Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol Volume 1 by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani (graphic novel review).
Rita Farr is a beautiful actress. When filming in Africa, she goes over a waterfall and is exposed to underground chemical vapours which give her the power to shrink and enlarge herself. Larry Trainor is a jet pilot who is exposed to ‘unknown wave belts’ when he skims space in an experimental rocket plane. After this a strange duplicate Negative Man made of radio energy can emerge from his body but it must reunite with him before sixty seconds pass or he will die. Cliff Steele is a racing driver: when his body gets mangled in a crash and a top surgeon puts his brain into a robot body. These three outcasts become Elasti-Girl, Negative Man and Robot-Man when they are recruited by the Chief, Dr. Niles Calder, a brilliant scientist in a wheelchair, to fight crime and evil from his secret headquarters.
The team was launched in My Greatest Adventure # 80 but by # 86 the book was re-titled ‘Doom Patrol’. All the stories are by Arnold Drake, except the first where Bob Haney lent a hand. The understated but engaging art is by Bruno Premiani who has an interesting personal history. A political cartoonist at first, he had to leave Italy because he annoyed Benito Mussolini and then had to leave Argentina because he upset Juan Peron! He inks his own pencils, unusual in comics at the time, which may be what gives his art such a distinctive look. It’s not spectacular or particularly brilliant but it does the job. The layouts sometimes depend on arrows pointing you to the next panel but that’s a small quibble.
Unusually, for sixties DC heroes, the Doom Patrol sometimes argue among themselves and Elasti-Girl seems to have a bit of a crush on Larry Trainor. They’re an odd bunch and have suitably weird villains: the ancient General Immortus, Mister Mallah – a gorilla given a genius brain by the Brain who himself is preserved in a machine after his body died. The bad guys teamed up as a Brotherhood of Evil.
My favourite story was ‘ Robot-Man Fights Alone’. Robot-Man chases an escaped killer to an abandoned Japanese atoll and falls victim to a number of booby-traps. He uses his own limbs to cope and loses them one by one. An arm is used to cross a ravine. A leg is used to escape from a Japanese pillbox. The other leg is made into a boomerang to deflect mortar shells. He bites his last arm off to attack a baby tank. Finally, he head butts the villain and uses his torso to pin him down until help arrives. It reminded me of the Black Knight scene from ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail.’ They don’t make comics like this anymore with their po-faced social consciences!
Probably because of the odd writer/artist combo, this is not quite the standard DC comic. The standard was written by Gardner Fox who knew a lot and relied on his encyclopaedic knowledge to deliver clever twists. While still plot-driven, Arnold Drake seems to have had a slightly different tilt on things which makes this more interesting. He’s almost a prototype Steve Gerber. There is something subtly weird about Doom Patrol. I like it and it seems others do too. I paid £9.00 for it new a few years ago and it now costs more than that second hand on some sites.
(pub: Titan Books 520 page softcover graphic novel. Price: varies but start from £ 9.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-218-9)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com