Monday, November 9, 2009

Doom Patrol #4

“Dead Reckoning”

Writer: Keith Giffen

Penciller: Justiniano

Inker: Livesay

Editor: Elizabeth V. Gehrlein


As the Doom Patrol return to Oolong Island, they find themselves confronted by the Black Lantern Doom Patrol, their former teammates who lost their lives in battle! Celsius destroys the Chief’s legs, Tempest buries Elasti-Woman under a building, and Negative Woman incapacitates Negative Man. But the biggest surprise of all comes when Robotman is assaulted by Cliff Steele himself…


Just a few words to preface this…I love Doom Patrol. Great series. Keith Giffen is one of my all-time favorite comic book writers, and I really, really, really hope that this book isn’t cancelled anytime soon. Sure, it doesn’t have a huge “X” on the front cover, nor does it tie into any other big-name hero families, but it’s consistently entertaining and fun. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Also, as wonderful as the Metal Men back-up story is, it has no bearing on Blackest Night at all, so no annotations for it, sorry. But it’s a hoot.

Now then, we need to briefly look at the history of the Doom Patrol to fully understand how headache-inducing it is to try to put their continuity into perspective. Shall we begin?

The Doom Patrol, created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani, debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80. Got to love the title of that series. It starred the Chief, Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl as they banded together and faced off against a brain in a jar, a talking French gorilla, and an obese alien bent on taking over the world. Weird and bizarre stuff. Honorary members of the team included Beast Boy, later to be known as Changeling of the New Teen Titans, and Mento. My Greatest Adventure was re-titled Doom Patrol with issue #86, and ran until issue #121, in which the team sacrificed their lives to save a small New England fishing village. Cue the crying.

Writer Paul Kupperberg introduced the world to a new Doom Patrol in Showcase #94, in which Arani Caulder, the Chief’s never-before-seen wife, recruited a new group of heroes, including Negative Woman and Tempest, to continue the Chief’s mission of fighting really weird menaces that no one else could possibly fight. Robotman turned up alive, and they appeared in several issues of Superman Family, DC Comics Presents and Supergirl. Robotman also made time to team-up with the New Teen Titans to bring the killers of the original Doom Patrol to justice. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the new Doom Patrol pretty much vanished.

Doom Patrol (second series) #1 appeared in 1988, with Arani Caulder finding evidence that the Chief was still alive. She and her new team returned, along with writer Kupperberg, but the group expanded to include Lodestone, Karma and Scott Fischer. Cool codename. Pretty soon, Negative Man was found alive, and we learned that the Chief had been in hiding for years. Unfortunately, the strange and weird tone that marked the original series was gone; instead, it resembled those “X-books” that Marvel was having so much success with. Change was in order.

Grant Morrison took over the team with Doom Patrol (second series) #19. Gone was most of the cast; the Chief and Robotman – I mean, Cliff Steele – remained. They were joined by Rebis, the negative-spirit bonded to a hermaphrodite, Crazy Jane, who had multiple-personalities, Dorothy Spinner, an ape-girl with psychic powers, and Danny the Street, a transvestite…street. Yeah, the weirdness level was amped up a bit. This third incarnation of the Doom Patrol battled Scissormen, Jack-the-Ripper, the Brotherhood of Dada and the Candlemaker; a bit of a step-up from the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. Morrison left the book with Doom Patrol (second series) #63, and took most of his creations with him.

(An interesting side note; most people associate the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol with Vertigo. The reprints of his run on the book feature the Vertigo logo on the spine, and the tone of the book matched what would come to be the hallmark of the imprint, but the first Vertigo issue of Doom Patrol was issue #64, the issue after Morrison left the series. True story.)

Rachel Pollack became the writer of Doom Patrol with issue #64, and she remained on the book until issue #87, its final issue. As for the book itself…it was weird. I remember buying a whole bunch of issues in some back-issue bins when I was in college, and it was just strange. Too strange. Like, way out there, I have absolutely no idea what Pollack was going for kinda of strange. Cliff and Dorothy were around, along with some people wrapped in bandages called the Bandage People, as well as the Chief’s disembodied head…Look, I’m sure it was someone’s cup of tea, but not mine.

