Deck Log Entry # 108 Death in the Silver Age: the Doom Patrol, R. I. P. (Part Two)

While having Murray Boltinoff and Bruno Premiani appear in the pages of The Doom Patrol # 121 came as a bit of a surprise, their announcement that the title was on the ropes probably wasn’t a shocker. At least not for the veteran fans of “the World’s Strangest Heroes”. They had sensed it coming.


Like so many DC series in 1968, The Doom Patrol had moved away from many of the elements which had characterised it in the early years. Greatest among these was the pervading sense of ostracism. Despite their super-powers, their disabilities and freakish appearances had made the members of the Doom Patrol outcasts from the very society they protected.


When the series began, there were constant reminders of this. While the DP was never subjected to outright public hatred---as their conceptual brethren, the X-Men, were for being mutants---the man on the street looked upon them as sideshow displays. The early DP tales emphasized the peculiar dichotomy: people were grateful for their heroic deeds, but repulsed by their appearances.


Illustrative of this were the names “Negative Man”, “Elasti-Girl”, and “Robotman”. They had been bestowed by a curious and callous public. Larry and Rita and Cliff never referred to themselves by those names, and in fact, resented them. Larry Trainor, in particular, despised them.


Occasionally, the Doom Patrollers would venture into the normal world for social reasons, appearing at awards ceremonies and testimonial dinners, to accept the thanks of a grateful city. But still the stares and muffled whispers leaked through the veneer of cordiality. In those scenes, Larry and Rita and Cliff never looked comfortable, and for good reason.


As a consequence, they stayed sequestered in their brownstone headquarters, where they had only each other for sympathy, friendship, and support. Of all of DC’s hero-teams, the Doom Patrol shared the greatest sense of family. This was something many adolescents could identify with---that feeling of being on the outside, looking in. Much of the popularity of the series derived from this.

 

 




But their self-contained existence was not fated to last. The first crack in the firmament appeared in The Doom Patrol # 91 (Nov., 1964), when the character of Steve Dayton was introduced. Dayton, a normal guy (at least, as normal as the fifth-richest man in the world could be), developed a romantic interest in Rita Farr, freak super-hero, and it worked marvelously. The result was a tug-of-war between Rita's affection for Dayton and her loyalty to the Doom Patrol. Rita was the only one of the DP who could pass for normal in regular society, and it was interesting to see her caught up in the temptation to live an ordinary life.


The critical mistake was turning Dayton into a super-hero himself. As Mento, he then tried to appeal to Rita by being one of the "us", not one of the "them". It didn’t work. Mento’s super-powers hadn’t come with the penalty of freakishness. No, Dayton just put on a special helmet and a fancy costume. Without those, he was still handsome, brilliant, and Bill Gates-level rich. In other words, pretty much your standard DC super-hero. Not surprisingly, Mento’s bid to join the group in The Doom Patrol # 97 (Aug., 1965) was rejected.


Even so, Dayton was persistent and he finally won the lady’s hand, marrying Rita in The Doom Patrol # 104 (Jun., 1966). Larry and Cliff, and to a degree, even the Chief, resented the fact that Rita had managed to settle down to a conventional life. Even so, Rita found it impossible to desert her family of misfits. She constantly abandoned her wifely duties to join her Doom Patrol teammates whenever danger beckoned, much to Steve Dayton’s consternation.


The real shift in the tenor of the series, though, came with the introduction of Beast Boy. Beast Boy was Gar Logan, an orphaned boy under the thumb of a cruel, miserly guardian. Logan had green skin and the ability to transform into the form of any animal.


One would think he was a natural for joining the Doom Patrol. But writer Arnold Drake didn’t play it that way. Logan was rebellious, obnoxious, and disdainful of anyone over the age of twenty. The DPers didn’t enjoy having such a brat around and shooed him off whenever possible.


Nevertheless, Beast Boy became an increasing presence in the stories and the centre of various sub-plots. In that, he became the pivot for a change in the emphasis of the series. The focus changed to the inter-dynamics of the main characters, and the concept of being outcast from normal society faded away. No longer did the DPers express a painful awareness of being freaks; instead, they practically reveled in it.


