Sunday, June 26, 2011

Secret Origins Annual #1: "...The Doom Patrol!" (1987)

Cliff Steele returned to the Midway City mansion that once housed the Doom Patrol, but was detained by its automated security system. Robotman needed to prove that he belonged, so he began recounting the origins of himself and his team.

  • Cliff Steele was a race car driver and all-around adventurer until a freak accident at the track nearly cost his life. Steele's mind was placed in a robotic body by an unknown surgeon, but believing he was better off dead, Robotman rampaged through the city streets. Steele eventually tracked down the person responsible, Dr. Niles Caulder, but was won over by the genius' philanthropy.

  • Niles Caulder had been made a wealthy man after his published findings on the potential of medically assisted immortality netted him a mysterious patron. However, Caulder decided to join the Peace Corps in the 1960s, serving in the worst slums of Calcutta, India.

  • A teenage girl named Arani turned up so near to death Caulder worked night and day without sleep to rehabilitate her. The two fell in love, and secretly married. Caulder gave Arani of version of his immortality serum tailored to her genetic make-up, which also afforded her powers over temperature. Fearing the mysterious patron who still hounded him through agents, Niles left Arani at a remote monastery while he finally addressed the problem.

  • The evil General Immortus had lived for hundreds of years, but his longevity was faltering, so he had hired Caulder. When money failed to yield results, Niles Caulder was taken prisoner, and a bomb surgically implanted in his chest. Caulder managed to fake his death and have a robot-surgeon remove the bomb, but the automaton inadvertently left Caulder a paraplegic in the process. Knowing that now more than ever he would need assistance to deal with Immortus, Caulder began enlisting agents of his own.

  • Larry Trainor was test piloting the X-19 experimental jet orbiter for the Air Force when a sunspot fried its circuits. Trainor managed to land the craft and come out without a scratch, but was kept in isolation for months due to taking on extraordinary amounts of radiation. Eventually, a mysterious benefactor later revealed to be Caulder provided bandages that allowed Trainor to shield himself from contaminating his fellow man. However, Trainor wound up essentially homeless and mentally unstable from his experiences. Upon seeing a boy nearly run over by a train, Trainor released an energy for from his body which saved the kid. With renewed purpose from this super power, Trainor hooked up with Caulder.

  • Rita Farr was a famous actress and stuntwoman who worked with director Steven (Spielberg) on a jungle adventure story (involving the unnamed Indiana Jones.) Unexpectedly carried away by a current during a scene on a river, Farr landed near volcanic geysers that emitted a strange gas which turned Farr into a size-altering freak. Whether in the palm of your hand or others in her own, Farr's Hollywood career was over. Placed in a room with Larry and Cliff, Rita was given a rousing speech by Caulder to turn their tragedies in a triumphant Doom Patrol.

  • The team faced such threats as Immortus, the Brotherhood of Evil, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, and the alien criminal Garguax. They gained additions to the family like Mento and Beast Boy. However, the original three plus Caulder willingly gave their lives to save fourteen innocent strangers in a fishing village from a trap set by Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl.

  • Robotman was blown to pieces, but his brain survived to be found by Doctor Will Magnus, who built him a new body.

  • Soviet pilot Valentina Vostok tried to defect to the United States with a stolen experimental jet, but ended up crashing at the site of the Doom Patrol's deaths, and absorbing Larry Trainor's disembodied energy form. This allowed Vostok to fly and project energy beams. After reaching the U.S. in secret, Vostok eventually met Arani Caulder, who was in the country investigating her husband's death after learning of it by fluke. To this end, especially while working under the assumption Niles was still alive but in hiding, Arani was forming a New Doom Patrol.

  • Joshua Clay was a teenage hoodlum in Midway City sentenced to either jail or military service. Choosing the latter, Clay served in Vietnam, before a confrontation with a mass murdering squad leader caused the medic to display previously unknown energy powers. Clay deserted while on short time and made his way back to society as a wanted man, perfect fodder for Arani Caulder.
  • The New Robotman stumbled upon the New Doom Patrol and attacked them before being convinced to join them instead. As a group, the team confronted General Immortus and later, a Russian automaton called the Cossack sent to retrieve Vostok. The New DP joined forces with Power Girl against Reactron (a Post-Crisis revision to a Supergirl adventure,) while Superman helped with Negative Woman after Vostok's condition deteriorated to one closer to Larry Trainor's.

  • Infighting caused the group to split, so it was Robotman working with the New Teen Titans who successfully brought Rouge and Zahl to justice for the murder of the original Doom Patrol.

Cliff Steele's walk down memory lane was a ruse to preoccupy him while armored government agents descended upon the mansion to capture him. However, the men were under the command of Valentina Vostok, who had begun working to supervise superhuman activity with the government. Vostok couldn't bear to compromise her former associate, so she called the men off, leaving Robotman to decide his next course of action. He would pack up and move to California, hoping to leave the past behind him.

"The Secret Origin of The Doom Patrol!" was a pleasant enough visual companion to a slew of Who's Who entries written by Paul Kupperberg. This is the only instance of John Byrne doing full are chores that comes to mind in which his embellishment is comparable to any of his best inkers. The whole thing was a primer for a Doom Patrol series relaunch, complete with preview pages and creator interviews. That was all well and good, but I was a bit miffed that the behind the scenes text features usually afforded an issue of Secret Origins were not present, gypping the back-up feature "The Secret Origin of Captain Comet".

Brave New World

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