I’ve mentioned before that my father worked at Chase Manhattan Bank out of a branch in the same Levittown Mall location that housed a Heroes World store. And so, needing somebody to perform a massive data-sorting project, one day he made a deal with me: if I would go to work with him on a given day and work on sorting all of those necessary cards all day, he’d take me over to Heroes World afterwards and underwrite my purchases. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation to doing this, even though it meant getting up ungodly early in the morning and working for a full work day–which seemed interminably longer to me at that age. The big story that came out of it was that they set me up at a long desk area that had once been teller windows. At some point during the day, bored out of my mind, I started poking around on the underside of the table, where I found a smooth round bit of metal. About twenty minutes later, the police showed up in force. Yes, I had inadvertently triggered the silent alarm.
My Dad gave one of his co-workers a ride home that night, and I can remember him telling them with some strange amount of pride that I knew everything about comics and that I had read a bunch of books on the subject. And I remember proving my mettle by identifying that this issue of DOOM PATROL was published in 1964 before cracking the plastic bag on it. Which, more than anything else, is why I remember picking up this issue during that day. I was a fan of the Doom Patrol from reprints in SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, but I don’t believe that I’d ever seen an actual issue of the series until this day. The Doom Patrol was writer Arnold Drake’s answer to the newfangled Marvel heroes, an attempt to fuse Stan Lee-style characterization with DC’s more regimented stance on plotting. It was a great series, ahead of its time in many ways.
This particular issue introduced Mento, a character who permanently changed the dynamic of the team and who remained a part of the series up to its end and beyond. If the three core Doom Patrol members were analogous to the Fantastic Four (Larry Trainor was a jet pilot like the Thing, Rita Farr was an actress as Sue Storm aspired to be, and Cliff Steele raced automobiles like the Human Torch) then Mento, Steve Datyon, was the strip’s Reed Richards. Only he wasn’t the leader of the Doom Patrol, he was just a rich and hyper-intelligence scientific adventurer who had the hots for Elasti-Girl and wanted to take her away from a life being “a freak among freaks” with the patrol. Unsurprisingly, neither Larry nor Cliff liked Mento at all.
A quick pause here for a filler strip topping a house ad for TOMAHAWK. Each DC editorial office tended to plug the other titles they were editing in the issues they released, and DOOM PATROL editor Murray Boltinoff was overseeing an eclectic bunch, including this long-running Revolutionary War series. Murray also, quietly, had about the most commercial tastes up at DC. While he was a bit conservative as an editor (reported never to have given any creator his first assignment, until Gerry Conway wrecked his curve) Murray’s books sold proportionately better than just about anybody else, especially as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. He’s overlooked, but he had good instincts for the time concerning what would sell a comic book.
The artwork on DOOM PATROL was provided by Bruno Premiani, who had come to the United States from Argentina, where he got into trouble with the local government for drawing cartoons critical of the regime. Premiani had a beautifully open style steeped in absolute realism, which gave his super hero work an odd flavor to it. Unlike many of his peers, Premiani was loathe to exaggerate for impact in the manner of a Jack Kirby, which meant that his super hero pages usually had an odd “matter of fact” quality to them. He also had some askew design sensibilities, as embodied in the three android types we see above. He fit well into a DC stable that found the work of Kirby and Ditko and the like garish and gauche. and excessive.
So the issue opens with the Doom Patrol having been called in to disarm a bomb planted by some malefactor. But all three members of the patrol fail in their efforts, in some cases due to dumb luck. Fortunately, Mento appears–he’s built himself a helmet that gives him the power of telekinesis, and he uses it to levitate the bomb high up in the air where it explodes harmlessly. Brushing off Robotman and Negative Man, Mento invites Elasti-Girl to accompany him back to his headquarters to learn more about him. He reveals that he’s actually Steve Dayton, the fifth richest man in the world, and that he intends to romance Rita Farr. Meanwhile, a trio of strange plastic androids appear, bringing a message of warning that something is going to happen in three days. The Doom Patrol mop up on the androids, only to suddenly be deluged by a torrent of similar falling robots. No matter how many they destroy, there are more coming. So the team is forced to pull back and reassess their strategy.
A pause here for this issue’s Patrol Postscripts letters page. Rather than printing entire letters, editor Boltinoff often preferred to excerpt a line or two out of a bunch of them. As a reader, I wasn’t really a fan of this methodology. This particular issue includes a letter from Dave Cockrum, who would later go on to work with Boltinoff in revamping the Legion of Super Heroes, and then to switch over to Marvel after a falling out with Boltinoff over the return of some original art, where he’d do the same for the X-Men.
The Chief, meanwhile, has located a strange city-fortress floating in high Earth orbit. But Mento is a genius with incredible resources as well, and he not only finds the same structure, but he uses a handy jet to reach it first. Unfortunately, he’s immediately captured by the Fortress’s owner, Garguax, an alien exiled from a far-off world who intends to conquer the Earth as a staging ground to strike back at his own homeworld..Garguax subjects Mento to intense brainwashing in order to turn him into a helpful pawn. By the time the Doom Patrol can craft their own ship and get to the Fortress, Mento is entirely in Garguax’s power, and they are forced to clobber him–a fact that Larry and Cliff relish.
