December 1, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comics Hero Case File #21: Crazy Jane

Her name isn't actually Jane, truth be told...
Her name isn’t actually Jane, truth be told…

One of the most intriguing things DC Comics did after the original Crisis, though technically starting before it with Alan Moore’s phenomenal Swamp Thing run, was the creation of the Vertigo line for mature readers.  The initial Vertigo books were ostensibly set in the same universe as the rest of the DC line, so while it was unlikely, it was possible in the early years before it became its own imprint and even sometimes afterwards for DC and Vertigo heroes to meet up.  This era is what gave us excellent remakes on classic DC standbys, using old characters as building blocks for more thought-provoking, mature, or even barely related characters appearing in the aforementioned Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man.  Most of these new writers were British imports, including a little known at the time Grant Morrison, who would use this line to springboard into mature revamps of Animal Man and The Doom Patrol.

While Morrison’s Animal Man was used as an early opportunity to explore the writer’s ideas on metacommentary in superhero comics and his burgeoning vegetarianism (seriously, in his last Animal Man issue, he appears as himself to tell the readers to consider joining PETA), Morrison’s Doom Patrol is remembered for being just plain weird.

And in the middle of that weirdness, there was Crazy Jane.

The Doom Patrol were always supposed to be freaks and outcasts, and the team had had a couple different line-ups over the years.  The original line-up of Robotman, Negative Man, the Chief, and Elasti-Girl were actually all killed and most of them, except for Elasti-Girl, eventually found themselves back in the land of the living by the time Morrison showed up.

One of Morrison’s first acts were to cause the cured Larry “Negative Man” Trainor to find the negative being inside him wasn’t as gone as he thought it was, and then have the thing come back and force Larry to merge with a female African American doctor named Eleanor Poole who was at the time attending him, merging the two into an androgynous being that insisted on being called “Rebis”.

This is an era when a sentient street with a personality based off a popular British drag performer ended up becoming the team’s primary form of transportation, and if you don’t think Danny the Street won’t eventually show up in this column, you’ve got another thing coming.

But Danny came later.  Morrison was clearly playing with the concept of identity quite a bit during this run, so a character like Crazy Jane makes perfect sense.

By the way, Morrison was always completely aware of just how nuts the Doom Patrol’s adventures were, and how they often at first glance made no sense.  That was Robotman’s primary narrative function.  Cliff Steele wasn’t crazy like the rest.  He was the normal guy (normal for a guy who was a human brain in a robot) who spent a good chunk of this run wondering what the hell was going on all the time and wasn’t afraid to say so.

But Crazy Jane was interesting, in that at least she knew she wasn’t completely all right.  Her real name was Kay Challis, and she suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder.  She had 64 distinct personality, all of them as the result of childhood trauma at the hands of her own father.  The dominant personality was a fairly normal woman with no superpowers.  She would gain different powers depending on which of her various personalities were dominant.

Now, Crazy Jane isn’t the first superhero to have the suggestion of MPD as the basis for his or her powers.  Some writers have suggested the Hulk is basically a shapeshifting guy with this disorder.  Considering the Hulk often expresses nothing but contempt for Banner, and there are different Hulk personalities inside Banner’s brain, including the original Banner, that makes some sense.  But the Hulk’s powers are basically the same to different degrees.  Due to emotional stress, Bruce Banner will turn into a larger, stronger creature, who’s level of strength, intelligence, and exact skin color will depend on which personality is dominant, but it’s always a Hulk.

Crazy Jane would gain different powers and even alter her appearance (clothing sometimes as well) depending on which personality was dominant.  Powers weren’t always flashy.  One, known as Mama Pentecost, was just good with puzzles and enigmas.  Some were male.  She didn’t change outward gender all that often, but she still had male personas.  Some were, well, not appropriate for all-ages readers, such as the Scarlet Harlot, who could use psycho-sexual energies to create ectoplasmic projections.  And then there was one that was a giant with a sun for a head that shot fireballs.  Not all of her 64 personalities were named or even spotted, but a trip inside her head revealed one nameless one was a nun with a chainsaw, and that one was probably awesome.

Seriously, what is up with the chainsaw nun?
Seriously, what is up with the chainsaw nun?

Jane may or may not have had much control over who came out when, but she did seem to have a knack for always getting the right one at the right time.  There  was a reason for this.  Her mind had been organized into a series of tunnels that appeared, when visited by the others (yes, that happened), to be a maze of subway tunnels.  There was a personality in there to act as a conductor named Driver 8 (many of Jane’s personalities are named for songs, like this one from an REM tune), and the rest were in various places protecting the original Kay Challis from her abusive father.

In the grand scheme of things, even with Morrison’s reputation, Crazy Jane wasn’t that weird.  Much of Morrison’s work tends to read better in trade form than in individual issues, so the reader can see where some ideas come from and where others go.  Besides, he saved the really weird stuff for the Doom Patrol’s villains, like the Scissormen who cut people out of reality, the men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. who spoke in sentences that had to spell out NOWHERE with the first letter of each word, the Antigod that was decreating the universe, odd aliens, and the former Brotherhood of Evil that renamed itself the Brotherhood of Dada and dedicated itself to meaninglessness instead of evil.

Morrison ended his run with a seemingly cured Kay going off to live with Cliff Steele on Danny the World (the final evolution of Danny the Street).  Though later writers would depict her relapsing a little after a brief return, and show Cliff didn’t stay very long due to that relapse, it sure was a nice way to end things for a character borne of the sort of trauma most superheroes never experience find some measure of peace.

She got better. That is a good thing.
She got better. There was no better way to end her story arc.