Doom Patrol's White Space Is A Brilliant Spin On Comic Book Storytelling

Mister Nobody partying in the White Space. (Image: DC Universe)

Doom Patrol’s Mr. Nobody is the kind of supervillain who enjoys taking his time as he hatches convoluted schemes designed to drive his enemies insane. And he does it all from the relative comfort of a blindingly-white pocket dimension that he seemed to be the only person capable of accessing for most of the first season. As Doom Patrol came to a close, though, this strange place was finally given a proper name and an explanation, and weirdly, it ended up being one of the show’s cleverest and most novel tributes to the comic books that made the show possible.

In the glimpse of Mr. Nobody’s creation featured in Doom Patrol’s first episode, the series also gave us our first look at what would come to be known as the White Space. It’s a seemingly endless void where Mr. Nobody spends the bulk of his time plotting and, curiously, narrating the events of DC Universe’s Doom Patrol with a fourth-wall-breaking omniscience.

When Nazi Dr. Heinrich Von Fuchs attempted to give Eric Morden (Nobody’s civilian name) metahuman powers by bombarding him with extradimensional energy, the process went awry and Morden’s body was unexpectedly torn apart. While the experiment didn’t go exactly as planned, in the end, it’s a resounding success because what Mr. Nobody’s lost in terms of a traditional physical form, he’s more than made up for with his newfound abilities to seemingly do damn near anything he imagines. The reason Mr. Nobody never ends up becoming the kind of threat the Justice League would notice, it seems, is that his imagination is somewhat small.

In addition to providing commentary about the state of Doom Patrol’s viewership, Mr. Nobody is also able to teleport across vast distances, read the thoughts of others, travel through time, and if he really tries hard enough, he can bend reality itself to his will. The exact nature of Mr. Nobody’s powers are never precisely explained, but it’s heavily implied that they have something to do with the White Space itself as, whenever the Doom Patrol defeat the villain, that’s where he retreats to lick his wounds.

For the most part, the White Space didn’t really factor into the show’s plot much until its final few episodes, but in “Penultimate Patrol” a fascinating detail about the place was revealed that reframes the entirety of the series in a nifty way. After failing to trick each member of the Doom Patrol into giving up on their real lives in favour of idealised realities where their tragic accidents never occurred, Mr. Nobody reasons that the best course of action is to keep them all trapped in the White Space anyway, forced to live out the rest of their immortal days being driven mad by the sound of his voice.

The Doom Patrol stumbling through the haze of the White Space. (Image: DC Universe)

Even with their combined powers, the Doom Patrol doesn’t have anywhere near enough steam to take Mr. Nobody out, considering that even at his weakest, his power set makes him almost godlike. But as a rather perturbed Rita Farr listens to Nobody drone on about what’s happening, she realises there’s more to his narration than run-of-the-mill villain soapboxing. In the White Space, the things that Mr. Nobody says become true specifically because he says them. Figuring she might as well give it a shot, Rita takes hold of the story by speaking her own future into existence.

Up until “Penultimate Patrol,” Mr. Nobody’s omniscience and narration felt like interesting plot devices that came dangerously close to veering into annoying territory because, aside from injecting moments of snarky humour here and there, they didn’t do much to add texture to the world. They made certain jokes possible for the audience to have a chuckle at, but Doom Patrol’s other characters could never get in on them. By interacting with the White Space, Rita inadvertently establishes the interesting concept that the place is to Doom Patrol what the space between panels are in a traditional comic book.

Other live-action comics adaptations like Ang Lee’s Hulk and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World have nodded to print comics with storytelling devices and visual gags, and the Deadpool franchise wasted no time in giving Ryan Reynolds a chance to trash talk X-Men Origins: Wolverine on the big screen. But the White Space goes a step further by making the whole of Doom Patrol feel like a living, breathing comic book, complete with its own typically pristine gutters that are occasionally cluttering up the errant thoughts of a creative writing team.

All things said and done, Mr. Nobody is a rather reliable narrator throughout the first season, and the comments he directs toward the audience are less about willful misdirection and more about an earnest interest in our interest in the story. In “Penultimate Patrol,” we learn that Mr. Nobody first began trying to become an empowered person after being rejected first by the Brotherhood of Evil and then by his girlfriend—things that would factor into his eventually becoming a supervillain. As Mr. Nobody’s attempting to kill Niles Caulder and the Doom Patrol, you’re always left with the sense that the villain is trying to prove something, not to the world or his foes, but us.

He’s every bit your classic narcissistic monster who revels in the idea that you can’t help but be in awe of his brilliant plans, no matter how often you’ve seen them fall apart. Normally, that’s the sort of delusion only conveyed by a character’s in-universe interactions with other people—but being the oddball show that it is, Doom Patrol does it by trying to reach out of the screen directly to you.

Knowing what all writers and artists have done with the space between panels in comics over the years, there are all sorts of out-of-the-box things Doom Patrol could end up doing with the White Space should it ever return to the series. Even if it doesn’t show up again, though, it’s already left an indelible mark on Doom Patrol’s story that promises even more innovative twists yet to come.

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