Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Doom Patrol: The Original Hard-Luck Heroes

"You three are victims of a cruel and fantastic fate! I have summoned you here to give you the opportunity to cheat fate by offering you the chance to experience adventures more incredible than any humans have ever known!"

The wheelchair bound Niles Caulder, one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th Century, issued that statement to three individuals who had been victims of unfortunate accidents. Accidents that should have killed them, but instead left them with changed lives. They found that they had each gained abilities and powers from their seperate catastrophes -but at a price. They were now considered misfits, no longer accepted in society.

Regarding themselves as freaks and outcasts, the three people shed their old lives and became known as Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Robotman. Calling himself the Chief, Caulder brought them together in his mansion in Midway City to form the original Doom Patrol. First appearing in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963), they would battle and defeat various menaces to humanity.

Larry Trainor, the Negative Man, was a test pilot who accidently flew through an area of radiation. After recovering from the experience, he found his skeleton now glowed through his skin and he could release a being of pure energy from his body. This being, which would do whatever Larry willed it to, was able to fly at light speed, pass through all objects and materials (except lead) and had super-strength. Although if the energy being remained outside of his body longer than sixty seconds, Larry would begin to die. Caulder had to design special bandages that would shield those around him from the radiation that now pulsed in his body.

Rita Farr, the Elasti-Girl, was an actress who insisted on doing her own stunts. While on a shoot in Africa, she ended up going off a waterfall. Making it back out of the water, she found herself near some strange craters that expelled noxious gases. Inhaling some of the fumes, Rita got sick. While recovering, she discovered that her body would grow and shrink uncontrollably. Scared, and sure that her career would be ruined, she disappeared from the public. She was eventually found by Niles, who offered to help her control her powers

Cliffe Steele, the Robotman, was a race car driver who had been in a severe crash. His body was destroyed beyond repair with only his brain surviving. Niles, himself, took his brain and placed it into the body of a robot. A running gag throughout the first series was to have Cliff's body destroyed in some new and interesting fashion, since it was expendable.

Later in their career they would be joined by two allies:
Garfield Logan, better known as Beast Boy, who could change his body into that of any animal but had a permanent green skin tone that stayed with him.
And Steve Dayton, a billionaire scientist that called himself Mento, who had telekinesis and illusion powers while wearing a special helmet that he had created.
Over the years, Dayton would end up marrying Rita Farr, with Gar Logan becoming their adopted son.

The Doom Patrol was a product of the winding down Atomic Age. During that era, comics were full of weird-menace and B-Horror film inspirations. Because of such trappings, they would become one of the defining symbols of the Silver Age of comics.

Through the course of their adventures, the Doom Patrol would meet and battle several different villains.
Foes like-
Mr. 104 -a molecular engineer who had total control over almost the entire range of the periodic chart of elements as well as the ability to turn his body into any one of those elements
Gargaux -an alien from another planet who came to Earth to enslave the humans.
Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man -a scientist who had discovered a way to change his body into any form of animal, vegetable or mineral.
And many others.
But the most vile of their enemies were General Immortus and the Brotherhood of Evil.

General Immortus, a criminal who desired the secret to immortality, was the indirect cause for Niles Caulder's creation of the Doom Patrol. Originally, Caulder was working for him as a scientist to help him find immortality. But once he discovered he was working for Immortus and what his plans were, Niles tried to break ties. It was during this time that Caulder was confined to a wheelchair due to a bullet he sustained in an attept to de-activate a bomb that Immortus had planted in his chest.

While General Immortus was the cause for the Doom Patrol's creation, the Brotherhood of Evil would be the cause for their end.

The Brotherhood consisted of the Brain (a mastermind with a supreme intellect who, like Robotman, was a disembodied brain), Monsieur Mallah (a super-intelligent ape -think "gorilla warfare", but literally) and Laura DeMille, also known as Madame Rouge (a French actress who, after a car accident, suffered schizophrenia with one persona of good and one of hate). The Brain performed several operations on DeMille. One of those operations removed her good persona, leaving her a being of pure hate. And another later gave her the ability to stretch her body and change her features so she could disguise herself as anybody she wanted. During their career, the Brotherhood was joined by General Immortus and Gargaux to confront the Doom Patrol.