Where Drake’s scripts once highlighted the bizarre as a means to underscore the Doom Patrol’s isolation from normal folks, now they got weird for the sheer sake of being weird. And the villains grew more outlandish, even by Doom Patrol standards. There were the grotesque mutants Ur, Ir, and Ar, so malformed that they made Larry and Cliff look like menswear models. Instead of ignoring the world, the mutant trio intended to destroy it outright. Naturally, the DP had something to say about that.


Another of Drake’s plots mocked a fad of the late ‘60’s, as the Patrollers fell victim to the transcendental mind control of the Yaramishi Rama Yogi. Nothing that had come before matched the pure loopiness of seeing Robotman turned into a flower-wearing, love-thy-brother peacenik.


It didn’t help matters that Bruno Premiani’s art was losing its edge. Perhaps the ordered reduction of original art, from twice up to one-and-a-half, in the summer of 1965 accounted for the loss of detail, but it didn’t explain other shortcomings. Premiani’s once-excellent feel for human proportion, especially in action scenes, was increasingly off. Arms and legs distended with surreal results. To be fair, he may have been ordered by Murray Boltinoff to insert a greater sense of motion in his work, and that was something Premiani just could not do well.

 

 




The bloom was long off the rose when The Doom Patrol # 121 hit the stands in the fall of 1968.


The magazine had shifted to bi-monthly publication at the beginning of the year, which was always a big red flag. Murray Boltinoff’s opening-page prediction of---ahem---doom for the series seemed to confirm all the indicators. If so, Arnold Drake made sure that the final Doom Patrol script would wind up with a bang, and not just in the metaphoric sense.


The last Silver-Age case of the Doom Patrol was launched by the culmination of a sub-plot which had run for several issues, one involving the Chief and Madame Rouge, a member of the Brotherhood of Evil.


Before becoming Madame Rouge, she had been Laura de Mille, a French stage actress---until an automobile accident damaged her brain, inflicting her with a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like dual personality. Realising her potential as a member of his criminal organisation, the Brain arranged for Monsieur Mallah to kidnap her. In a delicate brain operation, the good side of her personality was rendered inert and her criminal persona became dominant.


During one of the Patrol’s later forays against the Brotherhood of Evil, Madame Rouge fell under the Chief’s control. He was able to reverse the Brain’s procedure, making her as decent and honest as she had been cruel and treacherous before. Her gratitude kindled into sparks of romance between her and the Chief.


Things looked rosy until the Patrol’s encounter with the Yaramishi Rama Yogi, in issue # 119 (May-Jun., 1968). The Yogi’s mental tampering undid the Chief’s rehabilitation, truly killing Madame Rouge’s good side and leaving her more thoroughly wicked than before.


She proves it in the first pages of the story proper in issue # 121, when she drops a bomb on the Brotherhood of Evil’s Parisian hide-out, killing the Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Then, she turns her sights on the Doom Patrol.


She is able to bypass most of their brownstone-HQ’s protective devices, having learnt many of the DP’s secrets during her romance with the Chief. (Despite his genius, there were times when the Chief wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.) After a clandestine attempt to destroy the Patrol fails, Madame Rouge makes an all-out effort. She recruits Nazi war criminal Captain Zahl, who bears a grudge against the Chief stemming back to World War II, and together, they lay the DP’s home under siege.


It’s a grim time for Our Heroes, with barely time to breathe between fending off napalm and missile attacks from Zahl’s forces. “I’m afraid, Chief!” Rita frankly admits. “For the first time in the history of the Doom Patrol---I’m really scared!”


Fortunately, the Chief didn’t tell Madame Rouge all of the Patrol’s secrets, and he launches counter-weapons that, along with the aid of Negative Man, destroy the aerial platforms arrayed against them. It’s another indicator of just how high the stakes are this time that there’s none of the usual code-against-killing stuff from the good guys. In the DP's counter-attack, the pilots and crews of Zahl’s airships are variously incinerated, vapourised, or diced into pieces-parts.


