I've received a lot of positive feedback and email from people in the two-plus years I've been running this site. One recent note made my ears go all perky: Arnold Drake dropped me a line a few weeks ago to talk about Deadman!
Arnold Drake, of course, co-created both Deadman and The Doom Patrol, with Carmine Infantino and Bruno Premiani, respectively in the 1960s. My earlier commentary regarding Deadman had focused on Neal Adams' script and artistic contributions to the feature, and Arnold wanted to describe the story ideas that the DC powers-that-be had greenlighted originally, which differed in some respects from the direction that Adams took.
While the early Drake-scripted stories did include the mystical elements that subsequently came to define the feature -- Rama Kushna and Nanda Parbat, for example -- it was only after Adams took over the scripting reins that those themes took center stage. Arnold had wanted to play down those elements to focus on more humanistic storytelling possibilities, using Deadman -- the trapeze-artist-turned-ghost who could 'possess' people's bodies -- as a device to link those stories together.
In this context, Arnold would have been able to tell stories in virtually any genre, using Deadman either as an observer of the action or as a direct participant. War, horror, romance, super-heroes, western, crime, science-fiction -- all of these would have made for possible story themes under this concept, with the underlying mystical elements providing a cord binding them together. In his own words:
"...[Neal] got so absorbed in the mystical aspect of the character, that he totally forgot half of the D'Man "formula"... I invented D'Man, in part, to give me a vehicle that would let me tell stories about Hollywood types, Rocket scientists, RocknRoll musicians, transsexuals(!), homerun hitting champion, President of the USA, etc. Not to the detriment of the mystical side of DM. I knew from the outset that the greatest threat to D'Man was an "evil angel"...a bean-counting spirit who hates with a vengeance the circus roustabout who's been allowed such power! The rat's name, incidentally, was "Enak", my tribute to Bob Kane. By becoming so absorbed with what I call "Enak's" side of the ledger, you largely lose all that marvelous human-interest stuff. That was my major nit picking about Adams' work. He also could have used a bit more humor: graveyard humor, of course. Deadman's middle name was Sardonios: Boston Sardonios Brand. His father wasn't Greek: just playful."
Could have been, should have been... wasn't.
Arnold also passed along some great news, since made public, that DC was preparing to launch the first volume of the 'Doom Parol' Archive Edition:
"In the spring, DC will republish my Doom Patrol stories (all 42!). I only wish that Bruno Premiani were still alive to share the moment with me! There was nobody quite like him."
This is the kind of thing that makes me do a Snoopy-like happy dance. It shows that DC is (1) still mining its libraries for long out-of-print stories, and (2) listening to the fans. It can't be a coincidence that DC is releasing this volume after David Stepp's survey work showed that this is one of the most desired additions to the Archive Edition line. Now if they'll only hurry up with that Aquaman volume, I know someone who'll be really happy.
The Doom Patrol debuted in 'My Greatest Adventure' issue 80, cover-dated June 1963. The premise was straightforward enough: a group of powered freaks and outcasts banding together under the leadership of a wheelchair-bound genius. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Let's check in with the good folks at The Grand Comics Database Project: X-Men issue 1 (also featuring a group of powered freaks and outcasts banding together under the leadership of a wheelchair-bound genius), cover-dated September 1963.
How can you not love synchronicity? Arnold and Bruno packaged this for DC virtually simultaneously with Stan and Jack's X-Men. Same idea, different implementations, no copyright violations.
What made the Doom Patrol interesting was that none of the team members - Robotman, Elastic Girl, and Negative Man - really wanted to be there, but none of them had anywhere else to go. Also, they weren't all best friends, just different people forced together by circumstances, doing good out of their own volition and a sense of obligation towards their benefactor, Niles Caulder (a.k.a. The Chief).
The series did well enough, running for six issues as 'My Greatest Adventure' before a grand re-titling into their own eponymous series, which ran a further thirty-six issues before cancellation. Arnold finished the series in 1968 on a remarkable dramatic note: the Doom Patrol sacrificed their lives -- deliberately -- in exchange for lives being held hostage by their enemies. No last minute machinations, no deus ex machina solutions, no Superman flying in to save the day, just the quiet heroism of a set of unlikely heroes.
The real testament to the Doom Patrol's enduring popularity comes from the creative and fan communities who have refused to let the characters fade from their memories. DC brought back Robotman as the team's sole survivor in their late 1970s revival of the team -- he takes a licking, and keeps on ticking! -- just in time for the famed DC Implosion. A few years later, Marv Wolfman and George Perez tied their successful Teen Titans revival into the Doom Patrol mythos by adding DP sidekick Beast Boy to the Titans roster. This naturally led to a DP-related story involving Robotman and the villains who had killed the members of the original Doom Patrol: the Brotherhood of Evil.
A new Doom Patrol series debuted a few years after this, involving members of both DP incarnations, with the revelation that both Negative Man and the Niles Caulder had survived the explosion that had apparently killed them.
I really don't like this kind of stunt.
As entertaining as stories like this can be -- yes, everybody likes to see their favourite characters back in play -- it cheapens the stories in which they made their original grand exits. It's at the point now where the readership regards any comic book death as strictly temporary, which drains the dramatic potential from stories yet to be told. How deeply does Aquaman's sacrifice in the recent 'Our World At War' story resonate, when we know that he's going to come back?
In any event, it's great to see the original Doom Patrol stories back in print as Archive Editions (particularly when at least some of the people involved in their original creation are still around to collect royalties!). The first volume collects the first nine issues worth from 'My Greatest Adventure' and 'Doom Patrol'; my guess is that they'll publish the remaining stories over three more volumes over the next couple of years. Highly recommended, particularly if you're look for a little back-story context for the new ongoing monthly.
Let's go over to Arnold Drake one more time for a final plug:
"I am presently working with Bruno's best friend and the artist who comes closest to Bruno's spirit: Luis Dominguez. Our story, "Tripping Out" will appear in Heavy Metal in March or April. We're now working on a graphic novel based upon a story I wrote for Starstream magazine 25 years ago, "Benjamin Franklin: Martian." Western Publishing permitted me to retain the rights to this and several other stories I wrote for them. So this is the beginning of my personal recycling movement."
Additional biographical note: Arnold also co-created 'Stanley and His Monster' with Win Mortimer during his tenure at DC, in addition to Deadman and the Doom Patrol. How's that for hitting the trifecta?
Y'know, doing these columns can really be a blast sometimes.