DC Comics History: Doom Patrol
By Deejay Dayton
Aug 1, 2017 - 10:11
The Doom Patrol, a group of strange, outcast heroes, made their debut in the pages of My Greatest Adventure during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. Created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney and Bruno Premani the team stood out for their dismay at their own bodies and powers, and the way they took their frustrations out on each other. Before the period ended My Greatest Adventure would change title to become Doom Patrol, and the team would face its greatest enemies, the Brotherhood of Evil.
The Doom Patrol get introduced in My Greatest Adventure 80. The story begins as the Chief, Niles Caulder, an older man confined to a wheelchair, brings together three shadowy figures who are considered freaks and outcasts, insisting that, together, they can be of benefit to humanity. We then get introduced to the three people. First, actress Rita Farr, who gained the ability to grow in size after a stunt in a movie she was acting in went terribly wrong. The Chief dubs her Elasti-Girl.
Secondly, astronaut Larry Trainor. His ship went through a strange radiation belt on a test flight, which transformed him into Negative Man. His body is radioactive, and must be covered with specially treated bandages for the safety of those around him. He is able to emit a negative energy being for a minute, though during that time his real body lies comatose and vulnerable.
The third is Cliff Steele, a former daredevil whose body was severely damaged in a race car accident. His brain was removed and transplanted into a robot body. This bears some resemblance to the origin of the 1940s Robotman, although the two are visually fairly different. The Chief convinces these three to start wearing matching green costumes. Or, I guess I should say, two of them. Robotman wears no costume. That's smart. The green outifts are pretty hideous.
The Chief sends the trio out to deal with General Immortus, an old enemy of his, who is determined to steal a deadly weapon from a downed alien ship. The trio work together, although not very well yet. They are all so new to each other, and to their own powers. But they manage to get the weapon away from Immortus, who gets sealed into the alien ship, which takes off an explodes. Immortus is believed dead, but returns later in the year. It's a good debut, feeling very different from the other DC super-teams, right from the get go.
The Doom Patrol have their second outing in My Greatest Adventure 81. The story begins as Negative Man complains to Elasti-Girl and Robotman about the newspaper coverage of their first outing, and that the reporter got their names wrong. Elasti-Girl is referred to as Elasti-Woman, which really isn't anything to complain about. Robotman is called Automaton. But to be fair, he was called that on the cover of the previous issue as well. What I find amusing is that Negative Man is all pissed off about being called The Negative Man. Anyway, that's not really what the story is all about. The team gets sent out to deal with underwater monsters. Although Elasti-Girl and Negative Man can see them, Robotman cannot.
This gets interpreted as something being wrong with Robotman, but in fact the creatures are illusions that have been cast by Dr. Janus, who is really a former Nazi, Josef Kreutz. The Chief figures out the illusions thanks to Robotman, and the true identity of Dr. Janus thanks to Negative Man drawing facial hair on photographs of people. Because of the lead shielding around Robotman's human brain, he is immune to the illusions. Kreutz tries to have Elasti-Girl kill Robotman, making the hero look like a monster to her. But Robotman escapes from his teammate and destroys the illusion casting machine, and Kreutz is captured and turned over to the authorities. Not a really special story, but the complaining and in-fighting nature of the team does get developed.
Although the debut of the Doom Patrol informed us of the backstories of Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man, the Chief's life before he brought together the team was still a mystery as of My Greatest Adventure 82. The tale opens with a ceremonial dinner to honour the Doom Patrol. Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl (called Elasti-Woman) all attend, but the Chief wants to remain incognito. Nevertheless, the following day a photograph of him appears in the newspaper. The Chief suspects one of the trio is spying on him.
Later, he reveals to Elasti-Girl the truth behind his origin, that he is an alien, who came to Earth while searching for other advanced civilizations. His ship crashed, and he was trapped here, so he used his advanced scientific knowledge to make himself rich. That story promptly appears in the papers as well. It turns out that the Chief told each of the three team members a different, but equally false, origin story for himself. But the Chief has also determined that Elasti-Girl is not actively a spy. Rather, a camera had been planted on her without her knowledge. The remaining part of the story deals with other aliens secretly on Earth.
They believe the Chief's origin story, as told in the papers, and recruit him to join their plot to steal secret military weaponry. Of course, the Chief only has the Doom Patrol pretend to go along with the scheme, and the aliens are planning to betray them anyway. The Patrol members use their powers to make the "weapons" being raided seem incredibly advanced, and in the end, the defeated aliens flee, certain that between the Chief and the US military they are outclassed. Elasti-Girl demonstrates the ability to shrink, as well as grow, in this story.
