Crawling from the Wreckage: The return of the Doom Patrol

With the recent return of DC’s weirdest heroes, we wonder what incarnation of the Doom Patrol to expect...

Doom Patrol

A wheelchair-bound benevolent philanthropist taking in and training strange and unusual ‘special’ people…

Nope it’s not Professor X and the X-Men but rather Miles Caulder and his Doom Patrol, who are probably DC’s weirdest team…

The Doom Patrol originally were not superheroes in the traditional sense, but rather adventurers and explorers of the weird and unknown, mirroring Marvel’s Fantastic 4 a great deal both in structure, team dynamic and setup. But, unlike the close-knit family unit of the FF, the splintered Doom Patrol had no shared background above and beyond their own predicament.

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The team consisted of scientist and ‘leader’ Miles Caulder whose brains and ingenuity kept the team together, joined by Cliff Steel, a racing driver whose fatal car crash left his body beyond repair and whose consciousness and brain were placed into a ‘robotman’ automaton by Caulder. Then there was Larry Trantor, an experimental pilot whose contact with an alien entity merged them together to create a ‘negative man’, and finally Rita Farr who had the ability to grow and shrink as ‘Elasti-girl’.

The team originally appeared in 1963 in a DC anthology comic called ‘My great adventures’, and was one of many sets of characters to appear in a series that ‘tested the water’ for characters or concepts that could hold their own book.

Lasting until 1968 the team, originally created by Arnold Drake, was also ‘killed off’ by its creator, and the concept shelved for many years, not to be seen again until the late 1970s. At that time the Doom Patrol was re-jigged for a new and more modern take by writers such as Paul Kupperberg, Marv Wolfman, George Perez and John Byrne. Here the team gained members such as Beast Boy, and fought against foes like ‘The Brain’ and General Immortus.

However it was not until the early 1990s when Grant Morrison took over the title that the weirdness and potential for the book really took off. The fact that the doom patrol was starting nearly from scratch was indicated in the title of the first Morrison-penned story,  ‘Crawling from the Wreckage’.

Morrison took all the ideas of a dysfunctional superhero team working on the edge of reality and plunged them into a surreal world filled with city-eating painting, extra-dimensional creatures and lost superheroes.

Stripping the characters away from their superhero trappings, Morrison had Caulder once again in charge, but at the same time was not really interested in the day-to-day running of the Team.

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Cliff was a grudging ‘hero’ and star of the book, with Rita disappearing and having her personality abducted by aliens (and coming back for a time as a character called Lodestone); finally Negative Man was joined with another female character to make the multi-gender (third man, woman and negative alien creature thingy) character called Rebus.

Then came Dorothy Skinner, a little girl with vast physiological powers and a face like a primate; Danny the Street, a teleporting mardi-gras filled street who served as a base could ‘talk’ to the rest of the team through shop-signs and billboards; Malcolm Duncan, who worked as the ‘human’ liaison for the team; and finally a character called ‘Crazy Jane’ whose multiple personalities each had their own super-power or skill.

Featuring battles and stories against some of the weirdest character ever to be written in comics, this new incarnation of the Doom Patrol had clashes with teams such as the Brotherhood of DaDa, The Scissorman, Red Jack, the insect intelligences who secretly ran the world and the evil Candlemaker.

Departing the comic, Morrison left the dysfunctional team in the capable hands of Rachael Pollock who carried on the weirdness, and whose first story, ‘Sliding in the Wreckage’, retained the themes introduced by Morrison but took things in a whole new direction.

Moving to the Vertigo imprint, the book was lost in the shuffle and creative surge of some of the other books that DC also published under this banner. The likes of Swamp Thing and the ‘trench-coat brigade’ took some of the shine away from the uniqueness of Doom Patrol, who were once again consigned to the shelf in 1995.

However, like many good ideas, the team was once again resurrected in 2001 where a whole new team of misfits took over the mantle of Doom Patrol with only Cliff still around as a mentor to this new team. Although a good solid book by itself, John Acurdis’ attempt to re-invigorate the team did not go down too well. New characters Fever, Freak and Slick did not really click with the audience and the organic artwork and great creature designs by Tan Eng Huat were missed by a lot of people.

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Moving full circle, the team returned to its superhero roots as John Byrne tackled Doom Patrol, creating a group consisting of its older members joined by a four-armed monkey and a new teen character. Neither as cutting-edge nor innovative as the previous incarnations, this straight superhero interpretation of the team appealed to neither the hardcore Justice League-reading superhero fans or the more cerebral readership of Morrison’s run.

You would think that after proverbial misfires from the past two or three launches, the team would be left alone to enjoy its retirement in comic limbo. However it was announced last year that fan favourite writer Keith Giffen would be taking over Doom Patrol and launching, Cliff, Larry and Rita into a whole new set of adventures in the summer of 2009.

This announcement has come into fruition recently with DC running trailers in the back of its book and teasing that the book would be a mix of Morrison, Byrne and the traditional team.

While I have yet to read the new book the trailers and notion of old and new look very appealing, with the promos showing the old team back in all its glory, with a bit of a modern dust-off tackling an adversary that has enough of a combination of monstrous superhero villainy and weirdness to appeal to all fans of the various incarnation of this ever-evolving team.