As the numbers of superheroes in movies and on TV have increased, more and more frequently the original creators of the characters are mentioned in the credits. Sometimes this is due to legal reasons and sometimes to just good will. A few years ago the estate of Jack Kirby came to an arrangement with Marvel/Disney over payments for Kirby’s creations (essentially almost every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). One assumes Jim Starlin feels adequately compensated for creating Thanos, Gamora, the Infinity Stones, etc – since Starlin himself has a cameo appearance in Avengers: Endgame.
A lot of these issues come from most comic books being created as work-for-hire: the writers and artists owning none of the work they produce. That was certainly the usual situation in the 80’s and 90’s when Grant Morrison and Richard Case were producing their run of Doom Patrol. The Doom Patrol TV show’s opening credits state “Based on characters created for DC by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani.” Note the “for” rather than a “by.” The DC Universe website further thanks various other people who worked on the comic over the years, including Morrison and Case. The website INDY Week interviewed Richard Case, though at the time he had only seen a trailer. He was cautiously optimistic about it, but for him this was art he did 30 years ago, so it felt a little distant. I have yet to come across any mention of what Grant Morrison thinks about the show.
I bring all this up because, even if the show is not obliged to, the episode “Jane Patrol” in my opinion really ought to include a credit of “based on Doom Patrol V 2, issue 30 by Grant Morrison and Richard Case.” This episode is a very close adaptation of that issue, more so than anything else we’ve yet seen in the show. The plot starts off very close to comic, goes off a bit in some different directions, then concludes with a near exact recreation of the comic’s final pages.
To get it out of the way, I’ll make my usual comment that, for me, Jane herself remains an underdeveloped character. Because of this, the core idea that she has an actual friendship with Cliff just doesn’t ring true. We see fragments and aspects of what the collective entity of personas thinks and feels about Cliff, but not Jane herself as an individual entity. The Penny Farthing persona seems more developed and nuanced than Jane.
Given how close the adaptation is, I’m going to list the differences between the TV and comic versions more directly than usual.
TV: Jane is unresponsive after Hammerhead nearly murdered Karen’s fiancé. The personas have forced Karen back into the Underground, but Jane refuses to take up her position as primary personality. She’s sick of such a hard, thankless job. With the help of Driver 8, she’s taking some time off to explore the memories that haunt the Underground. Encountering the oracular Sisters, she is directed to find answers in the Well, which is in the lowest levels of the Underground.
Comic: The psychic stress from a conflict with one of the Doom Patrol’s opponents has damaged and upset the entire Underground, leading the Jane persona to remember things she shouldn’t. That trauma drives her towards the self-destruction that waits in the Well. This happened once before to a lost persona named Miranda, and the Underground still has scars from her act.
TV: Cliff, unasked, is plunged into Jane’s mind, without knowing quite what is going on, though he quickly figures it out. The show makes the very interesting choice of having Brendan Fraser himself play a flesh and blood Cliff, rather than just provide his voice as usual. Hammerhead and the other personas are not pleased to see him and throw him into jail along with Karen. Cliff insists his wants to reach Jane to apologize for the cruel things he said in “Therapy Patrol.” Karen in particular questions that motivation, seeming to believe his intentions are something else. But then it is Karen’s nature to express a everything as a romance. I think we can give Cliff some credit at this point. He may be doing things awkwardly, but he is doing something. It would be healthy for him to clearly move beyond seeing Jane as a substitute daughter, and maybe we’re heading that way. Some personas seem to recognize that they need Cliff’s help, particularly Penny Farthing, who assists him escaping, and takes on the role of Virgil to Cliff’s Dante, leading him along Jane’s path. Penny is worried since the previous Primary, Miranda, also went this way and was destroyed.
Comic: Going into Jane’s mind is a plan Cliff, The Chief, and Rebis concoct together. Cliff had already been learning about the Underground, and had even charted it out some with the help of Driver 8 (both versions leave that R.E.M. reference unstated). Most of the personas are not pleased with him being there, but he gains permission to locate and help Jane before she kills herself. Cliff doesn’t have an estranged daughter in the comic, so that never becomes an aspect of their relationship. As far as anything romantic, that hasn’t been a part the relationship between Cliff and the Jane persona, but there are some complications along those lines in what comes after this storyline.
