Originally billed as “The World’s Strangest Heroes” in their first appearance in My Greatest Adventure #80, in the summer of 1963, the Doom Patrol are one of the more decidedly obscure aspects of DC Comics history. Then again, it’s hard to market a team made up of people whose superpowers are more of a curse than a blessing. As a result, the mainstream pop culture has largely ignored the team. This is oddly amusing, given that they were, back in the day, popular enough to be ripped-off by X-Men.
(Seriously. X-Men premiered a few months after the first Doom Patrol story. A team of freaks with powers who protect a world that hates and fears them, led by some rich guy in a wheelchair who lets them live in his mansion? That doesn’t seem at all familiar?)
Sadly, while Marvel’s Merry Mutants would go on to bigger and better things, the Doom Patrol languished in obscurity until, facing cancellation, their creator elected to give the team a heroic send-off, letting them sacrifice themselves to save a small town in Doom Patrol #121. There were several attempts at reviving and rebooting the team over the years, but apart from Grant Morrison’s much ballyhooed run when the series briefly entered the Vertigo universe in the 1990s, the team never enjoyed much critical success, let alone commercial success.
So why the heck are these guys getting a TV show?
Presumably it was meant to offer a change of pace from DC Universe’s first live-action original series, Titans, which presented a gritty new take on the classic Teen Titans characters. Amusingly enough, the fourth episode of Titans‘ first season introduced the classic Doom Patrol characters and acted as sort of a back-door pilot for this new series. Many fans who disliked the dark tone and slow start of Titans loved this episode, precisely because it introduced the characters of Robotman, Elasti-Woman and Negative Man efficiently and without a lot of lengthy origin stories.
Ironically the first half of Doom Patrol‘s first episode is nothing but lengthy origin stories, but they are anything but dull. This is because Doom Patrol is a comedy. A dark comedy, to be sure, but still primarily concerned with laughing in the face of madness and the shadows that plague humanity’s souls. Given that, who better to narrate all this (and the show’s first teaser trailer) than the insane living shadow Mr. Nobody?
Played to perfection by Alan Tudyk (aka Wash from Firefly, Wray in Con Man and the voice of more cartoon characters than we have time to name), Mr. Nobody opens the show by presenting his own origin story. This involves a clandestine meeting with a Nazi mad scientist in Paraguay. As such stories do.
Mr. Nobody is both the series’ narrator and chief antagonist, who breaks the fourth wall while observing his adversaries. This could prove interesting given that Mr. Nobody’s powers in the comics included draining the sanity from people. So is this a retcon that he can now alter reality and see through the fiction around him? Or is he just altering our perceptions so that we just think he’s altering reality? Something to think about as the season goes on.
Within the span of the first 30 minutes or so, we are also introduced to Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) – a race car driver whose brain was placed inside an invincible yet unfeeling robot body after a car crash. We meet Rita Farr (April Bowlby) – a Silver Screen goddess whose exposure to some strange subterranean liquid transformed her into a blob of protoplasm that can barely hold herself together, physically or emotionally. And we make the acquaintance of Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) – a hot-shot pilot from the golden age of aviation, who was left hosting a being of pure energy and bleeding radiation after flying his ship through a strange cloud.
The three are permanent residents of the mansion owned by Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) – the genius doctor who saved their lives, and has devoted his career to helping those cases declared impossible by other doctors. This includes Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) – a woman with 64 multiple personalities, each of which has their own superpower – who comes and goes from the mansion as she pleases. The second half of the episode largely concerns hijinks ensuing after Jane convinces the rest of the Caulder Manor residents to go on a field trip to the nearby town of Cloverton, Ohio.
The closest thing I can think of in trying to plot a point of reference for Doom Patrol is The CW series Legends of Tomorrow. Not because both shows employ a comedic tone but because both shows unashamedly embrace the sheer weirdness of their concepts and the DC Comics universe in general. Other shows try to make you believe that a girl can fly or that a man can run faster than lightning. This show just tries to make you laugh as utter bedlam breaks out and our heroes try to, if not fix things, then at least try not to make them worse.
Personally, I loved this pilot episode of Doom Patrol, but I readily admit this kind of absurdist humor may not be everyone’s cup of spam. Still, the first episode perfectly captures the feel of a Grant Morrison comic in all its insane brilliance and does a fantastic job of setting up its characters. There’s not a bad performance in the show and the ensemble is perfectly cast.
Frankly, I think this show will set a new high-water mark for digitally-produced superhero shows. Or, at least it would if Marvel hadn’t already cancelled all of theirs. (Sorry Daredevil fans!) Still, those who like their superheroes strange that can cope with a little lunacy will love Doom Patrol.
Doom Patrol premiers Friday, February 15th, on DC Universe.
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.