Moving on…in 2001, John Arcudi introduced a 4/5 new Doom Patrol in Doom Patrol (third series) #1. Cliff was back (again), along with Fast-Forward, Kid Slick, Freak and Fever. Who? Exactly. It tried to explain what had happened to the previous team, but Cliff ended up being a psychic manifestation of a dying Dorothy Spinner, while the Patrol itself was now a corporately-owned entity. Uh, yeah. Right. Fairly forgettable. It lasted twenty-two issues.

John Byrne reintroduced the Doom Patrol yet again in JLA #94, but this time he retconned out the Doom Patrol’s entire history to start fresh from scratch. Readers meet the Chief, Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man for the first time, and the quartet is joined by Nudge, Grunt and Vortex just in time for Doom Patrol (fourth series) #1. Byrne’s approach was interesting; the series wasn’t great, but it did try to get back to the team’s original concept. It lasted until issue #18, at which point the Doom Patrol appeared in Infinite Crisis. Then stuff gets interesting.

Byrne’s retconned team was blamed on Superboy-Prime’s punching of the walls between realities. One punch altered the Doom Patrol’s history so that all that had come before had never occurred. Well, when Superboy-Prime tries to escape from the Phantom Zone in Teen Titans (third series) #32, reality changes again so that Byrne’s retcon…is retconned. Or, at at least, what was retconned away was no longer retconned. You follow? Now, the Doom Patrol’s entire history is in continuity. Cue the headaches.

The Doom Patrol next appeared in Teen Titans (third series) #35, written by Geoff Johns, and introduces the “One Year Later” Doom Patrol – the Chief, Robotman, Negative-Man, Elasti-Girl, Mento, Beast Boy, Vox and Bumblebee. Yep, they’re all back from the dead, for one reason or another. Version number six of the team, if you’re keeping track. The team made several appearances in various titles over the next few years, and ultimately for their own title once again – Doom Patrol (fifth series) #1, written by Keith Giffen. While Giffen’s initially focusing on the original four members, apparently everyone’s fair game to appear in the book. Heck, he even killed off Nudge in his first issue!

So, what was this all about? Well, attempting to chart the first/death/return appearances for some of these characters, I realized that, with multiple incarnations of the same character appearing in the same continuity, it’s pretty gosh darn difficult. Almost confusing. So I’m going to try to simplify it as much as possible, within the context of numerous retcons and revamps.

So…We done? We look done. I think we’re done.

Pages 1-3: I’ll make my usual notes about the main characters as they appear in the main story. These pages serve as Arani Desai’s thoughts and memories about the Doom Patrol, giving us something of a post-Infinite Crisis look at their history. In terms of the story, we’re seeing how the Black Lanterns function – they scan the latent memories of the dead and download them into the ring so they can be used by the Black Lantern.

One thing that stood out to me was the change in Tempest’s powers. Originally he generated energy blasts; now he can manipulate the weather. Supposedly, when the new Doom Patrol appeared in DC Comics Presents #52, Tempest could control the weather; Keith Giffen was the artist on said issue. I’m going to give Giffen the benefit of the doubt and assume that this change was intentional, and he wanted to diversify Tempest’s powers a little bit. Chalk it up to changes wrought by Infinite Crisis?

Oh, and the three Doom Patrollers on Page 3 that we won’t be seeing in this story? “The Idealist” was Rhea Jones, a.k.a. Lodestone. “The opportunist” was Wayne Hawkins, who occasionally went by the name Karma. And Scott Fischer was “the lost child.” Wayne and Scott are dead, and Rhea morphed into some sort of cosmic butterfly in Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol.

Page 4: Okay, we’ve got some dead Doom Patrollers here…

Celsius, real name Arani Desai-Caulder. First appeared in Showcase #94. Killed in Doom Patrol (second series) #17. Able to project intense heat or cold from her hands. Throughout most of Paul Kupperberg’s run on Doom Patrol, it was unknown if Arani and Niles were actually married, or if she was just pretending for some reason. In Doom Patrol (second series) #57, Grant Morrison has the Chief explain that he did, in fact, marry Arani, if only to manipulate her. Arani’s thoughts on Page 1 support this idea.

