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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Brief Review of Doom Patrol v2 (1987 - 1989)




The Doom Patrol originally debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80 (1963). At the time, My Greatest Adventure was an adventure anthology series that decided to "test the waters" by introducing a super-hero feature. The introduction of the Doom Patrol was a big hit with the fans and the series was quickly renamed to Doom Patrol starting with issue #86.

The Doom Patrol were unique from other super-hero teams in that they were not a "happy" super-hero team – they were filled with self-loathing, often bickered among themselves and due to their appearances were deemed as outcasts by society. This last point is important, as this series was kind of a social commentary on how society in general treated handicapped people. The series lasted 6 years, which is pretty impressive considering it was a spin-off of an anthology book. The most memorable aspect of the original Doom Patrol is how they were killed off in the last issue of their own series in 1968 (sacrificing their lives to save a fishing village). Their deaths were decided by a fan vote, but the truth is that the popularity of the series was waning at the time and it was going to get cancelled regardless. Rumor has it that the writer, Arnold Drake, quit the series because of a dispute with DC over health benefits and joined Marvel comics instead.

Despite the team being dead, that did not deter fans from sending massive amounts of mail to DC comics requesting the return of the Doom Patrol. Writer Paul Kupperberg was a fan of the original Doom Patrol and decided to introduce a new version of the team in Showcase #94 (1977). The team consisted of three all-new characters (created by Kupperberg, Jim Aparo and Joe Staton) and Robotman. Based on the fan response of this new incarnation of the Doom Patrol, they were slated to receive an ongoing series in 1978. Unfortunately, the DC implosion put a halt to any titles being introduced, so the new Doom Patrol were put in comic limbo... occasionally appearing whenever Kupperberg had a chance to slide them into whatever story he was writing (e.g., DC Comics Presents, Superman Family and the Daring New Adventures of Supergirl).

Kupperberg submitted another proposal for a new Doom Patrol ongoing series and the DC editorial staff finally gave the ‘go ahead’ in 1986. At the time, the Doom Patrol was still receiving a lot of attention as comic book shops could never keep back issues of the original Doom Patrol series in stock, Eclipse comics released a Doom Patrol chronological index that sold well, fans responded enthusiastically to Doom Patrol appearances in The New Teen Titans and various fanzines still discussed the hopes of a Doom Patrol revival enthusiastically.

The seeds for the reunion of the Doom Patrol were planted about a year in advance in issues of The New Teen Titans, Teen Titans Spotlight, Secret Origins and Vigilante (i.e. Beast Boy was a regular New Teen Titans cast member, Robotman and Mento were often featured in Teen Titans books, and Negative Woman played an active role in Vigilante towards the end of the series). The Doom Patrol finally received its first #1 issue in 1987.

The 1987 Doom Patrol series had a strong start thanks to Kupperberg’s suspenseful plotting/writing and Steve Lightle’s dramatic art. So why did the series only last 18 issues and an annual? Well…

1) Lightle left after issue #5 due to creative differences. In a 1998 interview, Lightle kept referring to the circumstances surrounding his departure from Doom Patrol as 'unique'. He expressed that the new Doom Patrol should’ve never been more than a mini-series. A young Erik Larsen (of Savage Dragon) became the regular penciler after Lightle left. Many fans complained that Larsen’s style was "too cartoony" and detracted from the dramatic/suspenseful tone of the book. This is one of the few times that I’ve heard of a change in artist leading to decreasing sales in a comic series. Larsen left after issue #15. Fun fact: If you read this series in chronological order, you will see Larsen’s art get progressively better as the series continues (or maybe he just worked with better inkers?)

2) In issue #2, Negative Man (of the original Doom Patrol) had been revealed to have survived the blast that originally killed off the rest of the team in 1968. This had a mixed reaction from the fans: some were thrilled about the return of Negative Man, and some were angry claiming that resurrecting him cheapened the impact of the heroic sacrifice the original Doom Patrol had made. Keeping in mind, this was 1987 and resurrecting previously deceased characters (no matter how popular they were) hadn’t become a recurring thing yet. Niles Caulder (the Chief) would also be resurrected before the 2 year run was complete. Fun fact: the return of the Chief was accidentally leaked to fans in advance by an issue of DC’s Who’s Who.
 
