BHOC: SHOWCASE #94

I was already a big fan of the Doom Patrol from their appearances in SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, and I had seen the ads touting the return of SHOWCASE (as well as publisher Jenette Kahn’s publishorial concerning it) for weeks, so I was totally in the tank for this book when it finally came out. Jim Aparo’s moody cover certainly set the tone for the book.

I’ve heard speculation over the years that the return of the Doom Patrol and recasting the team along more international lines was a response to the All-New All-Different X-Men over at Marvel. While that’s possible, it seems to me to be unlikely; at the point when this issue of SHOWCASE hit the stands, X-MEN was still a bimonthly book–and while it was beginning to get some notices within fandom, the series wasn’t anything close to the juggernaut that it would become, not yet. So myself, I lean on the side of coincidence.

I’m reasonably certain that this issue of SHOWCASE was where I first learned that the original Doom Patrol had been killed in their final issue all those years ago. This was a revelation that greatly enhanced their stock in my mind somehow–making them more realistic and tragic. After a two-page recap of those events, the issue focuses in on Robotman, or what’s left of him. His upper torso and all-important brain survived the explosion that killed his friends, and as fate would have it, he washes up at the feet of a never-identified Will Magnus, the creator of the Metal Men, who is able to outfit him with a new robotic body.

That new body bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Rog 2000, the character originated by John Byrne and featured in the back of issues of E-MAN that Doom Patrol artist Joe Staton illustrated. Byrne pointed out this bit of robotic appropriation on the cover of an issue of the Comics Reader shortly after this issue hit the racks. Anyway, the repaired and thoroughly depressed Robotman makes his way back to the Doom Patrol’s headquarters in Midway City, only to find it already occupied by three interlopers.

A fight breaks out at this point, allowing the newcomers–Celsius, Tempest and Negative Woman, to show off their individual powers. And this is the place where the new Doom Patrol deviates from the old: the original team members were all survivors of tragedy, gifted with powers that weren’t all that spectacular. They were, to use the parlance of the series itself, freaks. Not so the New Doom Patrol. They were all beautiful and unscarred, despite their backstories. So consciously or unconsciously, a move had been made away from the themes that made the original DP so compelling. (On the other hand, the original DP had also been cancelled and killed, so perhaps this was seen as a smart play by those bringing the group back.)

Back at the ranch, Celsius explains that the new Doom patrol has convened this day because of a threat posed by the old patrol’s nemesis General Immortus–and that this is due to the fact that she possesses a source of the immortality serum that Immortus needs in order to survive. Cue an attack from Immortus’ forces on the headquarters, prompting our new heroes into a counter-attack.

In the course of the fight, we learn a few things about the new Patrol members. Celsius has some secret connection to Niles Caulder, the Chief of the original Patrol. Tempest can fire power-bolts of devastating force, but he prefers not to use them, opting instead for hand-to-hand combat as much as possible. And unlike Larry Trainor, Negative Woman doesn’t release an animated radioactive being to accomplish her heroics, but rather transforms into one herself. There’s also a hint of attraction on the part of Tempest for Negative Woman. All of these little hints and clues made these new characters immediately fascinating to me, like there was a larger picture that I was eager to uncover.

That all said, the inexperienced newbies are no match for General Immortus, and as the issue closes out, they’re all incapacitated by noxious fumes emitted by Immortus’  battle-craft–and yeah, I have no idea how noxious fumes affect Robotman, who doesn’t breathe or have pores either. Go with it. Anyway, I thought it was a pretty dynamite introduction to this new version of one of my favorite groups, and I was onboard to pick up the next issue in the hopes that the Doom Patrol might graduate to their own magazine. Sadly, that wouldn’t happen–and the New Doom Patrol would, after its Showcase run, be relegated to infrequent guest-appearances in other titles for a decade after this.

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