Negative Woman, real name Valentina Vostok. First appeared in Showcase #94. Killed in Final Crisis #4…I think. We see her body along with all those who attacked Blüdhaven, and she looks dead, but by that point she no longer had her powers and was the White Queen of Checkmate, so I always wondered just what in the world she was doing there in the first place. But she’s a Black Lantern now, so we move on. Able to release a negative-energy being that can fly, turn intangible and burn anything that it touches.

Tempest I, real name Joshua Clay. First appeared in Showcase #94. Killed in Doom Patrol (second series) #55. Able to fly and generate powerful blasts from his hands…oh, wait, sorry. Untrue. Um…able to control the weather? Is that it? Sure, why not?

That fourth figure hiding in the shadows? We’ll talk about him later…

Page 5: Ah, the current, not-dead Doom Patrol…

Elasti-Woman, formerly known as Elasti-Girl, real name Rita Farr. First appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80. Killed in Doom Patrol (first series) #121. Returned to life in Teen Titans (third series) #35. But, before that, and after the events of Infinite Crisis, she fought during “World War III” in 52…long story short, she’s back. No idea when, but she’s back. Oh, yeah, she can expand or shrink her body at will.

Negative Man, real name Larry Trainor. First appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80. Supposedly died in Doom Patrol (first series) #121, but survived. Transformed into Rebis in Doom Patrol (second series) #19. The details of how and when he was split from Rebis and became just plain-old Negative Man again haven’t been revealed, but Doom Patrol (fourth series) #6 is supposed to tell the history of the Doom Patrol, from Larry Trainor’s point of view. Able to release a negative energy being from his body for sixty seconds that can fly, turn intangible, and discharge energy.

Robotman II, real name Clifford “Cliff” Steele. First appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80. Supposedly died in Doom Patrol (first series) #121, but returned in Showcase #94. Like both Rita and Larry, Cliff’s continuity is a bit murky and confusing, but it doesn’t really impact the current story or series too much, so you just learn to go with the flow. His robotic body gives him superhuman strength, endurance, speed and enhanced vision.

Also arriving on Oolong Island are a sentient black hole who has appeared in the past two issues of Doom Patrol, and Dusty, their helicopter pilot about which little is known. They don’t have much to do with this story, so don’t worry about them too much.

Page 6: “You knew he was still in my head!” Rita’s pissed off because, in Doom Patrol (fifth series) #5, she realized that her husband (maybe, not sure about that) Steve Dayton, also known as Mento, has been using his abilities to mind probe her whenever he wants. And the Chief knew about it all along. Not cool.

Thus, Rita feels a healthy amount of rage.

Page 7: “Loved you in ‘Biker Chicks from Hell.’ Would an autograph be out of the question?” Before Rita gained her powers, she was a Hollywood actress.

Re: the World’s Finest Press excerpt at the bottom of the page…Giffen uses pieces like these to fill the reader in on ideas and concepts without detracting from the main story. It’s similar to the text pieces that would appear on the last two pages of his Legion of Super-Heroes run from the early 1990s.

Page 8: The Chief, real name Niles Caulder. First appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80. Supposedly died in Doom Patrol (first series) #121. Reappeared in Doom Patrol (second series) #9. Killed in Doom Patrol (second series) #57. Revived as the Head in Doom Patrol (second series) #64. How he got his head back onto his body and what that was all about in the first place is beyond me. Possesses a genius-level intellect and is a master manipulator.

That “Message Transcript” is from the Flash’s Paul Revere imitation that takes place during Blackest Night #4, page 14.

Niles Caulder expresses avarice; he’s a greedy little bastard.

“You’d think, by now, people would know to look past the wheelchair.” Niles, it’s not that people focus on the wheelchair. It’s that you’re such an arrogant bastard they are overwhelmed by their desire to beat the living crap out of you.

That’s right, I said it – Niles Caulder isn’t a very nice man.

Page 9: “You don’t get to walk out of me.” Ouch. Having your legs frozen solid can’t be pleasant.

Page 10: Cliff’s “more than one brain” thing is dealt with on Page 11.

“Does the ‘more than one body’ thing still bother you?” Larry has more than one body? Do tell, do tell…

Page 11: So, as that little text piece on this page explains, by combining brain matter with techno-organics, alien super-science and a modified Responsometer, the Chief has been able to create back-up brains for Cliff so that, when one is damaged, he can download date into a new one. As Larry said, it makes Cliff “kinda, almost immortal.”

