Doom Patrol #122 (February, 1973)
“The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Menace”
“We Battled the Micro-Monster”
Story – Arnold Drake
Art – Bruno Premiani
Cover Price: $0.20
Over the past several weeks, Reggie and I have discussed the remarkable career or Mr. Arnold Drake for our Weird Comics History segment on the Weird Science DC Comics Podcast. It was a blast to learn about and discuss such an important (and relatively unsung) figure in the industry… and I realized I hadn’t covered an actual Arnold Drake-penned issue here on the blog. Figure a classic Doom Patrol issue is as good as any!
We have looked at and discussed a few Arnold Drake creations here already… including some later Doom Patrol and ol’ favorite Stanley and his Monster… but never an honest-to-goodness Drake-written deal.
If you wanna check in on Reggie and my comprehensive discussion on Drake, I encourage you to check out these episodes of the Weird Science DC Comics Podcast… the combined running-time of our segments is about an hour and a half. That’s a whole lotta Drake!
Today we’re going to discuss Doom Patrol #122. Wait… 122? Didn’t the entire team die in issue 121??? It’s funny to think about all the comparisons the Doom Patrol and Marvel’s X-Men share… ya see, this was the first issue of a very brief period of reprints that followed (some half-decade later) after the “main” Doom Patrol series ended… just like the X-Men had post issue #66. For those interested, today’s story originally appeared in Doom Patrol #89 (August, 1964).
Dr. Sven Larsen is headed on a transatlantic flight headed toward the United States to give a lecture, when suddenly Negative Man swoops in and snatches him from his seat. He delivers the fellow to Rita Farr who uses her body-extending powers to lift him up the to the highest floors of a nearby building… where she hands him off to the waiting Robotman who is walking sideways on said building thanks to his electro-magnetic shoes. Robotman finally delivers Larsen into the building’s rooftop restaurant where they run into the Chief.
We learn that Larsen is a former student of Caulder’s… who once accused him of stealing one of his ideas. The Chief says it’s all water under the bridge, and announces that the Doom Patrol will be present for his lecture the following day.
During the lecture, Larsen is discussing his designs on creating life artificially… through use of a lightning synthesizer and amino acids (sounds legit). He pontificates as he strolls around the chemical vat… and, as is most likely to occur when a comic book character is anywhere in the vicinity of a vat full of chemicals… he falls in.
The Doom Patrol immediately hops into action to save him… only to find that Larsen has transformed into a giant grotesque paramecium. The panicky crowd flees as a group of trigger-happy officers burst on the scene. Despite the Chief’s protests, the officers wind up chasing Larsen-as-paramecium out of the facility through a nearby wall.
The Chief instructs his team to fetch some liquid oxygen, as he believes that is the best and most humane way to stop Larsen. Robotman blasts the creature with the LOX (liquid O2, not fish), and encases it in a coating of ice.
Larsen begins to shape-shift again… this time to a creature made of sulfur… which rapidly melts the ice. Elasti-Girl grabs the sulfur shape… which shape-shifts into the form of creeping ivy… and immediately goes for Rita’s throat! Rita returns to normal size to shake him off… at which point, he shifts into the form of a bird and flies away.
The Chief instructs Larry to send Negative Man to Larsen’s lab in Stockholm and retrieve his lab notes. Moments later, he returns with a note claiming that Larsen had already discovered his animal-vegetable-mineral transformation powers! His falling into the vat was no accident at all.
Later, on the streets… A-V-M Man is battling some firefighters in the shape of a dinosaur. As the firemen blast him with their hoses, he shifts into the form of a sponge. The Doom Patrol launches another offensive… this time, using the Negative Man entity to “wring out” the beast… at which point, he shifts into a leaden form.
In perhaps the oddest scene of this battle… A-V-M Man transforms into the shape of a dandelion, and his seeds blow away, only to change into a swarm of gnats… which surround Cliff Steele. Cliff’s pretty confident that gnats cannot hurt him, until the Chief asserts that Larsen may try to enter his head… and attack his human brain! Negative Man lends a hand, and Larsen shifts into the form of a bat and flees once more.
At this point, the Chief remembers that he had conveniently invented a gun that would halt any change in cells… an “anti-decay ray”, he calls it. He believes this could be of use in their battle. He instructs Rita to engage with Larsen… and leave the rest to him. The rest of the team briefly protests putting Rita in such danger, but ultimately relent.
At this point, Larsen has taken the form of diamond. Rita expands to her giant form and grabs A-V-M Man… at which point he transforms into a tiger… and while in mid-pounce eats a full blast of Caulder’s anti-decay ray! The tiger stiffens and hits the ground with a thud.
The story ends with the Doom Patrol reversing the effects of Larsen’s experiment… and ready him for arrest.
This issue has a second story following it called We Battled the Micro-Monster, which has some scientists fighting off a giant germ. For some reason, my copy (outside the first page) is extremely blurry… not sure if that’s just my copy, or if this was just a printing issue. From what I can follow… the scientists win!
So much fun!
This was a great issue. While I don’t think I’d call myself a Doom Patrol purist… in the sense that foursome of Larry, Cliff, Rita and the Chief were never my Doom Patrol, I really enjoyed the dynamics between them. In much of the Doom Patrol I’d followed, Rita was dead, Larry was something else altogether, and the Chief was kinduva bastard.
This was the introduction of one of the sillier (and most enduring) Doom Patrol villains, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man… so silly, but a picture perfect fit for the gang. I enjoyed that it took the entire team working together (plus a blast from the deus ex machina gun) to put the menace down. Even if this were your first look at the classic Doom Patrol, you would see the strengths and potential weaknesses of each member. The story is crafted in such a way where we learn about the team members without being lectured… a true testament to Drake’s strengths as a storyteller.
Bruno Premiani’s art is absolutely awesome. I can’t believe I’d forgotten how great it is. He and Drake are an amazing team! Ya know, I was rereading the trade collection of Crawling From the Wreckage not too long ago… in it, Grant Morrison provides either a foreword or afterword in which he discusses that the Doom Patrol actually scared him as a child. I initially wrote this off as hyperbole for affect… but, there truly is some dark stuff lurking here…
The Paramecium is incredibly disturbing… and masterfully drawn, you can almost hear it stickily sloshing around. How would one engage in battle with something you’d be too grossed out to touch? When A-V-M Man turns into the creeping ivy… the first thing he does is try to strangle Rita! The look of absolute terror on her face is amazing. Perhaps the most disturbing bit, at least to me… is when A-V-M Man turns into a swarm of gnats… with the express purpose of destroying Robotman’s human brain! The panel with Cliff freaking out, holding where his ears would be (above)… That’s one that’s going to stick with me. For whatever reason, that panel really bothered me. So, yeah… I think Morrison may have been sincere when he said this book kinda freaked him out…
This issue is available in the first volume of SHOWCASE Presents: Doom Patrol, which anyone with even a passing interest of the Doom Patrol should really check out. I am a big booster of these black and white phone book-sized volumes… however, I gotta say… in comparing this issue to the reproduction, I think the story loses something without the color. The colors used (especially for the backgrounds) give such a feeling of desolation… Cliff standing before a pink or red background (for example) just gives an odd off-putting feeling, that I feel really adds to the tone of the story.
This (reprint) version is probably your best bet for an affordable look at this seminal Doom Patrol tale. The SHOWCASE volume is apparently out-of-print, and therefore (at least online) priced rather high… I’m sure many local comic shops still have it on their shelves though…