Doom Patrol, Episode Fifteen: “Ezekiel Patrol”

Doom Patrol has a long history (over 50 years) as a comic book. I haven’t read every incarnation of the comic published during that time. I just started reading the 2009 Keith Giffen run and am noticing its influence on Doom Patrol TV. Perhaps in future seasons of the show we’ll see more references to what other writers such as Giffen, Rachel Pollack, and Gerald Way have done with these characters and concepts. In 15 episodes the show has at least touched on all the major arcs of the Grant Morrison storylines.

For the finale of this season, the show is in the place where it does its best, where it can build on ideas from the comic and use them to tell its own story. It also has to present the aftermath of a rare occurrence in the comic book genre: the completely success of the main bad-guy’s master plan. Mr. Nobody has achieved everything he wanted. The team, such as it ever was a team, is scattered and Niles Caulder has been humiliated and left bereft of he cares about (almost, as we shall see).

Of all the characters, Larry seems to be the best off, working things out in his relationship with the Negative Spirit. They’ve ended up bonded much as in the original comic, with a clock counting down how long he can survive once the Spirit leaves his body. A 60 second time limit being a major story element that limited the otherwise extremely powerful Negative-Man. That the Spirit remains with Larry voluntarily, rather than being trapped within him, shows how far they have come. What the show could do with the next stage of their development, becoming the alchemical “Rebis” of the Morrison/Case comics would be interesting to see. The other writers who followed Grant Morrison did not continue with the Rebis version of the character, reverting to the status quo, sometimes with the Spirit portrayed as a separate, sentient being, sometime with it back to being an extension of Larry’s will.

Rita is “getting by,” though she appears to be falling back into a new “role” — that of  beloved high school teacher — that is mostly her own creation. Few writers in the comics seem to know quite what to do with Rita as a character (once she was brought back to life) and she varies widely from writer to writer. John Bryne tries to establish  a romance between her and Cliff; Gerald Way makes her a messianic, meta-textual device. Jane has fallen into a drug-induced stupor, with Cliff guarding over, but not interfering. So it’s not so great for them.

Dangerous Animals

The character who is really not doing well is Mr. Nobody, who is fallen into a depression caused by post-success boredom and negative reviews of the show. In the fourth-wall broken White Space he still commands, critics and fans seem to think Mr. Nobody’s “ending” for the series was just another cable show that started strong but sputtered out trying to wrap things up. The appearance of the cockroach prophet Ezekiel and the revenge driven Admiral Whiskers inspires the formation of a new villain team-up and the “Brotherhood of Dangerous Animals” will now go for yet another final strike against the Chief for yet another final revenge.

Imaginary Friends

The Chief has one more vulnerable to attack: a daughter who is hidden on Danny the Street. A lot of questions are now answered, particularly what the Beard Hunter encountered when tracking down Caulder’s hair trail. The Escher-like staircase was a location in Danny and the “Chief” Doll was likely a toy or rather an “Imaginary Friend” of his daughter. For this child is the until now unseen character from the comic, Dorothy. I speculated on her connection with what we were shown back in “Hair Patrol” but I never thought that they’d make the very logical choice to have Dorothy being Caulder and Oyewah’s daughter — if that is what she is. We only have The Chief’s word for that. Curiously the episode only makes passing reference to Dorothy’s power: the ability to make her imagination real. She seems to have easily overcome even Mr. Nobody with it and will likely be a big part of next season. That would allow the show to continue making the reality the characters struggle to live in a very mutable and unpredictable one, the way Mr. Nobody has until now. Dorothy was introduced in the comic before Grant Morrison started writing his issues and she remained an important character through Rachel Pollack’s tenure on the book.

More backstory is  filled in as we are shown missing pieces of how The Chief set up the accidents that made these characters who they are. That both the Chief and Joshua Clay once worked for the Ant Farm isn’t a big surprise. That it is was all part of an “Immortus Project” is another revelation that suddenly makes a lot of sense out of other things we’ve glimpse in the past. In the original comics, The Chief’s origin involved him being tricked by super-villain “General Immortus” to work on a process to extend life so that’s been cleverly repurposed here. The whole “why haven’t these characters ever aged” question that I’ve been grumbling about since my first post does end up meaning something. The traumas that made all these characters metahumans is the reason they don’t age and the reason The Chief made them experimental subjects. Like General Immortus in the comics, Caulder gained some bit of life extension, likely from Oyewah, but it wasn’t enough and he was driven to find a way to truly live for ever. In the Morrison/Case comics, The Chief turned out to be more of traditional mad scientist, ultimately working to cause a global catastrophe that would trigger a metahuman metamorphosis in the small percentage of  humanity that would survive. Interestingly, the idea of “everybody becomes a superhero” is a recurring theme in Grant Morrison’s comics, but usually not that darkly.

