Doom Patrol #88 (June, 1964)
“The Incredible Origin of the Chief”
Writer – Arnold Drake
Artist – Bruno Premiani
Letterer – Stan Starkman
Cover Price: $0.12
It’s always a bit strange coming off a “big” post… whether it be following a milestone or a team-up, it feels a bit like the day after Christmas. All that “looking forward to” and self-imposed stress to deliver something “bigger” than usual is wiped away…
… and then I actually gotta start thinking about what we’re going to discuss the next day.
Well, I decided we’re going to talk about a very old Doom Patrol comic wherein we “meet the Chief”… which is to say, eight issues after he first appears, we’re “finally” going to get his origin.
Of note, this will also be our first comic from 1964… which only tickles obsessives like me, but whattayagonnado?
Our Silver-Age splash depicts the Chief at a train yard about to meet with a caped individual who has captured the Doom Patrol. He will only… er, not kill them (maybe?)… if the Chief reveals some information to him. But, I hear you asking… how did we get here? Well, it all began several weeks earlier when a luxury cruise liner was holding a charity gaming night. Around the time when they had raised three-million dollars, a (not so bald, hmm…) caped individual calling himself “The Baron” and his gang arrive to, ya know… rob it.
A week later, an armored car is pulled off the road by… a magnet, being drawn by a jet… we quickly learn that the Baron is at it again!
Because, he happens to have a television camera on board with him! He addresses the public, referring to them as “TV Land”, which is a term I didn’t think would’ve been coined back in 1964. He announces that his next caper would occur in ten days time at Charters, Inc., a hoi-poloi jewelry store. And so, ten days later, the Doom Patrol dutifully arrive on the scene… and, thanks to the Chief, appear to have better insight on the situation than the peacekeepers present.
The officers at the door won’t allow them to pass, claiming that the Commissioner has ordered all exits be blocked off to stop the Baron. Elasti-Girl comments that the place is well covered, accept the place that the Chief predicted the robbery would go down. At that very moment, the Baron and his stooges enter Charters… from below!
Once the robbery is just about concluded, the Doomies are finally given the okay to leap into action… Negative Man flies through the Baron’s escape ladder, and Elasti-Girl grows to her giant form and grabs the baddies. The Baron informs her that she’d best let him go… otherwise one of his men will blow up the subway. Well, that sounds pretty reasonable, so Rita lets him go.
The Patrol heads home, where they find the Chief huddled at his super computer. He reveals that through his research he found that the Baron is actually working for their arch-foe… General Immortus… so they’d best tread lightly. Robotman asks why he gets so flustered anytime Immortus is involved…
… which leads us to the real meat-n-potatoes of this issue, a flashback revealing the origin of the Chief! Ya see, back in the day… in a time we might refer to as BB (as in, Before Beard), Niles Caulder became fascinated in medical research… while also showing a sharp brilliance for robotic engineering. He realized that his true passion lay with medicine, and devoted himself to research… which didn’t exactly bring home the bacon. One day a strange man visited Niles’ dilapidated apartment with an offer. Two-Million dollars to research extending human life, so long as his first test subject would be his mysterious benefactor. Well, two million will buy a whole lotta liverwurst, so Caulder was keen.
In the months that passed, Niles would refine his research, and perform all sorts of animal experimentation… grafting a second head onto a dog… for some reason, and gassing a rabbit to death in hopes that his “life machine” would bring it back… and it did! By this point, Cliff’s already bored with the story, and asks him to get to the “good stuff”.
And so, Niles jumps to the point in the story where he decides he wants to meet his mysterious benefactor. He locates him via tracing a call with a “sonic-tracer”… it’s strange, in the Silver Age you could preface just about anything with “Sonic-” or “Cosmic-” and it pretty much explains it all away. Anyhoo, Niles… who by now has a goatee… or is it a van-dyke… follows his tracer to a heavily-guarded island. He cuts the engine and lands at a deserted corner of the island… and works his way up to the mansion just in time for everyone to reveal their nefarious plots… what timing! Niles also gets captured, so there’s that…
He is brought before the mastermind… General Immortus, who reveals his own secret origin. He, after finding a certain chemical, has lived for several centuries. Over the ages he’s paid good money to the top minds of the day to keep him kickin’. Niles, being a good guy, won’t go along with the General. He refuses to continue his research to keep a criminal alive. He even dares the General to kill him… because, then… the secret dies with him! Well, Immortus has something else in mind. Caulder is choked out… and wakes up with a bomb implanted in his chest. Whoops.
Now this ain’t no ordinary bomb… it’s actually powered by Niles’ own body. It’s tethered to a remote control which can be triggered at any time… which would not only kill Caulder, but everyone in the vicinity. Immortus suggests that it might be in Niles’ best interest to “play ball”.
During this next part, the story… if you can believe it… gets a little “out there”. After some pondering, Niles decides to visit the General again… by crashing through his window like he’s Batman or something! Immortus, believing the intruder to be armed, instinctively reaches for his pistol, and fills Caulder full’a lead. The Chief reveals that his “gun” was actually his pipe… and he was actually hoping to get shot. Welp.
