If you’ve been paying attention to pop culture news lately, chances are you’ve probably seen some casting announcements for one of the new shows headed to the DC Universe streaming service. It’s called Doom Patrol, and if you’re totally unfamiliar with that particular wing of DC’s canon, that probably sounds like a late 1960s Cold War era thriller to you. But–surprise!–it’s actually just a bunch of weird superheroes. Let’s break it down.
The Doom Patrol first appeared in issue #80 of My Greatest Adventure, an anthology style comic that traditionally collected up a bunch of short adventure stories. The Doom Patrol was part of a strategy to make the leap to the superhero genre; the goal was to make a serialized story that would fit in both the adventure and the superheroic wheelhouse and make the whole transition go a lot smoother. The Doom Patrol was billed as “the world’s strangest superheroes” and the creators took that theme to heart. The core idea was a team of heroes who were tortured and made outcasts by their abilities, forced to live their lives as cool, pulpy explorers more in the vein of something like Jonny Quest than Superman.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Wait a second, aren’t ‘outcast and tortured superheroes’ X-Men’s whole brand?” You’re correct! Importantly, the Doom Patrol actually predated the first appearance of the X-Men by several months, and co-creator Arnold Drake is still not totally convinced that the X-Men weren’t a subtle Doom Patrol rip-off to begin with. Comparing the two these days is a lot more apples-and-oranges than it would have been back in the ’60s. And, of course, judging by just name recognition and media franchise pull, it’s pretty obvious which one found more success, but hey, the more you know.
Like most superhero teams, the Doom Patrol’s line-up has fluctuated over the years, but for the most part it’s maintained a level of B and C list (or lower) obscurity. They started out with an original group of characters who had been created specifically to launch the Doom Patrol’s first appearance: Elasti-Girl, whose powers are exactly what you’d expect; Robotman, a human reincarnated as a robot after a terrible car crash; Negative Man, a man who lost his permanent corporeal form in a radioactive accident; and The Chief, a wheelchair using genius who brought the team together. A year or so later, Beast Boy–yes, like the Teen Titans Beast Boy–was introduced and joined the team, rounding out the roster.
Their stories usually involved a healthy amount of in-fighting, soul searching and general ennui, as each person on the team wrestled with personal demons as much as actual villains–all of which were just as weird and esoteric as the heroes themselves. Bad guys like the sentient gorilla Monsieur Mallah and his disembodied brain partner-slash-lover named, aptly, The Brain, and the 100% real, actually published in a real comic book Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, plagued the team at every turn.
The Doom Patrol never really got off the ground popularity wise, and thanks to no shortage of DC continuity reboots like Crisis on Infinite Earths, their position in the larger DC multiverse has always been pretty variable. Famously, they were the first team in DC that ended their book with the entire roster (save Beast Boy) being “killed” in the final issue, Doom Patrol #121, which paved the way for a complicated series of retcons and reboots. They spent their most widely appreciated years as a Vertigo book, but then wound up back in the mainline DCU in the early 2000s, and have since jumped over to the Young Animal imprint for the Rebirth era. Technically, thanks to the fancy footwork of creators like Grant Morrison and Gerard Way, the bulk of the Doom Patrol’s history is within continuity these days, but they’re only ever tangential to bigger teams like the Justice League at the very best–and a total non sequitur at worst.
What does that mean for the upcoming streaming TV show? It’s obviously pretty hard to say. By nature, the Doom Patrol deals with things that veer toward the psychedelic and the trippy, meaning we can expect to see a show that deals in a much more light (or at least surreal) tone than, say, the CW shows or even the Titans TV show. However, we do know that the Doom Patrol will in fact be spinning out of Titans in an episode specifically named after them, so we can assume that the two are definitely going to be sharing an onscreen universe. And, as was just announced at New York Comic Con, Matt Bomer (American Horror Story, Magic Mike) will star as Negative Man.
Also, with Beast Boy as part of the Titans main roster, it’s extremely likely that those early years of Doom Patrol stories, in which he played a major role, are going to be heavily mined for live action adaptation. We also know that some more recent Doom Patrol characters are going to be making the jump to the small screen, specifically Crazy Jane, who was a late addition to the team. Interestingly, Cyborg is also set to appear in the show, which will be a first, as he’s usually associated with the Titans or the Justice League. So when it comes to Doom Patrol, it might just be best to expect the unexpected.