The Doom Patrol as seen on the cover of a late 1970s reprint.

THE DOOM PATROL

Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1963
Creators: Bob Haney and Arnold Drake
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Outcasts, loners, shunned by society because of their freakish abilities … gathered together by a man in a wheelchair to find solace in one another's company … the kind of …

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… heroes who seldom get thanked for saving the world, because Society feared and mistrusted them …

If this sounds like a description of Marvel Comics' X-Men, it's probably just a coincidence. The similarities between that group and DC's Doom Patrol are uncanny, but the two debuted so close together (Doom Patrol with a June, 1963 cover date and X-Men three months later) that it's very unlikely either was influenced by the other.

The Doom Patrol first appeared in the 80th issue of My Greatest Adventure, a DC comic that had hitherto featured non-series fantasy stories (usually told in the first person). There were four members. Actress Rita Farr's career was ruined when a chemical accident caused her body to grow and shrink — she eventually got the transformations under control, but by then the movie industry had forgotten her. (Her name may or may not have been inspired by Rita Farrar, a Fiction House character who did her adventuring as Señorita Rio.) Pilot Larry Traynor had a weird accident that gave him the power to control a powerful energy being, but cut him off from the rest of humanity by making him dangerously radioactive. Racecar driver Cliff Steele had survived a near-fatal crash only to wake up in the hospital and find his brain had been transplanted from his ruined body to that of a powerful robot. Elasti-Girl (later called Elasti-Woman), Negative Man and Robotman (the last named after a '40s DC character), as they came to be called, were brought together by a mysterious figure who, at first, identified himself only as "The Chief". The name chosen for the group reflected the bitterness engendered by their estrangement from the world.

They were billed as "The World's Strangest Heroes", and with writer (and series co-creator) Arnold Drake letting his imagination run free, lived up to that sobriquet. Fans responded favorably, and a year later, the title My Greatest Adventure had been replaced on DC's schedule by The Doom Patrol.

They soon acquired a couple of superhero supporting characters. Beast Boy was a green-skinned young man named Garfield Logan, who had the ability to turn himself into any kind of animal. Wealthy Steve Dayton had decided to buy himself some super powers, and funded the development of a helmet that gave him telekinetic abilities. He called himself Mento, and hung around mostly so he could romance Rita. They were married in the June, 1966 issue. Typical of superhero weddings, the guests included such colleagues as Superman, The Flash, Batman, etc. But in a typical Doom Patrol fillip, they also included Super-Hip, a supporting character in DC's Bob Hope comic book, making his only known crossover into the mainstream DC Universe.

Doom Patrol was among the first superhero series to come to an actual conclusion, rather than simply disappear when the comic was cancelled. When its popularity waned, instead of just dropping the comic with #121 (Sept-Oct 1968), DC killed them off. Many readers expected #122 to show that they'd only appeared to die, and would surge back to defeat the villains who had apparently killed them — but #122 didn't come out. Beast Boy later showed up as a member of The Teen Titans, and Mento faded from view.

Years later, DC re-started The Doom Patrol. Showcase #94 (Aug-Sept 1977) revealed that Robotman's near-indestructible body had survived, but was badly damaged. It took him years to get back to the group's old headquarters, and when he arrived, he found a new team, also calling itself The Doom Patrol, had taken it over. The new Doom Patrol, with Robotman reinstated, appeared in the next two issues of Showcase, but didn't get enough reader support to justify giving them their own comic.

Another decade passed, and they were revived again, picking up from the end of the Showcase run. This time they achieved at least enough success to limp along for a few years as a regular DC comic. With #64 (March, 1993), the title was transferred to DC's Vertigo imprint, which specializes in horror comics aimed at adults. And then, it really got weird — so weird, in fact, that a common complaint was that readers couldn't figure out what was going on. It was cancelled once again with #87, February, 1995.

But old trademarks die hard. Baggage from the confusing Vertigo run has been discarded by waiting a few years, then rebooting the series. The process began in 2004 with a four-issue mini-series by cartoonist John Byrne (Alpha Flight, She-Hulk). Maybe DC will be able to make this old team work again.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.