Doom Patrol’s second season premieres June 25 on HBO Max.
I always chuckle loudly (it escapes my inner monologue) when I see fanboys and girls of comics clamour that they were never meant to be societal commentary, meta-narratives or vehicles of social justice. Oh how we have missed the point of the medium! But this article is not about our own narrow minded echo chambers and an inability to think beyond the literal (I do detest how religious and political-ideological extremism has dumb downed our society in less than a generation). Doom Patrol is a superhero show that turns it all on its ear. It is a dark humourous ride into the soul of society using the vehicle of super heroes. The Doom Patrol, which started as a band of quirky heroes in Great Adventures #80 (1963), ended their original run with an destructive nuclear blast on an island and Chief, Rita Farr, Larry Trainer, and Cliff Steele thought dead. Gar Logan Beast Boy would go on to join the New Teen Titans as Changeling (and we shall not speak of the Titans television show and what they did with amazing source material–for shame). For more on the twisty-turn world of Doom Patrol, read here, with a grain of salt much like you enter their comic book world curated in the show by Mr. Nobody.
Then, the wonderfully weird Grant Morrison took over the title, and shifted it into Mature Readers territory, and become part of the new sub-universe Vertigo and these heroes would truly shine. This is the fun dark style adventures that the television adaptation, Doom Patrol, has taken to the screens. Now think Morrison, and then Pollack was writing late 1980’s through mid-late 1990’s and a character like the gender-queer Danny the Street was created (yes a sentient street where all are welcome), but remember according to fan culture, comics are just stories with no other commentary (Gerard Way with the Young Animals Imprint would keep up this great style of Doom Patrol story telling). But let’s look at the other characters that now grace the television screen. Each episode of season one unveils the traumas that the team must face in their search for Niles Caulder, the Chief. Not only unpacking who the man was that gave them sanctuary and safety from the world, but also what it means to not only be a hero, but a full person.
Larry Trainer (in the comics, Negative Man) is a courageous test pilot who has cosmic radiation invest a spirit within him. A man with a wife and kids, a hero, but in 1935 as a child coming home from school his parents are in crisis because a teacher is saying their child is queer. We can so easily forget how far we have come as a society and Trainer’s story shows the fear and inner turmoil he faced when the love of his life stated that he had resigned from the Air Force and wanted Trainer to come with him before the accident. It took Trainer 60 years to come to even a sort of resolution and closure over the incident, as he battles the entity within him always asking whey the entity wants to torture him, but in a seen in Parraguay and the entity echoing Trainer’s words back, is it possible Trainer is the one torturing himself and the entity is attempting wholeness and closure if only Trainer would accept?
Rita Farr (in the comics, Elasti-Girl) is a Golden Age of Hollywood Starlet. Groomed by her parents not with an education, but with only music, dance and acting lessons as it is her looks that will carry her forward. Then her powers emerge and she becomes a blob. The inner struggle is the showing of nurture having stripped her identity of anything other than looks, and the use of the “casting couch” to get ahead. When Rita looses these abilities, her new abilities leave her seeking something else that she had never had to worry about. Who is Rita Farr? It is the stage name that her parents gave her, stripping her of the family ties…so who is she meant to be now? 70 years on she is finally coming into her own, having trauma have frozen her, like Larry, at the time of the change…
Vic Stone, Cyborg is the only known “super hero” on the team, and with the vanishing chief this young adult becomes defacto leader. He first has to overcome who he is? His family system relationships with his father, Silas, and still grieving his deceased mother. Can he become whole and the person he is meant to be? Or will be become the person that outside forces and experience is going to cause him to become?
Cliff Steel (in the comics, Robotman) is a race care driver, witness of domestic violence as a child, who has become a drunken philanderer whose actions wind up killing his wife, leaving his child in the care of a reprobate, and his brain in the body of a robot. Now unable to feel, he must process his emotions, and come into his humanity as a non-human. Cliff meets, Jane, another member of the Doom Patrol, and has a second chance.
Jane has 64 personalities within her, and each personality has a different power. The Underground is where they all live, her mind – well not Jane’s because in Dissociative Identity Disorder there is primary identities and that is what Jane is. Not the true person, that is Kay. And it is the story of what happens with Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the psyche. Can Jane become whole?
The series episodes all use the title format BLANK Patrol. The eighth episode of season one is “Jane Patrol” and thanks to the Negative Entity, Cliff is able to travel into Jane’s Underground to find her.
As Jane has gone catatonic after the previous episodes marriage shenanigans of her personality Karen. It is an opportunity to meet the personalities as they exist in the Underground for the viewer. Those that surface, and those that exist simply to protect from memories. As one goes deeper into the Underground more darker memories are locked away. The goal is Jane has to choose to re-emerge as the primary, or to cease to exist as a previous primary Miranda had. Cliff is journeying with Penny Farthing (the one that avoids all risks) to find and save Jane.
It is a visual and artistic journey that illustrates how trauma echoes exist, cause pain, and that even how good memories can be suppressed as so dark. For the first meeting of Cliff and Jane is witnessed and Cliff asks Penny why it is there. Penny responds there is nothing more dangerous than giving hope.
As the episode draws to resolution it appears Jane has dealt with the control monster of her rapist-incest father, only to have her laying on her bed smiling and the echo of his voice to be heard.
Each era has created its own challenges and traumas for people depending on their life. Some we have learned from and strive to change and correct. Most we just shake our heads at and state, get over it and move on. The repression cycle does not help anyone, just creates cycles of violence, pain and trauma. Doom Patrol is fun (I mean a donkey tunnel, a talking grass hopper, a rat seeking vengeance on Cliff for running over his mother to name but a few plot points), but it raises questions on what it takes for healing and wholeness, and what we as a community need to do differently so as not to be making the same mistakes.