Thursday, November 06, 2008

Single Issue Review: Doom Patrol #86

I have previously discussed the origin of the Doom Patrol, a team of freaks and outcasts which debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80. The DP continued to be featured in MGA through #85, when DC decided to award them their own magazine, which started with issue #86.

As you can see, the cover is a classic DC 1960s "Open Me" issue, with the heroes watching the villains on a giant-screen TV. That the villains include a talking ape with a submachine gun and a bubbling vat of fluid just makes it even cooler, and you can imagine how this comic must have flown off the shelves in March 1964, when it appeared.

The splash page is even better. I'll just transcribe the dialogue to you:

Elastigirl (thinks): "The Brain, the guiding spirit of the Brotherhood of Evil, has sent a giant robot to steal the Statue of Liberty! It's the most brazen theft in history!"

I mean, a giant robot, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brotherhood of Evil... how can you go wrong for 12 cents?

The story begins with the three members of the Doom Patrol (Negative Man, Elastigirl and Robotman) preparing gifts for the Chief. Since they don't know his birthday (indeed, he refuses to tell them anything about himself), they have decided to make today his birthday and give him gifts. We also learn that Larry (Negative Man) has scarred features:

Clearly a Dr Doom swipe; as I discussed in the prior post, the Doom Patrol ripped off Marvel's Fantastic Four while arguably Marvel's X-Men ripped off the Doom Patrol. We later learn that Rita (Elastigirl) is in love with Larry (Neg Man).

The story itself does not hold together very well. The Chief designed a giant robot named Rog (as in Roger?) for work on the moon that was stolen by a crook named Morden who used it to commit senseless acts of destruction. But it turns out that Morden was really trying to get into the Brotherhood of Evil.

We learn that the BoE is run by the Brain, a disembodied brain that lives in a jar of liquid. So smart is he that he trained the gorilla shown on the cover (Monsieur Mallah) to be a genius with a 178 IQ and a criminal. Now that Morden has the giant robot under his control, the Brain decides to execute a heist of the Statue of Liberty, but Rita has other plans:

Monsieur Mallah, featured so prominently on the cover, ends up with a very minor role in the story aside from a dramatic introduction. He ends up landing one punch on Cliff (Robotman) and gets decked in the payback. He never carries a submachine gun or straps on a few hundred rounds during the story, either.

Overall: Good art, good premise for the story, but mediocre and cramped execution.

Although the name of the comic had changed to Doom Patrol, there was a backup feature with nine pages of Howard Purcell art and story. Purcell was a DC artist from the Golden Age, perhaps best known for his work on Sargon the Sorceror, but his art here actually looks more like the 1970s than anything anybody else was doing in 1964:

Note the detailed coloring; very unusual for that era. In the story, the astronaut had been exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb blast, resulting in a mutation of his body into the whirlwind form shown on the splash. But in actuality, it turned out that he was not Major Reed, but an unrepentant Japanese war criminal from World War II, who had taken his place after splashdown (and who had actually been caught in the atomic bomb blast). The Japanese war criminal is greeted as a hero in the US, but he plans to seek revenge for "his emperor" for the humiliation of their defeat in World War II.

A historical side note: There seemed to be regular reports at the the time about Japanese soldiers who had gone into the jungle on various deserted islands during World War II and continued to labor on, unaware of the war's end or unwilling to accept surrender. How true these stories were I have no idea, but it was sufficiently well-known that it inspired an episode of Gilligan's Island. Update: Wikipedia reports that two Japanese holdouts were captured on Guam in 1960 and another in 1972. See also this terrific Gunner & Sarge story on the same theme.

Major Reed escapes from where the war criminal imprisoned him and decides the only way to stop the villain is to gain similar whirling super-powers. So he drapes himself in seaweed (the Japanese had been gathering seaweed when the atomic blast transformed him), and canoes a log to near a new atomic test site. Then a waterspout gets him twirling, and presto-change-o, he's another human top.

As dueling whirlwinds, they have a battle climaxing atop the Washington Monument (yet another landmark backdrop for a fight), and eventually the Major defeats the war criminal:

Comments: Although the story is nothing special, the artwork really stands out.

Overall Doom Patrol #86 is an entertaining issue. My chief criticism is that the Doom Patrol story should have been longer, and the interesting Monsieur Mallah character given more of a role. What's the point of giving a gorilla a 178 IQ if you're not going to use him as anything more than a fighter?