|By John Steib|
|Everything I know about life I learned from the Doom Patrol.
Okay, not really.
But, I really do LIKE the Doom Patrol.
Welcome to Virtual West.
My first exposure to DC's "hard luck heroes" was actually in a Marvel comic. Seriously. I was reading a parody comic called "Not Brand Ecch" that was spoofing the X-Men. (They were called the Ecchs-Men, I think. Pretty funny stuff, huh?) At the end of the story, Magneat-O spots a team of freaks lead by a guy in a wheelchair and assumes it's his Merry Mutant opponents. Closer examination proves otherwise.
I was less than ten years old. I had no idea who they were, but I filed that scene in my head along with everything else. (By the way, the Thunder Agents and the Man from UNCLE were also parodied in that issue and I had NO IDEA who they were either.)
The next time I saw the Doom Patrol (and actually the first time I truly saw them) was in a house ad for Showcase #94. It was 1977. I was nine. The ad showed a group of unrecognizable (to me) heroes burying a broken robot. The gravestone said "Doom Patrol R.I.P." This was the introduction of the New Doom Patrol. Cool name and cool concept, I thought. I just assumed this was that "Dead Super-Hero" comic my nine-year old brain always "wanted". Totally cool. (I never did find that comic...until years later. But the name (and the image) stuck with me.) These guys weren't "avenging". They weren't "championing" anything or "defending" something. The name sounded like a villain team.
It's 1981 and my favorite comic "in the world" is New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The cover of issue #13 shows (you guessed it!) a broken (possibly dead) robot guy. The cover copy says, "The Quest for the Killers of the Legendary Doom Patrol!"
As fate would have it, my favorite Titan was the goofiest one: Changeling. Garfield Logan was green, could shape change into animal forms and cracked the best jokes. What I didn't realize was; Gar Logan used to be known as Beast Boy. He was a surviving member of the Doom Patrol!
In New Teen Titans #14, I finally learned the origin (and fate) of the Doom Patrol. I "met" Elasti-Girl, Mento, the Chief, Robotman and Negative Man for the first time. I also learned that they "died" to save a fishing village of 14 people. I was amazed.
(Now, even at this ripe old age of 13, I knew that nobody died and stayed dead in comics. Well, except for Bucky, Uncle Ben and Thunderbird of the (All New, All Different) X-Men. The idea of a whole super-hero team sacrificing themselves in 1968 boggled my mind. Of course, I realize now that it was a financial decision of a publishing company. Obviously, their title wasn't selling. But, imagine being a reader in 1968, getting that issue, watching them blow up and...there are NO MORE issues! Freaky.)
Thus began my lifelong love of a team of freaks who died to save not the world, but a handful of people in Maine. As DC's Who's Who series was published in the mid-1980's, I devoured the Doom Patrol entries. In the pages of Who's Who (and in the Titans), I met their adversaries, the Brotherhood of Evil featuring Monsieur Mallah and the Brain. I met Garguax, Mr. 105 (named for the Periodic Table of the Elements), General Immortus and Madame Rouge. And, one of my all-time favorite bizarre villains: The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. No, I am not kidding.
Jump ahead to 1987 and Secret Origins Annual #1. This issue (by Paul Kupperberg and John Byrne) recapped all of the Doom Patrol's past and set the stage for an ongoing series. Their first in about 20 years. I was stoked. When the ongoing series started in the fall, I was there. I bought 'em. I read 'em. I liked 'em. Maybe I didn't LOVE 'em, but I was okay with it.
Apparently, I was the only one. In 1989, the book was turned over to comic "manic genius" Grant Morrison with #19 and everything changed. Every. Single. Thing. And...I didn't like it. I didn't understand it (more than) half the time so I dropped it. It quickly became (and this was before it became a Vertigo title) unrecognizable to me. I described it as "weird for weird sake." Talking chairs. Raining eyeballs. Crazy Scissormen. I really hated it. (To be fair, I've often wondered if it was ME who was not ready for IT and have considered re-reading it. Giving it another chance...Nah.)
Eventually, the Vertigo Doom Patrol series ended. I could care less. I couldn't even recognize them anyone. But, I knew they would someday come back. (This is why I rarely get too upset over books getting cancelled. Green Arrow came back. Hawkman just got back. The JSA is hot right now. So, don't fret Aquaman fans. He'll be back soon.)
About six months ago, the Doom Patrol returned. Well, actually Cliff (Robotman) Steele came back with four new freaks. Cliff is truly the heart of all incarnations of the Patrol. The new series is not a Vertigo title. It's (apparently) set in the "regular" DC Universe and it's decent so far. Actually, it's been fairly odd so far (but at least its not raining eyeballs...yet). It's still arguable what ideas from the previous versions are being kept. So, Dear Reader, you are in the same boat as me. I'd like you to buy it so it'll keep being published. What can I say? I'm selfish that way.
Two final thoughts before I go.
DC just released a hardcover Doom Patrol Archives Volume One a few weeks back. It reprints their original adventures from a comic called "My Greatest Adventure" where they debuted. I realize that the price tag on Archives is "high end" but look at the quality of reproduction and check out the back issue prices someday. Yikes!
Finally, remember how I started this (extremely) long column comparing the Doom Patrol with the X-Men? Both were lead by guys in wheelchairs. Both had freaks on their teams. People who couldn't fit in with "normal" society. They seem similar enough that one could be a "rip off" of the other, right? Well, actually, no. Doom Patrol premiered in June of 1963. X-Men premiered in September of 1963. Given the extended production time of comics back in those days, they happened coincidentally, yet independently of each other.
Besides, as was pointed out to me on the Internet one day, the Doom Patrol are not X-Men "parallels". The Doom Patrol were created with another successful comic property in mind. Reed and Chief were the smart guys. Johnny and Negative Man were the hotheaded flyers. Sue and Elasti-Girl were the obligatory female (sometimes the damsel in distress). And Ben and Cliff were the gruff strongmen with big hearts of gold. The Doom Patrol were DC's answer to the Fantastic Four.
And now, you know...
Collector's Edge WEST Store Manager
All comments (c)2002 John Steib and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without expressed written permission of the author.