Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani’s Doom Patrol remains one of the finest superhero comic book runs ever printed. Neurotic, strange and absurd, the series chronicled the adventurous lives of three survivors of very unfortunate catastrophes; former screen starlet Rita Farr who was able to stretch or shrink any part of her body at will after inhaling some fumes on the set of a film, test pilot Larry Trainor, possessed by a negative alien energy being who transformed his once healthy body into a bandage-wrapped monstrosity and stunt car driver Cliff Steele who recovered from a horrific wreck only to emerge as a brain encased in a robot shell. Led by the brilliant ‘Chief’ Niles Caulder, they found purpose in life by defending the society that would never accept them from harm. The series ran from 1963-68 only to be revived several times since in print and on the small screen in cartoons such as this one.
I have recommended the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon series to fans of other DC animated projects such as Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, both high water marking programs of the comic book animation genre. Based on the absurd 1950’s-style art of Dick Sprang Brave and the Bold is a fanciful and juvenile series aimed at a much younger audience which puts off some people. However, there are several episodes that rise above the others and demand to be noticed such as this one.
I have mentioned in previous blog posts how much of a Doom Patrol fan I am. I recently had digital cable re-installed in my house and programed the system to record the latest Brave and the Bold episode. It happened to be this one, what are the odds?
Written by J.M. DeMatteis, the episode is essentially a retelling of the final Doom Patrol story of the 60’s, in which the team sacrifices themselves in order to save the lives of a group of strangers by getting blown up on a deserted island. The only difference is that DeMatteis educates the viewer unfamiliar with the Doom Patrol, making them sympathetic to their lot in life. Creator Arnold Drake put it best when he said that the team was made up of freaks who hate themselves and hate each other most of all because the Doom Patrol is the closest any of them will ever have to a family.
Without giving too much away, here is the breakdown of ‘The Last Patrol:’
In the cartoon, the Doom Patrol is depicted as a cultural phenomenon that the youth culture bonded to. After a mysterious caper in Paris, the team disbanded, leaving no clue as to why. The Last Patrol sees the various outlandish villains of the Doom Patrol hunting down the retired members with Batman desperately trying to help them discover why. Reluctantly, the Doom Patrol reunites and encounters the mastermind behind the entire plot, General Zahl who giddily reveals what caused the team to split up by playing back the Paris adventure worldwide. He then forces the team onto an island loaded with explosives and asks them to sacrifice themselves in order to save the inhabitants of a nearby island (echoing the demise of the team in comic book form) while Batman single-handedly fends off their various foes.
When I had the pleasure of meeting Arnold Drake shortly before he passed on, I took the opportunity to talk to him at length about the Doom Patrol, a subject he was both happy and pained to discuss. He had fond memories of his work but was frustrated to see his ideas being stolen and used in other projects such as the Incredibles and various DC Animation projects. Seeing as how he was convinced that Stan Lee devised the X-Men after the Doom Patrol, I can see why Drake would be especially annoyed. As such, I have to admit that even as a fan of the characters I have mixed feelings whenever I see them in any form other than the original comic as it is a disservice to the work that Drake and Premiani created.
All that said, I’d like to think that Drake would have been happy with this animated Doom Patrol homage as DeMatteis lovingly pays service to the original work. The episode is outlandish, action-packed, filled with goofy villains such as ‘Animal-Vegetable-Mineral-Man’ and also centers on the themes that Drake’s book explored. It’s funny and sad and poignant and brilliant to look at. There are even references to the Grant Morrison/Richard Case run for any eagle-eyed viewers!
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is being very slowly released on DVD. A series consisting of 50 episodes and three years old, the first season is still not out on DVD in its entirety. But if you have a chance, check it out. It has been revealed that this will be the final season of the program as yet another iteration of Batman is in the works with a much more serious tone. I for one will miss Brave and the Bold, but I’m thankful for what it has done in the short time it has been on the air. Regardless of your opinion of it, this is definitely a different take on Batman than many are used to.