Welcome to “Milk Wars,” the first crossover between Young Animal — the frequently surreal mature readers DC Comics imprint headed up by Gerard Way, headlined by a revival of the Doom Patrol — with the regular DC Universe. Or perhaps that should be Young Animal’s first incursion into the DCU, because the sheer presence of these characters, and the kind of storytelling that Way has cultivated, warps the reality of the comics they’re crossing over with.
This issue does follow that well-worn superhero crossover structure, where the two title-sharing teams meet, share a misunderstanding that leads them to fight, and eventually team up to fight the real threat… but it does it in a way that’s only visible if you squint. Like, really really hard.
What you’re more likely to notice on a first read is: Milkman Man, a knock-off version of Superman dressed as a 1950s milkman, and the sentient ambulance who might be his grandfather. A mythology based around the “God of Superheroes.” An evil multiversal corporation with a world domination plan centered around mind-controlling milk.
“Weird for weird’s sake” is a fairly common criticism of Doom Patrol — not just Way’s iteration, but all the way back to Grant Morrison’s revival in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And fair warning: if you’ve ever been put off by that, JLA/Doom Patrol Special is resolutely not the comic for you.
This issue is, seemingly by design, hard to follow. It jumps between ideas without fully introducing or explaining any of them, leaving it to the reader to fill in the gaps — a task which is made perhaps more difficult than it has to be by the art.
ACO is a brilliant artist, with a love of experimental layouts, like one memorable page here which is constructed out of milk bottle-shaped panels. These are beautiful, and fit the tone of the comic perfectly, but they don’t make processing what is actually happening any easier.
The trade-off, however, is this comic’s sheer density of wonderful ideas, images and moments. A diagram that shows the evolution of DC’s superheroes as a family tree, with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman at the top. The page-dominating sound FX which surround Milkman Man. A double-page spread where the brainwashed JLA are confronted with the covers of their own first appearances, transforming them back into their regular selves.
These kinds of highlights come at a rate of one or two a page, capturing the same spectacular strangeness normally found in the superhero comics of Grant Morrison. That’s not a coincidence. Not only are Doom Patrol, and to a lesser extent JLA, comics defined by his runs, the co-writers of this issue — Gerard Way and Steve Orlando — are enormous fans who have spent the past few years keeping Morrison’s legacy alive at DC.
So it’s appropriate that JLA/Doom Patrol Special feels like an extension of the argument put forward in Morrison’s Multiversity series, that superheroes should be weird. That we should resist attempts to homogenize characters who, though familiarity can make us forget it sometimes, have been pretty bizarre from their very conception.
The villain here is a corporation which wants to sand off the edges of our heroes, make them less of a “niche property.” Just in case that was too subtle, the issue closes on a line from Caitlin “Killer Frost” Snow that is pretty much the thesis statement of the entire comic: “Maybe strange deserves a shot.”
If you can handle a comic which isn’t always completely clear, which confronts you with incomplete concepts, and which is pretty damn strange throughout, then maybe JLA/Doom Patrol Special is worth a shot too.