The brief respite brings the team more bad news. Innocent bystanders were hurt in the attack, and the federal government orders the Doom Patrol out of the city before more people suffer in the wake of Madame Rouge’s vendetta. The Chief agrees. Unfortunately, to the citizens of Midway City, it looks like the DP has turned coward, running out when they are needed most.


However, being a wily old cuss, the Chief wasn’t caught flat-footed. He directs Larry to fly them to a remote Caribbean island, where they discover a new base of operations that the Chief had prepared some time ago for just such a situation.


The DPers barely have time to find out where the bathrooms are and check out what’s in the fridge when, inexplicably, they are found out by Madame Rouge---evidently, the existence of this “impenetrable island fortress” was one of the secrets the Chief did tell her about. Via submarine, she and Captain Zahl pierce the island’s defences and launch a full-scale assault on the Doom Patrol.


The villains’ shock troops swarm the island, but they are little threat to Cliff and Larry and Rita, who deal with them handily. But they serve their purpose---to distract the Doom Patrol while Captain Zahl unleashes weapons specially designed to incapacitate the heroes.


Larry is coated with chemically impregnated sand, trapping Negative Man inside his body. A steel net enmeshes Rita before she can grow large enough to gain the strength to break free of it. Robotman is hit with a magnetic charge that disrupts the internal motors of his mechanical body.


With the wheelchair-bound Chief helpless to do anything, the Patrol can only listen to the ravings of Rouge and Zahl. Their goal was the total humiliation of the Doom Patrol, starting with the public accusations of cowardice, back in Midway City, to their current helplessness before their sworn enemies. And the villains are not done, yet.


The world will see that the DPers are no braver, no nobler, than anyone else---that they will put their own lives first. Over a global broadcast, Captain Zahl explains that two explosive charges have been set: one under the very island upon which the Patrol stands, the other beneath the small fishing village of Codsville, Maine, populated by fourteen ordinary, unimportant people. Either charge will bring total destruction to its target.


The heroes have two minutes, says Zahl, to decide which of the two bombs he will detonate. Will they sacrifice themselves for fourteen simple fishermen?


The Chief turns to the team that he founded. “You heard him! Fourteen ordinary men---strangers to us!” he says. “Well, my comrades? You must decide!”


Larry and Rita and Cliff respond without hesitation.

 

 


As time counts down, Madame Rouge reminds Zahl of their agreement, that the Doom Patrol shall not die. Zahl is confident that they will choose to save their own skins.


One hundred and twenty seconds later, the Doom Patrol delivers to the villains, and the watching world, their unanimous answer.


“Fire away!”


In a fit of pique, Captain Zahl defies Madame Rouge and presses the island’s detonator! A tremendous explosion erupts from the ocean floor, obliterating the island, along with everything---and everyone---on it.

 




The shocking deaths of the Doom Patrollers are compounded by the complete escape of Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl, though a grieving Steve Dayton swears to spend every last cent of his fortune to hunt them down.


In a last-panel coda, Murray Boltinoff once again speaks directly to the readers, insisting that the Doom Patrol did not escape the blast. It was not saved by some last-minute miracle. It would be up to the fans to determine if the Doom Patrol lived, again.


With that, the Silver-Age shroud was pulled over Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, and the Chief.


With the advent of the Bronze Age, a new generation of writers saw fit to resurrect the slain heroes. First, Cliff, then Larry, then the Chief, over the course of a decade, until the only corpse remaining on the ocean bottom was that of Rita Farr Dayton. The post-Crisis era brought more re-jiggerings of the Doom Patrol concept.


These developments had their enthusiasts, of course, but for the Silver-Age DP fan, the revivals served only to dilute the pathos and poignancy of four heroes who willingly made the supreme sacrifice to save the lives of fourteen “nobodies”.

 

 



The Doom Patrol, Requiescat in Pace.

