Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Willoughby and I

I was quite pleased to learn of Richard Grant’s nomination for an Academy Award. While not one of Mr. Grant’s most steadfast fans, I enjoyed his lively and expressive performances in The Player and A Royal Scandal, and look forward to his part in the next installment of Star Wars.

Moreover, while Mr. Grant may remain unaware of it, I also quite enjoyed his “performance,” or rather his uncredited appearance, in Grant Morrison’s run of Doom Patrol (issues 19-63, 1989-93), the offbeat DC comic-book series. Grant’s character Withnail, the dissolute, unkempt, and unrepentant star of Withnail and I, clearly provided the model for Morrison’s modern magus Willoughby Kipling, a recurrent character in DP. When I initially read Doom Patrol I assumed that Kipling served to satirize John Constantine, and certainly the two men bear a strong professional resemblance to one another. But the resemblance to Withnail is also unmistakable if one has seen the 1987 film (as I had not done when I first read the comic). Kipling shares Withnail’s lean physique and hawkish facial features, his scruffy demeanor and general booziness, and above all his pretension of world-weariness masking deep insecurity and cowardice. Faced with otherworldly enemies spouting anagrams and gunfire, Kipling either lets the Doom Patrol handle the threat or, in one instance, suggests they offer themselves to the foe as a sacrifice (just as Withnail does with his nameless friend). Faced with even greater existential terrors, Withnail/Kipling retreats into the bottle. “I demand a drink; it’s my right as an Englishman” is one of Grant Morrison’s lines, but it’s just as worthy of Richard Grant and his most distinctive film character.

Morrison provides a further homage to Withnail and I in issue 42, in which he reveals that one of the residents of Danny the Street, an intelligent transvestite boulevard who eventually joins the Doom Patrol, is in fact Montague, Withnail’s effete, campy uncle (played by the late Richard Griffiths). Regrettably, he did not feel comfortable adding the viewpoint character from the film, played by Paul McGann, which is a pity since this would provide a two-degrees-of-separation connection between the Doom Patrol universe and that of Doctor Who.

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