TV: Led by Penny, Cliff passes through some of the memories of the Underground, including those of Miranda. To go through them, Cliff must pass through what had been Miranda’s station, or home, in the Underground. Penny warns Cliff not to look, but he disobeys and sees that it has now become a place of slaughtered and hanging corpses.
Comic: I feel the TV really dropped the ball in this section. In the comic the “Underground” is used in the British sense, for what we in American would call a “subway.” Each persona has a “station” or a stop on the tangle of tracks. Driver 8 manages transportation for the whole system, not just to the surface level of conscious control. The strength of that metaphor is lost in the show and it becomes unclear just why there happens to be a “Miranda Station”. A bigger and more specific let down is the passage through it. It is Driver 8 who warns Cliff to cover his eyes. And it is not a recommendation: it is a vital command. The ruins of Miranda Station are a horror beyond words, something ineffable that it cannot even be hinted at on the comic page. It is probably the biggest disappointment of the series so far that they didn’t use the power of leaving things unseen and indescribable, and just gave as a Halloween haunted house instead.
TV and Comic: The confrontation with Black Annis is almost identical in both versions, only with the TV show taking advantage of Brandon Frazier appearing In the literal flesh, so that he can strip that away to reveal his robot self as he insists he is “not a man.” In the comic, where he appears in his usual “Robot-man” form, he just removes the clothes he has taken up wearing in the Morrison/Case run. I mentioned in a previous post the significance of Jane insulting Cliff with the accusation that he “wasn’t a man.” Suspecting that this scene with Black Anise was coming, I wondered how those words might connect up with this scene. And ultimately — I don’t think they do. When Cliff makes the admission, there are some differences of nuance between the comic and show, but in both cases is largely a statement of self-acceptance. Comic Cliff has been an active superhero for some time, and doesn’t have much of any expectations of every being human. In some ways his situation has been improving recently, since his robotic body is being upgraded with better, functioning sensory abilities. TV Cliff is still coming to terms with his robot existence, and you feel he hopes to regain something of a normal life — and a relationship with his daughter. In any case, is his line echoing what Jane insulted him with? Is he meant to be saying “Yes, you were right I’m not a man”? One might think so, if the line, and the entire situation, wasn’t directly from the comic. If next episode were to tie it all together that would be a nice bit of writing that builds on and develops the source material.
The final sequence at the Well, where Cliff finds Jane, and they confront the puzzle-piece embodiment of Kay Challis’s abusive father, is almost identical between the two versions. The one significant difference is that in the comic, Jane has come here to deliberately destroy herself, while in the show, she has been sent here by the Sisters. Miranda had been sent here as well. What is the Sisters’ intent in doing this? Is it a self-destructive impulse, since what is in the Well is the ultimate horror that the whole Underground is meant to contain? Or do they hope that eventually one of the personas will be strong enough the face it?
It is when “Daddy” attacks Cliff that Jane is finally able to express her anger and defiance of her father, something she’d never been able to directly do before. So their friendship that is a vital element to her victory. Except that in the show, for me, that friendship has never been developed. This episode does include a scene where Cliff and Penny find a memory of Cliff and Jane together, which Penny says is kept locked away, since it represents when Cliff started to make her feel hope. I hope the show will continue to build on that, and we will see the friendship in a believable way. The comic, where the friendship has been a more more evident, takes an important turn after this, after Jane’s confrontation with “Daddy.” An entirely new persona arises: Liza Radley. She’s very important in what comes next in comic, but since I am trying to focus on what the TV show does, this is another element that I will hold off going into until, if ever, it becomes part of the show..
The episode ends with Jane waking up, though with the voice of Daddy still echoing. Since facing and confronting your greatest fear, and even winning a battle against it, doesn’t mean you vanquished it forever.