Since it’s Friday and I’m bored, I’m going to write about the history of my favorite superhero team, the Doom Patrol. The Doom Patrol isn’t like any other team. Well, no, actually, strike that: superficially, they are like the X-Men. Their leader is in a wheelchair, they are feared by those they save. This wasn’t meant as a copy of the X-Men — in fact, the first appearance of the Doom Patrol was in June 1963, while the X-Men premiered in September 1963, which means the Doom Patrol was there before.
But aside from those superficial details, the Doom Patrol wasn’t like the X-Men at all. They weren’t like anything. They were completely and utterly bizarre.
The Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80, written by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney and illustrated by Bruno Premiani. The story introduces us to the Chief, Niles Caulder, as he gathers up a group of outcasts: Cliff Steele, a race car driver who got into a horrendous crash and whose brain was transplanted into a robot body; Larry Trainer, a test pilot who encountered something strange in the upper atmosphere that made him radioactive and lets him unleash the negative spirit for sixty seconds (if any longer, he dies); and Rita Farr, an actress who was exposed to a strange gas that caused her to grow to a giant size. Their “freak names” (which they hated) were Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Girl. And their arch-enemy, whom they encounter in the same issue, is General Immortus.
After My Greatest Adventure #85, the book would be renamed The Doom Patrol and Arnold Drake would continue writing their adventures. They encountered the Brotherhood of Evil (okay, yes, another similarity to the X-Men) consisting of The Brain, Monsieur Mallah, Madam Rouge, and Mr. Morden. They would also encountered the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, who, as you can probably tell, could turn himself into any animal, vegetable, or mineral.
They also gained allies: there was Steve Dayton, Mento, who invented a telepathic helmet and fell in love with Elasti-Girl and Garfield Logan, Beast Boy, a young boy with green skin who could transform into animals. Elasti-Girl and Mento eventually adopted Beast Boy (who would go on to join the Teen Titans and become much more popular than the Doom Patrol).
But that was before sales declined and the book was going to be cancelled. Arnold Drake was left with a question: what should he do with the Doom Patrol? He came up with one innovative option: kill them all.
Doom Patrol #121 (Sept-October 1968) was the last appearance of the Doom Patrol in the Silver Age and it ended with their deaths. They died as heroes, trying to save a small fishing village in Codsville, Maine.
So endeth the Doom Patrol.
Well, so endeth the Doom Patrol if this wasn’t comics and if death wasn’t so cheap.
In 1977, Paul Kupperberg and Joe Stanton resurrected the Doom Patrol for Showcase. It was revealed that Cliff Steele was the only survivor of that massacre, being a brain in a robot body. He was found by Celsius, who said she was Niles Caulder’s wife. Together with Negative Woman (a Russian woman who had bonded with the negative spirit) and Tempest (Joshua Clay, a Vietnam vet and doctor), they formed the new Doom Patrol.
Despite their appearance in Showcase, however, they didn’t get their own book until ten years later in 1987. And their book never reached the heights of strangeness that Arnold Drake’s stories did. Eventually, Kupperberg decided to leave the book after the events of a crossover called Invasion! And, as a Doom Patrol tradition, he ended his run on the book by nearly killing everyone off.
Which brings us to Grant Morrison.
Grant Morrison and artist Richard Case’s first issue was Doom Patrol #19 (February 1989) and almost immediately it reintroduced the weirdness and then turned it to eleven.
Once again, they pulled Cliff Steele from the old team. This time, Larry Trainer had been found alive, but the negative spirit found him and combined him with another person, creating Rebis. And at the end of Invasion!, a gene bomb had gone off, resulting in people gaining superpowers. One of those people was Kay Challis, Crazy Jane, who had sixty-four personalities and every single one had a different power. Together with the Chief, Joshua Clay, and Dorothy Spinner (a young girl with a monkey face who could bring her imagination to life), they formed a new Doom Patrol that was so crazy it was awesome.
Their first story had them fighting against the Scissormen and Orqwith, an imaginary city trying to become real. Then they fought against Red Jack, who was both Jack the Ripper and God, and the Brotherhood of Dada, led by the former Mr. Morden from the Brotherhood of Evil. Morden had gone through an experiment that turned him into Mr. Nobody and he gathered up other strange supervillains like Sleepwalk (who had super strength when she was asleep) and the Quiz (who had every superpower you couldn’t think of). The Brotherhood of Dada unleashed one of the weirdest stories, the Painting That Ate Paris, where a carnivorous painting eats, well, Paris.
