Random Thoughts on Doom Patrol

By | Tuesday, May 12, 2020 Leave a Comment
Doom Patrol
A couple years ago, I picked up this Silver Age Doom Patrol volume, but since I wasn't blogging at the time, I never got around to writing anything beyond a few tweets about it. I figured now is as good a time as any to expand on that.

This was my first experience with Doom Patrol. I'd heard of them previously, but never read any of their stories. Any version. I'd heard about some comparisons to Marvel's X-Men, but it was never a topic I looked at very closely. So I was coming to this about as fresh as I could.

In finally reading Doom Patrol, my initial thoughts were that it bore no real resemblance to The X-Men at all. Or, I guess, The X-Men bore no resemblance to Doom Patrol. It did seem to me, though, that Doom Patrol read a lot like the early days of Fantastic Four. Say, the first 20-25 issues or so. Not so much the specific characters or power sets (although there are some oblique similarities) but more in terms of how Stan Lee handled the character dynamics. Doom Patrol was a team, yes, but the bickered among themselves, they was an unrequited love interest, there were concerns about how their powers worked... and the only place that was really doing that at the time was over in Fantastic Four.

Recall, that both X-Men and Avengers were still months away. Marvel was starting to fill out the Marvel Universe: Hulk, Ant-Man, Thor and Spider-Man debuted in 1962, and Iron Man first showed up early in 1963 with Wasp a couple months later. With X-Men and Avengers yet to see the light of day, the only comic Marvel was producing with any sort of team dynamic at the time Doom Patrol debuted was Fantastic Four.

Now, the Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four most people remember actually begins around #35. That's about when they start building the individual issues as parts of a larger story. By #41, it basically becomes a long graphic novel with the Frightful Four attack blending into an encounter with the Inhumans blending into the Galactus Trilogy blending into the introduction of Black Panther and so on. The first couple dozen issues of the book, though, are more self-contained villain-of-the-month stories. It's those later issues that they really get into the team's exploration and extended storytelling.

Over in Doom Patrol, there's still some holdover storytelling conventions from DC's 1950s books -- the general hokiness and bad pseudo-science. I suspect these were at least in part pushed by editor Murray Boltinoff. But I think the direction writer Arnold Drake was given was to emulate the style of the superhero books that Marvel was doing. So we see in his early Doom Patrol issues that the stories are very character-driven. Something that wasn't common at DC at the time. Especially their superhero stories -- the characters had more-or-less interchangeable personalities, and the only real distinctions between them were their costumes and specific powers. The characters in Doom Patrol were unique and reacted to events individually and differently. And since Marvel's only team book that even could be emulated was Fantastic Four, we get character dynamics in Doom Patrol that aren't dissimilar to those.

Where things diverge, as I alluded to above, is that Kirby and Lee would soon take Fantastic Four is some very creative directions, with Kirby throwing new ideas into the book seemingly on every other page! Drake continued using the same formula that he picked up in 1963, and basically did variations on a few themes. The books are done well, and I actually enjoy them more than anything else I've read from DC prior to the 1970s. But it still feels like an imitation of 1960s Marvel.

I don't think Drake was copying anything going on at Marvel, but there's clearly an influence of the "we want you to write a book like them" variety. I suspect, though, there was still enough heavy-handedness in editorial, though, that kept things still pretty closely aligned with everything else DC was publishing at the time. Still, those early Doom Patrol books are fun and well-done for what they are; like I said, some of the best work I've seen from DC prior to the '70s for my money. Although that I've long been a much bigger fan of Marvel than DC is almost certainly why I think that.
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