Having nationalised the Doom Patrol, Oolong Island president Veronica Cale forces the team into accompanying her to a state banquet in North Korea. There they're reunited with an old - very old - enemy and make the acquaintance of a family who make the Mansons look like the Bradys.
Those are the bare bones of this issue's story. The meat on 'em is darn tastier than anything you'd find at a banquet staged by Kim Jong-Il. Not that the horrible little man is named this issue, but he is referenced several times. 'I did at first mistake him for one of those females attracted to their own gender,' admits Duke Byron the Second of Boswick.
Ah yes, the Duke. He's head of the especially vile family we meet this month - well, they are European - the other members being his wife, the Duchess Victoria, and son, Byron Boswick the Third. All three have an appetite for carnage, and a disdain for the lower orders, and it's a cinch they're not going to get on well with the Doom Patrol.
Our heroes - Robotman. Elastiwoman, Negative Man and Bumblebee - look rather fine in best bib and tucker. Well, three of them do - it turns out there wasn't time to find a toy shop with a suitably doll-sized Polyester ball gown for little Karen. Which is fine by me, as Bumblebee looks frankly fantastic in costume as she finally gets to go on a mission as a fully fledged member of the Doom Patrol.
She runs, or rather, flies, recon when Cale goes missing, with the other members searching the state mansion, and soon all merry heck breaks loose due to the terrifying nuttiness of the Boswicks.
From the charmingly amusing Dick and Jane homage recapping recent events (click image to enlarge) to the disturbing final page, this is an issue to treasure.
While I'm the first to whinge about gore in superhero books, somehow the tone here makes the blood and occasional mutilation acceptable. It's possible I'm simply a hypocrite, but it's as likely due to the skills of writer Keith Giffen and pencillers Matthew Clark and Ron Randall. They show and tell us just enough to establish the level of degeneracy the Doom Patrol faces, but don't invite us to revel in the situation. Giffen keeps himself, and us, entertained by varying his storytelling techniques, but never muddies events, and his characterisations remain compelling.
Clark and Randall's art is lovely, even when they're drawing something grisly. There's a grace and character to their lines that demand we spend time with them. John Livesay only makes great work better with his inks, while Guy Major adds a rare vibrancy with his colours. The primer and diary give letterer Pat Brosseau a chance to show his wider skills, while the cover by Clark and Major is fascinating - not directly representative of the issue's contents, but thematically spot on.
Doom Patrol continues to be DC's hidden gem - consistent in its high quality, ability to surprise and capacity to entertain. The team's not been hot since the days of Grant Morrison and Richard Case, yet I'm sure that if fans of that run were to try this series they'd find lots to like. Anyone want to take up the challenge?