John Byrne's Doom Patrol


I have been considering a comprehensive overview of the Doom Patrol, from 1963 (Drake/Premiani) through 1993 (Grant Morrison), for a long time now. I've avoided such exhaustive discussions since finishing Adam Strange, but the John Byrne series (18 issue) should be easily doable. The 2004 series flowed out of a six-issue storyline in #94-99 which reunited the creative team of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, but what was more remarkable at the time, to me anyway, was the decision to handle the team as if it had never been seen before. Today I have finally come to the conclusion that "every 'new number one' creates a different reality," but 20 years ago I was ambivalent at best. I was also certain that, someday, somehow, Byrne would explain how this "new" team actually does fit into established continuity (yet another example of how I can be so certain yet so wrong). Before moving on to the regular series, however, I suppose it behooves me to take a look at the introductory story.

You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Votes: 0
Email me when people reply –


  • JLA #94-99 - "The Tenth Circle"


    As I mentioned above, this story reunites the creative team of John Byrne and Chris Claremont. I don't know much about how these two creators feel about one another (nor do I care nor is it any of my business), but I take it they have somewhat of an abrasive relationship. Myself, I was much more exited about the pairing of John Byrne (pencils) and Jerry Ordway (inks). Four years later I would be much more excited about the reunion of John Byrne with Roger Stern on five issue of JLA: Classified (#50-54, with inks by Mark Farmer), but that's another discussion for another time. 

    "The Tenth Circle" is a vampire story, and I'm never wild about mixing vampires with super-heroes in the first place. The symbol of the "Tenth Circle" is the Roman numeral "X" with a circle around it, which looks "uncannily" like the logo for guess which other super-team? The credits don't specify who did what, but I suspect John Byrne did the lion's share of the plotting since his Doom Patrol flowed directly out of it, but that's just a guess. I don't really have too much to say about "The Tenth Circle" since, presumably, a lot of readers would have skipped the intro and jumped on with the "new number one" (which is where I'll pick up next time.

  • ISSUE #1: This issue reads more like part seven of the story begun in JLA #94 than it does the first issue of a new series. Batman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter carry over from the "Tenth Circle" story, as do some surviving vampires. I don't think it's a very good "jumping on point" despite its "first issue" status. Judged by 1960s standards, it fails on several levels. First of all, few of the characters are properly introduced and some of those who are are referred to be first name only. I didn't really notice this in 2004 because I did follow directly from JLA #94-99, and not immediately introducing characters is a perfectly acceptable form of storytelling in the 2Ks. Characters include...

    • The Chief (Niles Caulder)
    • Robot Man (Cliff Steele)
    • Elasti-Girl (Rita Farr)
    • Negative Man (Larry Trainor)
    • Faith (no other name given, telekinesis)
    • Nudge (no other name given, mental control)
    • Grunt (a four-armed gorilla)
    • Vortex

    The setting is interesting: Key Mordaz, a decomissioned Civil War-era prison on an island in the Florida Keys.


  • My plan for the pace of this discussion is to post at least one issue per day, but I may post more, as many as I am in the mood to read.

    ISSUE #2:


    #1 ended with a cliffhanger but #2 begins with a flashback to three years ago and the origin of the Negative Man. Then it flashes forward to the events of #1 from the DP's {POV rather than the JLA's, eventually working up to and resolving the cliffhanger. One thing I didn't mention about last issue is that Niles Caulder is holding several super-powered "criminals" in his prison HQ without giving them the benefite of a trial. Also, he deliberately put Nudge in harm's way as bait, whihc does not sit well with Rita. This issue finally resolves the eight-part JLA/vampire story.

  • ISSUE #3:


    This is the cover I had originally planned to use in my initial post to represent the discussion but I forgot. Oh, well... I'm not going to go back and change it now. Issue #3 actually makes a pretty decent "jumping on point" now that that "Tenth Circle" nonsense is out of the way. This is also when the team gets matching costumes, or "uniforms" I suppose I should say. In this issue, the experienced members of the team are called in to investigate the lack of contact with an Antartic base. The base is built above Lake Soames, which is a freshwater lake a mile and a half below the ice, a "biological soup... like nothing on Earth." Giant slug-like creatures are being driven to the surface where they immediately die upon contact with the atmosphere. Robotman and Rita (she doesn't really use a code-name at this point), melt through the ice to investigate and soon find themselves surrounded by the giant slug creatures.

  • ISSUE #4:


    While the Chief and Vortex maintain contact with the away team, Nudge and Grunt wander the prison and stumble across what is likely to be the next plotline. Negative Man joins Cliff and Rita in the depths of Lake Soames. The origin of the underwater creatures comes from billions of years ago when, as current theory has it, two smaller bodies collided in what is now the Earth's orbit to produce botht the Earth and the Moon. The threat is neutralized and the DP returns to Key Mordaz.

