Doom Patrol Embraces Its Comic Book Roots, Unlike The MCU

Doom Patrol is one of the best DC shows currently airing on HBO Max. It is wacky, heartfelt and very unpredictable. And it has one distinctive quality that separates it from the Marvel shows on Disney+, and even from some other superhero shows. The producers and showrunners know that they are making a show based on a comic book. And they are running with it.

There is no way to deny it. Doom Patrol is a very strange show. The very first character audiences meet on the show is an unfaithful racecar driver whose brain is placed inside a robotic body after an accident. The rest of the cast includes a radioactive man wrapped in bandages with some sort of spirit sharing his body, a woman who turns to sludge when her confidence wavers, and a woman with 64 different personalities, each with a different superpower. The caretaker and leader of the Doom Patrol, Chief Niles Caulder, is a long-lived and morally dubious man who seems to have once had a thing with a mystic unicorn head. Cyborg, the man who is half machine following a terrible accident, is the most socially adept and heroic member of the cast.

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Aside from the characters, many of the scenarios and moments on the show sound so outlandish that they could only have come from a comic book. Season 1’s second episode has some characters go inside a donkey’s throat in order to save the townspeople trapped inside. The third episode’s post-credit scene introduces Vegetable-Animal-Mineral-Man, who is… exactly what he sounds like: a man covered in rocks and vegetation, and with a raptor head next to his own. There is also a recurring character called Ezekiel, a talking cockroach constantly spouting doomsday prophecies. Not to mention the flesh-eating butts.

Perhaps the best example of the show going all out is Season 1, Episode 14, Penultimate Patrol. In the episode, Flex Mentallo, a man who can alter reality by flexing, accidentally causes an entire town to orgasm simultaneously. And this accident occurred when he was trying to hit a different flex that would send the team inside a dimension hidden in the white space of comic books.

All of these characters and moments on the show would sound a little out there to an average viewer. But the show capitalizes on this, making it clear from the jump that this is a fantastical world. And while physical logic is malleable, emotional logic is actually firm. The weirdness of the settings and scenarios is meant to show the deeper sides of the characters. Jane has 64 personalities because the trauma she experienced in childhood left her sense of self fractured. Larry is a radioactive mummy who can’t physically touch anyone after years of being unable to choose between his family or his gay lover. And Cliff, a man who tried and failed to be a good person when he was human, finds his humanity rekindled after becoming a brain in a machine.

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And this willingness to embrace the inherent silliness of comic books and translate them to screen is something that has been lacking in a lot of superhero media. In fact, the most popular adaptation of comic books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has become noted for how often it makes fun of elements from the comics. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man calls the spider-sense the Peter tingle. The Thor films make fun of the concept of godhood by making the Asgardians “Space Vikings.” Not to mention the fact that the Ant-Man films are basically just comedies disguised as heist movies. But while this humor may have served to distinguish the MCU films from the competition, over time it has become a hindrance. Since the Marvel films don’t take themselves or their source material seriously, then audiences may feel a disconnect. Thor Love and Thunder is a recent example, feeling almost like a two-hour, high-budget SNL skit, which is far less compelling.

But Doom Patrol shows that it is certainly possible to embrace the outlandish elements from the comics and still tell compelling stories. Spider-Man 2often cited as one of the best Spider-Man movies, is a touching story about a young man learning to get control of his life and balance his responsibilities with his desires. It’s also a story where a man dressed like a spider and a man with metal tentacles fight on top of a train. Daredevil, often seen as one of Marvel’s best shows, centers on a blind man with senses so sharp he essentially has 360-degree awareness. So while many of these properties are very serious and even emotional, they all are based on silly concepts, which isn’t a problem. Audiences can still love these stories, no matter how unrealistic they can get.

Doom Patrol is a show that knows it came from the psychedelic mind of Grant Morrison. It knows it’s outlandish, and it’s not hindered by that fact. It knows that it is, and uses its ridiculousness to catch the audience off guard. And its wackiness only serves to enhance the gut-punch emotional moments. And it will continue to do so.

Seasons 1-3 of Doom Patrol are available to stream on HBO Max.

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