In Episode 2 of the DC Creator Q&A Series, we sat down with Dennis Culver and Chris Burnham to get a look into their work on the newly release Unstoppable Doom Patrol #1!
Throughout the DC Creator Q&A Series, we’ll be sitting down with a new DC Comics creator every month, as we bring you through the Dawn of DC. Each creator will share some insight into their work, answering your questions along the way! Check out Episode 2 below, and join us each month for DC community discussions, giveaways, and more!
Congrats to @AgentofCheckmate for winning a copy of Unstoppable Doom Patrol #1, signed by Dennis and Chris! A moderator will be in touch to get your shipping info!
Chris: Hello! I’m Chris Burnham. I’m the artist of the brand-new Unstoppable Doom Patrol. You may know me from my run on Batman Incorporated with Grant Morrison, or Nameless with Grant, or many other things!
Dennis: Hello! I’m Dennis Culver. I’m the writer on Unstoppable Doom Patrol. I’ve also written Future State: Gotham and Justice League Incarnate!
How much prior knowledge of the Doom Patrol is needed to jump onto your book? I’ve watched the TV series, but never indulged in the comics.
Dennis: If you’re a fan of the TV show, you can go right from that to this. If you’ve read every single Doom Patrol issue, you’ll definitely be rewarded for that. But also, we’ve been crafting this for brand new fans too, so when you open that first issue, everything you need to know is right there. It’s very new-reader friendly and we’re going to kind of build something together as we go through those issues.
Chris: Yeah, Dennis has read every Doom Patrol ever made. I think he’s read comics that never were published, maybe. I am a slightly more casual Doom Patrol fan, so I’m always focused on making every panel, every page, every issue make as much sense so that your mom could pick it up and hopefully immediately understand. I know my mom can!
Dennis: Yeah, a real cool thing about Burnham’s art is that you can look at it without words and really suss out most of what’s going on. He’s a great storyteller, so this is not going to be an inaccessible comic by any means.
Which member of the Doom Patrol do you relate to most, and why?
Dennis: I think most relatable, probably of all the characters, is Robot Man. He’s kind of like a working class superhero, he’s always just like — “Show me what I gotta punch!” and then he kind of goes from there, so I always feel like he’s the easiest one for me to find a way into just what the F is going on here — because that’s exactly what he would say. But I think the great thing about the Doom Patrol, because of the way they deal with their trauma, like if you have any trauma in your life, they’re great mouthpieces for that. So there’s a lot of different characters that you can find out, but probably for me, it’s Robot Man.
Chris: Yeah, Robot Man for sure. He’s just like, “I gotta do WHAT now? All right.” He’s just got that steely exterior and he just keeps getting beat, and there’s nothing else to do but keep going on. Like, I’ve got two little kids and it’s just like, “I’ve got to pick up WHAT from WHERE? All right.” (laughing)
When creating the story, did you reference anything from the television show? And what did you think of the show?
Dennis: I’m a big fan of the show! I’ve watched it all at least twice. To think about, you know, does the show inform the comic? Sure! Because the comics informed the show. So it’s kind of like an ouroboros of influence there. There’s definitely things that the show enhanced about the previous Doom Patrol issues that I really like — there’s a lot of heart in that show, and if we get half the heart in our comic, I think we’re doing a really good job. But you know, we also gave some signifiers for fans of the show, so that they come in and there’s a familiar Doom Patrol in place. A lot of the same team members … we use the bus in the first issue just to kind of give that vibe, but yeah, if you’re a fan of the show, this’ll definitely feel like the next step of their adventures. Kind of like the logical progression from that show, especially if it was suddenly a superhero comic in the DC Universe.
Chris: Yeah, I incorporated some of the appearance of the show. Like, our Robot Man has some of the flavor of the TV version. The Chief has a very similar wheelchair. Crazy Jane’s design is very similar to what she looks like on the show, so for me it’s all part of the stew.
Dennis: Yeah, I even think your Rita Farr looks a little like —
Chris: Oh yeah, for sure.
Dennis: You can see it if you squint at it.
Chris: It’s fun to see her. I only know that lady from Drop Dead Diva and I haven’t seen her in like, ten years. Then she appears in a different hair color and it’s like “oh SWEET!” (laughing)
What literary figure outside of comics would fit into the Doom Patrol team?
Chris: Oh oh! I’ve got a very solid answer! I’d say the Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries. The timeline probably wouldn’t make sense since it’s from the future, but I think Murderbot would be perfect.
Is it possible that Ambush Bug could appear?
Dennis: I have no plans for Ambush Bug, but the last place I saw him was when the last Suicide Squad was wrapping up. I know Keith Giffen had brought him in in his run. I feel like, just with the current team dynamic, his kind of zany hijinks don’t really fit in. We’ve got some characters that kind of fulfill that role, so yeah, no plans for him currently. But anything’s possible!