3) Kupperberg likes to create and add his own characters into his stories and by issue #4 we were introduced to two new Doom Patrol recruits: Rhea Jones (aka: Lodestone) and Karma (created by Kupperberg and Lightle). The new characters were introduced as “young outcasts” who joined the Doom Patrol for various reasons but mainly to belong somewhere. Fans tended to point out that this was the same concept as Marvel’s New Mutants comic series. This created a “new Doom Patrollers / old Doom Patrollers” dynamic in the series that not all fans were pleased with. Another recruit, Scott Fischer, would be added by issue #6. Fun fact: Dorothy Spinner (a major character in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run) first appeared in issue #14 (created by Kupperberg and Larsen).

4) As great as Kupperberg’s writing/plotting was, he just couldn’t re-create that "old magic" that drove all of the original Doom Patrol fans wild. While the new Doom Patrollers / old Doom Patrollers were interesting as individual factions, they just didn’t mesh together well for storyline purposes. The appeal of the original Doom Patrol was that they were outcasts from society due to their handicaps/appearances whereas the new Doom Patrol looked pretty normal and didn’t earn that moniker. The fan expectations on this title were extremely high; everyone thought they wanted a new Doom Patrol title, but then some realized it was the original Doom Patrol they wanted. However, if Kupperberg resurrected the original 4 members he would’ve been vilified for spoiling their deaths. Additionally, Changeling and Mento (also members of the original Doom Patrol) were being used by Marv Wolfman so they couldn’t be worked into the storyline.

Due to fan dissatisfaction and lagging sales, the whole creative team for Doom Patrol was completely overhauled by issue #19. A new Scottish up-and-coming writer named Grant Morrison was set to take the reigns and try to revitalize the title. Kupperberg had the courtesy to clean-up/kill all of the characters he created when his run ended: Arani (Celsius) dies in issue #17, Rhea Jones falls into a coma and Scott Fischer dies (both as a result of the Invasion cross-over event), Karma joins the Suicide Squad and dies on his first mission, Valentina (Negative Woman) becomes de-powered and slips into comic limbo. 

I have very fond memories of this series as a youth - particularly of issue #1. Not having access to comic book shops of any kind, I read and re-read this #1 issue several hundred times before I was finally able to get my hands on the rest of the series in my late teens. The extra Who’s Who pages at the end of the first issue were a nice touch, especially since I was not familiar with any of these new characters whatsoever. I really feel that this series was a celebration of Kupperberg’s persistence to 'keep the dream alive' as he was the main driving force behind a Doom Patrol resurrection.

In his own words, Kupperberg (who was a huge fan of the original Doom Patrol) always felt regretful that he 'broke' Arnold Drake’s original concept of the Doom Patrol. He explains that he was still a young writer and was caught up with the trend of changing/fixing and otherwise screwing around with what came before. Kupperberg even went so far as to sit down with Drake and apologize in person. Kupperberg describes the whole ordeal in the foreword of volume 4 of the Doom Patrol archives.


This article originally posted on tumblr in August 2013.

3 comments:

  1. This is an awesome write-up!! Like you, I was entranced by Steve Lightle's art, and had been hooked by the Secret Origins lead in done by John Byrne. I read that #1 over and over as well--that wraparound cover is still fantastic! Although I appreciate it more now, I was also one of those jarred by the shift to Erik Larsen, but came back for the Morrison years--which resulted in some of my favorite comics of all time.

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    1. Thank you for the kinds words. :D

      If I had to rank my favorite Doom Patrol incarnations (which for some reason I find myself doing a lot), I'd go with:

      1) Grant Morrisson era Doom Patrol
      2) Silver Age Doom Patrol (Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, Robotman, the Chief, Mento and Beast Boy)
      3) First Doom Patrol revamp (Robotman, Celsius, Negative Woman, and Tempest)
      4) Everything else

      There have been four (4!) more Doom Patrol incarnations/revamps since the Grant Morrison/Rachel Pollack incarnation, and the only consistent team member is Robotman. When I get some free time I'd like to give the Byrne (doom patrol v4) series a shot - the others I'm a little wary of.

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