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: 1216

Comment by Catullus on August 18, 2010 at 11:47am
Respectfully, the thesis about how the Doom Patrol ended omits important information. First, this was around he time that people like Mr. Drake started to speak up about getting benefits along with payment for work done. That ended poorly, with the wholesale firing of many workers like Mr. Drake (who, then, at Marvel, created the Guardians of the Galaxy). So changes in the nature of comics, at least at DC, in the late 1960s, could have resulted from forces unrelated to the themes and issues in certain series. Second, Mr. Drake always had a certain affection for his characters. Recasting the Chief as this Machiavellian, cold-hearted figure who manipulated the lives of Cliff Steele, for example, would have transformed the Chief into too limited a character. True, he seemed to be behind the engineering of the near-death of Cliff Steele that ultimately resulted in his occupying a Robotman body. Yet it would make, too simply and easily, into "true evil" (as another poster has noted). Mr. Drake would have explored the issue in more detail, had he the space and time. (He indicated that had the series continued, he would have continued to end each issue as a cliffhanger, until cancellation or the figures improved). Considering the body of his work on the DP, as well as on the character he co-created, Deadman, and other series, Mr. Drake seemed too canny to let his characters lose a measure of complexity that had made them interesting and worth reading about every month.
Comment by Commander Benson on August 18, 2010 at 1:11pm
Thank you for your input, Catullus. You make some good points.


"Respectfully, the thesis about how the Doom Patrol ended omits important information. First, this was around he time that people like Mr. Drake started to speak up about getting benefits along with payment for work done. That ended poorly, with the wholesale firing of many workers like Mr. Drake (who, then, at Marvel, created the Guardians of the Galaxy). So changes in the nature of comics, at least at DC, in the late 1960s, could have resulted from forces unrelated to the themes and issues in certain series."

You are correct about the wholesale firing of DC writers that took place in 1968 and about the effects it had on several DC series. In fact, this is a critical event in the series of changes that leads me to (1) consider 1968 as the end of the Silver Age, and (2) regard what occurs in most DC series during and after that year as "not counting".

Yes, I did omit mentioning it, but not because of neglect or oversight. It goes to a quandry which arises when one writes a regular column.

There were a number of real-life developments in the comics industry that had pervasive, sea-change-inducing effects on the look and feel and direction of comics series. The mass dismissal of certain DC writers in 1968 was one of them. Also among those were the insistence on inserting science fiction elements in all the series in the late 1950's, the change in original art from twice up to 1.5 in 1965, and DC's attempts to copy Marvel in the mid-'60's.

The effects of these developments recur often as influencing aspects of the subjects I choose for my Deck Log articles, and that's where the problem comes in. On one hand, any given Deck Log Entry might be the first article of mine that a site-surfing comics fan has ever read. The other hand, of course, is the fact that there are also many who have read several of my articles, perhaps all the way back to when I started my Deck Log back in 2007.

The quandry is: if I write an article in which one of those direction-altering developments, such as the mass dismissal of DC writers in 1968, has an influence, then I have to ask myself how much detail do I provide? My long-time readers have already heard me talk about these frequently, and I risk boring them to go into it at length, again. At the same time, if I don't say enough, then the first-time reader---perhaps one who is not versed in the Silver Age---will be left scratching his head.

The trick is to find the right balance, and the particular subject on which I am writing helps determine that.

In my "Death of the Doom Patrol" piece, I did consider re-explaining the writer-purge of 1968 that you addressed. Mainly because it accounted for Arnold Drake's absence from the scenes in The Doom Patrol # 121 which had Murray Boltinoff and Bruno Premiani talking to the readers. As you pointed out, Drake was one of the writers let go for asking for health and retirement benefits. Drake had a personal friendship with Murray Boltinoff, which is why Drake wrote that last Doom Patrol story, but because of his firing, any reference to Drake was exorcised out of the story proper.

But as my piece took shape, there didn't seem to be a place where I could insert that information without disrupting the flow of the article. I also realised that it wasn't really necessary to add it because the changes in the direction of the Doom Patrol series all came from Drake's typewriter. His removal from DC really had no bearing on the Doom Patrol series. It would have been nice-to-know stuff, but not necessary to my discussion about how the series changed over the years. So I opted to leave it out.


"Second, Mr. Drake always had a certain affection for his characters. Recasting the Chief as this Machiavellian, cold-hearted figure who manipulated the lives of Cliff Steele, for example, would have transformed the Chief into too limited a character."

