Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Ten Favorite Comics of 2007: Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality

"You don't believe in me? Big deal! With better reason, I don't believe in you!"

It always surprises me when Marvel or DC publishes a comic that takes a big wonderful steaming piss all over their current editorial direction. It truly makes you wonder what (if anything) is going on at the top of those organizations.

Consider, if you will, the Dr. Thirteen serial that ran in DC's Tales of the Unexpected mini-series. Aside from being a backup feature that was measurably better than its lead-in (Crispus Allen, stupid goatee Spectre), it was a bizarre meta-romp through the extremely less-traveled corners of the DC Universe that took nothing seriously, especially itself.

If DC Comics were a young lover bringing its fiancé home to meet its parents for the first time, the cast of Architecture & Morality would be the photo album of it dressed up as Rainbow Brite for Halloween and the junior high stories about Meribel the Holy Unicorn. You know, the stuff it wishes would be stuffed permanently back into the closet, or better yet burned in effigy. You have Anthro, the first Cro-Magnon boy; I, Vampire, the most metrosexual Nosferatu in existence; Infectious Lass, a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes; Count Julius, leader of the Nazi Primate Patrol; Captain Fear, a pirate ghost with an impenetrable accent; Genius Jones, a child who will answer any question for the price of a dime; the Haunted Tank; and of course Dr. Thirteen, the DC Universe's own professional skeptic, and his daughter Traci, who, perhaps inevitably, has turned to sorcery as a form of teenage rebellion. Thrown together by a series of increasingly improbable events, these Challengers of Credulity learn that they have no place in the new version of the universe being designed by the all-powerful Architects, and are scheduled for deletion from continuity. (Except Julius, because after he gets turned into a vampire, well, that's just pure gold.)

Obviously, they want to fight to save their existence, and just as obviously, they're not that good at it. But in the midst of the comedy of errors and the Brobdingnagian levels of snark, writer Brian Azzarello manages to do two unexpected and amazing things. First, he makes a cogent argument for the necessity of diversity, not just of character, but of tone, in the DC Universe (and, by extension, the Marvel one as well). And second, he tells a brutally funny story about a father who doesn't understand his daughter, and the lengths he'll go to to protect her from the world, whether she needs it or not.

Dr. Thirteen's devout skepticism, you see, is a defense mechanism against a cold and unloving world (not to mention his own cold and unloving father). So it's no surprise that he extends it around Traci like a bubble, constantly and consistently denying the very existence of the diverse and implacable horrors that threaten them both, turning them into something far more placable, if only in his own mind. And of course that works about as well as you'd expect in this complex world of jet-powered apes and time travel, and he finds himself up against the Architects of his inhospitable universe, who are about to make it the very definition of inhospitable for him, his daughter, and her new boyfriend. (No, I'm not telling you who it is.)

And that's where the series comes together in all its forms and cosms, be they micro, meso, macro, or meta. I'm obviously not going to spoil the ending (in a sense, there's no way I possibly can), but trust me when I say that Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality is a bloody good story told by two creators at the top of their game. Even if we never get a sequel (it's 50-50, really, whether DC's current regime pays any attention to the series's critical success and very vocal fanbase), it's left its mark on the world of comics circa 2007, and proven that *anything* can sell in this business if you do it right.

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