Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol Vol. 1

Written by Arnold Drake with Bob Haney
Art by Bruno Premiani and Bob Brown
520 pages, black and white
Published by DC Comics

Of all of the Showcase Presents books from DC’s low-cost black and white reprint line, the one I’ve been looking forward to the most has been Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol. I’ve heard so much about Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani’s original run on the characters that it’s been a must-read in my mind. But as someone who never read Doom Patrol until Grant Morrison’s revamp of the team in the late ’80, I couldn’t help be a little worried. Was I setting myself up for disappointment?

Robotman, Elasti-Girl, and Negative Man: three freaks who don’t fit into the rest of the world no matter how much they may wish otherwise. So when the enigmatic man known only as the Chief offers them a chance to become heroes and have a place in society, they join forces and become… the Doom Patrol!

Who knew that 1963 would be such a great year for teams of super-powered outcasts being lead by a man in a wheelchair? In this case I’m not talking about the X-Men, though, but the Doom Patrol. Reading these reprints, I found myself pleasantly surprised by just how strong these comics were. Beginning in the pages of My Greatest Adventure (before getting retitled Doom Patrol), Drake’s scripts have a wonderful love for the strange and mind-boggling, to the point that it’s increasingly clear that Morrison’s take on the title in many ways brought it back to its roots. Drake keeps a mad science theme running throughout the book, too; with characters like Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and Mr. 103 playing around with the ideas of able to change into different beings or chemical elements, there’s always something strange just around the corner, each idea bigger and crazier than the one before.

One thing I was a little surprised about Doom Patrol was the number of recurring characters in the title. Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol Vol. 1 collects 21 issues, and 14 of them feature villains that make return appearances. If you add in the characters of Mento and Beast Boy, all but three issues have returning characters. It’s to Drake’s credit that the reusing of characters doesn’t grow tiresome, though. The Brotherhood of Evil with the villains of the Brain, Monsieur Mallah, and Madame Rouge are so entertaining that it’s hard to not hope that they’ll step out of the shadows in a new issue, and even characters like General Immortus and Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man bring enough new ideas to their returns that Drake keeps it feeling fresh. It also, deliberately or not, seems to place the Doom Patrol squarely in a strange minor league. Even as they try to become heroes and help the world around them, they’re perpetually dogged by the same handful of villains, many of whom seem to have a personal vendetta against the Doom Patrol members. It’s strangely comforting, though, to have the Doom Patrol  in this sort of niche; if anything it adds to their general low-grade, misfit status.

Premiani’s art for Doom Patrol was a handsome affair, reminding me in some ways of early Mike Allred comics. There’s a smooth, classic look to how he draws the main characters, unable to recognize their own attractive looks as they’re blinded by their own internal perceptions. Premiani takes simple concepts like Elasti-Girl’s massive hand smashing through a window and lets it look slightly creepy, bringing to mind scenes from horror films as the hand and arm move towards their target. Bob Brown draws some stories here as well, and he’s a good match for Premiani, keeping the general look that was already established for the title, and even drawing one of my favorite covers that I’ve admired for years (Doom Patrol #94, where Robotman is getting pulled into a device that first flattens then drills holes into his body, with mere seconds until Robotman’s brain is destroyed).

Showcase Presents: The Doom Patrol is utterly fantastic, and the sort of comic that justifies the entire Showcase Presents line. (Not that it needed justifying.) If you’ve only read the Morrison Doom Patrol, you should give this a chance. There’s a reason why Drake said that Morrison’s take on the comic was the only one that followed the original spirit of the title. Great, great fun.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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