 

 



Views: 1077

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on August 17, 2010 at 2:53pm
Nothing that had come before matched the pure loopiness of seeing Robotman turned into a flower-wearing, love-thy-brother peacenik.

Ah that would be a lovely image.
Comment by doc photo on August 17, 2010 at 4:27pm
Beast Boy and Mento were already involved with the Doom Patrol when I first read the series, I found both characters terribly obnoxious. After a couple of issues I gave up on the title, which is unusual since I enjoyed Drakes writing on virtually everything else he did during the same time period.
Comment by Philip Portelli on August 17, 2010 at 7:44pm
True, with Metamorpho, the Creeper, Ultra-the Multi-Alien, some of Robby Reed's Dial "H" transformations and the faceless Red Tornado, how odd were the Doom Patrol?

Mento never appealled to me, not with that outfit. And I first saw Beast Boy in Teen Titans #50-52 as a Spock-like alien in a sci-fi TV show! I always wondered why the always green Gar Logan wore a mask??

It may have been better to let the Doom Patrol rest in peace and create new "freaks" to carry on because Tempest, Celsius, Negative Woman and the other additions never had the same charm nor evoked the same sympathy!
Comment by Philip Portelli on August 17, 2010 at 9:31pm
It does seem as if Rita is more than what we thought. But then could Negative Man be the Negative Being controlling Larry's body and is Robotman's human brain still there or is he a robot programmed to believe it's Cliffe Steele? Just some food for thought!
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on August 18, 2010 at 12:26am
Thanks for the look back, Commander. The Doom Patrol was one of those series I've always read about rather than actually read; I can count all the stories I've read on one hand and still have several fingers left over.
Comment by Commander Benson on August 18, 2010 at 1:06am
As I see it, there were three central themes in the original Doom Patrol concept:

1. Acquiring super-powers could come at a terrible price.

2. The heroes' nobility in protecting the very public which shunned them and were revulsed by them.

3. The sense of family that developed among the heroes, all victims of cruel fate.


While the introductions of Steve (Mento) Dayton and Beast Boy turned the emphasis of the series away from those three themes, it was the post-Silver-Age treatment of the DP that really disposed of them.

Turning the Chief into a Machiavellian schemer who arranged the "accidents" that transformed Larry and RIta and Cliff eradicated all three themes.

Because the "accidents" which changed the lives of Larry and Rita and Cliff were arranged, the sense that they were tragic victims of a capricious fate was lost.

The nobility of risking their lives for the very society which made them outcasts was tarnished by the notion that the Chief had been manipulating them all along. And, of course, it made a mockery of the theme that they were a family, with only each other for friendship and support---when one of them was scheming behind their backs.

I guess it was just too much to expect from modern-era writers that heroes should be motivated to do the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do. And that they worked together out of genuine fellowship and respect for each other.

No, somebody had to be eeeeeeeeeee-vil.
Comment by Figserello on August 18, 2010 at 1:56am
I'd argue making Chief the Machievellian schemer doesn't really negate the heroism of the rest of the members, or negate what made Doom Patrol a great series in the first place.

So what if capricious fate afflicted them in the form of a deranged father-figure, rather than in the form of some accident? It happens, you know. Bad luck takes many forms. In families like that, those 'afflicted' by said abusive father-figure have to band together all the closer if they are to survive it intact. Survival IS heroic in those cases.

I guess it was just too much to expect from modern-era writers that heroes should be motivated to do the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do. And that they worked together out of genuine fellowship and respect for each other.

Morrison's Doom Patrol, all the members except Chief, anyway, were heroic and did do the right thing, largely because it was the right thing to do. Their dependence on each other was empowering and heartwarming.

Morrison's take was sore on the Chief, but having read the DPs earliest adventures, there wasn't a lot in those to contradict it either. Another point in Morrison's favour was that parental abuse was a theme of his series so making the villain the Chief internalised that for the reader. Abuse is a betrayal by someone you should trust. Chief's betrayal was integral to the story he was telling, rather than tacked on for sensationalism's sake.