The Brotherhood of Dangerous Animal’s final, again, scheme and the team’s battle against them is all the show’s creation, other than Danny being trapped in painting, which is an homage to the “Painting that Ate Paris” from the comic book Doom Patrol’s first encounter with Mr. Nobody. I wonder if that was an idea that the show’s creators thought was cool and had to find a way to work in somewhere. With giant roaches and giant rats it would have been fun to see Rita exhibit what is normally her primary super-power: to grow into a giant herself. The computer graphics that would have required may have just been beyond the show’s budget at this point. That the final cataclysm reduces everyone to microsize is the kind of thing that happens to them in the comic’s original run, though it’s not a specific reference. Danny being left as “Danny the Brick” occurs in the Keith Giffen issues of the comic and is the beginning of a whole series of transformations for Danny.

Danny the Brick

Even more than in “Cyborg Patrol” the team can now, in their own way, function as superheroes doing superhero things. That suggests the TV show will need some new directions to explore in its next season. It’s hard to see this becoming just “more TV superheroes” as Mr. Nobody scornfully said. Much of the personal issues that kept the characters hiding themselves in The Chief’s mansion have been, if not fully resolved, at least out in the open. Where does the show go with them, without just piling on new angst and issues? There is a lot more inspiration to draw from in the comics, the issues of gender identity and sexuality in Rachel Pollack’s stories, or the reality-breaking meta-textual explorations of Gerald Way’s current run on the book. The history of Doom Patrol as a comic is filled with different creators trying different things, failing often, but occasionally failing in interesting ways. I’m optimistic enough to expect at least that from this show as well.

Doom Patrol, Episode Fourteen: “Penultimate Patrol”

Now that most of our characters have achieved some growth in dealing with their long suppressed personal traumas – and, consequently, are in better harmony with their metahuman powers — things are in place to wrap up the main plot arc of the whole series. I have also come to some conclusions about what this show does and not do well.

  • They’ve done a good job of depicting these characters and showing both their internal conflicts and their evolving relationships with each other. Doom Patrol, for all the weirdness and genre elements, is a character driven series – the very thing Mr. Nobody was mocking it for being last episode. The hospital scene between Rita and Vic is a good example. In revisiting earlier discussions over the need to take action and make choices, not just to help achieve a goal, but also to resolve personal doubts, the two have switches places. Rita advices Vic now, and we see that his earlier lectures came from a youthful, naive ideal of what heroism is, while Rita has some hard earned, more mature experience.
  • Generally the show has done well, and occasionally brilliantly, at referencing and lightly connecting up with the greater DC Universe, and of taking elements from the long history of Doom Patrol comics and repurposing them for this show’s unique storylines. The Beard Hunter, for example, was an excellent riff on a one-joke parody in the comic, and the show’s Mr. Nobody is a very clever and effective new interpretation of that character.
  • What hasn’t worked as well is when the show takes some of the Grant Morrison deep strangeness and uses it for largely superficial weirdness for weird’s sake. In my last post I went into detail about how the show doesn’t really make Flex Mentallo work. They’ve done a better job with Danny the Street. Fortunately the deeper lore about what Danny is doesn’t play a big part of the current plotline or in the comics events they have been drawing on.

The show is at its best when telling its own stories, transforming elements from the comics into those stories, rather than trying to adapt what goes on in the Morrison/Case run of the comic. I could wrap up these essays with that, but, like the show itself, we are only in the penultimate chapter and there is more to come.

Mr. Morden

The flashback to Mr. Morden being fired by the Brotherhood of Evil is another example of my second point above. The idea that Morden already thought of himself as a “nobody” comes from the Morrison/Case comic, but the show puts its own spin on things. The giant robot design is also right from the original run of the comic. In “Hair Patrol” it seemed as if finding out Caulder’s past with Oyewah was perhaps his main goal in kidnapping The Chief. Now it appears that Mr. Nobody just wanted to find out everyone The Chief cared about in order use them in his revenge. (As a science nerd I couldn’t help but shake my head at Mr. Nobody insulting Oyewah as a “Cro-Magnon” since calling a person a Cro-Magnon is just calling them… a person).

The plot in the episode continued to be a little clunky as far as getting everyone to where they need to be. One can suppose that Danny had to bring everyone together as cautiously as they could, given their fear of Mr. Nobody and their knowledge about the Chief’s past. Having the Beard Hunter become a “Danizen” was a nice touch, though it raised a lot of questions about what did exactly happen when he tried to follow The Chief’s hair trail. Flex’s big scene, which everyone talks about so much, was… cute, I guess. To me it worked better as a single panel reference in comic than the prolonged sequence it was given here.

Flexing

The revelation that Mr. Nobody’s domain was the “white space” between the panels of a comic was an entertaining surprise, though it would have made more “sense” if this story were a comic – it’s a TV show after all, as Mr. Nobody often reminds us. It the days of actual film, characters could have climbed out of sprocket holes, but with everything being digital streaming these days, I’m not sure how you represent characters extracting themselves from their native media. That, once in the White Space, other characters can take control of the narration is an interesting logical extrapolation, but given how events unfold, you have to wonder if Rita really did gain this power, or if it was still part of Nobody’ plans.

