Not many 1960s comics hold up well by today’s standards, which is to be expected. Comics were intended as disposable entertainment for children, nothing more. There are some exceptions, a handful of titles that retain a distinctive goofy charm if you approach them with the right mindset. Most of these are Marvel books, but DC had at least one that stands out among its old-school stable of conventional, stalwart superheroes—the Doom Patrol.
The Doom Patrol was a band of heroic freaks who fought evil freaks. (And they still are and still do. DC keeps bringing them back in various permutations, but they never quite catch on for the long term.) The original lineup consisted of Robotman, a man whose brain was trapped in a robotic body; Negative Man, a radioactive man forced to hide under special bandages but who could unleash a “negative form” for a minute at a time; and Elasti-Girl, a size-changing former movie star…who retained her movie star looks at any size. (Okay, so Elasti-Girl wasn’t any more freakish than any other superhero, although she did have to put up with a lot of “Look! A giant girl! Have you ever seen a girl so huge? Look at that enormous girl!” That had to get old.) And they were assembled by a Professor X–like scientist they called the Chief.
Along the way, they acquired a collection of odd, cartoony enemies, such as a brain that had a talking gorilla for an assistant, and the adventures were pretty wild. Though, yeah, you read a few and you get the point. But you have to admire the imagination on display.
The story that most perfectly captures the series’ offbeat tone is actually a back-up tale in #87. The Chief sends Robotman to a booby-trapped island to catch an escaped killer. As Robotman makes his way through the gauntlet, he literally loses pieces of himself until—just like a certain Monty Python knight—he’s just a head and torso. But unlike that knight, even half a Robotman proves pretty formidable.
It’s a great little short story that feels nothing like a typical ‘60s DC book.
I’d love to see a modern Doom Patrol that realizes the concept’s full potential. (And of course, I certainly wouldn’t mind doing it myself. I stand at the ready, DC!)
Writer: Arnold Drake
Artist: Bruno Premiani
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; included in Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol vol. 1 (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 9 and up