Cliff apparently likes to keep a fully stocked burial ground in his backyard filled with his “dead” bodies. Creepy.

Page 12: “Always wondered what that felt like.” Larry’s referring to the feeling of the negative spirit phasing through his body.

Whether or not Val’s negative-energy spirit is actually a negative-energy spirit or just an energy construct created by her Black Lantern power rings isn’t revealed.

Larry is feeling will and fear.

“Really? Is this what you aspire to? Faux heroics?” Despite his dismissive demeanor, Larry seems to really want to be a hero.

Page 13: “Sixty seconds and counting before you must return to your body.” Larry can only release his negative-energy spirit for sixty seconds before it must return to his body without risking death. Why Val does not have this limitation has never been explained.

Page 14: “We will not be denied! Trainor took from me! Took the energy being!” This is a little strange. In Doom Patrol (second series) #11, Larry enlisted the aid of Reactron to steal the negative-energy spirit from Val to cure his radiation sickness. He was then cured of his illness and no longer needed to wear his protective bandages; Val, however, later bonded with the negative-energy spirit once again. However, in

(second series) #19, the spirit bonded with Larry and his doctor, Eleanor Poole, to create Rebis. How and why the spirit left Val was never explained.

Interestingly enough, to the Black Lanterns, Cliff isn’t expressing any emotion. Is this because he lacks a heart and is therefore useless to them?

Page 15: Doctor Tyme, real name Percival Sutter. First appeared in Doom Patrol (first series) #92. And then he appeared in 52. And now here. Able to manipulate time along one’s own time-space perception.

This guy is obscure. I had to go to the Cosmic Teams website to find out more about him. Taken from The Official Doom Patrol Index #1…

The rivalry between Mento and the Doom Patrol members over Elasti-Girl continues, as they face Dr. Tyme, who has discovered a means of controlling time at various speeds. A tiny Elasti-Girl is captured after she stows away on the bumper of the villain's getaway car, and Mento accompanies the Doom Patrol to rescue her. When Negative Man is trapped outside Larry Trainor's body in Dr. Tyme's suspension ray and a bomb threatens the life of an unconscious but giant-sized Elasti-Girl, Mento uses his psychokinetic helmet to save both, but Dr. Tyme makes a successful getaway.

Thrilling stuff, hunh kids? Got to get my hands on that book…

Tyme is a member of Oolong Island’s aptly-named “Science Squad.” He seems like he’s going to be a fun supporting character.

Leslie “Rocky” Davis of the Challengers of the Unknown. First appeared in Showcase #6. As of DC Universe: Last Will and Testament #1, he has become a minister (denomination unknown). As seen in Doom Patrol (fifth series) #1, he has been working on Oolong Island, tending to the crew there. Rocky’s an expert fighter.

Page 16: The “President Cale” referred to here is Veronica Cale, current president of Oolong Island. Formerly she was a founding partner in Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals. Cale was an outspoken critic of Wonder Woman and later allied herself with some of the Amazon’s foes. Eventually she was recruited by Chang-Tzu to work on Oolong Island, and helped create the Four Horsemen that devastated Kahndaq.

Page 17: Yep, it looks like Tempest really does control the weather. Who knew?

Page 18: Rita’s feeling a bit of rage here.

“Biggest. Heart. Ever.” As seen previously, Black Lanterns are pretty good at ripping their victims’ hearts out of their chest.

Page 19: Niles is still one greedy S.O.B.

Page 20: About two months ago, Keith Giffen did an interview with Newsarama in which he talked about Doom Patrol’s upcoming Blackest Night tie-in issues. Quoted from the article…

But yeah, we have Celsius and three others that I hope will be a surprise. I'm pretty sure the fans will guess a total of three of the four. I'm sure that we'll have a lot of people who zero in on who the three Black Lanterns will be, or amid their guesses, they'll include those three. I think the fourth will come as a complete surprise.

Tempest and Negative Woman were obvious choices. And then I took to thinking about the “surprise.” I said to myself, “Cliff Steele, who else?”

Lo and behold…Mr. Clifford Steele, back from the dead, for the first time ever! Yay!

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