Similarly, when Mr. Nobody offered everyone a new chance to relive their lives without the mistakes they made, did he really want them to accept that offer? Could he have wanted to make them feel stronger, just so that his real vengeance would be the sweeter? In any case they do end up accepting the truths of their damaged lives and we get the triumphant hero vs boss villain fight the superhero comic genre inevitably leads to…

Except of course this what Mr. Nobody wanted, the bait to snare them in his trap of endless failure and death as a torture for The Chief. The use of the “Hot Diggy” song makes it pretty clear that this is the same trap he used on the “Golden Age” Doom Patrol that left them broken and confined to Joshua Clay’s asylum.

Back in my post about “Hair Patrol” I gave away the big, climatic spoiler from the Morrison/Case comics: that The Chief caused the accidents that transformed the team into the damaged metahumans they are. I was a little surprised that the show, in the end, did take the route as well, but they make it work, even with this version of The Chief, who is much more caring and nurturing than his comic book model. Exploring how the team will deal with this revelation will be interesting to see. In Morrison/Case, Cliff was very upset about the betrayal, and would have attacked The Chief if it wasn’t for a failsafe installed in the Robot-Man body. For the others though, Larry, now fully integrated with the Negative Spirit (and a third person, Eleanor Poole), was quite content with their existence and perhaps had even known about the secret for some while. Crazy Jane was not part of Calder’s experiments. And Rita… well Rita was still very dead in the comic at this time.

So while in the comic everyone, with perhaps the exception of Cliff, could have moved on without The Chief, this incarnation of the team are all very dependent on him. Even as they’ve grown as people, the goal of finding him has been a unifying mission. It has seemed to me that his kept them too dependent and that their biggest personal improvements have come since that The Chief hasn’t been there. Caulder has grown dependent on them as well. He, like the team, doesn’t have much else in his life. So he was vulnerable to what was really Mr. Nobody’s final stroke: cutting him off emotionally from the team by forcing him to reveal his betrayal.

In comics, The Chief Paine for his deeds with his head, as his own mad scientist schemes led to his decapitation. Or rather, he paid with his body, since his living, severed head remained a character during the Rachel Pollack run of the comic. Caulder as the secret cause of the character’s traumatic origins has been written out and back in again at different times by different creators. What consequences the TV Chief will face is likely the subject of the next, ultimate, episode.

Doom Patrol, Episode Thirteen: “Flex Patrol”

If one is adapting the world of Doom Patrol comics into another medium, you pretty much have to introduce Flex Mentallo. He embodies much of what Grant Morrison’s run on the comic was about. So much so, that his and Frank Quitely’s spin off mini-series “Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery” is one of Morrison’s clearest statements about what superheroes mean in our culture. We knew that Flex was coming to Doom Patrol TV, and while his visual embodiment is spot on, I think the show’s creators either don’t really understand Flex, or never found a way to fully utilize him in their story.

Flex was introduced into the show a couple episodes ago as a clue provided by Danny the Street: an old comic book, with an advertisement for breakfast cereal that was missing its muscular mascot. Rita recognizes that the blank space on the page should contain a picture of Flex, but it looks like he “just stepped off the page.” The team makes the assumption that the man represented by this missing drawing must know something about The Chief. Not the most well supported deduction, but you work with what you have.

Hero of the Beach

At this point, Flex’s backstory was sounding much like his comic book origin, except for one major difference. In the source material comic, Flex is not a mascot for a breakfast cereal, but to all intent and purposes, the boy who is bullied by having sand kicked in his face in the old Charles Atlas body building ads. As I mentioned last time, comic books used to have advertisements, and Charles Atlas ads were ubiquitous. But how many viewers of the show, today, would get that reference? Even in 1991 when Doom Patrol #42 came out, it was a nostalgic call back to an earlier era of comics. So I can understand a decision to simplify and not bring in those references, even while feeling sad as bits of what Flex is meant to be all about are beginning to be chipped away.

In this episode Rita mentions the additional fact that the illustration was drawn by an artist named Wallace Sage. That holds out hope that the show, perhaps next season, will go a little further. Because Flex was not just drawn by Sage, he was created by him. As a boy Wally drew his own comic books (with a green ink pen) and through his unrealized psychic power, made those stories real. Flex literally did just step off the page. Flex is the power of a superhero inspired imagination brought to life. In my last post I described how in the comics the forces of Normalcy had mastered the power of all the cheap toys and magic tricks that were, like Atlas’s bodybuilding, advertised is comic books. Flex and the Ant Farm are thus natural enemies, the conflicting poles of what the power of imagination can achieve.

Anyhow StoriesSo while it is fun to see Flex on the screen, it is a letdown to not really see Flex, just as it is for the Ant Farm to be (mostly) a generic mean and sadistic faction of the military, something that was reinforced in this episode. Revealing the Bureau’s main tactics as physical torture and threatening people’s loved one showed a real paucity of imagination. In the comic an army of undead supersoldiers was being built through the power of creepy fairy tales and they were harnessing the occult energy of the very first words spoken into a telephone. The unfiltered sight of the Ant Farm in its true light was what broke Flex’s spirit.