I agree with you in essence. Drake did, indeed, seem to have an affection for the Doom Patrol characters. I don't think it was a matter of limiting story direction; I think that Drake just wouldn't have turned one of the characters he liked---the Chief---into a manipulator who cold-heartedly engineered the disasters which befell Larry and Rita and Cliff. It would have ruined that feeling of family that he strove so hard to establish.


"True, he seemed to be behind the engineering of the near-death of Cliff Steele that ultimately resulted in his occupying a Robotman body."

That one throws me a bit. I don't recall anything in the Silver-Age run of The Doom Patrol which implies that the Chief had a hand in creating the automobile crash which destroyed Cliff's body. The Chief was the surgeon who transplanted Steele's brain into the robot body, sure. But, in itself, that doesn't suggest that the Chief arranged for Cliff's accident.


"[Drake] indicated that had the series continued, he would have continued to end each issue as a cliffhanger, until cancellation or the figures improved."

Again, I agree---mainly because he had already moved the direction of the series in that direction, of sorts. Beginning with the introduction of Steve (Mento) Dayton, but most definitely after adding Beast Boy to the mix, the series took on a number of sub-plots that ran from issue to issue. (Which, as the Fogey and others have pointed out, was very Marvel-like.) Dayton's wooing of Rita. His frequent ire over Rita constantly ignoring their married life to go into action with the DP. Beast Boy's troubles with his guardian. The whole Chief/Madame Rouge relationship. Often these sub-plots became so dominant that they would more accurately be called "concurrent second plots" with the main action.

Drake turned the Doom Patrol series into, essentally---and I don't mean this term to be as derisive at it connotes--a soap opera. Clearly, Drake loved examining the complexity of the inter-relationships between his characters. Yes, I agree that, had the title, and Drake's employment with DC, carried on, he would have taken it further.
Comment by Catullus on August 18, 2010 at 1:40pm
In the early 1980s, Mr. Drake talked about the direction that he would have taken the characters, had he written them then. He talked about the sense of alienation and disconnection that the team would have, anticipating to some degree what Grant Morrison would do with the characters a few years later.

Perhaps the Doom Patrol, moreso than some series, offers writers and artists a palette to explore issues like that. Mr. Morrison's "Crazy Jane" character served both as a contemplation on the horrors of child abuse and how activation of the so-called meta-gene could lead to wildly divergent powers. "The Brotherhood of Dada" turned on its head the idea of an "evil" counterpart to the Doom Patrol, perhaps recognizing that the world of such characters would not neatly or easily fit the good team/bad team paradigms of the more mainstream comics' teams like the JLA.

Opinions may differ, of course, about how well subsequent incarnations of the Doom Patrol have picked up on the themes first identified by Mr. Drake. Few seem to have exploited, as successfully as Mr. Morrison, has, those themes. Maybe the next incarnation, or the one after that, might examine these issues as well.

(Aside: That you did not go into the "real world" issues associated with working for DC in the late 1960s reflects the quandary of any discussion about comics -- of accepting the "world" created with the characters, and of the business that delivers their adventures on a regular basis. While in the case of the Doom Patrol, business considerations figured into the demise of the series -- and of other non-traditional DC team books like the Metal Men, the Sea Devils and the Challengers of the Unknown -- Mr. Drake apparently had enough forewarning to turn the precarious circulation issues with the Doom Patrol into a plot thread, which may not happen all that often in the business...)
Comment by Catullus on August 18, 2010 at 1:45pm
PS -- haven't checked the archives, but have you previous discussed other "Marvel-style" series that DC offered in the 1960s, like Metamorpho? That such series existed seemed like evidence of the last vestiges of an editorial style, going back to the early days of DC, where each editors "world" effectively ran independent of the others. It seems as though the 1970s brought about a wholesale integration of editors' "worlds," perhaps culminating with the solve-all-continuity-problems-but-create-new-ones, during the Crisis of 1984.
Comment by Commander Benson on August 18, 2010 at 4:10pm
I've not yet done anything on Metamorpho. I don't really have enough issues of his series to do a piece that would bring any kind of original thought to the table.

As for other Marvel-type DC series, the only thing I've really done along those lines is discuss how some DC series became more "Marvel-like" in that 1967-8 time frame, such as "the New Metal Men".
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.
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 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 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 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?

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