Saturday, February 5, 2011
Showcase Presents Doom Patrol Volume 2, written by Arnold Drake, illustrated by Bruno Premiani and Bob Brown (1966-68; collected 2010): Ah, the Doom Patrol, DC Comics' weirdest and most Marvel-like superhero team of the 1960's. Like the X-Men, they had a leader in a wheelchair. Like the Fantastic Four, there were four of them, including an orange strongman, a super-genius, a person who could stretch, and a flying hero with energy powers. And yet the timeline for the creation of those three books makes plagiarism on anyone's part pretty much impossible -- though it has been suggested that a conversation on a golf course may have somehow influenced the rosters of those two Marvel and one DC super-teams. So it goes.
Commercially, Doom Patrol was either the second-most successful of those titles in the 1960's, behind The Fantastic Four but ahead of The X-Men, which somehow couldn't become popular enough to stay out of reprints even with Neal Adams drawing the book.
Of course, Doom Patrol got cancelled around the same time as X-Men went to reprints and pretty much stayed in reprints for six years until Giant-Size X-Men #1 reinvented the X-Men, who would then gradually become Marvel's most popular book over the course of the late 1970's and early 1980's. DC tried bringing the Doom Patrol back in the mid-1970's, but it wasn't until the late 1980's that yet another relaunch lasted longer than the original run, and gave us writer Grant Morrison at his early, weirdest best.
Like many of Marvel's super-teams and supergroups, the Doom Patrol (Robotman, Negative-man, Elasti-Girl and the Chief) squabbled a lot. Well, they did have a hero named Negative-man on their roster! They fought distinctive, and distinctively weird, super-villains: Monsieur Mallah, a super-intelligent, beret-wearing gorilla; the Brain, a brain in a jar; the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (A-V-M-Man for short), a guy who could turn into pretty much anything; Garguax, an alien with an army of super-powered plastic robots; and a host of other freaky supernatural and superscientific menaces. The heroes were occasionally self-loathing, seeing themselves as freaks, though ultimately they became like a PSA about embracing one's own difference.
Quirky writer Arnold Drake and underappreciated artist Bruno Premiani wrote and drew pretty much every Doom Patrol adventure from their first appearance in the anthology title My Greatest Adventure (they don't make comic-book titles like that any more!) to the last issue of their own comic, which was actually just My Greatest Adventure with the title changed but the numbering intact.
Along the way, they picked up green, shape-changing teenager Beast Boy (later of the Teen Titans) and grumpy telekinetic millionaire Mento (the fresh-maker!) as auxiliary members. The focus remained pretty much on the four core members, though, in all their freaky and occasionally crabby glory. Grant Morrison pushed them into areas of previously untapped weirdness in the 1980's and early 1990's, but much of that weirdness is at least implicit here, and often explicit. All that and perhaps the most shocking final issue of a superhero comic book of the 1960's. What's not to love? Highly recommended.