Getting to the events of this episode, after a lot of action, it’s reasonable to go for a slow beats to give both the characters and the audience a chance to rest and get ready for an upcoming climax. I just don’t think this episode did it well. It was the first time in the series that an episode felt padded – which was a surprise given how much content they had to work with. The screen time could be put to better use, especially as, in terms of advancing the story from one event to another, the plot has been getting increasingly clunky.

The sequences with Cliff, Jane, Flex, and Dolores dragged out was covered in a couple pages of the comic. Dolores’s fate in the book was a mixture of what we see here, and in the earlier episode where Cyborg was kidnapped. It was a sad scene, but was interrupted by an attack of the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R E. (which were the supersoldiers mentioned above, traumatized into existence by Lucy Clifford’s fairy tales). The show overdid the tragedy, to my taste, particularly since it was an example of the “fridging” troupe, where the female partner of a male character is killed off to motivate him to take action.

It was good to see Cliff and Jane doing something together, even if they continued to argue. Quite an important moment when Cliff stood fast against Jane’s anger in order to apologize, understanding, as we see as well, how much of her anger is a defense, keeping her from any close connection with people. The actual friendship between them is finally forming.

The scenes with Larry and Flex as prisoners of the Ant Farm also didn’t really add anything we didn’t know already. Did we need more coats of guilt and responsibility on Larry’s backstory? And as mentioned above, the way the menace of the Bureau was presented made them seem just conventional and boring. One thing that did catch my attention was Flex’s ability to communicate with the Negative Spirit, which was one of the show’s occasional references to Gerald Way’s current run of the Doom Patrol comic.

We finally got the last pieces of Rita’s backstory, though her monologue confession did start to stretch on and on a bit… That was redeemed somewhat by it being the disguised Mr. Nobody that was drawing it out of her for the exact reason of tying up that loose end so he could put his endgame into motion.

Mr. Nobody stalking about his realm festooned with Doom Patrol merchandise was a new level of “meta” for the show. We also see his understanding of how stories work in play again, as all his warnings to not come looking for The Chief were intended to entice them to do exactly that. It is very common for supervillains to draw attention to themselves with threats and brags, when staying out of sight would be far more effective! Mr. Nobody understands that reverse psychology and clearly wants the team to track him down for a big season climax. While fourth wall breaking is common these days in comics and elsewhere, it’s been a stable of Grant Morrison writing as far back as his run on Animal Man in the 1980’s.

Animal Man

Morrison takes it ever farther in books such as “The Multiversity” where the text addresses not an abstracted “audience” but the individual reader themselves who is hearing Morrsion’s words in their head that exact moment. Mr. Nobody, even while standing in front of a poster for the show he is appearing in, is speaking “us,” but not to “me.” That’s a power that only comics can utilize. What a TV or film can do better than comics is show the thoughts and emotions, the reactions and realizations of characters in a performed scene. Which is the very type of character based drama that Mr. Nobody is deriding this show for being.

Doom Patrol, Episode Twelve: “Cyborg Patrol”

I am going to quickly discuss the storyline of this episode before going deeper into its comic book sources. Many twists and spoilers for this episode, and for the comics it is based on, so take that into account.

With Vic captured by the Bureau of Normalcy, the team has two big questions. Do they trust Vic’s father Silas Stone? More uncomfortably, are they actually ready for a real superhero “mission,” the kind of thing most costumed adventurers do on a daily basis? The answer to both of those may turn out to be “yes… sort of.” None of these people are over their various issues and traumas, but they have progressed to a point where, for now at least, they can put personal troubles on the backburner to work together for a greater good.

The plot of this episode would be nothing special for most adventure stories. Even the central twist, Dr. Stone pretending to betray the team in order for them to infiltrate the Ant Farm, is hardly a big surprise in the genre. It’s a game played with the audience, since the only reason we are left suspecting the betrayal could be real is that the editing just didn’t show the gambit being planned. If the concealed knowledge was important it would be a cheat. As is it is just part of amplifying experience of the cunning plan.

It was fun to see classic bits from the original Doom Patrol comics. Robot-man frequently was troubled by villains with giant magnets and the trick of Elasti-Girl hiding inside his metal body was used several times. The Bureau must not know very much about Crazy Jane, given the minimal efforts they put into neutralizing her. Fully unleashed, she could bring the whole facility down into rubble if she wanted to.

The hijinks of their caper are contrasted with what is going on with Vic. His distrust of his father’s motives is no joke and the whole plan hits its fatal flaw here. Vic’s condition becomes very disturbing; he seems to be undergoing a real schizophrenic episode, unable to control his thoughts, stuck in obsessive compulsions, hallucinating, and hearing evil voices telling him to do bad things. None of the team were prepared for just how bad things had gotten for him. The threat of Grid is looking like a red herring (particularly for comic readers), with Mr. Nobody being what’s really behind Vic’s recent difficulties. Mr. Nobody’s power again manifests as the ability to effect story, as if the entire introduction of a “Do we trust Dr. Stone” subplot was inserted by him into the narrative, and into our own perceptions as viewers of the show. That would be a very Grant Morrison element, the meta-narrative of our experience of the show as itself, part of the show.

