Thursday, March 4, 2010

DP02-01 Showcase #94(08-09/77) [a]

.....In the letters' page for Metal Men #49(12/76-01/77), "Airmail Alloys" L-539, there's a letter from Bob Rodi responding to issue #47. [It should be pointed out that Rodi doesn't explicitly mention the issue number. Since the story, for whatever reason, didn't have a title on the splash page, he refers to the issue by the blurb in the banner above the logo-- "The X-Effect". Given that #47 shipped four months before the letter was published ("the second week in May" 1976 if it was on time), that would put it one year into Marvel's X-Men revival and two years before its critical acclaim could be translated into an upgrade from bi-monthly to monthly status.] As per that issue's 'next issue' blurb, he writes, "I see you're bringing back Eclipso. If you plan to use the METAL MEN as a launching pad for revivals, why not bring back the Doom Patrol ? Like the MM, the DP need delicate handling, and you guys have proven yourselves capable of that. They haven't been seen at all since their apparent deaths in 1968, so please bring them back to guest-star. I've always wanted to see the two groups together." We now know that aside from occasionally appearing in the same Crisis-type event, and Magnus repeatedly contributing to Cliff's redesigns, there was no meeting of these two groups. That may prompt some to question the choice of the Metal Men as a back-up feature in the 2009 Giffen Period revival. Yet there is a more ethereal but nevertheless real connection between the two.

.....After Jack Kirby left DC in 1958, with little more than Challengers Of The Unknown by which to remember him, he spent three years drawing monster stories for Stan Lee until they got the green light to turn Atlas into what we know as Marvel today. Once they started creating super-heroes they nervously and scrupulously avoided the trademark cliches of costumed characters that DC had largely built up for twenty years and fiercely defended with litigation throughout the 1950's. The result was the first real threat DC had had on its own turf in at least a decade. Its only obvious competitor for rack space, Dell, was almost entirely licensed properties (Disney and movie adaptions). At the time, the impact of the Marvel heroes on DC was barely noticeable; characters in Superman comics were still driving DeSotos and teenagers all sounded like Andy Hardy or Dobie Gillis, so that it often seemed as though the world had no impact on DC at the time, let alone Spider-Man. Yet, if you look beyond Superman, Batman and the JLA you will notice the greatest change in their second tier adventure titles. Before the Fantastic Four? The Challengers (1957), Adam Strange (1958), Rip Hunter (1959), Cave Carson (1960) and Sea Devils (1960). All arguably a change of pace from the subjects of their more famous stablemates, yet still in the square-jawed mold of Buster Crabbe (or Lloyd Bridges for Sea Devils). After the Fantastic Four? Metal Men (1962), Doom Patrol (1963), Eclipso (1963) and Metamorpho (1964). The new heroes (or protagonists, to account for Eclipso) didn't even have human bodies. When someone wanted another human hero, they now went to Earth-2 and grabbed an old one. So it should come as little surprise that Bob Rodi (and thousands of others) would come to associate these characters despite their having different creators and editors and appearing in different titles (all the pre-FF characters I mentioned above had appeared in Showcase and all but Carson debuted there).