From here, Niles literally drags himself home. Man, that must’ve been one long boat ride… and, hmm… why would Immortus let him leave? It’s not like he’d have been able to overpower the General’s guards in this condition, right? He couldn’t even do that in perfect health. Oh well, I guess we’ll stop overthinking it. Anyhoo, Niles arrives home, and activates a robot (who he calls R-2, which is pretty neat) before collapsing on an operating table… dead. We watch as R-2 (who is now called RA-2, which is less fun) operates on Caulder… removing the bomb from his chest. Ya see, as the bomb was being powered by Niles’ own body… when he “died” the bomb would go dud… and be safe to remove. From here, the bot only has precious minutes to bring Niles back to life. It takes a few minutes longer than planned to do so… which costs the revived Caulder the use of his legs! Well, that answers that! After “coming back” Caulder commands the robot destroy the lab… and then puts a bullet in its head. Dang. Gotta mention, this whole bit was told in TWO PAGES. Today that’d be, what… four ($3.99) issues… at least?
Back in the present, The Baron is at it again… this time with designs on robbing Las Vegas… er, make that “A Great Western Gambling Town”. His plan goes into motion by exploding a nearby power station… and “relocating” a house to the middle of the main access road to the town. With the police unable to pass the roadblock, all their hopes fall to the Doom Patrol!
The Doomies find the Baron’s goons gleefully robbing all the casinos… and taking their sweet time doing so. Larry’s “radio energy being” leaps into action… but winds up zapped by a radio-interrupter emanating from a billboard with a cat on it. Cliff attempts to tear down… the entire building (?) to save his buddy… but it doesn’t quite work.
From atop another building, the Baron zaps Cliff with a polarization ray, which stops his robotic body from responding to the whims of his human mind. Rita notices something has happened to her teammates, however, before she can attend to them, she finds herself trapped by a crane/scoop shovel thing that had been flown in via helicopter. Once ensnared, she shrinks down to escape between its teeth… and winds up walking right into a jar!
The Baron calls the Chief via Robotman’s portable TV to issue a threat. The Chief is to turn over all of his research on extending human life, or the Doom Patrol will be… er, doomed! He then ups the ante by removing his plastic mask, revealing himself to be… uh-oh, General Immortus himself!
Knowing the baddie means business, the Chief agrees to meet him at that trainyard from our opening splash. Ready for an anticlimax? Well, the Chief arrives… rolls up, and fires a hidden flamethrower at Cliff’s bindings… freeing him. Robotman then frees the rest of the team.
Seeing that he’s been foiled, Immortus runs to a nearby train to escape… I dunno, a train doesn’t seem like the smartest method by which to flee a scene, right? It’s all moot however, as Rita gets-big and pull the train off the tracks.
When is a train not a train? It’s when it’s a rocket! Immortus’ rocket launches out of the train engine… now that’s a good way to flee! Or, it would be if not for Larry’s negative being.
Our tale ends when Negative Man wraps itself around the rocket… and causes it to explode! With a job well done, the Doomies reconvene. Caulder reveals that be he living, or be he dead… General Immortus will never cease haunting him.
Well, that was a whole lotta information, wasn’t it? As a big lore guy, I thought it was really great. Origin stories are always pretty neat… especially original-origin stories. It’s been a long time since I broke out my Doom Patrol SHOWCASE Presents volumes, so I’d completely forgotten how the Chief lost the use of his legs. I’m pretty sure I had it conflated with Professor X’s “legs crushed by Lucifer” origin.
It’s funny how times have changed. I don’t know that we’d see a protagonist experimenting on animals in this day and age. I mean, I know it’s comics… but that kinda thing is a sensitive issue for a lotta folks. I gotta say, Caulder grafting an extra head on a dog did make me chuckle though… especially due to the disparity in size between them. It was a bit interesting to me that Drake made sure to mention that despite Caulder’s early poverty, he still made sure his test-animals were well fed.
The scene of Niles eavesdropping on Immortus and company was really funny to me. It’s like he got there just when the mooks were saying “Hey boss, I did that evil thing thing you asked.” It’s a good thing he didn’t arrive when they were discussing the latest ball game or stock prices or something. It’s comics, and it’s the Silver Age… so we’ll allow it. I’d prefer something like this than several pages of talking heads making “witty” small talk before getting to the matter at hand.
The ending… like I said in the synopsis, a bit underwhelming. I guess after spending nearly twenty pages reading about how brilliant a dude Niles Caulder is, I was expecting something a bit more heady than “hidden flamethrower”. Also, after nearly twenty pages reading about how resourceful General Immortus is, I didn’t quite expect him to flee at the sight of trouble. Seems poorly thought out to only bring a couple of mooks to your big showdown with your arch-nemesis, don’t it?
The art here is excellent. Early Doom Patrol always had a moodier, more dismal look to it… though, that might just be some modern day transference on my end, given where the Doomies would go during the Morrison days. I think it looks great though, Premiani really is a man who can draw anything.
Overall, yeah… this is definitely a story I’d recommend checking out. As far as I know, it’s still canon… though, with the added bits about the Chief’s loneliness and having a hand in the origins of his team members. If you can’t get your hands on the original, this story was reprinted in Super-Team Family #10 (April-May, 1977) and has been collected in both DC Archive and SHOWCASE Presents formats. It has not yet been made available digitally.