What character is the easiest and hardest to write?
Dennis: Again, Robot Man is really accessible, so he’s probably easiest to kind of find that voice because it’s your own. Of the core team, I think figuring out Beast Girl’s voice was a little tricky. The more of Burnham’s drawings I saw, the more she started to just kind of come to life on her own. I think outside of the core team, Niles Caulder is really tough to write just because he’s got a real dark history with the team. He’s definitely there in a consulting capacity with the team, so figuring out his voice and him kind of coming to terms with what he’s done in the past, and just kind of coalescing his whole history to make him make sense as a character, for me, was a challenge. But I feel like we’re hitting the mark with him.
Was it difficult finding the voices for any of these characters given how vastly different they are in personality?
Dennis: I definitely think the differences in these characters is a feature, not a bug. It’s easier to have those people bounce off each other when they contrast each other really well. There are all these core personality traits that are really strong, especially if you watch the TV show — they really shine through. So, when you can almost kind of hear their voices talking to each other, I think that makes it a lot easier to kind of have them bicker with each other and bounce off of each other and all of that. It’s energy levels, right? Robot Man’s kind of like the “F this guys, I gotta do this” and then maybe Larry’s a little calmer about things. So it’s kind of finding those different levels with the characters. And then, you know, the new Chief — which is one of Jane’s alters — she’s really really tough, and really just “keep it on business”. She’s not a warm character, and that kind of bouncing off of other characters is interesting too.
What was your biggest influence while writing this book?
Chris: I mean, it’s all part of the stew, but I mean, probably my biggest artistic influence for the last … you know … 10-15 years is Frank Quitely, and then our shared influence of Moebius, so there’s still that core “Quitely” feeling, I would say. But also Nick Derington’s run recently has really informed us. He’s very similar to Quitely in some ways, but then he’s taking it a little brushier, and a little cartoonier. His take on Robot Man is definitely my primary Robot Man influence, I guess.
Dennis: Yeah, I’m a lifelong fan of the Doom Patrol. I’ve been reading them since I was a teenager, so I was always following every iteration of those comics, whether I was going backwards or forwards in time tracking them down. I think just kind of putting that altogether in a stew, like Burnham says, and just kind of figuring that out … I’m a big fan of all your comics count and it’s kind of like a guiding principle for me, like trying to say “Well, if all these comics do in fact count, if all of them happen to these characters, how does that inform their narrative? How does that inform where they’re at now versus where they started all the way in My Greatest Adventure?” It’s an interesting place where they kind of start off as really messed up people and they’re kind of on this healing journey. And I think when you get to the end of the Gerard Way/Nick Derington run, along with everyone else, they’ve kind of come to this place where they’re starting to get their s*** together. I feel like our book is kind of the “next step”, so it’s definitely feeling the influences of all those things and finding a way to make it our own while still feeling like the Doom Patrol. That’s really fun to me!
Will we be seeing any other DC heroes meeting the Unstoppable Doom Patrol?
Dennis: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got Batman right in the first issue. If you’ve already read issue one, spoilers, Peacemaker makes an appearance in that. It’s firmly set in the DC Universe. Also, upcoming in issue 3, the solicits are already out … we’ve got Guy Gardener and Kyle Rayner — who are my favorite Green Lanterns and therefore the best Green Lanterns — they’re appearing in the book as well. So yeah, we’ve definitely got some familiar faces coming up in the DCU. Also, Robot has a really interesting team up that I can’t quite talk about yet, but that’s gonna be a lot of fun too. So yeah, they’re in the mix. They’re a part of it now.
Chris: There’s some teeny little flashbacks in issue 3 of some of your favorite heroes. Very very small. (laughing)
Of all the adjectives you could have gone with, what makes this particular Doom Patrol Unstoppable?
Dennis: I wanted something to distinguish this series from previous series, kind of to help us stand out. Their mission statement is “Saving the world by saving the monsters”, and speaking back to that proactive mission where they’re going out and focusing on saving the monsters, they don’t care whose toes they step on … that’s what makes them unstoppable in my mind. They’re not letting anyone get in their way, and that includes Batman when they go to Gotham City, so check that out!
Chris, how do you plan to make it clear to readers that the character we’re seeing is an alter of Jane?.. Deadman books often have a red outline of people he’s inhabiting to let us know Boston Brand is in there and I’m curious what you have planned for us for Jane and her many alters.
Chris: Absolutely nothing.
