BHOC: SUPER-TEAM FAMILY #7

Now this is an important comic book for me–but that didn’t stop me from trading it to my neighbor Johnny Rantinella at some point. Later on, I wound up trading again to get it back. And why? The Doom Patrol, baby! Near the pinnacle of my personal favorite DC series, this was my first encounter with the World’s Weirdest Heroes as they were called on the cover. About that cover–it’s a real mess. Those Titans figures look like they were assembled out of spare parts–what’s going on with Donna’s leg? And Speedy’s face looks oddly old and ill-expressioned. It’s an ugly piece of work. But it had Kid Flash prominently featured, and it was an issue of SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, a regular purchase, so that got me to pick it up.

The opening story is a Teen Titans adventure from the early 1970s, when DC was struggling to find a way to connect with a changing young audience. During this period, the Titans had renounced their costumed identities and super-powers after a major failure, dedicating themselves to becoming better and more responsible people. This only lasted a few issues, but the fallout could still be seen by the time of this story, which tries its best to keep the super heroes out of costume and out of the story, and focuses on problems that might be relevant to a college-age audience instead.

After a brief preamble, the story opens up with Wally West accompanying his grandfather, the absent-minded Professor Ira West to Elford College, which Wally is considering attending once he graduates. Touring the grounds, Wally comes across a student, Johnny Adler, being jumped by a mob of other students. becoming Kid Flash, he rescues the kid, and learns what’s going on: the university psychologist has been performing illegal brain operations on them, implanting them with a tiny device that will make them compliant, good students. Johnny fled upon learning of this, but has been pursued by the Doctor and his mesmerized students ever since.

Needing to depart with his grandfather, Wally doubles back later with his fellow Teen Titans–but by this point Johnny’s hideout has been discovered and trashed, with the kid himself missing. Te Titans shuck their costumes to investigate the campus only to be attacked themselves by the robotic students–and now out of uniform, they can’t use their powers without revealing themselves (Yes, I know this doesn’t really make any sense–just go with it.)

In the midst of this, the now-robotic Johnny rebels against the impulse to kill. He makes his way to the Psychiatrist’s office, clobbers him and calls of the kids. So the Titans don’t really do much of anything to solve the problem. (They do exchange some cringe-inducing quips with a strong racial undercurrent, as seen above. Even in 1976, these lines made me uneasy, as did the idea of the brain implants.) The story ended with a plug for the new TEEN TITANS series that was launching, but I’d never find the first issue of the revival, much as I might have wanted to.

But the main event was coming up! The Doom Patrol was creator Arnold Drake’s attempt to apply some of what Stan Lee was doing in terms of creating super heroes with personalities and problems to the standard DC formula. And especially at first, it worked great, and had a flavor all its own. The Doom Patrol are all survivors of tragedy, all of whom have had their lives destroyed and come out the other side with relatively middling super-powers, but who have banded together to make the most of their situation despite being considered sideshow freaks even by the people who cheer them on.

This particular reprint introduces the Patrol’s opposite number, the international Brotherhood of Evil. Led by the Brain–who is just that, a disembodied brain in a jar–the Brotherhood included Mallah, a gorilla raised to a genius through scientific means, Madame Rouge, a femme fatale who at this point couldn’t yet change shape, and a number of other operatives. A criminal, Morden, wants membership in the Brotherhood, and as his audition, he’s stolen Rog, a giant robot the Doom Patrol’s mysterious Chief built to aid in space exploration. The Doom Patrol must contend with Rog’s destructive power as it tries to make off with the Statue of Liberty (The Brotherhood is based in France, did I mention that?)

Contending with this problem were a trio of the weirdest super heroes I had ever seen. They included Rita Farr, Elasti-Girl, who could expand or reduce her body but whose powers were killing her, Larry Trainor, Negative Man, who was swathed head-to-toe in mysterious bandages and who could release a sort of energy genie from his body for 60 seconds at a time to carry out attacks and instructions, and Cliff Steele, Robotman, a daredevil race car driver who had cracked up his car, burnt his body to a crisp, but whose brain was transplanted into a mechanical form by the Patrol’s mysterious Chief, a wheelchair-bound genius who, at least when this story was created, concealed his true identity even from his teammates. The Patrol and the Brotherhood clash repeatedly in this story, but the most the DP are able to pull out is a draw, saving the State and driving off the brotherhood, but not really capturing or defeating them. 

For whatever reason, editor Joe Orlando had the teams green uniforms colored red in this story, a color they would change to later on in their run. This confused me when I eventually read the story in which they got their new costumes, where nothing much seemed to have changed. Also, this ad at the end of the Doom Patrol story teased me once again with the SECRET ORIGINS OF THE SUPER DC HEROES book, which reprinted the origin stories of most all of the DC heroes, including the Flash. But it was way too expensive for me to afford, so I was going to have to wait until Christmas before I’d be able to lay hands on it, a long wait.

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