If you had to guess what DC property would go on to get its own TV show, “Doom Patrol” would probably be waaaaaay down the list, just past “Prez” and “Sugar & Spike.”
Yet here we are: DC Universe, Warner Bros.’ streaming service for all things DC, launched the TV show earlier this month, and after just the first two episodes, I’m impressed. It stars Brendan Fraser as Robotman and Matt Bomer as Negative Man. It leans heavily into the Grant Morrison run, probably the title’s artistic zenith, but it also keeps elements of the original, most notably, the wonderful Rita Farr, Elasti-Woman.
Cyborg is also in it.
I have no idea why Cyborg is here, other than there must be a rule at DC that Cyborg must be a part of every DC team except, y’know, the one he really belongs to, “Titans.”
If the Legion of Super-Pets ever gets a TV show, Cyborg will show up to lead the menagerie. It’s strange because “Doom Patrol” does have heroes of color in their roster and having a half-metal man alongside a metal man seems like an unnecessary duplication of powers. Hey! What do I know?
“Doom Patrol” the TV show is wonderfully dark and strange and Alan Tudyk’s Mister Nobody is suitably hilarious and scary. The series makes a strong case for subscribing to yet another streaming service.
And it got me hungry to revisit some Silver Age Doom Patrol adventures – and what better one to land on that the issue that started it all?
As I mentioned previously, my introduction to DC’s misfit heroes came in the back of a barber shop on Broadway in Somerville. Tony kept piles of comic books on hand for his young clientele, and my brother and I would race to read as many as we could before we were called up to get our hairs chopped. If we could have, we would have gladly passed up our turns to all the other customers just to read.
It was here that I encountered the fabulous freaks of the DCU in “Doom Patrol” No. 107, “The War Over Beast Boy,” cover date November 1966.
Look at this perfectly mad cover from artist Bob Brown. We have a villain so demented, the Joker is somewhere scribbling notes.
The other thing worth noting: Absolutely nothing even close to what appears on the cover happens in the issue.
Beast Boy appears in just one panel, and he’s eating a sub sandwich. The only jeopardy he faces is indigestion.
While the fanged nightmare of the cover does appear in a few panels, the Big Bad of this issue is the giant robot Ultimax, who kind of looks like what would happen if your air conditioner decided to mate with a cassette player. Oh, and he’s all pink. Maybe that explains his rage against humanity.
Ultimax is attacking, because, well, that’s what all giant robots did in the ’50s, and let’s face it, DC Comics were probably at least a decade behind the times so it all works out.
Now a word about our fantastic freaks: There was Robotman, who, despite his metal shell, seemed the most human, irascible yet heroic. Negative Man was and is just visually astounding, with an alien “radio energy” lifeform that blasts from his body, capable of amazing feats but limited to only 60 seconds of outside exposure. Separated any longer from his host, both would die.
And then there’s Elasti-Woman, who at a time when most superheroines seemed graduates of the point-and-pose school of powers, was pure strength. She could grow, shrink and stretch to extraordinary proportions. The enigmatic wheelchair-bound Chief led them all.
These characters had personalities, spit, sass and spunk. They cared for each other and got on each other’s nerves. They defined family in a way no DC comic did.
Here, Robotman and Negative Man charge into battle with a device from the Chief they think can thwart the ‘bot.
Ultimax crushes that geegaw immediately and gets to work knocking the stuffing out of the two, and it is prepared: It sprays Negative Man with a lead liquid that solidifies, preventing him from returning to his host Larry Trainor.
Can you really trap an energy being with a lead spray? Ehh, they don’t call him Ultimax for nothing.
Elasti-Woman learns of the fight on her TV, leaves her new husband behind and expands to giant form so she can cross the city to save the day.
That moment, however, was cruelly ruined.
Just as she was rushing all the bolts to its head, Ultimax released a deadly gas.
“Do you think I was unprepared for you, Giant woman? Never entertain such folly. A gift fashioned only for you,” the metallic menace crowed.
Elasti-Woman shrinks – shrinks – shrinks!
Robotman picks her up in his hands – she’s maybe six inches tall and she’s still shrinking – and then she vanishes!
“Rita doesn’t exist anymore,” Robotman says.
The Chief sets his pals straight. Rita isn’t dead – she’s just “reduced infinitely, but not destroyed! If her atoms were obliterated, there’d have been an explosion greater than an H-bomb! She’s alive, all right, but the question is – where?”
Try the index finger on Robotman’s metal hand.
She’s shrunk down to a subatomic world overrun by blue-skinned savages who think she is a spy from a rival nation. Writer Arnold Drake and artist Bruno Premiani are telling at least four stories in this issue, and that serialization was another thing that set “Doom Patrol” apart from DC titles.
Robotman and Negative Man face Ultimax again to get a sample of its shrinking gas so Chief can duplicate it and send Mento to rescue his new bride.
At the end of this story, Elasti-Woman faces a dilemma – execution or marriage to the one-eyed king.
It’s a continued story – of course! – and it would take me approximately 20 years to track down the conclusion.
There’s also a terrific backup story about “The Private World of Negative Man” before he joined the Doom Patrol. He learns in “The Race Against Dr. Death” that if your new employer is named Dr. Death, he probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
That dumb little kid reading those pages in that barber shop? He was hooked. And that love for the Doom Patrol has lasted a lifetime.