.....In the time following the demise of the first Doom Patrol title only the Challengers and Metal Men continued, briefly. Harry Donenfeld had died and took his influence on New York judges with him. Without the intimidation of specious lawsuits looming over everyone, creators and their comics could become more self-aware and self-referencing and only the Air-Pirates would suffer unjustly. The ex-Charlton crowd had already introduced some decidedly different characters, Kirby would soon return and Green Lantern would face a question he never knew he couldn't answer. There wasn't much left to shake up that wasn't already shaking. Despite this, Marvel was slowly gaining. Even more oddly, Marvel's gains in the marketplace came as they were creatively stabilizing. It was true that they were constantly creating new characters, nearly all of whom would sooner or later recur to reinforce the greater sense of continuity. However, when Silver Surfer #1(08/68) was published just before Doom Patrol was cancelled, it was only the second time they had introduced an ongoing feature (not just a title, but a feature ) using a character created since Daredevil #1(04/64). For the record, the first time was with Captain Marvel in Marvel Super-Heroes #12(12/67). In 1968 they switched distributors and released an explosion of new titles for the first time since 1958. Both publishers had broken through on televsion. Dell barely existed anymore and the publishers who were still in the game had practically given up on super-heroes. DC had reasons to be happy, but the quirky, innovative characters of the early 1960's worked for Marvel and not for them and not knowing why seemed to be driving them nuts. The final years of the original runs of COTU and Metal Men do not rank highly among their respective fans, and perhaps we should all be thankful that nobody tried to extend the DP's title by introducing similar overhauls to the art and characters. I'll admit killing the characters was an unusually drastic measure in 1968, and I don't seriously believe that anyone at DC at the time could have predicted the way it burned them into the memories of readers. It meant that they weren't Superman or Batman; they couldn't rely on luck or cheating or breaking the rules of physics. Kathy Bates was never going to stand up in a theater and scream at them for lying their way out of a cliffhanger ending like Captain America did. When the choices are groveling while innocents die or giving the villains the finger, they go out like Gary Gilmore: "Just shut up and do it." Thus the tell-tale phrase in Mr. Rodi's letter. You saw it, didn't you? Sitting in the middle of that sentence like a speed bump? The elephant in the room? "...since their apparent deaths in 1968..." No one talks about the apparent death of Larry Lance. Not a peep out of them for eight years, but their fans aren't just wishing for their return, they're expecting their return.

.....The editorial reply (unsigned but easily inferred as Paul Levitz from a statement elsewhere on the page) says nothing to correct the assumption of their possible survival. "We've begun reprinting the best of the Doom Patrol tales in the back of Super-Team Family to test reader reaction to them. You see, we've been DP fans since way back and we'd enjoy reviving them too. If enough fans write in...", etc. [Details of those reprints can be found by using the mini-Google internal search in the upper-left corner of this page. Enter "DP01-AR3", or leave off the "3" to access all of the reprint examinations.] The last of those reprints ran in #10 (04-05/77) whose letter page editor was likely also the unsigned voice of Paul Levitz. Responding to a letter, he writes "...there are no plans for new Doom Patrol stories as of now, yet who knows? Things change around here faster than we can keep track of them. Perhaps, if reader reaction to the DP is strong enough we might just surprise you!" Four months later came the first new Doom Patrol story in nine years.

.....According to the full page ads, Showcase #94(08-09/77) went "on sale May 31st!" This comic not only revived the team name as a feature, but the Showcase title itself, which originally ran from #1(03-04/56) to #93(09/70). Keeping with the spirit of that earlier run, this would be the first of three installments seeking to lead into an ongoing series. The only credits are for the four contributors who will see through all three issues: writer Paul Kupperberg, penciller Joe Staton (who presumably inks himself here), colorist Liz Berube and story editor Paul Levitz. As noted above, Levitz had been dropping hints that this project was in the works for at least a year while working as story editor for managing editor Joe Orlando in a few other titles. In the letters' page of one of those titles, he mentions that shuffling of personel at the time had left Orlando in charge of nearly two-thirds of DC's titles (which I've yet to verify) and relying on his story editors to keep on top of details. The details of this debut story are, using a journalist's perspective, in the concretes: who, what, when and where, but not in the abstracts: how and why.

[This review will continue in a second part to minimize loading times. There are currently more details about both this issue and where it fits in the context of the series in the following posts:

  1. Original Period reprints (four posts) DP01-AR1, DP01-AR2, DP01-AR3 and DP01-AR4
  2. DP02-AA Gypsy Period 1 synopsis
  3. DP07-AA Byrne Period synopsis

These posts can be found quickly using the internal "search this blog" feature found in the upper left-hand corner of this page by entering the alpha-numeric codes.]