We need to talk about “Milk Wars.” The Young Animal/DC Prime crossover kicked off last month with a joint Justice League America/Doom Patrol issue. It is bizarre, complicated, and staggeringly beautiful all at the same time – everything I want out of a superhero book.
From the second panel, Justice League America/Doom Patrol is dripping with personality. We’ve known since the preview art hit that this would be an odd comic, with Leave It To Beaver-esque reimaginings of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman headlining the crossover. And just from the participants involved it was a safe bet that this would a book that would revel in its comic form. Ever since Grant Morrison irrevocably changed the team, only one story has been able to make the Doom Patrol anything but meta commentary (later seasons of the Teen Titans cartoon, but we’ll talk about that when the Blu-ray hits). But it’s the panel layout of the first page where we get our first sense of what’s really coming.
At first glance, the first page is fairly straightforward. It’s an office setting, with a few office drones getting set up for a presentation. But the panel layout is less than straightforward, and the person making the presentation is drawn with more character than you’d expect from someone in that position in another book. He’s tiny, but weirdly muscular with a pushbroom Flanders-ey mustache. The hourglass layout focuses the reader on the moment we’re introduced to Retconn, the company that specializes in rewriting reality.
This is a very technically adept book. What unfolds from the first page is a story that mashes together two already large casts with two wildly distinct tones into one coherent opening chapter. Character introductions are smoothly integrated into the storytelling, and the Retconn(™)ed Justice Leaguers are recognizable even in their altered forms. Every character on both teams gets a distinct voice and his/her own moment. Even 1950s Lobo is somehow a delight to read.
This is a hell of a feat. Steve Orlando and Aco have been hot on their respective books (Justice League of America for Orlando, and the sadly ignored but stunning Nick Fury for Aco). The transition that the pair made to this book is impressive: their previous work together was basically a fight comic (Midnighter and Midnighter and Apollo which – surprise – we loved). A shockingly emotional fight comic, to be sure, but it was still basically a book where a thousand tiny panels told you the story of a guy who punched out his own ears so he couldn’t hear his opponent say her killing word. Justice League of America/Doom Patrol is a world away from that: the fights are almost all abstractions, conceptual battles that benefit from psychedelic layouts that fold over four pages. Orlando certainly benefits from working with regular Doom Patrol scribe Gerard Way here. While it’s not clear who wrote what, it’s not tough to assume the pair collaborated on their respective teams, but the dance of balancing each contribution is complicated. These guys nail it with glee.
And “gleeful” is probably the only word that can describe how this book wallows in the nerdier corners of the DC encyclopedia of characters. Being a Doom Patrol book, there is the requisite fourth wall breaking, with references to the founder of DC Comics and Gerard Way himself, but Crazy Jane also awakens the League by reminding them of old issues they appeared in, with covers lifted from old issues of Firestorm, Action Comics, The Ray, and Omega Men. The villainous company, Retconn, bears a striking resemblance to the evil corporation introduced in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics that created a corporate amalgamation of Superman. And not for nothing, they’re being hired by Manga Khan, one of the best villains from the Bwa-ha-ha Justice League era.
“Milk Wars” started with a bang. It’s got a strong, clear voice, an interesting spin on classic characters, and beautiful art. It could only exist as a comic – the hurdles it would have to leap to be translated into other media aren’t insurmountable, but they would make the other media project something distinct from this, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a good example of what we need more of from comics today.