The Morrison/Case comics created some very unique, memorable characters. Over the course of the comic they did develop and reveal some increasing complexity, particularly in their relations with each other. They did not though, change in significant ways. The Morrison/Case comic was mostly a platform for ideas and an offbeat takes on a superhero universe where strangeness and imagination were the driving narrative forces. The TV series, for all its bizarre images, situations, and donkeys, is character focused. We are following these damaged people whose “metahuman” abilities are exterior manifestations of their internal issues. The crazy ideas and surreal villains and even overarching story plots are secondary.

So when the show starts to reach into the depths of the Morrison/Case comic, but only wets its finger tips, I’m not sure how valid it is to critique it for holding back. The show isn’t trying to exactly recreate the comic and trying too hard to do so could get in the way of what it is doing. That being said, while I enjoyed a lot in this episode, I came away disappointed, and left wondering if they it could have gone deeper without sacrificing the focus on character. Being so close to the source material, I feel it acutely when they miss the mark, fail to follow through, or seem satisfied with the superficial. It can be a roller coaster. At the end of “Frances Patrol” I nearly jumped out of my chair when the Normalcy Agent said “Look at my elbow” but a few minutes later felt let down that the idea was put to such a mundane purpose. I felt a little like I was the one who was sent to the Tearoom of Despair.

From what we’d been shown of the Bureau of Normalcy, I didn’t expect our decent into the Ant Farm to be the existential nightmare of the comics. I was concerned that we would get something similar to Season One of True Detective. There the creators simply lifted names from Robert W. Chambers horror stories and used “The King in Yellow” and “Carcosa” to fancy up their script, stealing some of the resonance those names have, without actually sincerely addressing or building on Chambers’ work. Doom Patrol TV doesn’t get that exploitive, but does make only light use of one of the core story arcs of the Morrison/Case comic run.

The show describes the Ant Farm as Area 51 crossed with Dante’s Inferno. That gets across the point of what the episode will be giving us. In the Morison/Case comic this is as close as words can come to describing it:Ant Farm

The Ant Farm, as described and depicted by Grant Morrison and Richard Case would require a David Lynch-like distortion of reality, a place where waking and nightmare, horror and irony, comedy and insanity all are loosed from their boundaries.

The dark joke of the equivalent of the Bureau of Normalcy in the comics (which never has a specific name; it’s just a branch of the US Government) is that they themselves are strange, quirky, and far, far from Normal. The comic doesn’t mention Area 51, but the idea of a Military-Industrial-Occult Complex is at the heart of the horrible truths at work. What is being envoked has deeper roots in paranormal folklore, particularly the legends of Flight 19, the Navy training mission where 5 planes supposedly vanished in the Bermuda Triangle.

The Pentagon

A significant change to the Ant Farm is that it’s meant to exist beneath the Pentagon. There is a whole era of 60’s counter culture reality bending that the show isn’t even trying tap into. You’d have to build up to informing today’s audience about facts such as the 1967 attempt by the Yippies to levitate the Pentagon through the power of LSD to explain everything that is going on here. That is one many elements from the Morrison/Case story have not been introduced at all. There are no Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E or the project to weaponize the dead through the unsettling power of the fairy tales of Lucy Clifford. Nor any hint of the deepest secret of what is bound under by the Pentagon’s geometry, powering the Ant Farm.

Operators

While the cybernetic “Operators” in the Art Farm are one thing depicted exactly as Richard Case’s drew them, it is another example of at first feeling “That’s cool!” but then being disappointed after realizing that the physical resemblance was as far as things were going. In Morrison’s story, these unsettling figures are the Operators, as in “Operators are standing by!” The vague, yet always present, faceless ones at the phone banks ready to claim our money, our time, our souls, for whatever treasures the advertisers are dangling before us.

Many readers of comics today know only abstractly, if at all, that comic books used to be filled with advertising. Not ads for other comics, upcoming movies, Nikes, etc, but physical fitness gimmicks, pyramids schemes, and cheap toys and gadgets. “X-ray specs” to “see through clothing” are the most remembered, but there were many more. These toys and tricks were mostly grossly exaggerated in capabilities, if not outright frauds. The thought lingered though: what is they were real? What if such powers could be obtained by filling in a coupon or making a call to those Operators? What Morrison and Case did in their Doom Patrol comics was present a world where these powers were real – and had fallen into the hands of the Wrong Side.

X-ray Specs

Through much of Grant Morrison’s comics there is theme of the idea made real and what that means for the world we live in. “The atomic bomb and Superman both started out as ideas. Why did we make on real and not the other?”

(This is all connected to the coming introduction of Flex Mentallo into the series and we’ll just have to see what the show does with him).

