Doom Patrol #6 was released this week, casting a spotlight on Negative Man, and I found it to be the most intriguing issue to date. Negative Man itself is our narrator, and through the energy being’s rambling interior monologue, we get a look at how Larry Trainor came to be inhabited by a radioactive entity, how he died, and how that entity moved on to a succession of other hosts, while sincerely trying to convince itself and others that it is still Larry Trainor.
Writer Keith Giffen uses the “unreliable narrator” trick to explore a not-quite-accurate Doom Patrol timeline as seen by a being that has known his/its share of trauma and change. After the Doom Patrol’s “death“ in Doom Patrol #121 (1968), the negative energy being went on to inhabit Valentina Vostok. Larry re-emerged in the next DP series in 1987, found mysteriously alive and well in an enemy’s clutches. This story elaborates on that point, explaining that the Larry they found was another man’s body that was genetically altered by the Chief with Trainor DNA to resemble Larry’s just enough to attract the negative being. This was supposed to have happened again, sometime after Rebis’ death at the end of Grant Morrison’s run, meaning Larry Trainor is now on his second borrowed body.
The narration is unreliable, however, in that Negative Man can’t quite acknowledge his time as Rebis. He/it seems to mix and confuse the Paul Kupperberg and Grant Morrison versions of the team, and remembers a version of the Morrison DP with Negative Man, not Rebis in the roster. Elanor Poole, the woman Larry and the negative being merged with to form Rebis is not mentioned. Some team history is lost, some altered, and some blended, and at no point are we sure if this is the “real” story. The theory that Niles Caulder has been procuring comatose, brain-dead “Not-Larries” for the entity to inhabit is certainly creepy enough to be credible, and explains how Larry survived the first “death” of the Doom Patrol, at least better than “He survived somehow.” Note that this was supposed to have occurred during the time Rebis was around, so we are led to wonder if this clone/DNA business "really happened" or if Negative Man is working from distorted memories, providing his own "retcon" for a truth he cannot face.
In other words, is a retcon couched in a false memory really a retcon, or advanced denial?
The end result appears to be a very confused, depressed, self-loathing energy being living in its fourth or fifth human shell, with a need to identify itself as the (long dead) human it first bonded with. The being feels affection for the DP, and for Rita in particular, and is doing its level best to be Larry Trainor, but it is like a copy of a copy of a copy, explaining “Larry’s” odd behavior of late. Weird stuff, and well suited to the weirdness of the Doom Patrol.