History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XIII: The Original Doom Patrol

When I started my chronicle of the Silver Age, there were many chapters I was looking forward to posting. One of these was the Doom Patrol.

DC’s My Greatest Adventure wasn’t much different from any other sci-fi comic of the time, except that all the stories were in first person (hence the title). But in the 80th issue, that changed. Julius Schwartz talked its writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney into creating a superhero team for the comic. Drake came up with the Doom Patrol to keep the sci-fi theme. Bruno Premiani was hired as the artist.

The Patrol’s leader is Dr. Niles Caulder, or “The Chief”. He is a paraplegic, but possesses a highly scientific and strategic mind that has been honed by studying various sciences.

The rest of the members have freakish powers and appearances. Larry Trainor is a test pilot who is exposed to radioactivity while flying too high into the atmosphere. After crashing, he is consumed by negative energy. He became able to manifest a negative version of himself that can fly, create explosions, and become transparent. He has no control over this form, and must wear bandages to protect others and himself. He became Negative Man.

Rita Farr was an Olympic swimmer and actress. While filming in Africa, she is taken by a waterfall and exposed to gases. She is able to shrink and grow to any size, and her limbs are flexible. She becomes Elasti-Girl.

Cliff Steele is a daredevil. He crashes his car, and his body is damaged beyond repair. However, his brain is transferred to a robot. He became Automaton, but later the name is changed to Robotman. By #86, the comic was renamed Doom Patrol.

The team’s main enemies were the Brotherhood of Evil, led by The Brain (a literal disembodied brain). Other members were every bit as strange as the heroes. These others were Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (a shapeshifter who can change into any animal, vegetable, or mineral), Monsieur Mallah (a hyper-intelligent gorilla), and Madame Rouge (an evil counterpart to Elasti-Girl who can also change her facial features).

In later issues, two more members were introduced. One was inventor Steve Dayton, who has a helmet that increases his mental prowess and gives him psychic powers. He becomes Mento, and marries Elasti-Girl. Garfield Logan is able to change into any animal, and becomes Beast Boy. He is adopted by Steve and Rita.

Despite the change, Doom Patrol’s sales waned. Arnold Drake left DC for Marvel over a pay dispute (and ironically wrote for X-Men, which he criticized as a rip-off), and the team was killed in #121 in 1968. However that was not the end of the team. Beast Boy joined the Teen Titans in 1980. The team was revived in name only by Paul Kupperberg in the 70’s, with Robotman being the only member from the original team, and the rest being new characters. A more full-fledged revival came in 1987, under writer Grant Morrison and artist Richard Case.

Next: Iron Man


History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XII: God of Thunder

During the 1950’s, Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Publications, and stopped publishing superheroes. Instead, they published comics like Millie the Model (which carried over from the 40’s) and The Two-Gun Kid. After they switched back to superheroes, only three anthologies remained: Journey Into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense. Journey was the first comic to have the Marvel Comics logo (but you can barely tell. It’s just a square with an M and C in it. The more familiar rectangle with the star of the comic would come later), beginning with #69. I actually read a few stories, and enjoyed them. Journey was no Weird Science, but I liked the art.

By #83, sales were slipping. Stan Lee decided their next creation would be a god. They chose Norse mythology because Greek mythology was too familiar. Both Stan and his brother Larry (who often co-wrote when Stan couldn’t meet deadlines) wrote the story.

One thing I’m enjoying about this project is looking at Kirby’s classic art. I now see why he is the King.

Early on, Thor was much different from what he is now. He had the alter ego of Dr. Donald Blake (which he dropped in #159). Loki was introduced two issues later, becoming his main villain. Loki even created three other villains: Absorbing Man, Destroyer, and The Wrecker. Other early enemies included Zarrko, the Enchantress, and Grey Gargoyle. Sif was introduced in #102 (in a flashback, but she’d soon be integrated into the present day), and even though Lee felt Greek and Roman myths were too familiar, Hercules was added as a rival. By #126, Thor took central stage.

Thor became one of the founders of the Avengers, and is still a member to this day. In 2012, he topped IGN’s “Top 50 Avengers” list.

Next: Doom Patrol

History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XI: The Flash of Two Worlds

Julius Schwartz knew that the fans hadn’t forgotten about characters like Jay Garrick or Alan Scott. But how best to acknowledge the original heroes, and have them coexist with the new identities? He had an idea, based on the parallel worlds theory. And in Flash #123, the Golden Age Flash returned in “The Flash of Two Worlds” . The story was written by Garrick co-creator Gardner Fox, and drawn by then-current Flash artist Carmine Infantino.