With Mento in tow–Rita insists that they can’t leave him behind–the Doom Patrol look to escape the Fortress that they just spent two days trying to get to. All the while, Garguax hurls perils at them. Eventually, they locate the factory which is turning out plastic androids that Garguax will use as footsoldiers. A recovered Mento is able to gum up its works by using his telekinesis to dump a load of androids straight back into the works. The whole base goes up in the process, but the Doom Patrol and their new pain-in-the-ass friend are able to escape just in time. And as the story ends, Mento is left as a constant threat to the tranquility of the Doom Patrol, as the final caption indicates that he’s destined to return again in the future.
The issue closed out with this super-great Ira Schnapp house ad for the second FLASH Annual–numbered as #4 here as the 80 Page Giants had recently become a series unto themselves.
6 thoughts on “BHOC: DOOM PATROL #91”
I don’t think mento was the Reed of the group — that was pretty clearly the Chief, I’d say, though the romantic entanglement with the female team member had been reworked as a triangle with Cliff and Larry, neither of whom could actually do anything about it.
Mento was the arrogant, powerful and wealthy outsider who’s attractive to the woman in the team — i.e., the Namor role.
But in this spin on things, the Namor figure actually wins the girl, subverting the original setup and spinning things in a new direction. And thus he becomes the father figure to Beast Boy, creating a kind of Reed-Sue-Franklin setup without quite being in the team. But I’m pretty sure he started out as the Namor figure.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m a huge DP fan — it’s the only Silver Age book I eventually acquired the complete original run of. I’m fond of this issue simply because in college a friend of mine described this comic they’d read once and did I know it? — and even though I hadn’t read this one yet, I figured out it was DP.
IIRC, this issue establishes Mento is a freak too — his helmet only works for him — but nothing more was said about that.
Funny in that the FF was created due to Martin Goodman’s orders to create something similar to the Justice League of America but was more similar to the Challengers of the Unknown, which Kirby had co-created. And then, on Goodman’s subsequent orders, the X-Men were created with intent to duplicate the success of the FF, but by coincidence or intent seemed more similar to the Doom Patrol, which was also loosely based on the FF. Meanwhile, the Avengers, arriving in the same month as the X-Men, and both only shortly after the Doom Patrol debut, was more like the JLA. Even with the various mirroring aspects of all these team mags, in execution they were distinct enough so that none seemed too much like a carbon copy of one of the others. Of course, every superhero since and including Superman has been inspired by some published predecessor, whether ancient myths or more recent novels, short stories or pulp fiction.
Aren’t the Fantastic Four analogies more along the lines of:
Thing = Robotman (strong guy, nonhuman “monster”)
Torch = Negativeman (flying, energy power)
Mr. Fantastic = split between Chief (brains) and Elasti-Girl (“stretchy” power)
Invisible Girl = Elasti-Girl (woman member, romantic interest)
Test pilots were rather thick on the ground at the time, and aspiring actress was only a very occasional plot point with Sue Storm. And I don’t think Cliff Steele ever did anything at all with automobiles after his accident.
But this isn’t at all to imply there’s a direct copy of Fantastic Four to Doom Patrol, There’s connections and inspiration, but the expression is substantially different. DP seemed to me more very close co-workers, a “work family” with some inevitable frictions, rather than the FF’s dysfunctional family.
I’ve always wondered if the death of the DP in #121 was due to sales or because new DC Art Director Carmine Infantino really disliked Bruno Premiani’s artwork. In clearing out the artists who didn’t fit into his Marvel-esque non-adherence to classical Raymond/Foster cartooning styles, Infantino managed to deprive us all of another decade of worthwhile work by older gentlemen who, once ousted by DC, had nowhere else to go (several found work at Gold Key like Joe Certa and Win Mortimer, several at Marvel like Jim Mooney, Jack Abel, Lee Elias, and (again) Win Mortimer, but the likes of Wayne Boring never really fit anywhere else. Premiani, like many other veteran DC artists (Bill Ely, George Papp, Chuck Cuidera, Al Plastino, John Forte, Fred Ray, Mort Meskin, and Sid Greene , among others), sadly, never resurfaced in comic books.
Incidentally, I meant to mention that the reason the Boltinoff/George Kashdan wing of DC had their own “house” look in the ’61-’68 period was due to the usage of letterer Stan Starkman on virtually all of their titles, including DOOM PATROL. It seems odd today that each editor had favorite letterers just as they had writers and artists they’d work with almost exclusively, but Boltinoff also used Jerry Serpe as his main colorist. (Schwartz and Kanigher liked letterers Joe Letterese and Gaspar Saladino, Weisinger liked Milt Snapinn and the romance editors used Ira Schnapp almost exclusively. Jack Adler did most of his work for Schwartz, Kanigher and Weisinger.