  • ISSUE #5:


    Rita and Nudge go undercover as the "Baroness von Hartagg" and her assistant Mi-Sun, to investigate robot gladitorial matches (which is what Nudge discovered last issue). We also learn that "Mi-Sun" is Nudge's actual name and that she is of Korean descent. Cliff is with them, disguised as a robot contestant. (The Chief "transplanted" Robotman's head and brain onto a more meanacing-looking robotic body.) They soon discover that the "robots" are actually cyborgs, controlled by actual human brains. When a contesant loses a match, his brain is destroyed. Cliff's opponent uses a circular saw blade to detatch Cliff's head from his body, then stomps it flat.

  • ISSUE #6:


    Robotman escapes from his predicament, but I call shenanigans! After making such a big deal last issue of transferring Cliff's head to a new body, it turns out his brain wasn't housed there after all, but in his chest. I neglected to mention yesterday that these matches are being run by the Chief's former partner, Dr. Verdalian. Five years ago, the only way to keep Cliff Steele's brain alive caused great pain, so Miles Caulder put it to sleep until he found a way around it. Verdalian didn't care about the patient's pain, however, and they paeted ways on ethical grounds. Rita Farr was Dr. Caulder's research assistant at the time, but Dr. Verdalian is too arrogant to have even noticed her. He does recognize Caulder's work, however, and Rita's cover is blown. 

    I should say something about the structure of this series. Each issue features a flashback which not only details the origins of the team, but also contributes to the present day story. In this case, after Caulder and Verdalian part ways, Verdalian is reported dead, but actually he has being financed by a group of ultra-rich donors. He is supposedly using cow brains to power his robots, but he is actually using the robot fights to advance his real plot: to create a synthetic drug, ostensibly to control the gladiators' pain, but which he can actually sell on the street. 

    Meanwhile, Negative Man comes across next issue's threat (a dinosaur) running rampant in Metropolis. When he reports to the Chief, the Chief has him contact Cliff, Rita and Nudge. They manage to put a stop to the robot fighting ring, and Verdalian kills his wealthy donors so they cannot testify against him. While he himself is attempting to escape, there is an explosion. A body is found, but it cannot be positively identified as his. Back at Key Mordaz, readers are aware that Robotman has stolen a sample of the pain-killing drug. 

    • This is an interesting series, not least because Byrne seems to be attempting to balance plots about the origins and natures of his new characters (Nudge, Grunt and Vortex) with what I might call alternate takes on the pasts of the four traditional Doom Patrol members.  Pretty unworkable for continuity, but interesting on its own terms.

      There are some good ideas mixed in; it makes sense that Rita and Cliff would have prior connections to the Chief.

      Some plots end up unresolved by the time the series ends.  I feel that it could go on for at least a year more if sales warranted it.  Characterizations are fairly inovative, all things considered. I don't consider Byrne to be particularly good at it, but this is one of his best works on by that perspective.

      In this issue, specifically, I liked that Niles Caulder and the Doom Patrol overestimated the disguise value of the new Robotman body as well as Verdalian's ability to see through their disguises and acting.  It makes perfect sense that Verdalian, who spent years designing robots, would recognize the Chief's work despite his best efforts while simply not paying enough attention to recognize Rita, who was his co-worker for an apparently significant time.  It is a believable yet somewhat subtle trait of his.

      I don't have a problem with Cliff's brain being stored in the main section as opposed to the head; it is a logical enough measure. I do think that showing an actual retractile secondary camera stored in the bottom half of his head was too tricky, though; it would make more sense to simply have redundant cameras in the shoulders, for instance.

  • I have started to read the John Byrne Doom Patrol on DC Universe Infinite, but I’m not actually reading along. I’ll continue reading it as the mood strikes and time permits. So far I’ve read their JLA run and issues 1-6.

    Robotman escapes from his predicament, but I call shenanigans! After making such a big deal last issue of transferring Cliff's head to a new body, it turns out his brain wasn't housed there after all, but in his chest. 

    No shenanigans, just lettering the reader jump to wrong conclusions. We see Niles Caulder carrying Cliff’s brain to its “temporary mount.” Carrying the head was probably the easiest way to carry his brain. On his way into the arena in DP #5, Cliff thinks: “Still, I’m kinda glad for the few modifications he made to my usual setup.” Whenever I see a robot in a movie, they always shoot for the head. It’s a robot! Why do they think a head shot will stop it? If they were smart they’d always put Cliff's brain in his crest.

    He is supposedly using cow brains to power his robots

    … being such a nice guy, Verdalian is using human brains.

  • "I don't have a problem with Cliff's brain being stored in the main section as opposed to the head"

    "No shenanigans, just lettering the reader jump to wrong conclusions."

    It's not the brain being housed in the chest I object to, it's the deliberate misdirection of making such a big deal out of switching out his head. I think readers would have leapt to the same conclusion anyway, and it would have been more effective. 

This reply was deleted.