If the war in space is redeemed by its ideas, then the booby prize for worst Doom Patrol story must go to its immediate predecessor, Mr. Jones and his war on Danny the Street. True, this storyline introduced one of the book's most entertaining and durable characters, Flex Mentallo; but it's also a prime example of the problems that marred Doom Patrol in its middle period.
Doom Patrol moves through three stages. First there's the shock of the new as Morrison introduces his characters and sets the tone for his run; this period of amazing creativity culminates in Cliff's voyage into Jane's Underground. The book coasts nicely up through the Brain-Mallah masterpiece, then enters its brief but problematic middle period from Mr. Jones through the Pentagon Horror. This is the part of the run where the strange ideas overwhelm the title, each concept trying just a little bit harder than the last and usually falling just a little bit shorter. After the Pentagon Morrison shifts into the final phase, where he consolidates the series mythology and advances the book towards its apocalyptic ending.
Unfortunately, the Mr. Jones tale is one of those "hey Doom Patrol, look at these crazy concepts" stories typical of the middle period. And unlike the war in space, the concepts aren't all that crazy, clever, or interesting.
There's Danny the Street, I suppose, although he never did all that much for me until the very end of the run. The idea of a transvestite street--that is, a street with "masculine" buildings like gun shops and army surplus stores decorated in "feminine" frippery--just reinforces the same gender roles it pretends to question. I mean, what gender is a street supposed to have? Like Fanny said in the "auto-critique" issue of The Invisibles, "The transvestite, far from being a rebellious or transgressive figure, actually serves the status quo by validating stereotypical images of femininity." At least, that's how Morrison wrote them back in the 90s.
Maybe I'm missing the point here. The letter columns print a couple of comments from readers who are ecstatic to see gay or transgendered characters appearing in their favorite comics, and maybe that's what matters. I'm sure the pickings were pretty slim back in 1990, and I'm glad they had a queer character to read about; too bad it wasn't anyone recognizably human.
That might have provided some genuine transgression, instead of the adolescent social critique on display in these issues. Mr. Jones has built his Men from NOWHERE to act as "normalcy agents" to "eradicate eccentricities, anomalies, and peculiarities wherever we find them." He wants Conformity, that bugaboo of all writers groping for a theme, so of course he lives in a suburban rambler with a white picket fence that looks like it came right out of the 1950s. (From what I gather, the people who actually lived in the 1950s would be mightily amused to see us holding up their neurotic decade as the pinnacle of normalcy and order.) The recurring gag of Mr. Jones acting out his parody of domestic bliss to a laugh track while he tortures his family falls absolutely flat--Morrison is a damned funny writer, as many other issues of Doom Patrol show, but it's awfully tough to wring a joke out of something being not funny. He isn't trying to be funny here, though, but to show us that sitcom domesticity is a LIE!, in case anyone thought otherwise.
Naturally, the academics love this one. A certain stripe, anyway, the type for whom multiplicity and nonconformity and subversiveness are not just values, they're obligations. And hey, if you think people need to be told that conformity is bad then maybe you'll love this one too. Me, I find it about as incisive as American Beauty, about as transgressive as Mrs. Doubtfire, about as rebellious as an X-TREME! soda ad. Morrison would complicate this freaking-out-the-mundanes routine later--the Shadowy Mr. Evans practically recites the theme of these issues about a year down the road, and we know he's mostly full of shit--but everybody has to hit their low point, and this is the Doom Patrol's.