The episode does give plenty of weird details for the Bureau: the Operators, General Wampus and his Big Macs, and the Butts of course (something that felt like it could have come from the current incarnation of the Doom Patrol, written by Gerald Way). These elements often remain superficial and, as with “look at my elbow” mostly grounded in reality. We have the return of Darren Jones in this episode. His story of stabbing his wife is from the comic, but there is used as a feature of the insanely surreal world, blind to its own quirks, that Jones had built for himself, not the deranged bloody deed of a psychopath.

Could the show have drawn deeper from the comic? As was common throughout the Morrison/Case run, the background for the Ant Farm storyline was introduced slowly over many issues, through cryptic one-page interludes. This can be a useful technique as it refreshes a storyline in the reader’s mind and builds up an ever increasing sense of suspense. It is a slow, incremental process that takes months. Time a short TV series doesn’t have.

Doom Patrol TV is already juggling multiple plot lines. Each character has been their own puzzle, with mysteries for us as viewers and to the characters to themselves. From the first episode there is the ongoing mystery of The Chief and Mr. Nobody, their past relationship, and why The Chief was kidnapped in the first place. With all that going on, I can understand there being limits on how much plot and world building can be crammed into this character focused story. It is still a bit amazing that a show this offbeat and as deeply connected to Doom Patrol lore exists at all.

Doom Patrol, Episode Eleven: “Frances Patrol”

Doom Patrol TV continues its trend of telling its own stories about its own versions of the characters, taking only occasional inspirations and ideas from the comics. That’s a good direction for the show to move in. One of the interesting things about Doom Patrol as a story concept is how each team of creators have developed their own visions and styles, even when starting from some of the same ideas. The TV show’s version of Mr. Nobody is different from Grant Morrison’s, as Keith Giffin’s was different from that, and Gerald Way’s version was different again. As these posts are primarily about examining how the show develops and transforms ideas from the comic, I have (relatively) less to say about episodes such as this. There are four ongoing plots at this point, so I’ll start with a few comments about the main two, which are original to the TV series: in the comics, Cliff has no daughter, nor did Larry ever know a John Bowers.

Larry

This was a nice step forward for Larry, finding out that his dream visits with his lover John have not been dreams, but psychic rendezvous orchestrated by the Negative Spirit. I was expecting that the Spirit was trying to communicate through the memories of John, so this was a pleasant surprise. It makes sense too, since Larry has to resolve his relationship with John before he can move on the address his relation with the Spirit. There was also a quick reference to Larry attributing his life extension to the radiation that fills his body. At this point the characters’ apparent immortality could be attributed to either The Chief sharing some of his secret or to their own unique natures. It was also a nice touch to show some of Larry’s experiences overlapping with what was happened to the others the past two episodes. That strengthens the show’s storytelling philosophy that there is always more going on than one might think, and that each character is the main character of their own lives and stories.

Cliff and Rita

While Cliff’s chapter had some nice elements, on the whole I thought it was too contrived, the circumstances too much “TV plotting.” While not much is really resolved for the Cliff the way things were for Larry, I hope this is the ending for the Clara storyline and they don’t keep dragging it out. Rita’s growth was more engaging to me. She’s come a long way from the first episode, where she lost control after just a few moments of interaction with the outside world. Trying to remake herself as who she really is, rather than the screen illusion of “Rita Farr” seems to be giving her strength.

Grid

Moving to what the other characters are up to, Vic’s dilemma over “Grid” and what is happening to his body is not quite what I was expecting. It might be drawn from ideas found in comics, but I have only a little familiarity with all the storylines Cyborg has been involved with over the years. It hasn’t been made clear what information Vic accessed when he stole the thumb drive from his father. We can assume that might be what is helping him keep Grid under control for now. I found the body horror of Vic cutting open his own arm to see what was inside a bit over the top. Couldn’t he have found an x-ray machine in The Chief’s lab? It did introduce the idea that Vic might not be able to trust even what his own senses are telling him, since we did not glimpse the encroaching machine parts until the second shot of the wounds.

Jane showed the most striking difference in behavior after her recent experiences. This was a much more pro-active, angry with reason and intent Jane. She was the one showing leadership and organization this episode. It was notable to hear Jane criticize Vic for having agro attitude. It does not, so far, look like her experiences in the Underground with Cliff have led to the emergence of the new persona of Liza Radley, as they did in the comic. This is a changed Jane, but still Jane.

Liza Radley The clues for search to find Flex Mentallo were a bit clunky. I guess it’s reasonable to assume that the fact that the image was missing from the comic was the point of Danny giving it to them..? And that Jane knew that the missing cereal mascot was based on a real person? Jane did refer to Flex as “Hero of the Beach,” which touched on a question I had since we saw the cereal advertisement. In comics, Flex is connected with an homage to the old Charles Atlas body building ads, where a skinny kid is bullied by having sand kicked in his face, but takes the body building course advertised and becomes “Hero of the Beach.” I’m guessing the health promoting properties of “Mentall-O’s” cereal is going to fill in for the exercise techniques originally alluded to? We see in a couple episodes from now it seems.

