Doom Patrol, Episode Four: “Cult Patrol”

The Doom Patrol TV series lists a “Special Thanks” to many of the various creators who have worked on the comic, including Grant Morrison and Richard Case. That’s the only credit I’ve seen for them in the series. The plot of “Cult Patrol” is so far the one most directly based on their comics, issues 31-33 of Doom Patrol Vol 2.

KiplingIt was typical of Morrison/Case that their stories would cut away to short scenes of events happening far away from the main story. Sometimes several issues would go by before we saw how these puzzle pieces fit into the bigger picture. This is how we are introduced to Willoughby Kipling. Long story short, Kipling is a degenerate pastiche the DC urban magician John Constantine. The story goes that even before Constantine started appearing in feature films and TV series, he was ruled off limits for Morrison/Case. So they produced Kipling in his place. His TV incarnation isn’t quite the drunken vagrant as his comic book original.

Another sequence brings in The Cult of the Unwritten Book, the first external challenge the team has faced. The TV script makes the wise choice of adding more relatable human elements to the Cult. Making the living Book into Elliot, an actual named character from a psychotically dysfunctional cult family leads us to care about him, and be concerned about his emotional connections with the others. He’s not much more than a plot device in the comics.

But while Kipling is uncovering The End of World, the others are dealing with their usual issues. Larry struggles with just how to clarify his relationship to the Negative-Spirit. The Spirit itself is trying to lead him to evidence of The Chief’s previous, secret, attempts at communicate with it. Cliff wakes up to find Baby Doll snuggling with him, to his confusion and Jane’s fury — or rather Hammerhead’s. Again it’s a situation where there’s no real distinguishing between Jane and Hammerhead. That encounter is another element inspired from these issues of the comic, where Baby Doll manifests and hugs Cliff, though the emotional consequence is embarrassment rather than rage.

Cyborg is still prodding them all to look for The Chief. With his holographic projectors and talk of “known other dimensions” it feels like Vic stepped in here from some other actual superhero series (which he largely has). He mentions “37” universes, which surprised me, since putting the number at “52” would have been the obvious comic book reference. Jane objects to Vic’s attempts to organize them as a ‘team.” His intent is to unify them to work towards a common goal; he’s just doing a pretty bad job of it.

Kipling then barges his way into the mansion looking for The Chief and the gang must decide if they trust his apocalyptic warnings. Kipling sells himself as big in the field of “international weirdness.” That’s a Morrison phrase I always liked, with its suggestion that the crazy situations the Doom Patrol face are going on all the time, behind the more conventional exploits of supervillains and alien invasions that make up the comic book world. Vic’s backs up Kipling as a known “Chaos magician,” which is a nod to Grant Morrison directly, since he is a practitioner of chaos magic himself and even includes the comics he writes as part of his spells.

Sorcerers and wizards are staple characters in comics, even in titles that are ostensibly science fiction rather than fantasy. A reader often wonders why a character such as Zatanna, whose powers seem only limited by what she can say backwards, doesn’t just solve any current problem with a single spell. So it was fun to see Kipling being to pull off a sequence of magics (usually involving some enchanted pop cultural detritus) that smooth over multiple plot challenges. It gets things moving, is easier on the show’s budget, and let the story focus be on the real issue: what to do with The Book, Eliot, once they have him. Our characters don’t have to be heroes to object to Kipling’s suggestion of just killing him then and there. Protecting him from the inevitable onslaught of the Cult is not something they are ready for though, even with the more seasoned Cyborg and Kipling around. It emphasizes again the point that these people are not heroes, never signed up to be heroes, and probably shouldn’t be allowed to take on such responsibilities.

Sending Cliff and Jane (or rather Hammerhead) to block the entrance of Cult into our world from their base in the mysterious city of Nurnheim is a pretty optimistic plan and you have to wonder if Kipling just wanted them out of the way. Things don’t go well for them, unsurprising. Hammerhead finally expresses that her current rage at Cliff comes from his violent behavior at Fuchtopia. Her argument that her violence has a purpose while Cliff’s does not, has some validity — it’s what Hammerhead as a persona manifests — but they both acted in deadly self-defense when attached by Von Fuchs drones. And then just after accusing Cliff of toxic masculinity, she loses control, attacking the priest they came to help. Hammerhead reacts with violence, either verbal or physical, to anything that is a threat, that triggers fear. It’s not really her job to explain or justify (just as it is Penny Farthing’s job to express apologies and resignation). Each persona is a focused aspect of the splintered core personality. The Cliff/Jane relationship is something we’ll keep looking at closely, though I feel sometimes the scripts are not quite living up to the intended relationship arc for these two.

