My new issue of Apparition Literary Magazine has arrived, and I’m psyched to read all the stories waiting for me on my Kindle. Look for that review in another week or two (at the most). I’ve also started the latest issue of Cossmass Infinities, but I’m only two stories in so far and have a ways to go before I get THAT review done as well. I might prioritize ALM’s review, though, and return to Cossmass once that’s complete.
But we’re here to talk about Doom Patrol.
I’ve talked a lot about my love of Marvel comics and shows. That in no way means I don’t also enjoy other comics, including Marvel’s greatest competitor, DC. But for some reason – perhaps mainly because Spider-man, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four came to my reader’s gaze before Batman and Superman – Marvel has always been my favorite.
DC has done some pretty amazing stuff, though, and no title more exemplifies a willingness to broaden their market and try new things than Doom Patrol. I came to the Patrol in the 90’s, after Grant Morrison had taken the reigns of the comic. He took what was already a off-beat story and ramped the weirdness level to 11. One of my friends at the time introduced me to the title, and I fell in love with them. Once Morrison moved on to other things, I did as well. He was a hard act to follow.
I worried when I heard DC was turning Doom Patrol into a television show. I’ve watched some of the recent crop of DC programming, and most of it has been decidedly “not my cup of tea.” Whether it was the writing, or the actors, or the choice of cinematography, they never hooked me. I rarely bothered to watch more than a couple of episodes of any of these titles (Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl etc.). Gotham being the exception, but I didn’t LOVE it, it was merely “something to watch that I found mildly amusing.” I fully expected Doom Patrol to be a watered down, kiddie version of the comic I once loved.
I’m happy to say I was entirely wrong, and Doom Patrol may be the finest super hero show that’s been aired on television to date after The Watchmen series from last year. Far better than anything else DC is producing, even better than the Marvel Netflix series, it grabs all the weird, dark joy of Morrison’s writing and wraps it around a group of actors who gleefully and poignantly portray the characters. This is a delightful show, one that is full of damaged people who are able to forge friendships and connections through their various pains. Not shared pain, though. Each individual’s pain is unique and the show never lets us forget how isolated each feels even as they create bonds with each other.
Before we go any further, there is one thing to note, and one warning to share.
Note: this is NOT a show for your kids. If you want to sit down and watch super heroes with your children, don’t tune in to Doom Patrol. It gets an R rating for gratuitous violence and nudity, and it definitely earns that rating. It’s gory, it’s nasty, and it’s often very sexual (there’s a whole subplot with an entire town orgasming at once and sex ghosts haunting a house).
Warning: there may be some spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Doom Patrol is the story of a group of abused, mentally broken meta-humans. All of these people have powers, some familiar to us, and some absolutely bonkers shit that you’d never expect. From Robotman (ex-NASCAR driver Cliff Steel) who is a human brain housed in a crude robotic body, to Elista-girl (aka Rita Farr, aka Gertrude Cramp, former Hollywood star), to Crazy Jane (aka Jane, Kate, Miranda, Hammerhead, Penny Farthing, Black Annis, etc, etc, a woman with sixty-four separate personalities, many with their own separate powers), to Larry Trainor (former test pilot with a negative energy spirit living inside him), this team is about as strange as a team can get. Toss in Dorothy, with her ability to create real versions of the friends she can imagine (some incredibly powerful and dangerous), and the relatively “normal” Vic Stone (aka Cyborg), and you have a pretty weird mix of individuals.
Then there’s the secondary characters. There’s Flex Mentallo (his power is manipulating the world through his muscle control), Steve Larson (animal-vegetable-mineral man, a bit of a running gag through the series), Willoughby Kipling (occult detective and magic user who loves classic rock songs and uses them for spells), and Danny the Street. Danny is an intelligent, teleporting, open minded, gender-queer street who provides a safe haven for people who feel like outcasts in the world. Danny is… well Danny is pretty fucking awesome, to be honest, as is their chief advocate, Maura Lee Korupt, a former agent of a secret government agency who found a place in Danny’s world, along with acceptance for who she is.
