current status as a minor supporting character for the X-Men.

For those who might not remember, X-Statix was a series, way off on the fringes of the X-books franchise, about a bunch of mutants who had signed on to become “heroes” in a team that existed largely to promote its own celebrity status.  While they did fight the odd villain, they did so more because their public imagine demanded it than anything else.  And floating around in the background was Doop, their cameraman who spoke in gibberish.

Somewhat bizarrely, Doop has proved to be the sole element of that book to migrate into the wider Marvel Universe (the rest of the cast having been killed off in the final issue).  He was folded into the X-Men’s extended cast in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, serving as a non-specific school employee who generally contributed to the place’s air of complete nonsense.

As a functionally non-speaking blob who does random stuff, Doop is not the obvious choice to carry a five-issue story – and indeed Milligan ends up giving him the ability to speak English at the end of issue #1, since otherwise it’d be a long few months poring over the substitution cypher.   And there is indeed a plot – kind of.

The basic theme here is that Doop is a character from the “margins” who influences the “real” story – the X-Men’s story, in other words – by hanging around on the edges.  So in order to give him a real story to influence, this story is literally written in the margins of the “Battle of the Atom” crossover, and sees Doop attempting both to romance Kitty and to encourage her to stand up for the Silver Age team.  The story wavers a bit about how serious he actually is about forming a relationship with her; but it’s pretty clear that his fundamental aim here is to steer Kitty where she needs to go for the story itself to work.  In other words, All-New Doop is offering an explanation of why she dumps Iceman and turns on the rest of the team to take a fairly illogical stance of supporting the kids.

But since the explanation revolves around Doop and the bizarre world of the margins that he lives in, it’s an explanation that plainly doesn’t make enormous sense and wouldn’t have sat remotely sensibly in the original story.  A cynical reading would be that this is the point – that Kitty’s actions in “Battle of the Atom” are woefully undermotivated, which leaves space to fill the gap with something as crazily arbitrary as this – but I rather assume that Milligan was aiming a bit higher than simply criticising the plotting of an X-Men crossover.

Instead, his main theme here seems to be the idea that the “real” story, though superficially making sense, is actually the product of insane, half-formed, dream-like ideas that aren’t properly part of the story but still act on it around the edges.  This, the story seems to be saying, is what lies just beyond the story proper – half-formed randomness that never quite coalesced into a narrative.  And of course, if the Marvel Universe is conceived as a story rather than an imaginary universe, this is indeed what lies just off panel and backstage – the dumping ground of ideas that never quite made it and half-remembered offcuts.

Which is quite an interesting idea, but the book seems to run into trouble when it comes to actually building a story around this.  Because once you’ve defined Doop’s central trait as being that he isn’t part of the story proper, you’ve kind of got a problem in turning around and giving him a conventional plot.

All-New Doop never really finds a convincing solution to this problem.  Halfway through, it veers off into a story thread where Raze threatens to expose some terrible secret about Doop’s mother, forcing him to go off on a voyage of discovery about his roots.  How Raze knows anything about Doop’s mother in the first place is never explained, but more to the point, the story goes out of its way to explain that Doop actually originated as a marginal doodle in an Ingmar Bergman script, thus expressly downplaying the genuineness of his “mother” from the off.  Mama Doop is a grotesque “bad mother” parody, and the big family secret revealed in the final issue is pretty much bizarrely random.

What Milligan is doing here, I think, is trying to impose some shape on his miniseries without compromising the idea that Doop isn’t part of the real story, and doing that by writing a parody of a character arc that follows the basic beats while being too overwhelmingly weird for anyone to take seriously.  Doop’s story is not a proper story so much as the marginal echo of one.  But while this may preserve the theme of Doop being a creature of the margins, the result doesn’t particularly work as a story.  The practical upshot is that the second half of the mini loses touch with the concept of being written in the margins of “Battle of the Atom” and goes off on a rather unsatisfying tangent, something that feels a bit too sprawling over the course of five issues.

