Superhero Spotlight – Doom Patrol

At first glance, Doom Patrol may appear to be an attempt by DC Comics to create an X-Men knock-off. Doom Patrol first appeared in the pages of My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963). This was an adventure anthology that evolved over time from pulp stories to science fiction to finally becoming the home of Doom Patrol. Over at Marvel, the X-Men debuted in the pages of their own title in September 1963. Now that doesn’t mean the X-Men are a rip-off of Doom Patrol either. Due to the writing and production schedules, both ideas were already in the works before either company was aware of the other. It’s just one of those strange coincidences.

Doom Patrol was the creation of writers Arnold Drake & Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premiani. My Greatest Adventure was on the verge of cancellation, and Drake decided to create a feature that might revive interest in the title. His first pitch was for a super-powered duo: Elasti-Girl and Automaton, but he decided to add a third character to the mix. Bob Haney came up with Negative Man to complete the team. Their original title would be The Legion of the Strange, emphasizing what an odd mismatched group of superhumans they were. The trio would be led & mentored by Niles Caulder, aka The Chief. He was a wheelchair-using scientist who wasn’t always honest with his proteges. They also fought and argued with each other, which made for a series that wasn’t like much else found at DC at the time.

Doom Patrol’s villains were just as bizarre as the heroes. General Immortus is a man whose origins are unknown, dating back possibly centuries or even millennia. His plans were always centered around doing whatever it took to keep extending his already impossibly long life. Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man was a Swedish scientist and former pupil of Niles Caulder. He falls into a vat of amino acids and emerges a shapeshifter who can shift specific parts of his body into separate things. Strangest of all was The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. The Brain is exactly as his name implies; he is a disembodied brain in a jar of liquid that can speak through technology plugged into his pedestal. Monsieur Mallah is a gorilla he imbued with intelligence before becoming purely a brain. Mallah is unflinchingly loyal to his master and works alongside him in the Brotherhood of Evil.

Along the way, a couple more members were added to the team: Mento and Beast Boy. Mento was Steve Dayton, one of the richest men in the world who built a helmet that would enhance his intelligence even further. Part of this was to impress his girlfriend, Rita Farr (Elasti-Girl). He had an extremely arrogant personality but eventually married Rita. Beast Boy appeared just a few months into the original run. Garfield Logan was the son of scientist parents who were developing reverse evolution to bring back extinct species. Gar contracted a rare disease and was healed using an experimental ray that turned his skin and hair green. Garfield also gained the ability to morph into any animal at will. Eventually, Garfield would end up being adopted by Rita and Steve. Even when he became a member of the New Titans, Garfield was still living in Steve Dayton’s massive Long Island mansion.

My Greatest Adventure changed titles to Doom Patrol with issue 86 and lasted until issue 121 in 1968. The book was never a massive seller for DC, and by this time, a cancellation was imminent. Drake decided to cap things off in spectacular fashion and killed off the core members of the team. It was the first time a canceled comic ended with the main heroes dying. Only Mento and Beast Boy survived. It would take nine years before Doom Patrol was revived in the pages of Showcase. Writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Joe Staton were given the job of restoring Doom Patrol by editor Paul Levitz. Inspired by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum’s X-Men reboot in 1975, Kupperberg & Staton introduced a handful of brand-new characters to join Doom Patrol.

The new Doom Patrol was led by Celsius, an Indian woman who was revealed as Niles Caulder’s estranged wife. She refused to believe that her husband was dead and this new Doom Patrol would help her find Niles. Robotman is the only survivor due to the nature of his mechanical body, and Celsius seeks out Will Magnus, inventor of the Metal Men, to give Robotman a brand-new body. The Negative Spirit that once powered Negative Man has taken control of Russian cosmonaut Valentina Vostok. She is now Negative Woman. The final member of this new Doom Patrol is Tempest (Joshua Clay), an actual mutant born with the ability to produce energy blasts from his hands. After a few issues in Showcase, this new Doom Patrol failed to garner enough sales to warrant their own book. They did make several appearances across the DC Universe for the rest of the 1970s and into the early 80s. They appeared in an arc of the Supergirl back-up in the pages of Superman Family, made a couple guest spots in DC Comics Presents, and then reunited with Supergirl in the pages of her solo title.

