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Weird with a heart: Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham untangle 'Unstoppable Doom Patrol'

Comic Books

Weird with a heart: Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham untangle ‘Unstoppable Doom Patrol’

DC’s most beloved misfits return on March 28.

Doom Patrol has a special place in many a person’s heart, including folks that don’t even read comics. Thanks to the team’s recent TV series, DC’s favorite superhero monster team has been experiencing a resurgence that’s shown the world the power of misfits.

And now that very same boom period makes its way back into comics with a brand-new series from Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham. Due out March 28 (retailers, the FOC is March 5!), Unstoppable Doom Patrol is part of the ever-exciting Dawn of DC initiative. The book stems directly from the happenings of Lazarus Planet, with a world overrun by newly-activated metagenes. It’s up to the Doom Patrol — Elasti-Woman, Negative Man, and Robotman alongside new members Beast Girl and Degenerate — to help the “misfit” metahumans that find themselves “shunned and imprisoned by a fearful society.” Considering it’s an evolution of the Doom Patrol as a kind of first-response to saving monsters after they’ve saved themselves, it’s exciting to see something coming from this series.

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We spoke with Culver and Burnham about all of that — and much more. (Other topics included developing the team, inspiration from past runs, their favorite characters, and the team’s, let’s say, contentious past with a certain oh-so similar squad over at Marvel.) Oh, and be sure to mark your calendars: an extended uncut version of this interview will be available on the AIPT Comics podcast in the weeks leading up to the March 28 release.

Weird with a heart: Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham untangle 'Unstoppable Doom Patrol'

Courtesy DC Comics

AIPT: Does the cast resembles the TV show on purpose?

Dennis Culver: For sure. There’s a little bit of a by-design there. Some characters you just have to have in Doom Patrol because it’s not Doom Patrol without Robot Man and Negative Man, in my opinion. You gotta bring those guys in there. Cyborg’s is obviously busy elsewhere, and then kind of adding some characters of our own that kind of felt like Doom Patrol too. We wanted it to connect to not just the TV show but all the comics that have come before.

AIPT: Can you set up for fans what they can expect to find team-wise in this new series?

DC: It’s spinning out of Lazarus Planet, part of the Dawn of DC initiative. A unique difference about this team is they’re firmly rooted in the DC universe. That means that they bump into and have conflicts with all the rest of the parts of it.

During Lazarus Planet, there was a worldwide disaster where the Lazarus rain was kind of hitting everyone, turning people into monsters, both magically and otherwise. Because of that, there are more metahumans than ever, and the Doom Patrol has come along, and they have this mission of saving the world by saving the monsters.

We wanted to evoke the idea that they’re superhero first responders. They’re taking care of the metahumans before, other nefarious people get their hands on ’em in the DC universe. If you suddenly get superpowers in the DC universe, typically, you could become a superhero. You could become a supervillain. But that’s the rarity. A lot of times, you end up in a place like Star Labs. Worst case you end up in Arkham Tower. You either become worse, or you become a victim of someone who’s way worse. Even even worse than that, if you end up in the Suicide Squad where you’ve got like a bomb in your head.

The Doom Patrol’s not happy with any of that. And I think if you look at their history, they’re a team who’s been about dealing with their own trauma and kind of learning to overcome that. When you come to the end of the Gerard Way, Nick Darrington run, they’re in a process of healing. And I think the next logical step when you’ve kind of dealt with your own shit, you kind of wanna help other people. So this is where the Doom Patrol are. They’re a more proactive team. They’re looking for ways to save the metahumans who otherwise wouldn’t fit into society, and kind of helping them live with their new abilities or disabilities and kind of, you know, be able to just function in society.

That alone puts them at odds with the rest of the DC universe, whether it’s the government who doesn’t like them having a base just full of Metahumans. It’s kind of neat having the Doom Patrol firmly a part of the DC universe, because we get to see things that we haven’t ever really seen with the Doom Patrol, like them interacting with Green Lanterns and things like that.

Weird with a heart: Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham untangle 'Unstoppable Doom Patrol'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Now that you have a few issues behind you, obviously, do you have a new favorite character that you never knew you loved so much, Chris?

Chris Burnham: Robotman is definitely the go-to. But my new favorite is our new character of the year Beast Girl. She’s the most fun new person by far.

DC: The more he draws her, the more she speaks to me. He’s given her so much of her voice and the way her powers work that she kind of affects people’s lizard brain and she can trigger that fight and-flight response. Having just a really cute character that other people find terrifying is really an interesting visual. For me, going in is Robot Man. He still feels like that, that blue-collar everyman superhero. I’ve really enjoyed writing Jane’s new altar, the Chief. It’s kind of interesting bringing in a new identity to her matrix and kind of having not just the external conflicts that that causes, but also the internal ones.

AIPT: I know this is new-reader friendly, but is there any reading material for the anxious fan to read before diving in?

DC: I think that’s what’s cool about the Dawn of DC initiative, is like, there’s just a ton of good jumping on points for the whole line. The way we’re telling this initial six-issue series, each of the first four issues are done-in-one stories. Any of those can be kind of picked up right on their own, and you’re gonna have a complete beginning, middle, and end and an understanding of the Doom Patrol. Those first four issues do a lot to kind of just really make this feel big and really kind of just establish the parameters of the team, the theme, the core philosophy, and then the final two issues is like a two-parter. But once you get to the end of this series, it’s gonna feel much bigger than six issues because of that.