Chris: You see her transform from one to the other, but there’s no … I mean, not a bad idea — but at the moment, there’s no unifying design element other than us saying “Hey, this is one of ‘em”. (laughing)
Dennis: My notes for Burnham is when she transforms, it’s kind of like when Clark Kent transforms into Superman — there’s a lot of speed lines and color and it’s clear that they’re going from one to the other. I don’t know. I mean, Burnham’s art and storytelling is so clear. I don’t think anybody that I’ve shown our scripts to — they’ve never gotten confused with that happening. I think it’s definitely there in the text and in the comments.
Chris: It’s definitely there in the text, but if you just saw the Chief walking by, I don’t think you’d say “Oh, well that’s definitely Crazy Jane’s new form.” Like, there’s nothing that would let you know that for sure.
Dennis: I don’t know, I kind of like that though.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I did it intentionally. All her different alters have totally different appearances. They don’t even all have black hair — they’re just … they’re all women, I think? Is that true …?
Dennis: Yeah. There’s one called “Daddy” that’s her dad from the past … but it’s interesting because on the TV show, they had a similar problem, right? Or you know, like, they got to use the same actress, Diane Guerrero, when she’s above ground, and they just kind of change her hair or maybe her appearance. Sometimes they don’t change her at all. She just changes — she’s such a great actor, she just changes her physicality. But when they go to the Underground, for the most part, they use different actresses for all of those different characters, and that’s a good way of showing it. Because of the magic of comics, we get to say “Well yeah, we’re not limited with our budget, we don’t have to worry about casting actors” and different things like that, so yeah, Burnham gets to go a little more all-out with those different characters. If you read the Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate — the little preview story that we did — you get Flit, who has like an ‘80s look, and she definitely looks nothing like Jane. She’s a blonde, right?
Dennis: And then the Chainsaw Nun shows up and we went all out with her. Instead of just, you know — in the comic and even on the show, it’s just an old lady nun with a regular old chainsaw. But I wanted to think about, like, how would that physically manifest? And Burnham and I are both manga and anime fans. We’re always talking about that stuff. So naturally we buy Chainsaw Man and it was like, “What if the chainsaws ACTUALLY grew out of her flesh?”, you know? So Burnham went wild with that and it was like, super cool.
Chris: Yeah, the chainsaw blades — hopefully they look like they’re actual teeth, like they’re formed out of her bones in some fake way.
Dennis: Yeah, so, I don’t know. And then there’s already precedent in the comic … like, you know, in the Grant Morrison run … when Jane would change from her primary form to Black Annis or Sun Daddy, those were real, huge, physical transformations, and they never used anything to indicate that. I think it’s easy to follow along. Like, we’ll make sure you know who’s who and what’s going on.
What are some things you are excited and/or nervous for people to see in this Doom Patrol run?
Dennis: What’re you nervous about, Burnham?
Chris: There’s a lot of lines to draw, not enough hours to do it. Lot of backgrounds there, Dennis!
Dennis: That’s on me, that’s my fault. Setting the whole issue in Gotham City, that was, uh … that was a lot of work, yeah.
Dennis: I think I’m excited because like I said, this was, you know … while I’ve been a lifelong Doom Patrol fan, the way this comic came up … like, I didn’t come with a pitch. I was kind of talking to my editor, Ben Abernathy, about what was next, and Burnham and I had already worked together on a small piece of Justice League: Incarnate, and he knew we were in a studio together, and he was like “You guys should do something!” and I was like “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” I had an idea for a Robot Man story — which became issue 3 — but I knew that wasn’t like a series or anything, but I was just kind of bouncing ideas, and I kind of got off on a very passionate rant about why I thought Doom Patrol should have its own book. But I wasn’t pitching it for myself, I was just like, “They got a TV show, man! They should be their own pillar in the DC Universe! They were here before the X-Men, they should BE as big as the X-Men.” It was like, all of these things … and he was like, “Why don’t you and Burnham just do a Doom Patrol comic?” because he clearly saw my passion. And I texted Burnam and Burnham was like “Hell yeah!” … Burnam loves drawing mummies —
Dennis: But it was like, all of that kind of came together and then like, cool coincidences started happening, like … you know, this year is the 60th anniversary of the Doom Patrol, and we’re launching a comic RIGHT NOW. That’s great planning that was totally unprepared by anything on our part. We just kind of all stumbled into that kind of thing to make our comic happen. When we started putting this together, Dawn of DC wasn’t quite together yet, and then it came together and we were ready to be a part of that. We got to kind of launch with the Dawn of DC announcement and that’s super cool. That really helps put our visibility out there and really send a message that we’re part of the DC Universe … so all of that stuff, I’m excited about. I mean, I’m always about how a book’s going to be received, but you know, once it’s out of your hands, it’s out of your control, but I mean … you know.
Dennis: I was reviewing art yesterday — or a couple days ago — of issue 2, just to send it off to be lettered, and it’s like, Burnham killed it. This book is going to look like one of the best books on the stand. Brian Reber, who does colors, I think is the perfect colorist for Burnham. I love how they meld together. It looks really great. So I mean, you know, we’re putting our whole heart into this —
Chris: We’re putting our whole lives into each swing!
