How Many Times Can You Kill A Series?

I can’t remember how many times the Doom Patrol has died. The original members—Cliff Steele (Robotman), Rita Farr (Elasti-Woman), Larry Trainor (Negative Man), and their fearless leader, Niles Caulder (Chief)—have all died or been thought dead at one time or another.

They keep rising from the grave in new iterations of the comic series. Yeah, the comic book series kept getting killed too. As of this writing, there have been at least five comics series.

The thing is, every time the Doom Patrol comes back from the dead, they just get weirder!

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In the beginning, the team started out in issue #80 of My Greatest Adventure, which for the early 1960’s was pretty far out there. Elasti-Woman’s powers of growing and shrinking were pretty old hat by then. Doll Man had been shrinking since 1939. Of course, Ray Palmer (Atom) and Henry Pym (Ant-Man) both debuted two years and one year earlier respectively. Note that she was called Elasti-Girl when she first showed up, even though she was a full-grown adult (see what I did there?).

Cliff Steele as Robotman was nothing unique either. Science fiction writers had been sticking brains in boxes for decades, including alien brains. There was even a previous Robotman, Robert Crane, whose brain was placed in a robotic body (actually making him a cyborg, only the word hadn’t been invented yet).

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Negative Man was different to a degree. As a test pilot, Larry Trainor was exposed to a radioactive source in near-space (Fantastic Four’s cosmic rays, maybe?). Trainor gained the ability to create an energy being that left his physical body and could fly, zap things, and cause explosions. But he had to remain wrapped in bandages like a mummy and he could only be separated from his negative self for sixty seconds.

These three all felt that life had done them wrong and that they were freaks. Niles Caulder, himself in a wheelchair, led them into battle against talking gorillas, brains in bottles, and strangely powered individuals and groups all bent on taking over the world. No goal less than that. The Chief, as he was called, wasn’t always nice about this.

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Anyway, the original series’ sales wound down and the comics community rocked along without “the world’s strangest heroes.” But they just would NOT go away!

New series came and went, and they got more and more removed from reality. Cliff Steele, for a time, got a new look when the series came back the first time.

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And the line-up of heroes changed constantly. New heroes came in, new heroes died. Existing heroes became someone else. In one version, Negative Man turned out to be an alien creature who blended Larry Trainor and a woman, and could then present as either gender while accessing all three minds.

Grant Morrison’s years-long run on the Doom Patrol is the one most people remember these days. That version was probably the absolute, hands-down strangest thing ever seen in comics at the time. Though his run on Animal Man is a close second.

Now, it seems, the Doom Patrol has risen once more under DC Comics’ Young Animals imprint.

About Mel Odom: Author of dozens of novels in a wide variety of fields, Mel Odom lives in Moore, Oklahoma. His novel, The Rover, was given the American Library Association Alex Award in 2002. In 1995, after only seven years in the business, he was named to the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame. He teaches in the Professional Writing program in Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma. If you want to know more about Mel’s writing, check out Fantastic Fiction.

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