Added to that, I guess a lot of authority figures had let us down between 1963 and 1988, so what's one more?

FWIW, Morrison addressed the very issues that commentators here have brought up. The DP became genuine outsiders, even by DCU costumed hero standards. In some ways they represented the very people society shuns and is revulsed by: the psychiatrically ill, the sexually ambiguous, the handicapped.

Drake has stated that Morrison came closest to what he was trying to do with Doom Patrol, which is vindication enough for me.

Finally of course, Morrison's Doom Patrol itself has been scribbled over and redone many times since he revealed the Chief's perfidy, so these days it's just another story. Praise be it happens to be a good one, and that's what matters.
Comment by Commander Benson on August 18, 2010 at 3:51am
"So what if capricious fate afflicted them in the form of a deranged father-figure, rather than in the form of some accident?"

There is a significant difference between suffering a tragedy from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having your life ruined by the specific actions of an individual. If you are the deliberate target of someone's injurious action, at least there is a distinct reason, an articulatable cause-and-effect. It's far more psychologically frustrating to suffer tremendous personal loss simply because of chance---it's your house that the tornado demolishes, while your neighbour's home remains untouched. For the victims of caprice, there is no outlet for the anger.

Once Cliff and Larry and Rita found out that the Chief was behind their "accidents" (and I am assuming they did; I wouldn't know), he became a focus for their anger and frustration. When the causes of their freakish states truly were accidents, as the Silver Age would have it, there is no justifiable target for that rage and frustration. They either have to choke it down, or take it out on an innocent party.

Additionally, if the disasters that befell Cliff and Larry and Rita were truly random, it implies some sort of "cosmic caprice", at work. Being the victims of someone's evil machinations is, relatively speaking, more prosaic.


". . . Another point in Morrison's favour was that parental abuse was a theme of his series so making the villain the Chief internalised that for the reader. Abuse is a betrayal by someone you should trust. Chief's betrayal was integral to the story he was telling, rather than tacked on for sensationalism's sake.

"Added to that, I guess a lot of authority figures had let us down between 1963 and 1988, so what's one more?"


Sometimes I think nearly all of the post-Silver-Age comics writers came from broken homes, were abused children, or had alcoholic parents, or suffered some other childhood trauma. It sure seems to be the case from the way they like to take Silver-Age concepts and insert into them something tawdry, treacherous, or evil.

The Chief actually arranged the accidents that ruined the lives of Larry and Rita and Cliff. Starman and the Black Canary had an on-going affair behind the backs of their respective spouses. The Black Panther joined the Avengers to see if they posed some sort of threat to Wakanda. Hal Jordan was an alcoholic. Pick any post-Silver-Age story involving the federal government and someone in the government will be eeeeeeeeee-vil!

It's as if these writers refuse to believe that there are any people, or groups of people, who are above board, honest and decent, and who don't drag around some sort of debilitating baggage with them.

"But it happens all the time," is the defence.

Yes, it happens. And yes, "all the time", in the sense that, somewhere, at any given time, it might be happening. But it doesn't happen every time. In fact, not even most of the time.

But the fact that it has happened, even in the minority, even if just once, is enough for the modern comics writer to justify transforming a formerly honest, decent hero into an ignoble, duplicitous subversive, or at least, showing that he isn't totally decent or totally honest.

Because "it happens all the time."

And because, for them, tearing down authority figures, even if its just fictional ones, is fun.

Mr. Morrison had a Neat Idea. The fact that he pulled it off---at least, in your estimation, and no doubt, many others'---doesn't change the fact that he felt it desirable to turn a good guy bad. And regardless of how Larry and Cliff and Rita remained good and decent and heroic, turning the Chief into a bad guy alters the timbre of the Doom Patrol concept.

I like my heroes to be heroic, and my comics writers to not have an axes to grind because their drunken fathers didn't show them enough affection.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on August 18, 2010 at 7:37am
Commander Adam - an excellent piece of work, such as you always supply. I enjoy reading your treatises no end. I do have some discussion - about your piece, not with your piece...