Dennis: Yeah yeah, like Vagabond. But yeah, we’re putting uh … what is it? “Putting our whole heart into our sword”?
Chris: I think “our whole lives into our swing”.
Dennis: Yes, our whole lives into our swing. That’s what we’re doing. If you haven’t read the excellent manga “Vagabond”, Burnham and I used to obsessively — I mean, it’s by the skull (pointing to his manga collection in the video background) — it’s all of those right there. (laughing)
How much of a deep dive will you go into the Doom Patrol’s history/characters?
Chris: We as creators went on the deepest dive possible, but as far as the readers go…we will catch you up on history here and there, but it’s never more than just a panel or two just to make sure we’re on the same page, then–PCHWOOO, we’re off to the future.
Dennis: Yeah, like as an example, when Guy Gardner shows up–there’s only really one time when he’s encountered the Doom Patrol, and he was more or less a background character…funnily enough, the Justice League kinda stood around that whole issue while the Doom Patrol was inside the painting saving the world. So he kinda just comments on that, like “it was really annoying that we had to deal with these freaks, and it gave me a headache”. But you know, anything like that just to give a little flavor, to make you feel like they’re a part of this larger world–we’ll definitely drop that in there. But as far as personal deep dives, I’ve gone…so deep haha. Like even reading the random appearances that don’t always count, but just trying to be thorough and kinda figuring out how it all meshes together. Issue #4, which is an actual bonus issue that’s unannounced, but will be announced by the time this comes out, we have a guest artist and we’re kinda using Doctor Cinco as a therapy issue, where she gets to kind of delve into the minds of all of our core cast–that’s gonna be a deep dive. We’re really gonna dig into some of the characters, dig into some of the things that happen. Also, we’re using that story to sort of bridge the gap between the end of the Gerard Way / Nick Derington run and the start of our run, just to kind of fill in a little of those blanks and give you an idea of how we got from point A to point B. But like I said earlier, we’re gonna hold your hand the whole way, and when we let it go, we’re letting it go for a reason–we want you to kinda fall and feel crazy, then we’ll come in a and save you.
If each member of the Doom Patrol was awarded a Lantern Ring, which do you think each one would get and why?
Dennis: I think that’s tough. I think with Jane’s different alternate identities, they can easily fulfill all of those requirements. But I think if I had to give just one to Jane’s character, based more on her history than where she’s at now, it’d probably be the red ring, like the Red Lantern, because that’s the anger emotion, and I think that’s a character who, in the past, has had a lot of anger. She’s done a lot of healing over the previous runs. I still think there’s some anger deep down in there, but that’s probably what I would give to her.
Chris: I think, as like, a surprise … Robot Man seems so rough and gruff, but in our series, he’s been so compassionate to the people — to the monsters that he’s dealing with — so I think give him whatever color the compassion ring was. I think that would be a nice little visual surprise.
Dennis: Compassion — is that Star Sapphire?
Chris: I think that’s just love.
Dennis: There’s hope and it was the Indigo Tribe? Is that it?
Chris: I think so?
Dennis: That might be compassion.
Chris: (laughing) I think that’s right.
Dennis: I guess, step one, we gotta go read the Wikipedia.
Chris: When they were giving out those colored rings like, 10-15 years ago, I got the compassion ring and I would always just aim it at Erin and scream “COMPASSION” at her.
Dennis: Erin’s your wife. That should also be pointed out. It’s not just some random person.
Chris: Anyone in general — just people on the street. (laughing)
Dennis: Yeah, Negative Man … I feel like you know, give him maybe yellow, like fear potentially … I mean, I don’t know. I feel like all of the characters kind of have a lot of anger in them so they qualify.
Chris: I don’t think we really got anyone that would get the avarice ring, really.
Dennis: Yeah like, maybe Niles Caulder?
Chris: Oh for sure, absolutely.
Dennis: Orange ring goes with his orange hair.
Chris: Orange ring for his formally orange beard.
Dennis: Yeah, exactly.
Dennis: And then sheer force of will, I feel like Cliff is kind of — he could also have a Green Lantern ring, we could just see that happening. And they’ve all overcome great fear, let’s face it!
Chris: Thanks so much for watching the DC Q&A series! I’m Chris Burnham. Please pick up the Unstoppable Doom Patrol now, forever, and always!
Dennis: It was a blast answering all of your questions! Make sure you put Unstoppable Doom Patrol on your pull list and do your comic shopping. Also, congratulations to @AgentofCheckmate for winning a signed copy of Unstoppable Doom Patrol #1 by me and Burnham! Thanks so much!