Alternative Comics Beat: Doom Patrol
By Ken Porter
The Doom Patrol is a team that doesn’t get a lot of name-drops in the DC Universe. The characters on the team are C or D-list at best, and the problems they face don’t usually include any of the big name villains or threats that teams like the Justice League deal with on a daily basis. They’re a group of outcasts, much like the X-Men, and have strange powers or deformities that would keep them out of the A-list spotlight.
This is what makes the Doom Patrol one of the best comic book teams ever created.
While Grant Morrison didn’t create the Doom Patrol, he put his own spin on the team and comic book narrative that is just as engaging, strange, and mind bending as his run on Animal Man. He incorporated secret societies, surrealism, and impossible characters. The Doom Patrol’s job is to fight the strangest threats to reality, and Morrison doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the threats that the Doom Patrol face, or the dramatic character shifts that the main team members go through.
If you’re not familiar with the Doom Patrol, here’s a list of the core members during Morrison’s run.
Robotman AKA Cliff Steele
The only character to appear in every version of the Doom Patrol, Robotman was in a race car accident that left only his brain intact. Doctor Niles Caulder, the founder of the Doom Patrol, created an artificial body for Cliff Steele to use. He often struggles with his humanity after being placed in a metallic shell instead of a body.
Negative Man/Rebis AKA Larry Trainor/Dr. Eleanor Poole
While piloting a test plane Larry Trainor was affected by a radioactive field that gave him the ability to project himself as a being of pure energy for limited amounts of time. In Morrison’s run Trainor is fused with Dr. Eelanor Poole, resulting in a hybrid creature called Rebis.
Crazy Jane AKA Jane Morris AKA Kay Challis AKA…
As a result of a gene bomb accident, Kay Challis was left with 64 different personalities. Each one of these personalities has a different super ability and can be switched out on the fly. Challis meets Robotman in a hospital and befriends him, making the two a duo for most of Morrison’s issues.
Originally a throwaway character from an earlier issue, Morrison took the ape-like girl with multiple imaginary friends and made her the center stage for many of the Doom Patrol’s conflicts. While she’s just an innocent and confused girl, she struggles with her imaginative powers and the monsters that wait within her.
Danny the Street
This might be one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. Danny is a sentient street that can travel through time and space, but also happens to be a transvestite. He eventually becomes the home of the Doom Patrol and a certified member, helping the team in any way he can.
Tempest AKA Joshua Clay
One of the first DC comics characters to be officially declared as a “mutant,” Clay has energy project abilities and generally tries to stay out of the limelight in the Doom Patrol, tired of the superhero lifestyle. He helps Dorothy and The Chief as much as possible, offering them advice and support. While he doesn’t go looking for fights, he’s quick to support his team members.
Doctor Niles Caulder AKA The Chief
Very much the Professor X of the group Caulder is a paraplegic and genius who created the Doom Patrol to help society accept people who had been left behind by society or labeled as freaks. He’s a very skilled engineer, and created the body that Robotman inhabits.
Doom Patrol is a hard series to peg down in terms of story. Morrison’s run mostly deals with the members of the team struggling with their humanity, their origins, and where they fit in the world. Most of the antagonists of the series are threats that are more abstract than simple supervillains. Take the Brotherhood of Dada for instance, based on the Dada art movement. Led by the sanity zapping Mr. Nobody, the Brotherhood of Dada takes on such tasks as using a painting to transport Paris into another reality or stealing the bicycle of Albert Hoffman (creator of LSD) and using it to power a campaign for Mr. Nobody to become president.
And that’s just a sample of the kinds of stories that are found in Morrison’s Doom Patrol.
Why it’s a Great Alternative
I’ve never read anything like Doom Patrol. Some of the words and imagery were so powerful that I found myself taking Instagram pictures of most of the quotes and crazy panels within the six released volumes. Normal superhero fare is fun, don’t get me wrong, but watching a group fight intangible or metaphysical threats to reality is just as fun if not more. Fans of Doctor Who know that sometimes the creature or threat that you can’t touch can be the most dangerous. When it comes to a monster inside the dimensional realms of the Pentagon springing to life over the telephone lines, Doom Patrol definitely dips its toes in that category.
Who would like Doom Patrol?
While it does have some resemblance to the X-Men, Doom Patrol dips more into the pool that holds comics like Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s one of the comics that DC (now published under the Vertigo banner) had that challenged the regular comic book narrative and put a new creative spin on storytelling. If you’re a fan of Morrison’s work at all and haven’t read his work on Doom Patrol then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
I would also recommend Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery, but that warrants its own future Alternative Comics Beat installment.
Ken Porter is presently interning with Cosmic Book News and also writes comic books including "Ink Ribbon" from Visionary Comics. Ken was also the winner of last year's Top Cow Talent Search contest and was recently published in "Artifacts" #33.