Monday, August 21, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 233: Doomsday

It's easy to overlook the accomplishments of the Distinguished Competition in the 1960s, when Marvel's House of Ideas was outpacing DC at nearly every step in storytelling and art. But I think one of the most groundbreaking stories of the late '60s, and one frequently overlooked when summing up the most powerful moments in comics, is the end of Doom Patrol #121:

Panels from Doom Patrol (1964 series) #121 (September-October 1968), script by Arnold Drake, pencils and inks by Bruno Premiani, letters by Ben Oda

Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl have already killed Monsieur Mallah (intelligent talking ape villain) and his hetero life-partner The Brain ( on wheels), so you know they mean business when they trap the Original Doom Patrol on a island, zap away their powers, and offer them an ultimatum with a two-minute deadline to decide who will die: the population of Codsville, Maine! Population 14, most popular dish: Cod-on-a-Stick. (I'm not making that part up, though its canonicity is disputed.)

Well, what did you THINK the Doom Patrol was going to say? They choose death to save the people of Codsville. So how do you think they're going to escape this deathtrap?

Whoa. They...they didn't.

There's a lot of heroes in comics who have sacrificed themselves to save humanity — The Flash, Phoenix, Ultimate Spider-Man, even Superman...but I think the Doom Patrol were the first. And remember this: it was during an age where the revolving doors had not yet been installed on the afterlife, where dead pretty much meant dead. Sure, DC could have revealed the next month that the Doom Patrol had burrowed themselves to safety, or used time travel, or clones, or robots (well, aside from Robotman)...any number of quick escape tricks that comics would turn into cliches for still being alive or returning from the dead.

But they didn't. Dead meant dead in that, and the Doom Patrol was really dead. Their ultimate act of defiance became the greatest sacrifice of all.

And who was to blame? Zahl? Madame Rouge? The Monitor, who I presume was watching all this and marking down in his little book that when the Crisis came, he'd have to grab the DP from 1967 instead? Nope! To paraphrase a classic rock 'n' roll song that was being recorded probably just around the time the Patrol kicked their mutual buckets:
I shouted out, "Who killed the Doom Patrol?"
When after all, it was you and me

J'accuse! says Doom Patrol creator and destroyer Arnold Drake directly at us, beating Buddy Baker to that trick by 22 years. I'mma gonna assume that in the background artist Bruno Premiani isn't quite as accusatory of you and me, or, at least, those of us who are named Charlie.

It's kind of late to be blaming us for not buying the book, but that's the general tone of DC's final column in this final ish of Doom Patrol. The snarky last panel and this editorial kind of haunt the otherwise pitch-perfect ending of the team; DC of the period frequently took that tone with its readers, which I imagine is one of the reasons the friendly, cheerful, buddy-tones of Stan Lee were more popular during this period.

In the end, like every comic book hero except Bucky Barnes and Uncle Ben, the Doom Patrol "got better." Robotman was back when an all-new Doom Patrol premiered in the pages of Showcase '77, Negative Man returned after a stint of being replaced with a Negative Woman (no MRA jokes, guys), and the Chief just rolled along back to have his beard hunted (again, actual canon!). Even Elasti-Girl showed up once more in the movie The Incredibles a John Byrne series that existed mainly to wipe out the world of Grant Morrison.

But for a moment, in their final moment of defiance, these four heroes gave up their lives without hesitation to save not even the world, but fourteen people they never knew. And the world wept for them, and honored them. We salute you: Niles Caulder, Rita Farr, Larry Trainor, Cliff Steele: the Doom Patrol.


googum said...

They were gone before I was even born, but I absolutely love the classic Doom Patrol. Far more heart than the average team.

Michael Grabowski said...

I was too young for this series, but I liked the way this ending was made part of The Changeling's backstory in the New Teen Titans. Here was a superteam I had never heard of, and they actually died and actually stayed dead (at the time).

Bully said...

Thanks, guys! I feel teh same way, and my first intro to the Doom Patrol was also in The New Teen Titans ("Heralding Our Second Sensational Year!") As TNT was one of the first DC books I read on a regular basis (along with Batman and the Outsiders), I loved the world-building and saga-defining that these issues gave us, filling us in on the rich DC history. Long live the Doom Patrol!