Tearoom of DespairThe other Morrison/Case comic reference in this episode is the ambush by the Bureau of Normalcy. As in the comics, Flex’s wife Dolores is a lead to finding him – but upon contacting her, she has already been compromised by the agents of normalcy. The Bureau did a very good job of researching and preparing to take advantage of Vic and Jane. Truly competent villains can be quite scary. When Dolores raised her arm and said “Look at my elbow” I must admit to an audible gasp. These agents may be as close as the show gets to The Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and the weapon in their elbow looks no more than a Men In Black mind stunner, rather than the entry to the Tea Room of Despair, but it’s something.

In this episode we see how most of the characters have had some important growth, moving away from being the next Doom Patrol, that is, the lost individuals we saw in “Doom Patrol Patrol.” Nigel Caulder brought them together in a place of refuge and protection, but their growth has mostly occurred in the weeks since The Chief has vanished. Was he, for all his good intentions, the thing that was most holding them back?

Doom Patrol, Episode Ten: “Hair Patrol”

A lot of **Spoilers** here for… everything really. The TV series, the comic, even for the films of M. Night Shayamalan (whose superhero movies tend to have several elements familiar to Doom Patrol readers).

The original comics Beard Hunter story was a one-issue side-story during the Morrsion/Case run. It was break between larger story arcs and was little more than an absurdist parody of gun toting macho killer characters such as the Punisher. So it was surprising that to see that the TV show would be using this inconsequential character for an episode. We quickly see this will be one where the show takes a basic idea from the comic and runs with it, rather than directly adapting a comic story line, as in “Jane Patrol.”

In both comic and show Ernest Franklin is a pathetic man-child still living with (and constantly arguing with) his mother. But while the comic version is an obsessive bodybuilder and gun fanatic, the TV incarnation is a pudgy, sweatsuit wearing slob who seems to do little more than sit on his couch and watch TV — that is, when he’s not on the job for a client such as the Bureau of Normalcy. Beards to this Hunter are not just a psychotic fixation, but the key to a metahuman ability: the power to absorb and track the essence of anyone whose facial hair he consumes. Not the weirdest superpower we ever see in the world of Doom Patrol. Odd as it seems at first, this Beard Hunter is ideal for the mission of tracking down Niles Caulder.

Beard Hunter

At the end of last episode, we were shown that something had been going on at the mansion while Cliff and Jane were in the Underground. Now we see just what that was. This is a clever way of dealing with the problem most superhero team stories have of just too many characters around at once. Previously Flit abruptly teleporting people away has been the main mechanism for this, so it’s nice to see some variation. With Cliff, Jane, and Larry all effectively unconscious, it is up to Vic and Rita to hold the fort.

Vic and Rita are an interesting if volatile team. Vic is the actual superhero, while Rita, regardless of her metahuman abilities, is mostly an ordinary person wanting to do good, but frustrated by “how,” especially when dealing with crazy situation such as the Beard Hunter. Neither can quite handle Ernest, particularly since he has another powerful skill: people underestimate him. After gaining both The Chief’s and Vic’s essences and knowledge, he has them at his psychological mercy. As others have, Beard Hunter insists neither Vic nor Rita know what kind of person the Chief really is – and he also seems to know secrets about Vic, things Vic himself many not be consciously aware of, perhaps because of software blocks. This triggers another problem: Vic’s onboard A.I. “Grid” recognizes how big a threat Beard Hunter is and begins to take control of Vic’s cybernetics. The show has been slowly hinting at the dangers of Grid, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, comic readers would have been worried ever since Grid was first mentioned, knowing that it ultimately gains self-awareness and becomes Cyborg’s “evil-twin.” Hard to say if the show will go that far, or if Grid is just part of the secret protocols that Cliff father has hidden inside him. Given the recent concern over The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter making a painting showing Cyborg killing the rest of the team, Vic is a little quick to say he can handle whatever is going on with his systems.

It’s not clear exactly how much information Beard Hunter has gained about The Chief, which is an important question as the bulk of this episode is not AboutVic, Rita, and Ernest, but an extended flashback of The Chief’s — from 1913! There’s no way to avoid the fact that Caulder has some secret for extending his life. This isn’t a big surprise, since his comic book origin involves him being coerced by General Immortus into finding a way to live forever. Caulder we discover was once a member of an organization called the Bureau of Oddities. A lot gets communicated just by glimpsing the emblem of this Bureau: a crest with two crossed keys, identical to what we have seen of the Bureau of Normalcy’s emblem, save that it has replaced one key with a sword. While seeking a cryptid in the northern reaches of Canada, Caulder and his partner, like investigators in a H.P. Lovecraft story, discover more than they are prepared to handle. Injured and alone after a wolf attack, Caulder glimpses an antlered entity, and faints – something else very characteristic of a Lovecraft character. The creature isn’t named, but it looks much like contemporary fantasy artists depict the Wendigo of northern legends and folklore (it also resembles a phantasmal snow monster from My Greatest Adventure #81, an issue of theDoom Patrol comic from 1963).