Much of the discussion between characters has to do with heroism and sacrifice. While Vic is someone who’d sacrifice his life to save the day, Kipling is more inclined that to achieve the greater good an effective person might need to sacrifice virtues of honor, mercy, and truth to get the job done (and he insists The Chief is such a person too). After the show’s most traditional superhero scene yet – Kipling and Vic slashing and blasting through baddies – Kipling also shows he’s willing to sacrifice teammates as well, abandoning Vic to the Dry Bachelors while he slips away.

Larry attempts to talk with Eliot, who still assumes the gang must be heroes, but empathy is not is strong point. His platitudes and lack of grasp of Eliot’s situation only anger him. The Negative Spirit has something else to offer: choice. It gives Eliot the opportunity to make his own decision.

It looks like that decision is going to be self-sacrifice, until he encounters Rita. Vic had dismissed Rita as having no heroic potential, but she seem closest to developing into one: she really wants to save Eliot for himself, not out of obligation or even to “save the world.” We also see her use her unusual nature as a “superpower” for the first time: stretching her arm to stop Kipling. Despite having the codename “Elasti-Girl” Rita rarely did that in the original comics, and then only by developing the ability to selectively enlarge her hand. Unfortunately, they can do little when The Little Sisters slash their way through reality to carry off Eliot.

Back in Nurnheim, Cliff and Penny Farthing have, not surprisingly, fallen into the clutches of The Archons of the Cult. The show takes the humanizing of the Cult a step further by promoting Eliot’s parents into this role, rather than have them be admittedly creepy puppets. The Queen Archon has plenty of weapons to use against our heroes: their already distorted perceptions of the world. Cliff’s tendency to see Jane as his daughter is forced on him, as well as his belief that he is anything more than a disembodied brain. Jane’s most hidden point-of-view is that of the core personality of Kay, the one hides behind all the constructed personas. The final reveal of perception is for us: that Nurnheim exists within a snowglobe on The Chief’s desk.

Meanwhile Eliot has been “read” and the Decreator stares down on them all…

Decreator

Quick Thought: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I have something of a nerd confession: I’m not that big a fan of Batman. Sure, he’s fine as a character, but he’s never going to appear on my list of favorite superheroes. I’m not that interested for a reason that is probably opposite to why a lot of people do like Batman: I like the more fantastic, weirdo, and sci-fi elements of the superhero genre (as demonstrated by how much I’m writing about Doom Patrol here).

Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski‘s 1992-1995 Batman: The Animated Series was an amazing achievement and transformed the world of TV adventure animation in many ways. Mask of the Phantasm is my favorite Batman feature film, even including the recent live action ones. But I enjoy the animated series mostly for its technical achievements, artistic innovations, and now classic performances — not, in the end, because it is about Batman.

I get more personal enjoyment from the 2008-2011 series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This show was inspired by the long-running comic of the same name that featured team-ups of two DC Comics superheroes — usually Batman and someone else. If you are looking for a “realistic” gravel-voice Dark Knights then this not a show for you. It is not camp like the 60’s Batman TV show, but is playful and fun, though with a lot comic book violent action. Stories are fast moving with danger and high stakes, or at least the appearance of them; there’s never any doubt that Batman and his partner will triumph by the end of the episode.

To the delight of an old comic reader such as myself, the series makes full use of the imaginative toy box of the DC comic universe. In just the four episodes Batman visits an alien planet, Dinosaur Island, Atlantis, and King Arthur’s Britain, all drawing from deep DC lore. No part of the company’s lore is too obscure to appear in any episode (and yes, a version of the Doom Patrol appear at one point).

I’m in the middle of rewatching the series now. If a particular episode stands out for the kind of examination I’m doing here I might write a post just on it.