The story begins with Barry Allen doing a rope trick at s charity event organized by his girlfriend Iris West.  While vibrating his molecules, he disappears and arrives in Keystone City, which was the home of the original Flash. (Barry’s home is Central City. When he meets Garrick, he tells him that he actually read about his adventures as a kid, when they were written by Gardner Fox (how meta can you get?). Garrick says that he had considered retiring, but three of his former enemies, the Fiddler, the Shade, and the Thinker have teamed up. Barry volunteers to help, and the two speed off to the scene of the crime.  After they apprehend the villains, Barry returns to his own world.

This story introduced the concept of DC’s “multiverse”.  The Golden Age wasn’t an early point in history, it was actually a whole different world. Jay Garrick’s world was revealed to be Earth-One, and Barry Allen’s world as Earth -Two.

This story eventually led to more encounters with Earth-One. Eventually, the Justice Society and the Justice League would team up often. New stories would take place, telling what happened in the years after the comics were no longer published, or being about the old heroes adjusting to a new era.

Continue reading “History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter XI: The Flash of Two Worlds”

History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter X: Hulk Smash!

Although both Marvel and DC both publish superheroes, their approaches during the Silver Age were very different. DC treated its heroes like the legends that inspired them, but Marvel’s were more fallible. And nowhere is that more shown than in the case of one of their most well-known anti-heroes, the Incredible Hulk.

In creating the Hulk, Stan Lee drew from two literary classics. He believed that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster wasn’t evil; he was merely misunderstood. He also drew from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and made both Dr. Banner and the Hulk one and the same. Right from the start, the Hulk was capable of heroism, but he was more feared and hated than admired. He even saved Rick Jones (who would become an important character in his own right) from the gamma rays that resulted in his creation.

In the first six issues of his comic, there was something that is referred to as early installment weirdness. The Hulk was a nocturnal creature, much like Mr. Hyde was in Stevenson’s story. In one story, Rick Jones himself controlled the Hulk. But the comic also introduced the Hulk’s nemesis General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Banner’s girlfriend Betty Ross, the general’s daughter. At first, Hulk was gray instead of green. Lee chose gray to mimic Frankenstein’s monster, but a printer error changed it to the more familiar green we know today. He also talked more like a tough guy than that “Hulk smash!” stuff that he’s more famous for.

The are two reasons Incredible Hulk was cancelled after sux issues. First was low sales. By this time, the cover price of a comic had risen from 10 to 12¢, and yes, that difference did matter. Another reason was that at the time, Marvel and DC used the same distrubutor, International News. To even the playing field, Marvel was limited to eight comics a month. Marvel got around this by publishing some titles monthly, and others bimonthly.

After his comic was cancelled, the Hulk was far from gone. He’d challenge other heroes as well. Most notably, in Fantastic Four #12, he began his rivalry with The Thing, which has continued for years. He even joined the Avengers, only to be thrown out because of how unstable he was.

After his comic was cancelled, the Hulk found a new home in Tales to Astonish, beginning with the 60th issue, alongside Ant-Man. His new artist, Steve Ditko. It was Ditko who helped establish the Hulk into what we know today. Now the transformation was triggered by anger, and Hulk’s rising frustration would revert him to “puny Banner”. Ditko also believed the Hulk should have a more primitive form of speech, creating the famous “Hulk Smash!” persona.

Tales to Astonish also introduced Hulk’s true enemy, The Leader. While both gained their abilities from gamma radiation, they were actually polar opposites. The Leader would use his newfound superhuman intellect against the Hulk, making him a more formidable opponent. Eventually, Hank Pym would leave Astonish, to be replaced by Namor, who had recently returned as an enemy of the Fantastic Four. But the comic had gained popularity, particularly with college students. This newfound popularity caused him to finally take center stage, beginning with #102. (Even though Astonish was now The Incredible Hulk, the numbering was continued. This is still true today with his current comic, The Immortal Hulk. If you look at the issue box, you’ll see the letters LGY, which is the “legacy number”. The legacy number uses the numbering that started with Astonish.)

The Hulk just can’t be kept down. When I get to the 80’s, I’ll discuss his best period, when Peter David was at the helm.

Next: The Flash of Two Worlds