‘Doom Patrol’: From zero to hero
In the premiere episode of the sophomore season of “Doom Patrol” last Saturday, one of the group’s feisty female superheroes said, “I’d rather be a nobody than nothing.” The catchy, conviction-driven line could well apply to every member of the “freaks of nature” rounded out at Doom Manor by the paraplegic genius called the Chief aka Nils Caulder (Timothy Dalton).
HBO Max’s “Doom Patrol” turns the lens on Nils’ troubled proteges, namely Negative Man aka Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer, Matthew Zuk), Robotman aka Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser, Riley Shanahan), Elasti-Girl aka Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Crazy Jane aka Kay Challis (Diane Guerrero) and Cyborg aka Vic Stone (Joivan Wade) by way of the series’ splashy rollout on HBO Go.
The streaming platform didn’t just drop all 15 episodes of the show’s first season (which has a 96-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it also consecutively aired the first three episodes of Season 2, after the group is called to action by Cyborg to engage dimension-skipping supervillain Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) in a mano-a-mano after the kicked-out member of the Brotherhood of Evil kidnapped and held the Chief hostage in a mystical dimension called White Space.
We grew up reading comic books but weren’t all that familiar with Doom Patrol because we found its narrative setup a wee bit identical to the X-Men—that immensely popular group of misunderstood but superpowered outcasts mentored by the similarly wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier in the Marvel universe.
The Doom Patrol’s appearance in Episode 4 of the DC superhero show “Titans” piqued our fascination for its members.
It’s interesting to note that both groups were introduced by DC and Marvel comics in the same year—Doom Patrol first appeared in My Greatest Adventure #80 in June 1963, while Marvel’s mutants got their own title (The X-Men #1) three months later, in September.
But while deeply flawed individuals, Doom Patrol’s members are fabulous metahumans who find themselves going from zero to hero; each of them has suffered a horrible accident that left them as physically disfigured as they are emotionally scarred. As a team of oddball heroes, they finally find purpose in investigating logic-defying phenomena to save a world that wants nothing to do with them.
The show aces its time-skipping, character-juggling balancing act. More over, its characters’ individual woes are just as relatable: Rita was the queen of ’50s cinema often described by critics as “the poor man’s Deborah Kerr and the rich man’s Yvette Vickers.” But exposure to a toxic gas has altered her body into a gelatinous state. She hasn’t been seen by the world in 60 years.
Robotman, the only member to have appeared in all comic-book incarnations of the team, is a womanizing ex-Nascar driver whose brain is transplanted into a robot’s body after an accident renders the rest of his body destroyed beyond repair.
Cyborg was a star athlete before his father turned him into a part-man, part-machine superhero following an interdimensional accident.
Negative Man is a former member of the Air Force with a radioactive-powered “negative” energy living inside him.
Then, there’s Crazy Jane, who could be a ticking time bomb. Jane is the dominant alternate personality of Kay Challis, who suffers from multiple personality disorder. As a result of exposure to the alien “gene bomb,” each of her 64—yes, you read that right—personalities has a different superpower. Unfortunately, not all of them wants Jane to become part of Doom Patrol!
All their individual troubles come into play as they get used to their powers and learn to work together as a team, proficiently fusing pathos and offbeat humor to spin their respective tales.
But the team’s loyalty is put to the test when they learn that the Chief is just using them to protect his adoptive daughter, Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro)—who has dangerous powers of her own!
In Season 2, they must find a way to return to normal size after most of them, except Larry, were shrunk by their bad guy-busting adventure inside the White Space—a situation that leaves them vulnerable to rats and roaches!
The show, still with Jeremy Carver as showrunner, doesn’t disregard its protagonists personal lives when they aren’t thrust as pawns in Nils’ missions.
So, in Episode 1, the show manages to revisit how Nils crossed paths in 1927 with Dorothy, who’s been locked up in a traveling circus for 90 years! In the same episode, we also see Rita slowly learning to manipulate her powers as Elasti-Girl.
Later, Vic, who has left Doom Manor, falls in love with a guilt-stricken female military vet (Karen Obilom) during a PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) group therapy. In their latest “misadventures,” the gang must face their new nemeses, Doctor Tyme (Brandon Perea) and Red Jack (Roger Floyd)—with mixed results.
For his part, things don’t turn out the way Cliff intends after he plucks up enough courage to visit his now grown-up and pregnant daughter—who quickly drives him away! Just as dramatic is Larry’s situation when he attends the funeral of his estranged son Gary.
Their powers have not made the Doom Patrol safer and happier than the “normal” people they protect.
New episodes of the second season will be released on HBO Go every Friday.