There are strings of fabulously random ideas in here, and David Lafuente is a perfectly chosen artist, able to play the “real story” straight while embracing the cartoonishness of Doop and the randomness of the margins more generally.  But it’s less than the sum of its parts, and “Battle of the Atom” wasn’t the best choice of story to use; it’s a rather rambling and chaotic plot in the first place, and doesn’t provide a strong enough contrast for the margins.

File under “interesting failure”, I think.

Bring on the comments

  1. joseph says:

    Oh come on, 5 issues of this was just right. I enjoyed it.

  2. Tdubs says:

    I was surprised by issue one when I thought this was going to be a parody of recent X-Men stories about issue three I was bored of it. I bought four just to complete the series and then was dismayed to realize it was five issues. I never picked up five. I wish I’d waited for it to be on unlimited.

  3. David Tarafa says:

    I dropped it after #3. There are things I likes about it, especially the artwork, but Doop’s behavior toward Kitty was just completely pick-up artist/”nice guy”/friend-zone creepy. And not on purpose as far as I can tell. In general, I think giving Doop this kind of standard/heteronormative motivation was a mistake.

  4. FallenAngel says:

    Yeah, I’d say it quickly fell apart. I thought it was going to be Milligan satirizing recent X-Men mega-stories. It seemed to be mostly failing at that, as Milligan can be a lot more funny.
    Then, I got interested in the oddness of the Bergman tangent, but Milligan dropped that very quickly also.
    It ended up as feeling very pointless.

  5. ferris says:

    David, I think in the last issue Doop basically says his hitting on Kitty was just a ruse designed to get her to reevaluate her relationship with Bobby.

    I liked the first issue but it was a bit of a mess after that, and having Doop speak English only made him less interesting.

    So were U-Go Girl and the Anarchist supposed to be alive in the margins world? They seemed pretty dead in that Dead Girl/Dr Strange mini a few years back.

  6. Jamie says:

    I really want to check this series out. Love the artist. Like the writer. Loved pre-X-Statix X-Force.

    But people seem to hate it.

  7. David Tarafa says:

    Peter Milligan used to be a writer who was kind of inconsistent- half his output would be amazing, the other half (or less) would be poor. But I can’t remember the last time he did good work. He really hasn’t written anything great in an incredibly long time. At least to my knowledge.

  8. Jamie says:

    David, can you list his amazing work? I’ve really only read his X-Force run.

  9. David Tarafa says:

    Fair question. Now that you mention it, I’ve really only enjoyed his X-Statix stuff and some Shade the Changing Man. And have really not enjoyed a lot more. But I understand he did some other good work for Vertigo and in the UK before that.

  10. Enigma, with Duncan Fegredo, is a top ten of all superhero comics comic.


  11. Don_Wok says:

    Enigma is pretty amazing and his Human Target was great

  12. Jamie says:

    Oh right, I’d read the first issues of both his Human Target series. They were pretty good.

  13. Jamie says:

    “During an editorial meeting, Milligan presented the idea that led to the creation of Azrael, who became Batman during the “Knightfall” crossover.”

    Did not know that.

  14. He did some pretty decent work taking Hellblazer into its final lap.

  15. Omar Karindu says:

    Coming soon: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Girl

  16. Jamie says:

    ^Not as funny as you thought it was going to be. Sorry.

  17. Will says:

    (It’s pretty funny)
    Did he do Hewligan’s haircut for 2000ad?
    That was great.

  18. Omar Karindu says:

    Not as funny as you thought it was going to be. Sorry.

    Well, darn, and it was really your opinion I was concerned with.

  19. Jamie says:

    If you feel compelled to post lame crap publicly, be prepared to get called lame.

  20. JRC says:

    Thanks for summing this one up. It is one of the few times I’ve dropped a minis without finishing it. Milligan can be so hit/miss IMO. I am always pleased to see his name on a project, but I then instantly narrow my eyes with a hmmmmmm?
    How are his creator owned works? There’s something new from Dynamite that seems very personal, from his interviews.

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