Negative Man gets the focus of the Doom Patrol story in My Greatest Adventure 83. The story is a pretty simple one. The Chief puts the Doom Patrol members through challenges, determined to increase their power levels. For Robotman is straightforward, making him withstand greater pressure, and use more strength. The Chief gets Elasti-Girl to shrink more than she has ever done before, so small that no one can see her at all. But it's his challenge to Negative Man, getting him to extend the time that he can be outside of his body in his negative energy form, that causes all the problems. Once the time limit has been exceeded, the negative energy being simply starts running wild, and shows no interest in returning to its body.
The Chief has his human form put into refrigeration, to maintain it until they can get the energy being back. The military, and some criminals, make this a more complicated operation than it needs to be. The Chief creates a machine to "collect" the negative energy being, and once Robotman brings it back to their headquarters, it merges again with Larry Trainor's body. This is the earliest story that hints at the fact that the negative energy being is, to a degree, independent of Larry Trainor.
General Immortus returns in My Greatest Adventure 84. Thefts of a number of ancient relics, known as the "stones of Babylon," make the Chief believe that General Immortus is still alive, and behind the robberies. Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man are certain that Immortus must be dead, but using his computer, the Chief shows the Doom Patrol members how Immortus could have survived the rocket ship explosion. The Chief is right about everything. Immortus is alive, and using the stolen stones to hunt down a long lost treasure.
He is also seeking revenge against the Doom Patrol, and captures Robotman, encasing him in lead, and forcing him to aid the villain in his plans. Immortus has a bomb attached to Robotman's brain, and threatens to detonate it if the team try to stop him. The lead coating prevents the Chief from using radio waves to control Robotman's movements, which is what Immortus did to capture him in the first place.
So Robotman acts as Immortus' muscle, digging out the entrance to the buried treasure. But the Chief has calculated that Negative Man will be able to get to Robotman before the electric signal for the bomb, due to the resistance of the wire. So Negative Man is able to free his teammate, and General Immortus is forced to flee without his treasure.
Elasti-Girl returns to Hollywood in My Greatest Adventure 85. Rita Farr gets offered a film role for the first time since her accident. She is reluctant to accept, but the Chief, Robotman and Negative Man talk her into it. The movie deals with a husband and wife who wind up shrinking, but Rita refuses to use her powers, so the studio has to spend vast amounts of money on the set. Then the lead actor gets injured, so Rita decides to take the starring role herself. Then she discovers that this had all been planned ahead of time, and the Chief was the one behind the movie in the first place. The three male members of the Doom Patrol were all in on it, actually.
The Chief had discovered atomically radioactive creatures emerging from the Earth's core, and wanted Elasti-Girl safely out of the way when he sent Robotman and Negative Man down to investigate. The two monsters prove virtually indestructible, as they head up to the Earth's surface, and the two hero are simply out-matched. Fortunately for them, Elasti-Girl returns to the team in time to save Robotman and Negative Man. Once on the surface, they discover that the creatures have an aversion to carbon. So they spray the pair with liquid carbon, which causes them to melt down, but without releasing their atomic energy.
My Greatest Adventure becomes Doom Patrol with issue 86 with the introduction of the Brotherhood of Evil, a group of villains who will remain the major enemies of the Doom Patrol for the rest of their run. This was the first Doom Patrol story that I read as a kid, when it was reprinted in an issue of Super-Team Family in the mid 70s. In that issue, as in the original, there was a page that introduced the four members of the Doom Patrol, the Chief, Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man. But the real introduction for this issue is of the team of villains, the Brotherhood of Evil.
The Doom Patrol primarily faces off against Mr. Morden, a criminal inventor who is piloting a giant robot, Rog. Morden is hoping to become a member of the Brotherhood. We meet three other members of this secret group. Madame Rouge runs a private school for girls in Paris under an assumed name, but other than being French and looking sort of nasty, doesn't seem to have anything terribly special about her, certainly not compared to the other two members.
Mr. Morden is quite shocked to meet Monsieur Mallah, a talking gorilla, the product of an experiment by the Brain. The Brain is particularly well named, being a brain in a glass jar, and the mastermind of the organization. The Doom Patrol defeat Mr. Morden and his giant robot, but the rest of the Brotherhood avoid confrontation with the Doom Patrol. Still, the Brain is clearly an old enemy of the Chief, though the source of this enmity will not be revealed for many decades to come.
This story also builds a bit of a romance between Elasti-Girl and Negative Man, while introducing the idea that there is something horrible under his bandages. While the rest of the Brotherhood of Evil return in the following issue, Mr. Morden will not be seen again for many years, not until Grant Morrison's run on the book.
Doom Patrol continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Doom Patrol: My Greatest Adventure 80 – 85 (June 63 – Feb 64)
Doom Patrol 86 (Mar 64)
Next up – Eclipso!
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