INTERVIEW: Dennis Culver Talks Doom Patrol As ‘First Responders’ at SDCC 2023
Multiverse of Color sat down with Dennis Culver, writer of Unstoppable Doom Patrol and the recently released Knight Terrors: Zatanna #1, at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend. MoC has been reviewingUnstoppable Doom Patrol since the first issue came out in March of this year. Interview edited for clarity.
“Every comic counts.”
One of the best things Culver has managed in this new series is respecting what came before, while building something brand new. Sometimes, writers tend to disregard previously established canon in order to create a completely new story. This often leads fans to feel like the stories they’ve connected with don’t matter in the long run. “I have this idea, a personal mantra of ‘all your comics count,’” Culver said.
“I hate when things are invalidated. I want to treat Doom Patrol like every Doom Patrol series that has happened before still happened. If all of these things happened to these characters, what does it do to them? What does it mean? How can I weave that together? It might not be perfect and it might not happen exactly as it was written. But they’ve all been through this stuff,” Dennis continued.
Considering how much the previous iterations of the Doom Patrol have dealt with, this is a lot of hefty baggage for the characters to sift through. “It made these characters more interesting to me, because they start out in a place where they’re really messed up. They’ve got a lot of trauma, like the TV show.”
Speaking of MAX’s Doom Patrol (season four, part two pending), Culver had nothing but nice things to say. “I am a lifelong Doom Patrol fan, so I was excited to see the show. It was adapting a lot of stuff that I read. They do it well and they add a lot more heart and pathos to it. It made me want to reread my old comics and made me excited about those characters again,” Culver said.
“When I got the chance to pitch on Doom Patrol, I wanted that feeling from the show. I want people that have only watched the show to feel like they can onboard with this book. It still feels familiar enough that they feel like they don’t need to read a hundred comics to get into it. It’ll certainly enhance the experience, but they’re just able to go in and enjoy the book. It feels like a spiritual sequel, at the very least to the show,” Culver continued.
To Culver, not only does every Doom Patrol story matter and count in his series, but their baggage and trauma does too.
“Superhero first responders”
“When you get to the end of the Gerard Way run, they’ve almost gotten to this place of healing. They’re doing better, they’re not perfect. When you’re processing your own stuff, or you’ve gone through something really hard and you’ve overcome it, there’s this natural impulse inside all of us to want to help other people get through that same process. That’s where we start with Unstoppable Doom Patrol. It’s like they’ve been through this trauma, they want to start helping other people,” Culver said, explaining his thought process.
With the eruption of Lazarus Planet creating new metahumans, the Patrol’s job got more complicated. They’ve been pitted against Batman, Green Lanterns Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner and therapy! One of the more fascinating things Culver said was his reasoning for why he made the Doom Patrol colors orange and called them “first responders.”
“During the [COVID-19] lockdown, when we started having the Black Lives Matter protests, there was a lot of talk about defunding the police. There were some interesting ideas, like there was a cartoonist who drew ‘here’s what the different types of sections of the police would be: this would be the mental health people, these would be the people that would handle traffic.’ That’s a neat process to think about that kind of thing,” Culver explained.
The Defund/Abolish the Police movement is still alive, but was at its highest awareness in 2020, with more Americans discovering how much of their taxes and cities’ budgets go to the local police. The graphic Culver references above is similar to messages like this billboard, highlighting what could be done with that money instead.
“I had those ideas behind Doom Patrol too, there’s a reason their color’s orange now; they’re not really traditional superheroes. They’re almost superhero first responders. Gerard had [Danny] the ambulance, so I wanted to carry that idea that’s different than ‘we’re showing up to stop the monster,’ they show up to save the monster,” Culver said.
The team will have that and more to contend with as Culver gears them up for a two-parter in issues six and seven appropriately called, “Stoppable.” The team will come up against a problem they may not be able to solve with heart, soul and gumption.
“There’s been this underlying plot going on with General Immortus. The two-parter that comes at the end is called ‘Stoppable.’ All these little subtle clues that I’ve been leaving, it all comes to a head. I talked a lot about continuity and I’m not just putting it out there for no reason, I’ve been setting the table. The first five issues, it’s a series of one-and-done issues, you can read them out of order, but they all connect, it’s kind of sneaky. The clues have been there all along, it’ll all come to a head in issues six and seven,” Culver teases.
Pick up Unstoppable Doom Patrol #1-4 at your local comic book shop. Unstoppable Doom Patrol #5 releases in August.