Really we’re giving you five stories. If you are a lifelong Doom patrol fan and you’ve read all the other comics, you’re gonna love this. There are definitely, a lot of cool Easter eggs in there, and you’re gonna be rewarded. It’ll make you wanna read the other comics too, which is, to me, that’s my favorite part when I’m reading a new comic, and they start talking about the other history, and it makes me feel like I get to be like a little archeologist, you know? Go and research everything. So hopefully, we’ll bring in more lifelong Doom Patrol fans.

Doom Patrol

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: What do you think defines Doom Patrol from other comics?

CB: It’s definitely like, on its face, weirder than a standard superhero comic. It kind of threads the needle between a Monster Comic and a superhero comic. Weird with a Heart, I guess.

DC: They’re all monsters. These monsters are trying to be superheroes. And I think that you don’t really get that feel from any other comic. You know, like all, all of the Justice League are very pretty people, and all of the Titans are very pretty people too. And so you’ve got these kind of like, weirdos that are rolling in, telling everybody how to do things. And I think that that stands apart from everyone else. When you get into the other superhero universes they prioritize sex appeal. Our whole line is saving the world by saving the monsters

AIPT: Did you guys have carte blanche to use any superhero or super villain?

DC: There’s always checking in with editorial and making sure that we’re not stepping on any toes or anything…

AIPT: “We wanna kill Batman in issue one. Is that cool?”

DC: <laugh> Yeah. The cool thing about our editor, Ben Abernathy, is he is always trying to find a way to tell us yes. No matter what crazy idea we come up with, he tries to find a way to make it work. I read all the comics, I’m kind of on top of DC. I know where the boundaries are and where the parameters are. Like having that Green Lantern issue come out the same month that they’re kind of having a status quo change for Green Lantern. That’s an easy enough editorial note that this issue takes place before Green Lantern #1.

AIPT: Knight Terrors was announced today. Might this series tie into that? Cuz that seems like the perfect opportunity for Doom Patrol.

DC: Doom Patrol’s presence will be felt. I don’t know how much has been announced yet, but I can’t get into it yet.

Doom Patrol

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: What made “Unstoppable” the right adjective for the title?

CB: A great question. I can’t remember. <laugh>

DC: There’s a few reasons for it. I wanted the series to stand out, not just on its own, but just stand out as being different from the rest of the DC universe. Having an adjective in front of the name is not something that DC often does. I think that that makes it interesting. And then also just the concept of what we’re doing, right? This, “saving the world by saving the monsters.” The Doom Patrol are doing it their way and they don’t care about stepping on anyone else’s toes. “Unstoppable” really marries with that nicely. Maybe when we do the next six-issue series,they might have a different adjective, but right now, they’re unstoppable.

AIPT: I’ve seen folks compare Doom Patrol to the X-Men. Do you think that’s a fair connection?

DC: Yeah, you know, it’s the 60th anniversary of the Doom Patrol this year. They actually came out a few months before the X-Men and if you look at those both early appearances, they are very similar. They both had a leader in a wheelchair. They’re both outcasts that were shunned by society. There’s a lot of similarities that were kind of built-in. It’s important to note that Doom Patrol got there first, right? The X-Men went one way and Doom Patrol went the other. The X-Men are Marvel’s Doom Patrol without question.

AIPT: Without question <laugh>. You heard it here first. That’s locked in. Chris with, the first four issues being done in one sort of tales and obviously different heroes and villains are popping up. Do you ever enter the halfway point of a double-page splash and you’re like, “why, why am I drawing so much?” Or “why, why are we doing this character?”

CB: Yep.

DC: <laugh> every day.

CB: Why did I choose this angle? Why are we on the street, <laugh>, why are there civilians here? I don’t think I drew any bricks in the first issue, though, I did a really good job of not doing bricks. Dennis and I did a pretty good job of designing costumes that aren’t super annoying to draw more than once. So they’re pretty classic and graphic. There are not too many seams and eyelets and stuff to draw. We were easy on ourselves with that one. <laughs>

Weird with a heart: Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham untangle 'Unstoppable Doom Patrol'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Chris, do you work digitally or traditionally?

CB: It is almost entirely traditional. Like I do Photoshopping at the end to clean up some eyes here and there. The actual drawing of it is, you know, 95% traditional, I’d say.

AIPT: Whose idea was it to do scratch-off cover variants?

CB: I would say it was, it was my initial idea, and then Dennis is the one that brought it up to Ben, the editor. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for years and years and just, there was never the right, perfect fit for it. In this one just like, oh, you know, crazy Janes multiple altars. Like, this is just like totally the absolute, you know, perfect.

DC: When Burnham and I were in a studio together, this is all he would talk about. When we got the green light for this, just happened to coincide with the same week that San Diego was happening. So I got to have breakfast with my editor, Ben Abernathy, and as we’re talking, I was like, “Burnham’s got a crazy idea. Do you think we could do a scratch-off variant?” And Ben didn’t hesitate. He just picked up his phone and started texting people. Together, Burnham and I collaborated on just figuring out a way to make that meaningful. Tying it into Jane and her alternate identities, it’s kind of neat because there are five possible outcomes when you scratch off this cover that’s never been done. It’s like a character-driven variant cover, which is something that’s not ordinarily done.

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