The most significant move for the team came during Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s monumental run on New Teen Titans. Robotman first showed up getting his old body back thanks to Beast Boy’s help. This led to a story arc where the Titans help Robotman hunt down General Zahl and Madame Rogue, the Doom Patrol’s killers. A new Brotherhood of Evil is introduced as well, leading to the return of The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Paul Kupperberg was happy to see how well-received elements of Doom Patrol were in those Titans stories and wanted another crack at reviving them in their own title. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the doors were thrown open for new revival concepts, and Kupperberg got his greenlit. Doom Patrol was back.

Kupperberg was teamed with artist Steve Lightle who had not liked the 1977 revival. The editor promised Lightle he would be involved in plotting the stories, but the artist found out Kupperberg was not interested in sharing those responsibilities. After only a few issues, Lightle quit the book. Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon) replaced him doing the art, and problems continued. If Larsen didn’t like a bit of plotting Kupperberg had done, he would just change it while doing the art. Comments from Kupperberg years later revealed that he didn’t care for Larsen either. This version leaned more heavily into the X-Men comparison, introducing some new younger members like Lodestone, Karma, Scott Fischer (I guess they ran out of names on that day) with powers similar to characters appearing in Marvel’s X-Men and New Mutants. After eighteen issues, Kupperberg was taken off the book and replaced.

The new writer on Doom Patrol was Grant Morrison, and they would propel the book into a fantastic cult status. Before Morrison took over, they worked with Kupperberg to write out many new characters and bring the title back to basics. The Negative Spirit left Negative Woman’s body. And Morrison saw potential in a throwaway character Kupperberg had introduced, Dorothy Spinner. Dorothy had an ape-like face and imaginary friends that would manifest in the material world. Larry Trainor returned, but before he could become Negative Man again, he was merged with Dr. Elanor Poole. They became Rebis, a multi-gendered and multi-consciousness being. Morrison also introduced Crazy Jane, a woman with dissociative personality disorder whose various identities each possessed a different power. Doom Patrol ended up having their headquarters in Danny the Street, a living urban block of businesses and homes that also happened to be genderfluid. It was unlike anything DC had ever published before, which has always been Morrison’s specialty.

During Morrison’s run, they would incorporate Dada, surrealism, Jorge Luis Borges, and other esoteric & occult art bits. Arnold Drake would comment that Morrison’s run was the most faithful follow-up to the work he did in creating the title. Sometimes Morrison would parody other comics with nods to Swamp Thing, Fantastic Four, and even poking fun at the Liefeld-era X-Force book at Marvel. One of Morrison’s enduring creations was Flex Mentallo, based on the muscleman character in Charles Atlas ads in comics. These are the ads where a 90-pound weakling goes from a shrimp to a hunk by following Atlas’ workout regimen. The Chief was brought back and made the target of Beard Hunter, a parody of both Marvel’s The Punisher and writer Alan Moore. Morrison also revealed The Chief was responsible for the accidents that led to the original three character’s transformation and made the mentor into a villain for their final arc of the series.

The Morrison run of Doom Patrol would remain the most influential, and almost every run since has been attempting to recapture the oddity of this one. John Byrne would try to do a complete continuity-breaking reboot of Doom Patrol in the 2000s. He and Chris Claremont worked together to build the Doom Patrol up from the bottom, negating every run of the team in the DC timeline from before. This version was not well-received, and a couple years later, DC editors used the soft Infinite Crisis reboot to erase the series from its lore. There have been a couple more attempts at reviving the book. One was by Keith Giffen that didn’t have sticking power. Most recently, Gerard Way has been writing Doom Patrol as part of his Young Animal imprint, a line of books that aren’t as fully mature readers oriented as Vertigo was but not necessarily something a kid would enjoy. The popular DC Universe/HBO Max series is mainly based on the Drake & Morrison runs, which remain the most accurate form these characters have ever had.

One thought on “Superhero Spotlight – Doom Patrol”

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