Even the villains are beyond strange. Mr. Nobody is an omnipotent being who got his powers through the brilliance of Nazi science, and delights in tormenting the group while fourth wall breaking to address the audience of the show he seems to know he’s a part of. Played aptly by Alan Tudyk, he’s a breath of fresh air in the usual crop of “I’ll destroy the world” stereotypes. One of his henchmen is the Beard Hunter, a man who hunts people after eating… their beards.
It only gets weirder, folks. I haven’t even told you about the doomsday prophesying cockroach, or the donkey with a portal to another dimension down his throat who also farts messages, or the intelligent rat named Admiral Whiskers.
That the show included ALL of this, while allowing our characters to swear, fuck, fight with each other, make mistakes, and be the flawed individuals they each are, is spectacular. The actors seem to be throwing themselves into their roles with abandon. I want to give a special shout out to Diane Guerrero, a former star of Orange is the New Black, who plays Crazy Jane. She’s done remarkable work showing us the complexities of this character and her many personalities. It’s a nuanced performance, and I’ve too often seen these types of multiple personality characters done poorly. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed Brendan Fraser’s work for a long time, but here he’s mostly sweary and screamy as Robotman, and sometimes it gets a bit tiring. Then again, given how Cliff’s been treated and how he used to act (while he still owned a human body), I can understand why, and I’m sure much of it is the direction he’s receiving. The other actors do incredible work as well, from April Bowlby’s perfect imitation of self-absorbed, 1950’s Hollywood glamour, to Matt Bomer’s deeply moving portrayal of once secretly gay-but-married test pilot Larry.
At its core, and despite all the weird plot shit it gets up to, Doom Patrol is a deeply poignant “found family” story. Every one of these individuals comes from broken backgrounds, either caused by others or themselves. Every one of them has lost family members, often through their own errors. For a variety of reasons, they don’t age, either (Cyborg being an exception), so they don’t have peers they grew up with. They only have each other. And over the course of the first season, we get to watch these very broken people find something in each other that provides an excuse to move forward. Even take steps towards making amends with their pasts. It’s deftly done, never heavy handed, and perfect because the results are never PERFECT. They reach a point of “good enough,” and then try to move forward from there. They may not always like each other, but they always understand each other, are willing to forgive each other, and that keeps them growing and learning.
Doom Patrol is treading some of the same ground as shows like The Umbrella Academy. Both shows bring together emotionally damaged individuals, both teams live from time to time in a mansion, both are dealing with secret government agencies out to hurt one or more of them, and both are overseen by older men who have done their own sorts of damage to each team member. I like both shows, to be honest. Doom Patrol gets a slight edge with its portrayal of people suffering emotional and physical abuse. UA is, on the whole, a bit darker in tone, and has spent some of its focus tackling issues like racism, while DP has found ways of leavening topics like acceptance for trans rights with more comedic overtones. But both are doing good work and worthy of your attention.
If I have any complaints beyond how Fraser is being directed, it’s that season 2 is far shorter than season 1, and that’ll be the trend going forward. Like most streaming shows, 8 to 10 episodes seems to be the limit. And that’s a shame, because the world needs more of these types of stories. More characters with such vast depths, more stories that weave past and present so deftly together. More Danny the Street (now Danny the magical tire). Seriously, Danny is awesome, and I’m so glad they made the leap from comic to television. A normal super hero show would have left Danny behind, and Doom Patrol would have been the poorer for such choices.
We’ve already started season 2, and it’s every bit as good as season 1.
I’m giving Doom Patrol 10 out of 10 on my Reynolds wrap up. Well written, brilliantly acted, deeply subversive super hero viewing for when you get tired of the PG-13 rated stuff that they normally feed us. There will always be a place for that, too, but I’m glad to see there’s room in the stable for a show like Doom Patrol.