Madame Rouge eventually started to have feelings for Caulder, who attempted to restore her good side. Even though he made progress and she had a brief respite, the Brain's hold on her was too powerful and she had a nervous breakdown which reversed all the work Niles had done.

It was then that the evil-consumed Rouge met Colonel Zahl, a former Nazi butcher and they seemingly killed her Brotherhood teammates, Brain and Mallah. Together with Zahl, she captured the Chief, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Robotman, giving them an ultimatum: to sacrifice themselves or have a small fishing village destroyed. The Doom Patrol agreed to let themselves be killed for the sake of the village of fourteen. In the final issue of the Doom Patrol's original run (#121 -Sept/Oct, 1968) Zahl blew up the land where they stood, killing them.

The only survivor was Cliff Steele (at the time), who's head was found later floating ashore. Together with Beast Boy, who was now a member of the New Teen Titans as Changeling, he avenged their deaths when they found and fought Madame Rouge and Zahl. Robotman and Changeling were aided by the Brain and Mallah, as well, since it was revealed that they hadn't died and also seeked revenge on Rouge. During the course of the battle, Madame Rouge was electrocuted and the resulting shock finally restored her good personality. Dying happily, she said she was going to finally be with Niles.

The legacy of the Doom Patrol continued on, although it never attained the same feel or following as the original. Robotman went through all the various incarnations of the team, joined at first by Arani Caulder (a woman, also called Celsius, who claimed to be Nile's wife and had the ability to shoot fire from one hand and ice from the other), Valentina Vostok (a Russian astronaut who acquired an energy being similar to Larry Trainor's and called herself Negative Woman) and Joshua Clay (also known as Tempest, who could fire energy bolts from his body and fly). This first group's main objective was to find Niles Caulder because Arani did not believe he had really died.

But she, herself, would be killed before the truth was found that Niles indeed had not been killed. And when Cliff found him he also discovered that Caulder had caused the accidents that had created the original Doom Patrol.

The Doom Patrol would have one more day of glory in the hands of Grant Morrison, but it would not be fair to either version to draw comparisons or even treat them as the same entity.

DC then launched two more Doom Patrol series, the first with Robotman being the only staying character. He was joined by several new teen characters as he tried to coach them in super-hero life.

The most recent series was completely done by John Byrne who stripped the history away from the group and started fresh with the original team.
Unfortunately, with a much too long intro to the series and no connection to the old stories it alienated many Doom Patrol fans.

Quite possibly the Doom Patrol left so much of a mark at one time that it can never reach that height again. The stories of the '6os are now considered classics and can be found reprinted in DC's Archive series. And although the original team is no longer being published, they did pave the way for another group of super-powered freaks led by a wheelchair-bound professor...

So maybe there is hope.

(The above is a slightly updated version of the article I did for DCU #1. It's a special all-Doom Patrol issue and copies may still be available from Excalibur Press.)

Essential reading:
Doom Patrol Archives Volume 1 -reprints My Greatest Adventure #80 thru Doom Patrol #89.
Doom Patrol Archives Volume 2 -reprints Doom Patrol #90 thru #97.
Doom Patrol Archives Volume 3 -reprints Doom Patrol #98 thru #105, plus Challengers of the Unknown #48.
Crawling from the Wreckage -reprints Doom Patrol v2 #19 thru #25 (the beginning of Grant Morrison's run).
The Painting that Ate Paris -reprints Doom Patrol v2 #26 thru #34.
Down Paradise Way -reprints Doom Patrol v.2 #35 thru #41.
Doom Patrol Article from Best of Amazing Heroes #1
Newsarama's interview with Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake

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kimberly said...
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