A Tribute to the of
It's that time again, faithful readers. Roughly every 1st and 15th of the month you can tap your way in here to check out the latest review of the classic Silver Age comics we adore. A new month brings a new review and another glimpse of what made the era so memorable. To my regular readers, welcome back and thanks for your patronage and feedback. If you're new I hope you'll enjoy your visit and it's not too late to catch up. Even though the Silver Age Sage will soon celebrate it's one year anniversary with review #24 coming next time, you can still see the last 22 efforts at the archive link following this feature. I would like to also invite you to sign up for the free mailing list so that you'll be notified of updates at this site.
Okay, enough housekeeping issues. On to the review. I will, however, mention the archives once more as I refer back to my review of World's Finest #168. The second story in that issue was a reprint from the Golden Age and featured Robotman, another character from the fertile mind of Jerry Siegel, co-creator [the other being Joe Shuster] of Superman. His beginnings were described as "A scientist who was fatally wounded by criminals...but his assistant saved him by putting his brain in a robot body. He then created a plastic disguise which permitted him to take a human identity, as Paul Denis." We then read about Robotman's ongoing adventures as a Detective. The story was taken from the October 1951 issue of Detective Comics. Robotman was a semi-regular character appearing in Detective comics in the 40's and early 50's and then, like many of his contemporaries, he sort of faded into the mists. Still, a good character concept is hard to keep down and such is the case with Robotman who was reborn as a Silver Age character with some modifications. Let's see how he came out as he made his first appearance in the Silver Age in My Greatest Adventure #80, June, 1963, which introduces a legion of the world's strangest heroes. The Doom Patrol.
Do you like that cover by Bruno Premiani [who also provides the interior art] as much as I do? It's got all the makings of a classic sci-fi set-up. A panel of sophisticated looking equipment in the background, a strange, shadow-like figure being held in some sort of stasis by an ancient man in a "Captain Crunch" uniform and two more odd figures moving toward the scene. One is obviously a robot and the other is a tiny woman, clinging to the robot's head. I certainly would have dropped 12 cents to see what it was all about. Let's look inside.
Our tale, written by Arnold Drake & Bob Haney with Murray Boltinoff behind the Editor's desk, begins in the sub-structure of a stately building in a bustling city. A meeting is taking place inside and the dignified looking man conducting it is seated under a light, speaking to three silhouettes. "You three are victims of a cruel and fantastic fate! I summoned you here to give you the opportunity to cheat that fate by offering you the chance to experience adventures more incredible than any humans have ever known!" Unfortunately his audience is less than inspired by his dramatic remarks and threaten to leave. He quickly rebuffs them. "I know all about each of you! I know you have all become quitters! Outcasts!" He then reveals his own challenge by showing them the wheelchair he sits in. He goes on to explain that he has mastered every field of knowledge and goes on adventures in his mind but that he has a goal of helping others and his plan is to do so with their help. He then recounts their pasts one by one beginning with the woman named Rita Farr.
Rita is a former movie actress and Olympic gold medalist. While on location in Africa, she relies on her latter talent to do her own stunt in the river. Sadly, things take a bad turn as a crocodile decides to pursue her and the current is stronger than she had anticipated. Her only hope is to head for the falls and take her chances. She successfully shakes the croc, but ends up being exposed to gas vapors coming from miniature volcano-like holes along the shoreline. After her recovery a few days later, she discovers to her shock and dismay that her body will abruptly change sizes, from skyscraper to doll-size, completely without warning. Fortunately for her, the outfit she's wearing does the same. ;-) Obviously her exposure to the vapors have altered her makeup. She withdrew from everything and eventually learned to control her new abilities.
Next up is Larry Trainor, a former test pilot who is wrapped head to toe in bandages. We learn that Larry lost control and consciousness while testing an experimental aircraft that flew through the uncharted wave belts of his sub-orbital flight path. After several hours, the plane began to do a nose-dive and crashed into a dry lake bed. Amazingly he's okay, but as he spots the rescue craft arriving with only partial landing gear deployed, something very weird happens. A duplicate emerges from his body. A silhouette with an energy charge around it that flies up and pulls the other wheel down on the plane. The being is dubbed "Negative Man," and while Larry can control him, whenever he leaves his host body Larry is left in a nearly comatose state. Further complicating matters, if Negative Man doesn't return to Larry within 60 seconds, Mr. Trainor dies. How he knows this is beyond me, but who am I to argue? [House Of Mystery #84 (3/59) reveals the plight of another Negative Man.]