ITEM: The writing in the Bronze Age changed at DC; not so much at Marvel. The reason was that DC found that Marvel was succeeding and they wanted to become Marvel. So writers started injecting emotional "trauma" into stories, and this continued on through the decades. It was inevitable that it would permeate every character - even to Superman losing half his powers (!!!) and becoming emotionally tormented about how much he was doing to "interfere with the course of human history." As if, save for Superman, no external forces would ever influence humans. And we know the lie that was, thanks to the future of the Legion of Super Heroes.

A weaker and vulnerable hero is good story material... but only for easier stories, and only for the right characters. Spider-Man happens to be a character with a rough life - it's part of his origin. The Hulk suffers a tragic life - it's part of his origin. Captain America out of the 40s is sort of a man without a country - it's part of his ongoing story.

But Superman is not a soft, emotionally susceptible character - he's the Man of Steel! He rises above such trauma because that's who Superman is. Batman is not a blind, raging, vengeance filled psychopathic fear monger. He is driven to protect the citizens of Gotham - and the outside world - by being the man of mystery, the world's greatest detective, the ultimate in human development due to his being driven by the death of his parents - and there IS drama in the dichotomy between Batman and Bruce Wayne, but it is still the same man.

The GOOD writers use the existing characters and situations, and make stories of THOSE - they don't deconstruct the characters to make it easier to write stories.

ITEM: There have been (if I count right) five incarnations of the Doom Patrol; the original Silver Age, the new Doom Patrol from Showcase 94 - 96, the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol (which I did not read), the John Byrne Doom Patrol, and the current Doom Patrol.

In the first one alone was what I thought was the actual truth - the Chief IS A MEMBER OF THE DOOM PATROL. He's not a government liaison, he's not a puppet master controlling a super team from the shadows, and he's not a Machiavellian fiend. He is a high minded and strict leader - but also one with compassion and friendship with his family, and he is one of them. Thus, all these stories about Niles Caulder "creating" the Doom Patrol by his machinations rings very falsely to me.

And realistically, if I were on a team, and I found that the leader had done everything to me that has been chronicled - I'd be out of there fast. Why not? There ARE other teams in the DCU who would welcome the power and skills and experience that Robotman, Negative Man, and Elasti-Girl bring with them. Shucks, if I were Nightwing and reforming the Outsiders, I'd draft Robotman as my second in command so fast, it would make your head spin.

And speaking of old friends and experience...

ITEM: The Doom Patrol have become Hawkman and Wonder Girl. They died - no, only one of them died - no, none of them died, but no one knows who they are - no, Changeling/Beast Boy (oy....) has been around for years, and Mento and Elasti-Girl were his step-parents so the Doom Patrol are well known...

WTF??? I know it happens - DC went as far as to make light of it during the Infinite Crisis - WHAT KIND OF STORYTELLING IS THAT? They're making fun of their own writers and policies!?!?

This is not new - try to reconcile Crisis on Infinite Earths and a new Superman and a new Wonder Woman - but the same Batman that's been around all that time - and you see that the whole thing stinks like yesterday's diapers. The Doom Patrol is just the latest element of the DCU to become permanently tainted with that awful stench.

Commander Adam: "I like my heroes to be heroic, and my comics writers to not have an axes to grind because their drunken fathers didn't show them enough affection."

I think you've got the whole thing right there. In the DCU... heroes can be heroes because it's the right thing, not because of any substandard motivation.

I remain,
Sincerely,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
x<]:o){
Comment by doc photo on August 18, 2010 at 8:37am
Commander, your comments on modern comic writers could be applied to writers across the entertainment world in general. The idea of heroes doing the right thing simply because it is right seems to be a totally foreign concept to many of today's writers.

And Eric, your analysis of the "Marvelization" of post-Silver Age DC is also spot on. DC's various attempts to shoe horn their existing heroes into a more Marvel-like universe has made their characters less likable and created confusion for the readers with each successive "Crisis".

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