Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CBR Doctor 13


So many great characters missing in action in the DC Universe at the moment...

One might wonder, what happen to those forgotten characters, those sometimes-quirky and oddball types that have no place for big gritty modern story tales? Mmmh...

Comic title: Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality 
Art by Cliff Chiang
Written by Brian Azzarello

Published by DC Comics
From 2007
Lineup 52, Doctor 13, I...Vampire
Format: Trade Paperback collecting the back-up feature from Tales of the Unexpected #1-8.

What or Who is Doctor Thirteen you ask?

Dr. Terrance Thirteen (aka Doctor 13) was originally first seen in Star Spangled Comics #122 way back in 1951.

He is a parapsychologist that was basically used as a character in "adult" Scooby-Doo adventures. He would usually investigate supernatural occurrences only to prove them to be hoaxes. Accompanied by his wife Maria back then, his biggest weapon was actually his skepticism.

Doc 13 would simply deny everything at all cost. And his skepticism also made him resistant to magic somehow.

His stories then moved to the mystery/horror title House of Mystery by the mid-1950s.

It was later revealed his own father tried to hide their own ancestry from Terrence. His entire family were actually magic practitioners! Dating back to Salem, many where executed and his dad tried to protect him for that kind of life.

Sadly, Doctor Thirteen become a supporting character for other stories over the years, before being completely forgotten by the 1990s (despite a short appearance in a Vertigo Comics one-shot titled "Doctor 13 - Do AIs Dream of Electric Sheep?").

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's today's subject!

Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality was a back-up feature originally published in the eight-issue limited series Tales of the Unexpected. Another resurrected idea.

The original Tales of the Unexpected was a science-fiction/horror comic series from the '50-60s. It was revived in 2007 for a story featuring the Spectre.

The story opens with several nightmares!

Terrance Thirteen has been having a lot of weird dreams lately - some he probably won't be telling his teenage daughter Traci Thirteen.

He lives with Traci, still keeping himself occupied what with him working as a paranormal investigator from time to time. Not knowing it, Traci is actually a powerful sorceress.

But you see, Doctor Thirteen wouldn't probably believe it anyways. He doesn't believe in anything. He's probably the biggest skeptic to have ever lived in a world populated by the likes of Superman, Green Lantern or the Martian Manhunter.

Not that will stop from going after a yeti... which turns out to be a vampire (yeah, right...).

That vampire ends up being actually Andrew Bennett, a long forgotten character and the DCU's most popular vampire. From I...Vampire, a feature from an horror anthology, created and written by J. M. DeMatteis originally. (the more his series progressed the less horror it was and it even ended up pretty meta* with Andrew finding out the universe had no place for him anymore for seing behind the curtains of the universe, and then got killed for good... or was he?)

Andrew Bennett had now been living in the French Alps for some times after his last "resurrection" since, you know, he's a vampire.

From there Doctor Thirteen will take on a quest that will continue to have him face several old characters nobody could probably remember. All back from their own canceled series. Such as the kid scientist Genius Jones, Anthro, the Primate Patrol, Infectious Lass from the Legion of Substitute-Heroes, Captain Fear from a 1970s feature from Adventure Comics, and even the oh-so cheesy but awesome Haunted Tank!

Until finally meeting the shapers of the universe, of "their" universe.

Who are the Architects that control our protagonists' fate?

And more importantly, will he even believe any of this anyways?

This Doctor 13 probably started as a passionate defense for forgotten characters.

And Doctor Thirteen was the perfect means for Brian Azzarello's objective.

Not only did he brought back to the limelight many old concepts but he also brought some characters to the attention that managed to get a chance back later on. Such as Traci 13, a recurring character in Jaime Reyes' Blue Beetle title, or even I... Vampire reimagined finally in the New 52 comics nowadays.

This story often breaks the fourth fall and never fall short making fun of the superhero genre's common clichés and the current state of continuity in the DC Universe at a time the DC "architects" were all highly involved with the maxi-series event 52.

By the way those architects that appear in these pages were actually Mark Waid (sporting a Flash mask), Geoff Johns (Superman mask), Greg Rucka (Wonder Woman mask) and Grant Morrison (Batman).

Doc 13, Andrew Bennett & co were all unwanted characters writers didn't bother with anymore nowadays, but Azzarello was able to only to make them interesting but make 'em all much more complex and real than what other writers usually come up with on "high profile" books.

Proving not only they still had a place in the new Universe but also challenging the usual cyclical nature of mainstream comics (DC or even Marvel too for that matter).

It's a funny cynical and parodic look at when characters "die" due to decline in popularity rather than in-story actual deaths. Specially when they challenge the DC Comics authorities at their own headquarters in New York in the end.

Sure, some of these characters might not make sense anymore or don't seem that relevant anymore, but they still have the potential a writer can see.

Ghosts, pirates, nazi gorillas, haunted tank, French-speaking caveman. It looks like a "Weird Tales" tribute with a bunch of outcast no DC writer would have a place with (and therefore "eliminated"). But others came before these "architects" and many more will come long after them.

They just need to wait around for the right architects for a chance at coming back.

Overall, it's a pretty fun entertaining book with a lot of great character that still holds up to this day.

There's a lot of meta commentary, 4th wall breaking, playing with behind-the-scenes aspects of the DCU and tropes of the entire superhero genre.

There's certainly a whole other subtext nowadays what with DC's latest reboot "The New 52" around. (It's almost ironic in that matter... I'm looking at you, I... Vampire!)

It just goes to show that with the right writers and under the right "architect" certain characters can and will allowed to be brought back.

And I almost forgot the big selling point that immediately got me invested in these characters. And it is Cliff Chiang's splendid art. He can really sell you on character moments and small-scale scenes. His characters are so full of life, I simply love his lines.

On a related note, it's pretty close to Keith Giffen's work on Ambush Bug, but a lot more grounded despite more cartoonish elements.

I give it:
3 / 3 Plastic-trophies!

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