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.



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Comment by Figserello on August 21, 2010 at 9:20pm
Thanks for your considered response to my post, Commander. Certain topics seem to generate more heat than light sometimes, especially when they are close to our hearts!

I only got the second and final Showcase of Drake's Doom Patrol on Friday, so I haven't really read your topic post above yet. I'll come back when I do, and give my thoughts. :-)

And I'll keep hanging on for the Animal Man piece...
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on August 20, 2010 at 7:14am
Commander Adam: "Thank you for your high-quality response. It's just the kind of thing that makes this board, this site, meet the true definition of "forum"---a place where the respectful, mutual exchange of ideas takes place."

Commander Benson Johnson is RIGHT! You knock-kneed wrong thinking doo doo heads, you!

Comment by Philip Portelli on August 19, 2010 at 9:23pm
I agree but then Cliff Steele/Robotman is too good of a character to stay in Limbo. Of the four, his survival, as seen in Showcase #94, was at least plausible. Only Doc Magnus' genius and the Chief's design could continue his existence!
Comment by Commander Benson on August 19, 2010 at 7:44am
Wow! I never expected a simple piece on the death of the Silver-Age Doom Patrol to generate this much response. And on topic, too.

I finally had a chance to sit down and digest all of your remarks, and I find something worthy in each of them. But right off the top, I wanted to reply to Figserello's last post. In fact, it was Figserello who, after reading my multi-part entry on the Blackhawks, who suggested that I do a piece on the Doom Patrol.

" I do definitely get that the Golden and Silver Age stories were charming in their own way and "tawdry, treacherous, or evil" retcons sully them."

I appreciate that. And I appreciate your last post in toto---it's erudite, intelligent, well-reasoned, and balanced. Let me tell you what I "get" . . . .

I get that you find Morrison's work on the Doom Patrol entertaining and thought-provoking. I also get that, from other posts you have made on other threads, that you are a Morrison fan in general. That's fine by me.

I criticise Morrison's handling of the Chief, turning him from an honest, decent hero into something execrable. And I bemoan the entire comic-writing philosophy of giving heroes feet of clay all the way up to their kneecaps, of making everything that was fine and lustrous about super-heroes into things dark and sinister. I understand that these writers have stories they want to tell, and your point that modern comics writers don't have much wiggle room is spot-on. But to that, I agree wholeheartedly with the Silver-Age Fogey's statement:

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.

But here's the thing I want to make clear, and perhaps I failed to do so before: while I deplore Morrison's approach and similar ones of other writers, I am not making an indictment of those who do like his work and that attitude of comics writing.

All art is subjective. Horse races and all that. I don't like Morrison's approach. I condemn that kind of approach in general. But I don't fault those who do like it. And while I obviously disagree with your support of Morrison's handling of the Doom Patrol, I respect the intelligent way you laid out your argument for it.

In fact, I agree with your point that modern writers have to cater to the preferences of modern audiences. I suspect that if the readers had turned away from Morrison's Doom Patrol in droves, if they turned their noses up at similar style comics stories, Mr. Morrison and his peers would be writing stories more along the lines of the things I (and many of those who also posted remarks here) prefer.

I also found your rationale for comics writers indulging in the "tawdry, treacherous, or evil" approach to be more substantive than the usual "But it happens all the time" justification which I deplore. You said, "Pulp fiction has always been a gauge of what the public is obsessing over, whether that reflects reality or not," and you're right. Evil authority figures aren't in the majority---they never were. They don't even comprise a substantial minority. But when one pops up in real life, it gets all the press. Nobody notices the vast majority of parents, teachers, government officials, military officers, and others in positions of authority who go about their daily responsibilites in a dedicated, honest fashion---because they don't sell newspapers or make television ratings.

It's the corrupt, the unscrupulous, the abusers of their authority, who get the headlines and the lead spots on the evening news. And it gets amplified in the public mind-set. So, you're right---it provides ideal grist for pulp-fiction writers. It's a self-feeding spiral: comics writers pander to what's foremost in their readers' minds, and the readers pander to writers who crank out stories reïnforcing those concerns.

In and of itself, that is not a bad thing. As I have said in the past, the reality is that comics publication is a business, and as a business, it has to make profit. And comics stories that show the dark, seamy underside sell. (Or at least, have sold; I suspect the attitude of the readers is slowly shifting.) I understand this.

But I don't have to like it.

Thank you for your high-quality response. It's just the kind of thing that makes this board, this site, meet the true definition of "forum"---a place where the respectful, mutual exchange of ideas takes place.
Comment by Figserello on August 18, 2010 at 10:47pm
To be fair, when Robinson did his Starman revisions and Morrison his updated Doom Patrol, the vast bulk of the potential readership wouldn't have read the Silver-Age stories on which they were based. I loved both series, even though they were all new to me.