And the stories got weirder and weirder. The Doom Patrol encountered the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and Danny the Street, a transvestite boulevard that would become the team’s headquarters, and Flex Mentallo, a comic book character from a book called My Greenest Adventure.
Morrison loved to parody Marvel comics as well, especially with the excess of the ‘90s in full swing. In one special, he turned the Doom Patrol into Doom Force, a parody of X-Force and all its stupidity. In another issue, he had Niles fighting against the Beard-Hunter, a parody of the Punisher who killed men with beards and took them as trophies.
Morrison’s run eventually ended with the team encountering an ancient nightmare called the Candlemaker. Again, nearly every character dies, but Morrison did allow some characters to walk away into the sunset.
After Morrison came Rachel Pollack, whose run was both good and bad. She introduced some interesting characters, such as Coagula, one of the first transgender superheroes, but her run also became a bit too esoteric and lost readers. Eventually it was cancelled.
(In more sad news, recently Rachel Pollack was diagnosed with lymphoma. You can help her here.)
The Doom Patrol wouldn’t get another book until 2001 when John Arcudi and artist Tan Eng Huat brought it back. Arcudi revealed that the previous team had been accidentally killed by Dorothy Spinner after a mental breakdown and that Cliff Steele was, again, the only survivor.
This Doom Patrol was a team of corporate superheroes, however. They consisted of Steele, Fast Forward, Kid Slick, Fever, and Freak.
While well written, the book never really captured the attention of the readers. The Doom Patrol had always been about the strange and bizarre and Arcudi’s team was just too normal. Nobody, aside from Steele, looked like they should be outcasts. Arcudi’s book was cancelled after twenty-two issues.
Which then paved the way for John Byrne and his ill-fated attempt to reboot the Doom Patrol. Byrne completely rebooted the team’s history, eliminating all of their past and putting Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Girl “together for the first time.” How this was possible without an actual company wide reboot nobody knows (this was before Flashpoint and even Infinite Crisis).
Byrne’s reboot was not well received to say the least. The fact that he not only got rid of past characters, but also eliminated nearly all the weirdness that made the team special meant that the book looked like just another super team. Byrne’s reboot was cancelled after eighteen issues. And then Infinite Crisis eliminated the entire thing and restored the Doom Patrol’s history, which was really for the best.
The next (and last) Doom Patrol book was in 2009 when Keith Giffen tried writing it. Giffen’s Doom Patrol was a strange combination of Morrison’s and Byrne’s books: on the one hand, the main team was still Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Woman (now outgrown the “Girl” epithet). On the other hand, the history of the team wasn’t forgotten but rather used. Elasti-Woman was alive because Caulder found her cells and regrew her. Negative Man was alive because the Negative Spirit possessed other bodies and they only thought they were Larry Trainor.
Even Crazy Jane and Danny the Street made appearances (although Danny had been injured so he was now Danny the Brick).
Giffen’s Doom Patrol didn’t sell well and DC also knew that Flashpoint was coming up, so they cancelled it. Giffen didn’t even have time to end his current storyline — he merely had Ambush Bug appear and tell everyone what was going to happen.
The New 52 eventually saw the return of the Doom Patrol in the pages of Justice League. They were back to being the Chief, Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Girl. It remains to be seen whether or not they will get their own book, although DC does seem to be taking some chances with their current Divergence books, like Prez.
However, Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s run still stands as the best and strangest version of the Doom Patrol. It had a strange heart to it, incorporating small character moments even during the weirdest of events.
In Morrison and Case’s last issue, “The Empire of Chairs,” Kay Challis was sent to a hellish world by the Candlemaker. That world is our world, the real world. She was trapped in an asylum, dreaming about an empire of chairs, of imagination, and it’s all being destroyed by the Keysmiths, those obsessed with opening all the doors, answering all the questions.
At the end, one doctor subjects her to electro-convulsive therapy and “cured” her. And another doctor writes:
I didn’t see much of Kay after that. To tell the truth, I couldn’t face her. Something had gone out in her eyes. She left the hospital with some stuff in a battered case.
She got a job in the city. She worked all day, slept all night, went back to work, ate, watched TV, shit, slept all night, like everyone else.
She didn’t ever paint again.
I don’t supposed it was a bad life. People have had worse. But I keep thinking of her standing on the battlements, overlooking a world that burned and sang with strangeness. A world where chairs weren’t just something you sit on.
Kay goes to commit suicide, but before she can, she sees Cliff Steele and she knows that it was all real. Cliff then says, “We’re going home now. Come in out of the rain.”
That was the Doom Patrol.