Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Classics - My Greatest Adventure #80

This week's issue of DC Universe Legacies included a mention of the origin of the Doom Patrol, so that inspired me to dig out this issue of My Greatest Adventure, which featured the first appearance of that team.

With a cover date of June 1963, this comic stood out from all other DC titles at the time, and I became an instant fan of the team.

It's surprising that DC ever published this thing - it's so far out of the norm for the company. At a time when all the heroes were pals, cheerfully taking on the bad guys, this issue tells the story of four misfits - people who find themselves ostracized because of strange accidents.

The leader was called The Chief - a man of great intellect, but he was confined to a wheelchair. Rita Farr had been a famous actress and athlete until she was exposed to a strange mist in the jungle, and found she could control her size - she could become a giant or shrink down as Elasti-girl. Larry Trainor was a pilot who survived a terrible plane crash, but his body was hit by radiation and he found he could create a radioactive image - a Negative Man - that could fly. Cliff Steele was a daredevil whose body was smashed beyond repair, so the Chief put his brain into a mechanical body and he became Robotman.

What made the book interesting was the dark tone throughout, provided by writer Arnold Drake (who was credited on the letters page - surprising for DC).

Trainor could only be seperated from Negative Man for 60 seconds at a time, or he would die. Robotman was even more bitter and angry than the Thing - and his body would often take a disturbing amount of punishment in battle. For example, in this issue one of his arms is destroyed in an explosion.

Adding to the mood was the incredible art by Bruno Premiani, and the editors were obviously delighted with his work because they also gave him a half-page write-up on the letters page. His art is amazingly detailed, lush and gave this comic a "real world" feel that few artists could manage.

I think the only thing that kept him from being one of the biggest artists of the Silver Age was the relatively small number of comics he drew. An amazing and too often overlooked talent.

I won't get into the controversy over the fact that this comic and Marvel's X-Men came out so close together and with so many similarities. Did one steal ideas from the other? I wasn't there, so what do I know? I'm fine with chalking this one up to coincidence.

At any rate, it was an amazing start to the series, and the quality continued for quite a few issues, with strange villains, dark storylines, grim revelations (such as when they gave us a look behind Trainor's bandages).

Sadly, the team eventually devolved into yet another "hip" DC title, along the lines of Metamorpho. But those early issues are real gems, and stand out as some of the best DC comics from the '60s.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A



Anonymous said...

Writer Arnold Drake was one of the
few (only?) DC talents that understood the Stan Lee Marvel hero
twist (heroes with human problems)
and did his own take on that with
The Doom Patrol.
Coupled with Bruno Premiani's European influnced art, there just
was no other book like this on the
newstands in 1963...which probably
kept it from being a break out hit;
it was maybe TOO different.
But while it lasted, it was a great
(and different) comic book classic.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, I agree. And looking at my column, I realize it sounds like I was slamming "Metamorpho," but I was actually a big fan of it, too - but it was designed to be a comedy / action comic. When DC tried to change the "Doom Patrol" to make it more comedic, that's when it lost the edge that made it special. But you're right, it was probably a little too different to be a hit.

Anonymous said...

Besides the Doom Patrol and Metamorpho, the Metal Men seemed like a "Marvel" comic, especially in an issue where the Mercury character "breaks the fourth wall" and speaks directly to the reader about what a then-famous letter writer would think of things. Catullus

Chuck said...

Catullus, I agree, those were the comics (along with some issues of Teen Titans) that were closest to the Marvel style of characterization and mixing adventure with humor. I'm a big fan of "Metal Men" - I'll have to do a classic review on that title one day soon.

Dwayne said...

This Doom Patrol origin story was reprinted in a Batman 100 page Super-Spectacular around 1971 or 72. That was my first exposure to the DP, and I've loved them ever since. It's a shame that DC can't ever find a proper way to handle this team and maintain a successful series. (I hated the Morrison / Vertigo take on them).

Chuck said...

Dwayne, I actually liked most of Morrison's run, but I didn't really consider it the Doom Patrol - it was like an Elseworlds version of the team. But like you, I don't understand why no one seems to be able to get a grip on this series - those early issues are a great template!

Dwayne said...

I think they never had that one great character. The original three are fine, but they needed a character that would draw new readers. That never happened.

Chuck said...

That's true, Dwayne - also, there was never any kind of compelling romance going on, and the new characters added (Mento and Beast Boy) just weren't all that interesting. The comic was so close to that Marvel vibe - with just a bit more of a character infusion, I think it would have been there.