They both wrote stories that resonated with their contemporary audience, and are remembered with just as much fondness today as Silver age fans recall the stories they drew on. These fondly remembered stories may strike some (who haven't read them, in many cases) as "tawdry, treacherous, or evil", but that's opinions for you.

Catullus' reference to factors beyond the pages of the stories themselves is very germane. I do defintiely get that the Golden and Silver Age stories were charming in their own way and "tawdry, treacherous, or evil" retcons sully them. However, modern writers don't have a lot of wriggle room. On the one hand they can't create whole new characters and concepts to work their twisted messed up stories on, because DC doesn't pay them any more if those concepts take off, and on the other hand, stories continuing in the vein of those written 30 or 40 or 50 years previously weren't going to fly with a modern audience.

Thus they have to use old characters, and in order that they resonate with the market, have to make them reflect all the crazy concerns and neurosis peculiar to the era they are aimed at.

Maybe not all father figures and authority figures in the 90s were eeeee-vil, but the 90s audience were working hard at processing how so many were so bad, thus their prevalence in the pulp fiction of these times. Pulp fiction has always been a guage of what the public are obsessing over, whether that reflects reality or not. Fu Manchu, anyone?

Hysterics, to me, is confusing the bare components of a story with that story's message. Sure, Morrison's run seemed to involve the breaking, hurting and damaging of previously clean-cut properties, but to many of us, his run sang with empathy for the broken, the hurt and the damaged. That's a beauitiful thing to achieve in a superhero comic, and seems to have been what Drake himself was groping towards within the confines of his much more restrictive publishing era.
Comment by Philip Portelli on August 18, 2010 at 9:24pm
As for Robotman's predictiment, he DID blame the Chief, not for the accident but for turning him into a "freak", for which he had just cause. He did not consent to be trapped in a metal body. No one asked if this was what he wanted. Yes, it allowed him to go on "living" in a super-strong, replaceable form but it was against his will. He was the experiment, a modern Frankenstein monster. The Chief had the noblest of intentions but what gave him the right?

Cliff Steele was a darevevil, who lived on the edge. The possibility of him dying while doing one of these dangerous stunts must have occured to him and he probably accepted that. I doubt he had a "if-my-brain-makes-it-put-it-in-a-robot-body" clause in his will! So his anger at the Chief made sense at the beginning but he learned to deal with it and become a true hero, though it made him more of a risk-taker!

BTW, did they ever show a human Cliff pre-crash? And wouldn't it had been neat if it were established that the Chief studied under Robert Crane/Paul Dennis, the Golden Age Robotman?
Comment by Catullus on August 18, 2010 at 7:37pm
Concur, Mr. Portelli -- the Chief's attitudes towards his "freaks" might have conveyed a strong, positive message to those readers who might, to use the modern parlance, be "differently abled".
Comment by Catullus on August 18, 2010 at 7:35pm
Apologies, Commander Benson -- I was relying on memory when talking about the notion of the Chief engineering the doom of at least Cliff Steele, thinking that Mr. Drake had something to do with it. And I'd agree with Mr. Jackson, below, that not everything that Mr. Morrison did during his tenure writing the Doom Patrol worked -- remember those early issues, where there was a plot thread involving a black ball that went no where (which even was acknowledged in the letter column.)
Comment by Philip Portelli on August 18, 2010 at 7:26pm
And what about the Chief's own heroic origin where he stops his own heart so a ROBOT can remove a bomb implanted in him by General Immortus, an act that cost him the use of his legs? The Chief cared about his Doom Patrol and they obviously cared for him like a surrogate father. He gave them a reason to function in normal society and a place in it. In the sixties, being confined to a wheelchair made him almost as much as a recluse as them, so this interaction worked both ways.

True he kept his real name a secret from them. Why, I don't remember if there was a reason! He was no Professor X, keeping facts from them, playing with their emotions and pretending to die, just to get some privacy. I will admit that I never read the late-60s issues but the early ones I did read, plus a cherished Flash team-up from Brave & Bold, the Chief was a brilliant man who urged his team to overcome their "handicaps" to become better people. From their actions from their last issue, he succeeded!
Comment by Randy Jackson on August 18, 2010 at 6:20pm
Mark, I'm pretty sure that wasn't an Annual, but the X-Men vs. The Fantastic Four mini-series.

While I enjoyed much of Morrison's Doom Patrol run, I have to say that turning the Chief evil never really resonated with me. Certainly there were seeds planted back in the Silver Age that Caulder was irritable and brusque at times, but I never once felt like that was leading to any sort of "heel turn",

Of course, a lot of what Morrison did in the latter part of his run didn't work for me either.


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