Snow Beast

On waking, Caulder finds himself in the care of A humanoid cave creature. It isn’t clear at first if she considers him a captive, a companion, a pet, or a food source. Though they have no shared language, over time Caulder and Oyewah, as her name appears to be, begin to understand each other, and Caulder finds clues suggesting that she is an ageless being from an early civilization. She also has a bond with the Wendigo, which is summoned by her call. Alone and dependent on each other, the relationship between Caulder and Oyewah slowly grows into love. As Oyewah appears to have lived for maybe tens of thousands of years, does she share with Caulder the secret of prolonged life? And does the Chief then eventually share it with his Doom Patrol?

Dorothy?

This incident of Caulder’s life is, as far as I know, entirely a creation of the show. I’ve read a lot of Doom Patrol comics, particularly the original series and the Morrison/Case run, but not every issue ever published. What is Oyewah? I would call her human, but not Homo sapiens. Is she a Neanderthal, Denisovan, or some other now extinct relative of ours? For a comic reader, it is hard not to think of a very different character: Dorothy Spinner. Dorothy first appeared in the Paul Kupperberg issues of the comic before Morrison/Case, but became a major character during their run, and in the Rachel Pollack stories afterward. There are not a lot details about her but is seems she is a mutant, born with a simian appearance as well as vast psychic powers. Back when I was first reading the comic I assumed she was meant to be a Neanderthal (though these comics were written before it was discovered that most Homo sapiens have some Neanderthal dna). Besides her appearance, Dorothy has the metahuman power to, essentially, cause her childhood imaginary friends to become real. Rather like when we see Oyewah conjure up the Wendigo. There’s a lot yet to learn about what is going on here, but it is hard not to think there is some inspiration for Oyewah in Dorothy, even if the show has completely revised and reconceived that inspiration into something different, as they have with The Chief’s background as a whole.

After living with Oyewah for some years, and learning to be a survivor and a hunter, Caulder is found by his former associate Allistier, who not only had survived the wolf attack, but returned to civilization, and was part of the transformation of the Bureau of Oddities into the Bureau of Normalcy. Realizing the dangers of this new Bureau discovering Oyewah and her secrets, Caulder murders Allistier, and destroys his own journal of what he has learned and experienced. In the century after returning from the wilderness himself, Caulder has protected this knowledge.

I had a question at this point. Point of view is something I try to pay attention to in narratives, so if all this is such a secret, if Caulder himself destroyed records, how do we, the audience, get to know this? Who is telling this story? The answer is Nobody. The whole flashback is revealed as Mr. Nobody browsing through the captive Chief’s memories. What we haven’t been shown, Oyewah’s immortality, the nature of the Wendigo, where exactly those events took place, etc., are all the things The Chief is still keeping hidden, even to the narrative power of Mr. Nobody. Offers of freedom and threats to the rest of the Doom Patrol and not enough to shake loose whatever specifics Mr. Nobody is after. The Chief is usually portrayed as secretive in his various comic interpretations, not telling even the Patrol everything about his background. He also frequently has contacts and allies in government, sometimes official, sometimes not. Morrison and Case took this to the extreme, making The Chief ultimately a super villain, responsible for the very accidents that created the team. Note that this storyline was in 1992, well before M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable in 2000. More that a few elements in Shyamalan’s superhero movies are rather familiar to Doom Patrol readers…

Beard Hunter

I mentioned the original Beard Hunter comic was a one-off story, telling of that version of Ernest being hired to assassinate The Chief. While the specific events of its story are very different, their narrative functions have a lot in common. When tracked down in a grocery store, Caulder manages not only to evade his armed pursuer, but to improvise effective and deadly traps. Both in this comic and the TV episode we are shown that The Chief is not just a genius scientist helpless in a wheelchair, but is quick thinking, resourceful — and ruthless.

That was only one of the many things we learn about Niles Caulder in this episode, It is a very well written example of showing rather than telling. A bookish scholar becomes someone who can survive in harsh conditions and is willing to commit cold blooded murder. The way Oyewah protects and shelters Caulder while keeping him in some ways ignorant and dependent looks much like how The Chief has handled, helped, but not fully trusted the people he has brought under his care. Also those people, however much he does care for them, are not his highest priority. There are secrets he values more than them. Is that the hidden truth about who Niles Caulder really is that Willoughby Kipling referred to? As Ernest does as well, after consuming The Chief’s beard hair. One wonders how much the Beard Hunter did learn. Could he have discovered the things that Mr. Nobody is seeking? Or did he only learn as much as we did by watching the flashback sequence?

Whatever Ernest learned, somebody thought it was too much. It is unclear who was responsible for the Escher-like staircase that the Beard Hunter finds when pursuing his psychic trace on Caulder. The decoy manikin of Caulder suggests somebody who knows about and can circumvent Ernest’s metahuman powers. It all seems Mr. Nobody’s style, accept for the sudden appearance of the Wendigo. Was this a fail safe trap set up in advance by The Chief? Or is Oyewah an active force amidst the various factions at play here..?

Doom Patrol, Episode Nine: “Jane Patrol”

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.

Underground Map

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 Underground

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.

Miranda's Station

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.

Big Daddy

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.