Finally we learn about Robotman. His story is similar to his Golden Age predecessor, but there are differences, too. Now instead of a scientist, we have daredevil Cliff Steele, who cracked his race car up badly and his body even worse. Once again his brain was transplanted into a metal body, but like his fellow visitors, he feels that he no longer fits in and lives in the shadows. Our host drops the bombshell to Cliff that he was the surgeon who did the transplant. [My Greatest Adventure #77, 03/63 tells the tale of another Robotman.]
Now that each character's story has been told, The Chief, whose name is never mentioned in this issue, but for your edification is Niles Caulder, leads the trio through his headquarters, explaining that it contains nearly all the world's knowledge and every means of communication and scientific analysis. By golly it's a rival for the Batcave! The Chief proposes that he can be there at HQ, monitoring events worldwide and dispatch each of them to help. [My Greatest Adventure #74, 12/62 also features a wheelchair-bound monitor watching man.] While they're considering it, the huge monitor activates and an announcer tells of a time bomb on the pier that is about to explode. The Chief suggests that this is a job for Negative Man, along with a bomb detector that he just happens to have on the shelf. Negative Man finds and returns with it successfully in 32 seconds flat. The Chief examines it and determines that it is a new type of plastic explosive. He dispatches Rita to go inside and deactivate the device. Robotman holds the device against himself so that he can shield a potential detonation. Rita, however, is successful and they decide that they are indeed a formidable team. They accept The Chief's proposal to band together.
As Chapter II opens, entitled "The Challenge of the Timeless Commander!", we see the shriveled man in the uniform from our cover doing some electronic eavesdropping on The Chief. He is showing the team a photo of an alien spacecraft that has landed on Earth. Apparently it contains a deadly device and the Chief is very concerned about keeping it out of the hands of a certain man who just happens to be listening in. It is General Immortus. An ageless man who has an uncertain origin but decidedly sinister goals. Our heroes are soon enroute in a transport plane to check out the ship. Cliff is equipped with a portable transmitter attached to his chest so that The Chief can monitor and advise them. As they approach the craft, an automated defense device is deployed. It resembles a miniature tank with a large eye on top. The Chief instructs the trio to tackle the device by having Negative Man cover it's surveillance "eye" while Rita, in giant form, breaks the cannon loose from the craft. After successfully disabling it, yet another vehicle emerges, shooting a freeze ray that encases Larry, Cliff and Rita's enlarged legs in ice. Cliff, relying on his metal body, plods toward the device despite being coated in thick ice. When he reaches it The Chief instructs him to ram his fist into the nozzle. Consequently, the unit explodes and the three are freed, but Cliff has sustained some damage to one arm and leg.
The threesome enter the ship and the Chief directs them to the atomic converter suspended from the ceiling. Cliff uses his good arm to tear it down and then he and Larry proceed to carry it out when they are confronted by General Immortus. The Chief quickly hatches a plan and Robotman emerges, only to be stricken with the General's Polarization Ray, which immobilizes him. The General enters the ship and as Negative Man comes into play he uses a device to interfere with him, planning to keep him suspended until Larry dies. Meanwhile, a reduced Rita is emerging from Cliff's ear and rushing to the General's vehicle to disable the Polarization Ray. Freed, he plows into the unsuspecting General, then crushes the device holding Negative Man. He re-enter's Larry's body with one second left on the clock. As they leave the ship it inexplicably takes off with the General still inside. He manipulates the controls for a few moments and the ship promptly blows up.
The closing panels show our heroes deciding that they work together pretty darn well and that maybe they've found their calling at last. As Larry reads the write-up on them in the local paper, wherein they are christened The Doom Patrol, they conclude they've been accepted and the future holds purpose.
I would like to mention here that on the strength of the Doom Patrol, My Greatest Adventure changed it's title to The Doom Patrol with issue #86. The title ran through issue #121 when the death of the Doom Patrol ended the series with the September/October 1968 issue. The title died with them, although it was briefly resurrected in the early 70's with a short run from #122-124 which carried reprints from the series.
As a long time science fiction fan, this story appeals to me on more than one level. While the Doom Patrol never enjoyed the fame and following of their Silver Age peers, they filled a niche much like Adam Strange and Metamorpho that make them a stand-out despite their junior varsity status. I give this issue a solid 9 for a rating. The only weakness was the villain. He wasn't fleshed out enough and a walking antique in an equally old uniform just didn't strike me as particularly menacing.
As always, I solicit your input. There are several avenues open for just that purpose, including my e-mail address at email@example.com, the poll just below this feature and the good old Guest Book. Let us hear from you. Be sure to join us again in a couple of weeks for the newest edition of The Silver Age Sage.
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